Thursday, June 23, 2011

"When the cops come...

...all I hear is woop woop woop." Need for Speed by Petey Pablo.

There was a recent post about this article on a friend's wall, and my sweet husband responded to some anti-law-enforcement comments. This led to a somewhat heated debate with a young man apparently on the verge of becoming a public defense attorney who said some pretty unkind things against Ryan, as well as a very poor argument against law enforcement restricting civil liberties.

All of you know that I am very protective of American civil liberties. But I couldn't let this opportunity to infuse a little good reason into the debate. (I have changed the name of the primary insultant against Ry with "Mr. H"). This was my response:

Regarding the case in question, the penal code in NY state is here:

The definition in article 195 is broad enough to cover any action done contrary to the instruction of a law enforcement official in the line of duty. As citizens, our liberty is protected in some instances through obedience of a law enforcement official though our actions may otherwise be completely legal. This specific law is written with extremely broad parameters and no doubt the court system will depend heavily on case law for each case applying, we can only hope, common sense and a dedicated regard for civil liberties. Obviously it is not illegal to take video from your front yard, and in the spirit of civil liberty, I personally am all in favor of allowing that freedom. There are, however, specific instances when such an action is temporarily illegal. It is up to the court system to decide whether the law enforcement official acted according to the law.

Law enforcement have a reason to be concerned when a person encroaches on a tense or violent situation whether it is to film, to try to be helpful, or to harm. To steal a phrase from the CIA cliche book: "Hope for the best but plan for the worst." To generalize our example, when a person with vocal anti-law enforcement views is encroaching on a tense situation, it is not unreasonable to ask or require him to maintain a proper distance from a situation in which he clearly intends to exacerbate the chaos. That being said, with him not being in danger as a result of his obedience, the legal (and in my opinion, the RIGHT) response would be to obey and then lodge a complaint resulting in a civil suit that would protect perceived civil liberties. In this case, she continued to add to the chaos (and therefore the danger) of the situation, resulting in her arrest.

But let's distance ourselves from the specific and think of another example. We are entitled as US citizens and land-owners to walk across any part of our property at any time. If that property is used for criminal purpose completely without or knowledge and against our wishes, then the site of that crime will be taken over by law enforcement and the owner is temporarily not permitted on that portion of his property. Even though the owner may be completely faultless and guiltless as to the initial crime, to cross the police line constitutes a different kind of criminal act, even though he is on his own property excising what would ordinarily be completely within his rights. It does not matter how good or evil his intentions in this situation, he is guilty of disobeying law enforcement and impeding (or at best polluting) a crime scene. In this example, there is not even the immediate concern for safety of the officer or civilians, yet it is obvious that our civil liberties must be temporarily restricted to allow for law enforcement to maintain security--and this is the balance that we must constantly strive for concerning civil liberties and law enforcement.

If law enforcement is abusing the power vested in them by the state (therefore, by the citizens) he should be reprimanded, removed, and the wrongs put to right. If the citizen is abusing their civil liberties and endangering the official, other citizens, or otherwise breaking the law, they must be held accountable. If a person is wrongly accused, intelligent and honest persons, such as Mr. H, should defend them. And if the police are wrongly accused of an abuse of power, we depend on the judicial system to protect them. This requires wise and clear thinking officials in every level of government, as well as good and clear laws to be upheld. If we don't like vague and impractical laws (such as the one in effect in Rochester NY?) and we don't trust the judicial system to weed out the wrongfully accused, then we need to vote in officials who will write clear laws, and judges who will uphold true justice, and license attorneys who will defend the innocent and accuse the guilty, and enlist law enforcement that will not abuse their power.

In a final note--personal attacks such as the one above against Ryan show the vapid and unclear thinking that leads to an inability to practice law, whether from the law enforcement perspective or the legal system--either way I would urge Mr. H to consider wording his disagreements without ad-hominem attacks (which only weaken his arguments logically) and with good research and a full reading of his opponent's arguments, rather than latching on to one phrase and taking it the worse possible way. Calling law enforcement useless and Ryan "the reason all cops are assumed to be power hungry petty tyrants drunk off their own power (and a bit of steroids as well)" is not only ignorant, but also unreasonable as you have absolutely not knowledge, personal or otherwise, as to Ryan in particular, or (by your own admission) any police activity in the first person. As I'm sure Mr. H would agree, research and good fact-finding are indispensable in application of the law and formation of legal opinion.

What do you all think? I realize I'm maybe just a teensy-weensy bit prejudice for law enforcement, both because of my background and because of our current position. I'd love to hear your thoughts! Am I crazy? Is my reasoning totally flawed?

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