Checkpoints are Un-American
I’m back! Thank you. Please. Please. Thank you. No more cheering. Thank you. Thank you. You’re so kind. (I have my Obama-esque slight embarrassment, while still appreciative, serious look on).
Imagine this scenario, my millions: You’re walking down the road minding your own business, nice sunny afternoon for a stroll, whistling your favourite tune, smiling benignly on the charming scene around you, warmly greeting your passers-by, thinking to yourself, “God is in His Heaven and all is well with the world.” You turn a corner and “Eh up! (as they say in Yorkshire). What’s this? A gaggle of your local constabulary, uniforms, badges and hair-gell glinting in the sun, chests unnaturally big from the bullet-proof vests (or the steroids), guns black and menacing sexily holstered on the hip, you get the idea, and they’re making everyone stop and checking their “papers” like that scene on the train in The Great Escape (why do we always employ a German accent when we say “show me your papers”?). Suddenly, your pleasant afternoon is surreally transformed into this unexpected and unwanted and unavoidable encounter with the armed forces of the government. And you have to stop. You have no choice. You have to engage them. You have to show them your papers before they’ll let you carry on down the road (or arrest you). So you, proud American, living in the land of the free, confident in your cherished conceptions of our country as the paragon of virtue, the beacon of hope and freedom around the world, decide that you don’t feel like doing all of that, and you turn around and walk way. But, get this, the cops chase you down and make you do whatever it is they’re doing with all those other unwitting victims (shit, if a beggar did that to you, he’d be arrested).
No! No! Don’t panic, my throng, I don’t want to start one of those War of the Worlds things: New Jersey housewives throwing themselves off bridges … Good people of America, fear not! It can’t happen. They’re not allowed to do that. The whole thing would be unconstitutional (an unreasonable seizure which the 4th Amendment protects against); both the gaggle and the chasing. You’re safe. Don’t worry. In North Carolina, it would also be a violation of our Constitution’s prohibition against general warrants because general warrants are “dangerous to liberty.” Whew.
But, relieved readers, don’t start high-fiving each other and chanting USA USA USA just yet. This frightening scenario is exactly what happens when the police set up traffic checkpoints. There’s no difference: the quiet stroll down the road, the pleasant (or necessary) drive. They’re the same thing. Ordinarily, when you’re driving, a cop must have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that you’re committing a crime before he can pull you over — speeding, not wearing a seatbelt, a light that doesn’t work — it doesn’t take much. But a traffic checkpoint doesn’t require any of that. It is exactly a stop with out that suspicion; everyone is being stopped whether they’re dong something wrong or not. And (yeah, you see it coming), if you choose to make a legal turn to avoid the inconvenience of the checkpoint, they’ll chase you down and stop you anyway. All of this, they can do. And they do. The gaggle and the chasers are allowed when you’re in a car.
But, impassioned reader, I hear your anguished cry: Why? Why, Johnny? How can this be? Well, my fellow enraged citizen of the home of the brave, I’ll tell you: Because our courts have said they can. There you have it, my soul siblings. Our Constitutions, national and state, prohibit it, but our courts say it’s ok.
All together now: Oh say, can you see…
To be continued…