In “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents,” his brilliant anatomy of covert state despotism, Edmund Burke noted that “the forms of a free, and the ends of an arbitrary [i.e., despotic] Government” are not at all incompatible. You may well live in a country in which the law of the land states that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” But it is the work of a moment for a despotic government to supersede that law in fact if not in name.
Consider, to take just one example, the Transportation Security Administration. When Senator Rand Paul was detained by the TSA for refusing a pat-down, the senator’s father, Congressman Ron Paul, declared that “the police state in this country is growing out of control.” Indeed. The chaps and chapettes who staff the TSA specialize in useless physical violation — useless, that is, for foiling terrorists or improving security: for intimidating citizens and encouraging the habit of docility, the intrusive searches are powerful tools.
But if the TSA is an obnoxious institution, it has plenty of competition from certain local police forces. Consider the letter I received yesterday from a friend in an upscale town in the mid-West:
Last Saturday, [my son’s] kids were playing in their front yards in the snow with the neighborhood kids. About 5 pm [their mother] called them in for dinner. James (age 6) came in, took off his hat and coat (he was still in his snow boots, snow pants, long underwear and long shirt) when [his mother] told him to run two houses down the street to get his sister to come home. James ran past [his father] who was waiting on the front porch for a client and watched James run down the street. He then saw a cop car make a u-turn, stop and walk up the neighbor’s walkway and confront James. [My son] was there within seconds. The cop said he was writing [him] up for James not having a coat on (temp was about 25). Now this house he ran to wasn’t more than 100 feet from [my son’s] house. Cop called DCFS [Department of Children and Family Services] that moment and said that James was barefoot, had inappropriate clothing, and lack of adult supervision. [My son] went back to his clients and Julie went to confront the cop. She was as mad as I have ever heard her and the cop was just abusive. Said he was writing down everything she said and kept asking her if she was done yet. [My son] called the sergeant on call who said he didn’t know the cop but would look into it. [He] got no call back. Sunday morning at 9 a.m. a person from DCFS appeared at the front door wanted to search the house and talk to James who was hysterical by this time. DCFS said they didn’t think there was going to be a problem. On Monday [my son] called the police department asking to talk to the police chief. Secretary wouldn’t put him through but sent him to another sergeant. [He] explained his story and sent him the photo he took of James after he got back into the house. Officer said that the picture was taken some time after the incident and [My son] could have dressed James up. [My son] wanted to file a police harassment complaint but the cop said, “If you do and we find that any of what you say is wrong, we will prosecute you!” [He] finally got a hold of the police chief who really wasn’t going to do anything about it. [My son] is giving up for fear of reprisals. Amazing isn’t it. Now we should call the police station so they can determine what type of clothing we should put on our kids before we let them out of the house.
Note the phrase “fear of reprisals.” I omitted the names of my friend’s son and changed the name of their little boy to minimize the chance of reprisals from this publicity. But think about it: since when should law-abiding citizens in a free country fear reprisals from the police or other government bureaucrats? The answer, of course, is “just as soon as that country starts treating its citizens as wards of the state.” I sent the above missive to a lawyer friend who advised that the best recourse was publicity in some local papers. I hope it is forthcoming. In the meantime, I hope my friend rallies all his acquaintances to do exactly what he suggested: call the police station every morning to get a bulletin on what to wear that day. A few hundred calls a day might just dampen police enthusiasm for this particular form of harassment. It will also while away the time until the town can get around to cutting the budget of their local police force and publicly humiliate the egregious officer who thinks he was hired to be a nanny-state bully not a public servant.