Kafka's World

Speak of the devil…

Just the other day I wrote about the escalating game of acceptable police tactics to catch criminals. Here’s a sad story to illustrate how things can go tragically wrong and what happens when they do. To recap: a 28 year old Virginia man’s house had been broken into and rifled through, but nothing was stolen. A few days later he was in bed when he heard someone trying to break into his house again. In a matter of seconds he shot through the door and killed a police officer. He has been charged with first degree murder.

An open and shut case? Not at all.

Let’s replay it. A police informant breaks into a man’s home (his crime overlooked) and generates a ‘tip’ about marijuana. The police do not trouble to corroborate the tip (why bother?) but simply go to the man’s home a few nights later with a warrant. The man has no criminal record or history of violence. Instead of ringing the bell and asking to speak with him, they start banging down the door (excessive force). The man inside, recently victimized and not knowing who is crashing through his door, fires his gun. An officer dies. The man is charged with murder. It’s a tragedy.

Here’s the thing about having your cake and eating it too. People want to think of law enforcement officials as public servants. After all, we pay their salaries through our tax dollars, and theoretically, people go into public service to serve the public. So in a normally functioning society citizens should not be afraid of police officers or government officials. We should be proud of them and trust them. Are you with me? Good.

So if you are a law abiding citizen, going to work, paying your taxes, stopping at red lights, etc., you should not expect police officers to come to your house at night and bang your door down. No? Even if you had smoked a joint from time to time, it still would be out of the realm of possibility that cops would break your front door in over that, right? That’s how they treat hardened criminals, not law abiding citizens. We like to think they have bigger fish to fry, you know like terrorists and child molesters. So this man probably never expected, in his wildest dreams, that cops would be crashing his door down. Why would he? He’s not a criminal on the lam, he was just a guy living his life. As a matter of fact, he had just been the victim of a crime and had probably been in touch with the police the very same week.

And anyway, isn’t that the deal? Our government told us they needed tools to protect us, and our elected representatives said OK, do what you need to do. In exchange for our civil liberties, hard-working tax-paying law-abiding Americans are supposed to be able to go about their business and have nothing to worry about. You won’t be profiled, you won’t be spied on, and you won’t be bothered. Wasn’t that the deal? Isn’t that why people smugly say, “I don’t care if they _____. I have nothing to hide.”?

Well guess what? This deal sucks. We got scammed by our own government. They took our rights, and with all their new information they absolutely do profile, spy on and bother people more than ever before! Some government officials now behave with impunity. Some officers, perhaps a little vigorous in their enthusiasm, will not think twice about the consequences of sloppy police work. And why should they? They hold all the cards. But now one of them has been killed, and who is on the hook? The citizen. The citizen who, in this asymmetrical game of information warfare, had no idea what the hell was going on and had no reason to suspect or expect that police officers would be banging down his door. The citizen who bought the deal and trusted that he would not be treated like a criminal without cause.

But like Gregor in The Metamorphosis, one day he woke up to find himself a criminal. And like Joseph in The Trial, he’ll probably never get out of this in one piece. There will be no cake for him.

I’m just saying, it’s not supposed to work this way people. Anyone can get caught up in these grinding wheels. Anyone. You have no protection anymore, and that is why people complain about the loss of our civil liberties. The Bill of Rights is not some arcane document from the past - it’s the foundation of our democracy.

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