Thursday, June 5, 2008

D.C. cops say: 'Papers, please!'

I spent several pleasant days in Washington, D.C., last week, mostly dedicated to exploring the Dupont Circle area's restaurants and bars. But I'm not sure I would have had as good a time if I'd known about the imperial city's police force's scheme to seal off whole neighborhoods and interrogate visitors about their reasons for being there. According to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's office:

Potential Neighborhood Safety Zones must be approved by the Chief of Police, and will be in effect for a maximum of 10 days. Public safety checks will be established along the main thoroughfares of the established neighborhoods. Anyone driving into a designated area may be asked to show valid identification with a home address in that neighborhood, or to provide an explanation for entering the NSZ, such as attending church, a doctor’s appointment or visiting friends or relatives. Pedestrians will not be subject to the public safety checks.

City officials dismiss any civil liberties concerns raised by the establishment of police checkpoints, but not everybody agrees. The Examiner reports that Assistant U.S. Attorney Bradley Weinsheimer is among those who question the wisdom of random document checks and the ejection of people disapproved by police from no-go neighborhoods. "As you can see, I am very concerned that the NSZs will not pass constitutional muster or at least that there are so many circumstances that will lead to discretionary calls on the part of officers that as applied, the NSZs will be unconstitutional," Weinsheimer wrote in an email to D.C. police.

Constitutional scholars including the Cato Institute's Roger Pilon and District Councilwoman Mary Cheh, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University, have chimed in with similar objections to the Iron-Curtain-style tactics.

Whatever the courts ultimately say about D.C. police checkpoints, I think it's remarkable that, in the capital city of a republic established by the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Sam Adams, people who are not suspected of committing any crimes are being forced to show their documents at police roadblocks and justify their presence on public streets. Travel -- even local travel -- has now become a privilege to be dispensed by government officials only if you can satisfy them as to your reasons for going from one place to another.

It's been a long road to this point, beginning with passport requirements, through drivers licenses and vehicle registration, easing into ID checks for air and train travel -- each move justified for reasons other than controlling people's movement, but each somehow managing to do just that.

Neighborhood checkpoints are repugnant and need to be stopped, but let's not pretend we're doing anything other than fighting a rearguard action.

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Anonymous claude said...

"Neighborhood checkpoints are repugnant and need to be stopped"

Cuz if they r not, they will be in every city in the nation in the next few years.

Hand them your ID and a copy of the Constitution and BOR. Yeah, youll probably get tased for doing so, but youre gonna get tased anyway. May as well earn it. :D

June 6, 2008 5:59 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

So, when does Atlas shrug and where does John Galt take his followers?

June 6, 2008 8:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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March 19, 2009 1:07 AM  

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