Boy, Did I Get That One Wrong
August 23, 2013 by Chip Wood
In all the years I’ve been writing this column, I have never had readers jump all over me like they did last week. Some of them were even polite about it! Here are just a few of the nearly 500 comments I received:
“The first thing I did after I read the article … checked my calendar to make sure it wasn’t April Fool’s Day,” said Average _Joe56. “Imagine my surprise when it wasn’t.”
GQ4U had the same reaction: “An anti-liberty article in Personal Liberty Digest? Am I on Candid Camera?”
TheOriginalDaveH, one of our most frequent posters, asked, “What? Did I wake up on the wrong side of the bed? Is Chip really arguing against the 4th Amendment?”
GiveMeLiberty,OrGiveMe Death (don’t you love his pen name?) was more emphatic: “Chip, have you lost your ever-loving MIND????? Seriously, you claim to be a conservative and you think stop-and-frisk is okay????? What the heck, dude, that is just wrong.”
Karolyn, another frequent correspondent, summed up her disappointment in just 10 words: “So now Chip is an advocate for the police state!”
A lot of folks were less kind than these examples. The cause of their ire was my defense of the stop-and-frisk program by the cops in New York City and my criticism of a Federal judge who found much of it unConstitutional.
You know what? I was wrong. My readers, bless their libertarian sentiments and uncompromising principles, are right.
I got blinded by two things. The first was the distorted logic the judge in this case exhibited. The second was the undisputed fact that major crime in New York City has plummeted.
Here’s one example of the kind of tortured thinking U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin showed in her ruling. She said that the police were justified in stopping and questioning David Floyd, the lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit. And it was even okay when they searched the pockets of his outer garments.
But they went too far, she ruled, when they also frisked his pants pockets. Searching his jacket was okay, but not his pants? Give me a break.
So let’s go back to the basics: the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. (Yes, in answer to one reader’s rhetorical question, I have heard of them. In fact, I keep a well-thumbed copy of both in my top desk drawer.)
Here’s what the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution says:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
That’s as clear as our Founding Fathers could make it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t clear enough to keep the courts from permitting some incredible abuses. So today, 80-year-old grandmothers can be groped at an airport in the name of security. The NSA can collect information on the emails and phone calls of virtually every American in the name of combating terrorism. And the police can stop, question and frisk anyone they want in the name of fighting crime. All they need to do is claim to have reasonable grounds for their suspicions. They don’t even have to believe that a crime has been permitted by the suspect – merely that some sort of criminal behavior may be going to take place.
All of this is perfectly okay with the Federal courts, which have repeatedly sided with the authorities in permitting stop-and-frisk programs. Even Judge Scheindlin, whose ruling led to last Friday’s column, found the basic premise of stop-and-frisk to be acceptable.
But the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have ruled in favor of many things that we Constitutionalists know are flat-out wrong. For most of the past century, the Federal government has acted as though the 9th and 10th Amendments to the Constitution simply don’t exist. Time after time, the Supreme Court has supported massive expansion of Federal programs and power, no matter how much they have to twist and distort the Constitution to allow it.
And let’s not even get into the 2nd Amendment, which promises all of us that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” Of course it is infringed all of the time. And nowhere are there more restrictions on our Constitutional right to bear arms than in New York City.
The most recent example of the Supreme Court’s tortuous logic in justifying yet another expansion of Federal power is when Chief Justice John Roberts said that the abomination known as Obamacare is Constitutional because it is a tax. So what if President Barack Obama and it supporters in Congress repeatedly denied that this was the case?
What about the claim that stop-and-frisk helps reduce crime? That’s the argument favored by its supporters, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg. (As one critic pointed out, “The first clue is that if you agree with Bloomberg on ANYTHING, you must immediately check yourself. The next thing you know, you’ll be agreeing with [Jesse] Jackson and [Al] Sharpton.” Ain’t gonna happen, medbob.)
Best-selling author Ann Coulter is one of many conservative commentators who support stop-and-frisk programs. In her syndicated column, “Stop and Frisk Policies Are Saving Lives,” she said that murders in the Big Apple were averaging about 2,000 a year when Mayor Rudy Giuliani took office in 1994. There were 714 – a decline of almost two-thirds – by the time he left office seven years later. And the number of murders has continued to fall, dropping to 419 murders last year.
That’s a big improvement. So it should come as no surprise that many of the citizens of New York City approve of stop-and-frisk. They think it makes them safer. And it probably does – at least from hoodlums and street criminals.
But remember what Benjamin Franklin, that very wise Founding Father, said. “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
How many Americans are willing to exchange some essential liberty for a little temporary safety? Or to ask it another way, how many will exchange much of their independence for security? I’m afraid the answer is a whole bunch of them.
But not among the readers of Personal Liberty Digest™. You are a proud, feisty and independent crowd, and I’m grateful for it… and for you.
So thank you, DavidForward, for saying, “It takes an honest man (or woman) to admit they may have made a mistake and reevaluate their position. Congratulations on proving you are such [an] individual! Personal integrity and common sense are sorely missed in our devolving police state; keep up the good work, honest thoughts, and evaluations.”
Thanks, too, to TheOriginalDave, who wrote, “Wow. I’m impressed. Not many people will own up to their errors. Thanks, Chip.”
And to frequent commentator Vicki, who wrote, “Thank you, Chip. We were wondering ‘cause you have always been a staunch supporter of individual liberty for all.”
I still am and always will be, Vicki. But I’ve got to admit, I blew it this time. Thanks to everyone who made sure I didn’t get away with it.
Next week we’ll be back taking aim at the enemies of liberty. I hope you’ll join us.
Until then, keep some powder dry.