Ever wonder what Osama bin Laden found so entertaining watching TV at his Abbottabad lair? It was probably video feeds of humiliated Americans being herded through the indignities of airport security by imperious TSA agents. He must have been delighted with America’s panic reaction to his 9/11 attacks — the pronounced expansion of police powers and the diminishment of Americans’ freedom.
There is no manifestation of government power more palpable than law enforcement. The presence of armed, uniformed police, who, ultimately, can command our compliance at the point of a gun, is as much an uneasy reminder of limits to our personal freedom as it is any reassurance of our safety.
While civilized societies must have reasonable restrictions on individual behavior, government at all levels, but especially at the federal level, seems to welcome any excuse to increase its power over the population. Official America’s reaction to any problem, real or perceived, is to pass another law restricting personal freedom. The inexorable increase of proscriptive laws, the myriad agencies to enforce them, and our stuffed prisons are ample evidence of that.
The expansion of police power is not only problematic because it diminishes freedom but also because it subjects more citizens to police abuse, the incidents of which could probably fill an encyclopedia. It takes an exceptional person to be a good cop; one who does not let his special position of power pervert his ego, one who honors his primary duty to protect the public, and who treats the public with respect.
But, with the post-9/11 hysteria America was blessed with the Transportation Security Administration and 45,000 new enforcement agents. This sudden, massive expansion of police personnel must have presented quite a recruiting challenge. How many good cops can you find that quickly?
It might be like the time my hunting buddy, Carl, whose excellent bird dog died just before pheasant season, drove around town and rounded up a number of stray dogs, took them to a field where he released them in hopes that one would be a hunter. Most of the dogs proved to be mutts who quickly ran amok wreaking noisy havoc. Only one began diligently sniffing his way down the crop rows to find the birds.
The many and continuing passenger complaints about TSA agents’ unprofessional behavior — including arbitrary aggressiveness, groping pat-downs, intimidations, as well as the recent smuggling complicity at LAX — indicates there are plenty of mutts running amok in our airports.
The ideological right rails against big government. It rejects and rebukes the Nanny State as the solvent that will dissolve American independence and self-reliance. The right wants less government interference in our lives, yet it supports intrusive laws like the Patriot Act and drug prohibition. These repressive laws with their police-state enforcement are dissolving the constitutional glue that holds America together.
A police state primarily protects the established elite. A Main Street dealer who sells marijuana goes to prison while a Wall Street banker who sells worthless securities does not.
Notice how political candidates from either party pledge to fight the special interests but are proud to proclaim the endorsement of the police officers associations, a powerful special interest whose lavish compensation packages are pushing jurisdictions to the brink of bankruptcy.
Notice how the Obama administration is seeking to intrude on citizens’ privacy by expanding public surveillance to include warrantless access to cell phone records. Notice how President Barack Obama has reneged on his pledge to call off federal drug warriors from busting voter-approved medical marijuana clinics. Like most politicians, Obama does not want to cross the law enforcement lobby — too many government employees making a good living by creating and incarcerating criminals.
Notice the relentless attempts by police-friendly politicians to disarm the public by pushing ever more restrictive gun laws. Politicians and police do not want an armed citizenry. But, how long do any people remain truly free when only agents of the government have guns? Just look at the carnage in Syria and other Middle East police states.
Those who justify, or rationalize, the expansion of the police state and the erosion of constitutional rights on the grounds of public safety, or the always conveniently nebulous “national security,” do not understand or appreciate that a free society requires a certain level of public fortitude. It takes courage to be free. At the pace we are relinquishing constitutional rights, a chicken will replace the bald eagle as our national symbol, and a sheep will replace the buffalo on the nickel.
No amount of laws and police are going to ensure that bad things won’t happen, but too many laws and police will ensure that they do.