November 23, 2005

Papers Please

Zombyboy is on top of things. Seems in Denver if you don't show I.D. on demand you not only get removed from the bus, but you get arrested. But it's not just a Denver thing as these were federal cops & there are federal charges involved.

This doesn't have a direct impact on me because I don't use the public transportation system around here. Why? Well aside from ticking off green boulderites when I drive through in a car that will hold 5 comfortably (well, depending upon the five) but being the only occupant, in my car I can pack. On a bus I cannot. Not even openly. Course I could carry concealed (immoral state laws to the contrary be damned) but it's easier to just avoid places that don't welcome gun owners.

That being said a woman was jailed for refusing to show I.D. on a bus. One of the first things I thought was, "Why the hell would I carry a drivers' license (the most common form of I.D.) when I'm not driving?"

But the lady was arrested (& very roughly from the description on the website Zomby links to) for failing to show I.D. The web site is a little behind the curve though:

"On the 9th of December 2005, Deborah Davis will be arraigned in U.S. District Court in a case that will determine whether Deb and the rest of us live in a free society, or in a country where we must show 'papers' whenever a cop demands them."

In the comments to Zombyboy's post (scroll down for the comments) Jed (from Freedomsight) points to a discussion forum in which Rich Lucibella of S.W.A.T. magazine seems to have arrived at that answer. & that answer would be that you do have to show papers on demand. I cannot say his reasoning is off or his conclusion is inaccurate.

While in theory we still have the protection of the 4th &/or 5th amendments in practice we'd very likely have to risk jail time before those protections were validated. In other words they've become in effect an affirmitive defense to charges, & possible grounds for a Bivens lawsuit. The most concise way to express the practical implications is through an allegory:

Let's say there's an amendment that prohibits a government agent from raping you. Now let's say the courts have discussed this amendment in the same way they've discussed the 4th & 5th amendments. The result would be that if a government agent tries to rape you then you must not resist if you didn't want to be arrested on the spot for failing to comply with the agent's orders. After the incident has occured you can then approach a court of law & determine if you were in fact raped & if so you may press charges & possibly sue your attacker. If you did choose to resist then you'd be arrested & it'd be up to the court to determine if your resistance was lawful. Either way you're looking at suffering a loss of freedom or a loss of privacy.

That's where we are now. Most folks simply don't want to take a minimum few days off while they sort things out from jail even when they're right, so there's a much more powerful incentive to simply comply. So I'd say that this case won't determine if we're in a free society, but rather if we can start moving back to the time when we were relatively more free.

On that note I'll leave you with someone else's words, more concise & eloquent than mine will be on the matter:

“The average man’s love of liberty is nine-tenth’s imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice and truth. He is not actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and intolerably lonely. Liberty is not a thing for the great masses of men. It is the exclusive possession of a small and disreputable minority, like knowledge, courage and honor. It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty--and he is usually an outlaw in democratic societies. It is, indeed, only the exceptional man who can even stand it. The average man doesn’t want to be free. He simply wants to be safe.” - H L Mencken

Posted by Publicola at November 23, 2005 03:38 AM | TrackBack

If I remember right, the bus in question was entering the Federal Center out in Lakewood. Yes, the feds need to see your papers when you enter a big, important federal reservation. That's why they have a fence and a guard at the gate.

Posted by: Billll at November 27, 2005 02:54 PM
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