Edge of Chaos is a political podcast starring Joe Ryan and Neurotoxin. Its aim is to have a free-flowing discussion of news and current events that also examines the empirical outcomes of public policy, avoiding biases based on ideology and policy intentions. Listener discretion is both advised and encouraged.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Reaction To Tony Stiles' Detention"

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Heard of the Appendix to the Constitution that lists exceptions and special circumstances where that doesn't apply?

Me neither.

I believe Tony Stiles and his team have been handed a golden opportunity to challenge a blatantly unconstitutional practice that way too many Americans have come accept as normal - the practice of domestic checkpoints. In the video, the Deputy refers to 'probable cause' in the form of a canine identifying a "hit" on the vehicle. I don't know what kind of canines the Federal government is breeding, but I'm not aware of any dogs that can smell anything in a vehicle passing by at freeway speed. Hence, before the canine "hit" on the vehicle, the vehicle was stopped, and neither the Sheriff nor the DHS officers provided any warrant or cause for that stop.

Leaving border enforcement out of this debate, there is absolutely nothing in the Constitution (Federal or ANY State) that authorizes any government agency to blanketly stop all motorists on any public street or highway. Further, the 4th Amendment expressly forbids this; as a vehicle you own, lease, or rent is pretty obviously your "personal effect". What this means is that every DHS checkpoint not set up at a border crossing, every curfew sweep for teenagers, every sobriety checkpoint, and every checkpoint established as a result of a declared state of emergency is a blatant violation of the Constitution. Special security circumstances (i.e. Boston Marathon bombing), angelic intentions such as safety from drunk drivers, and the general acceptance of these practices as "routine" all have 0 bearing on Constitutionality. I could go into long, evidence-backed rants into why these practices are thoroughly counter-productive and accomplish the opposite of what they intend, but Constitutionality trumps that debate. Even IF government could keep us safe from terrorists and criminals using these tactics, I would still be opposed to them until the Constitution was amended to allow them. The Constitution is a set of laws for the GOVERNMENT to follow, and allowing the government to define exceptions and conditions defeats its point entirely. A government whose functions are not strictly and narrowly defined is infinitely more dangerous than any terrorist or criminal, and simple democracy has always proven to be an insufficient check on this condition.

I'm not suggesting you endanger your life and others by blowing through the types of checkpoints listed in blatant disregard. I AM, however, suggesting remembering that the only authority under which you are being stopped is force, and that upon stopping you peacefully refuse to comply with anything while politely engaging the officers in a debate of Constitutionality; preferably while recording the incident. This applies to all law enforcement belligerence in general, and while it helps to know Constitutional basics - you in no way have to be an expert on case law to do this effectively. The REALLY challenging part is remaining calm while surrounded by trained people with firearms who are well-practiced at being intimidating and manipulative; seeing as if you become agitated and come off as a threat, they will be able to justify using force to subdue you. However, remind yourself that they have the burden of proof; no matter how emphatically they insist otherwise. I'm familiar with many cases - and have publicized a couple here - when someone being unconstitutionally harassed by law enforcement was eventually left alone because they maintained their composure in this fashion.

If, however, you are not one of the lucky ones, remember that you win when you leave them no choice but to subdue you by force, or threat of force. Anything they charge you with in that case is less likely to stand up in court, and more importantly this raises the overall costs of law enforcement belligerence. Law enforcement does not like it when people understand this, but their resources are limited and they are expected to perform to a certain standard of maintaining public safety. Forcing every incident of harassment to tie up multiple officers for a long period of time stretches them thin, and publicizing these occurrences diminishes public trust both in law enforcement in general and specifically in the bullshit they peddle as they try to manipulate and intimidate us. If even 10% of this country committed to this relatively safe and cheap form of peaceful disobedience, law enforcement agencies would be forced to rethink these practices in the interest of their own job security and avoiding political scrutiny from many sides.

On the other hand, by complying when you're not required to, you are shirking your duty as a citizen and contributing to the problem. As Joe pointed out when I talked to him about this incident, the underlying problem is that law enforcement is bored, drunk with power, and doing anything to justify its continuous funding while record low crime statistics endanger it. By buying into the many myths surrounding the "need" for these practices to keep us safe and compliance equating to respect for law enforcement; you are enabling not only a police state, but colossal amounts of government waste in economic times when we REALLY cannot afford it.

And that brings me to Tony Stiles' and Ben Swann's own take on the situation. I'm proud of Tony and his associates for challenging the authorities peacefully and respectfully despite the officers getting rude and agitated. It warms my heart to see anyone in uniform get outraged when they are asked to explain their cause or warrant. THIS is why we have to constantly remind them that they work for us and are bound by Constitutional limits, because they forget the minute we stop.

However, I don't think it's safe to assume these events are the result of any government agency targeting Tony Stiles and trying to derail his liberty tour. That's certainly within the realm of possibility, but empirical analysis cannot be based on suspicion and speculation, even when it concerns your friends and political allies being harassed by the authorities. I'm also hesitant to jump to this conclusion because there is 0 reason to believe government agencies are that coordinated and clever. Their policy and procedure manuals may prescribe inter-agency cooperation and sharing of information, but the burden of proof that anyone actually reads - much less implements - these is on the claimant. I have seen nothing but volumes of evidence to the contrary both in my education as a political scientist and professional experience as an organizer. I think Joe's take that law enforcement is bored and on a power/waste trip is a far more plausible theory. Is it really worth all those resources paid for with your tax dollars to allegedly locate a "use" quantity of marijuana in a vehicle occupied by 3 grown men? Because even giving the authorities all the benefit of the doubt imaginable, that's the best anyone could accomplish here.

My suggestion to Tony, who is my friend and a close affiliate of Edge of Chaos, is to focus on the Constitutionality and empirical ridiculousness of this incident as it progresses. He has the resources and the virality to become a champion for a very worthwhile cause that lies at the core of our struggle both for civil liberties and against government waste, as well as to go down in history as an example of belligerent law enforcement harassing the wrong guy and paying for it nationwide. Focusing on how this effected him and his associates personally may be satisfying and draw short-term support, but government apologist pundits are likely to drown him out with arguments that stopping "potential" (read "non-existent") threats is worth the discomfort.


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