Friday, November 17, 2006

Footnote to "Are you glad to be in America?": Or, "Through with the goosestep."

Food for thought via IOZ:
The story of the student who was tortured by UCLA police is making the rounds. Much commentary focuses on the general issue of official brutality, or on the increasing militarization of police (even, apparently, university police), or on the genuine awfulness of Tasers, whose presumptive non-lethality (although they are, or can be in too many cases, lethal) engenders misuse by trigger-happy cops.

All of this is good and valid, and I have nothing substantive to add on any of these notes.

I popped over to UCLA's website to read the official statement, though:
Statement from UCLA Acting Chancellor Norman Abrams About Incident at Powell Library

University police are investigating an incident late last night in which police took a student into custody at Powell Library. Investigators are reviewing the incident and the officers' actions. The investigation and review will be thorough, vigorous and fair.

The safety of our campus community is of paramount importance to me. Routinely checking student identification after 11 p.m. at the campus library, which is open 24 hours, is a policy posted in the library that was enacted for the protection of our students. Compliance is critical for the safety and well-being of everyone.
The National ID issue has been much in the news lately, between the various Terror!™ boondoggles and Republican projects to decrease voter turnout among undesirables, by which they mean those demographically disinclined to vote for the Republican half of the War Party. The UCLA incident shows in microcosm why universal identification is such a dangerous idea for a free society.

The necessary, logical end of any universal identification scheme is that failure to produce identification becomes, in and of itself, a criminal act. The Acting Chancellor summarizes nicely: "Compliance is cricital." Every repressive modern society has empowered its police to make arbitrary arrests under the rubric of "your papers aren't in order."

Note also when you watch the video of "the incident" that while officers repeatedly attack the student for failing to identify himself properly, they repeatedly ignore calls for their own names and badge numbers.

"None of your goddamn business" is a human right.
My emphasis added. The libertarian part of my ideological makeup kicks into high gear when issues of our modern police state are concerned. The video I linked to previously is quite startling to say the least, not only for the raw brutality but also for the asymmetry of the relation between the police and the bystanders (and victim): the police or security guards don't have to "have their papers in order" whereas the rest of us apparently do. In an authoritarian state, in which any busybody with a badge or a title can delude themselves into thinking that they can simply stick their noses in anyone's business with impunity, we regrettably get to bear witness to incidents like the recent UCLA abuse - mainly due to the tendency for a subset of the rest of us to insist upon that fundamental right to simply be left alone. I would consider a satisfactory public policy one which I find works reasonably well interpersonally: I'll do my thing, and you'll do yours; I won't bug you and expect you to give me the same courtesy.

I suspect that what was so jarring to a number of UCLA students and alums - as well as their middle-class peers across the nation - was that such police behavior seemed at odds with the view of the US as the "land of the free" that they have been spoon-fed since birth. Not all of us have been sufficiently privileged to have been spoon-fed that particular ill-conceived notion. For the rest of us, it's only the "land of the free" for those not deemed "undesirables", and even then those privileged few must live in the veritable prisons of gated communities and their own prejudices & fears.

In the meantime, be wary of those who say "I'm with security (police, etc.) and I'm here to protect you." The costs to freedom for such "protection" are prohibitive.

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