Liberty at Risk in Sheboygan

6-24-09, 9:51 am

“The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal well-meaning but without understanding.” Louis Brandeis

Has it become impossible to govern the US by reason or logic? Frank Zappa originally asked that question in 1988, but it occurred to me recently that nothing has improved in the way government is run during the last twenty years. We are governed by trickery, fear, disinformation and superstition.

I was deeply bothered when I read in a Sheboygan Press (Wisconsin) article which included the Sheboygan Police Department’s response to the recent US Supreme Court decision regarding the search of a vehicle subsequent to arrest (that’s taking a looksie in your car after a cop pulls you over). They felt it would seriously hurt their amazing ability (my description) to combat crime and keep bad things like drugs, guns, and explosives off the streets of Sheboygan. Yes kids, explosives. Here I’ve been traversing the seemingly safe thoroughfares of my neighborhood, unaware of the insidious dangers of criminally minded Sheboyganites driving around with explosives and ready to attack and blow up the god-fearing, law-abiding ones.

I found it bothersome to read that the attitude of the Sheboygan Police Department is that it is necessary to conduct these searches in the name of safety. In a democracy, the government exists because (and only so long as) individual citizens give it a temporary license to exist – in exchange for the promise that government will behave itself. YOU own the government, not the other way around. However, with this comes the responsibility that individual actions do not threaten the well-being of others in our collective pursuit of life, liberty and the American dream.

I recently had an opportunity to speak with a few members of the Sheboygan Police Department. They actually told me that they routinely randomly stop vehicles to check license, registration, etc., and honestly, or dishonestly, believe it’s ok. This is in spite of the fact that the 4th Amendment of the Constitution prohibits this (you need reasonable suspicion of an illegal activity or probable cause – look it up, I’ll even give you the Supreme Court Reporter case cites). When I inquired about that aspect, I was told simply that “yes we can” (it’s not just an Obama campaign slogan) and “we do it all the time.” When did it become ok for the police to randomly stop and possibly search? Part of what we’ve licensed the government to do is keep law and order. So what the fuck went wrong?

How is it possible to profess freedom, democracy and liberty, when supporting actions which bear a not-so strange resemblance to old-style “axis of evil” tactics? If we’re all in the name of safety, why not construct a checkpoint to enter and leave the city and search every vehicle and check the background of everyone entering and exiting, thereby ensuring that no explosive carrying lawbreaker gets in – or out. In the meantime, I’ll get out my old army helmet and practice my “duck and cover” maneuvers in case someone lobs a grenade at me.