March 19, 2006

Guilty? Innocent? Throw Them In Jail And Sort It Out Later.

It's a few days old, but the first page of this New York Times story on anti-globalization protests in New York City in 2002 is worth reading.

Long story short, the police arrested a number of people (the article says "about 30") who were guilty of (wait for it...) looking like they were going to break the law. These were obviously protesters (still legal, as far as I know), who were wearing or carrying things that made the police think they were going to break the law at some point in the future. Thus, they were arrested (and most let go, without charges, later).

Silly me, I was under the impression that one had to actually break the law before one could be arrested. What a quaint, old fashioned, notion.

A brief rant: this is why electing "good" people is important. Look at the incentives here: the NYPD has no reason not to arrest anyone who looks funny. If they fail to keep order, they'll be blamed (and high-up individuals fired/demoted); thus, arresting anyone in sight (and violating the Constitution) seems reasonable - they manage to keep order, and any lawsuits are paid by the City (not NYPD), and likely no one gets fired or demoted for strong law and order actions (even if unconstitutional). Moreover, by the time the lawsuits are over, it's years down the line (in this case, four years), and nobody cares. Thus, in a choice between violating the constitution (and keeping order) or not violating the constitution (and perhaps having riots in the streets), the police opt to break the law. Only a strong political leader (and, clearly, neither Bloomsberg or Guiliani - whoever was in power in 2002 - was a strong leader) can force the police to choose the more legal option (no pre-emptive arrests) over the "safer" (but illegal) arresting people option.

I understand why the police would choose to do this; that doesn't make it right. This also tells me everything I need to know about Guiliani/Bloomberg, if either should choose to run for another office.

Posted by baltar at March 19, 2006 02:01 PM | TrackBack | Posted to Extremism | Free Speech | Law and the Courts | Liberty | Politics | The Ever Shrinking Constitution


All too similar to the herding off (and questionable arrests) of anti-Republican protestors during the 2004 GOP Convention in New York.

Posted by: Armand at March 19, 2006 02:54 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, this isn't a "NYC only" issue; following the "riots" in Seattle (at the WTO meeting in the 1990s), the trend in large city police policy is a pre-emptive one: policies similar to the NYPDs have been used in Washington DC (IMF meetings), Philadelphia (2000 Republican Convention), San Francisco? (2000 Democratic Convention?), and Boston (2004 Democratic Convention). This is now considered, as best I can tell, an "acceptable" policy in general. They arrest everyone that looks suspicious (and a few completely innocent ones who happen to get swept up in the crowd), and the quietly release them/drop the charges after the convention/event is over. It doesn't seem to matter to most people that this practice is blatanly illegal.

Posted by: baltar at March 19, 2006 03:01 PM | PERMALINK
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