March 27, 2009

The Thin Blue Line

Category: News — Ira @ 6:57 pm


Every encounter between civilians and the state’s armed enforcers has
the potential to escalate into an episode of state-inflicted lethal violence.

William Norman Grigg

I saw the police car pull into the parking lot and park outside the office. A wiry middle-aged state cop got out and walked in. It was a Saturday morning and I was the only guy there.

He greeted me curtly. Seems the alarm had triggered when I’d arrived earlier. It had made no sound, so I was unaware that it had tripped. The alarm company had notified the police. Early on a weekend morning, the local cops weren’t around. So a state trooper was dispatched. He was probably at the end of his shift and seemed irate at this last minute call.

I assured the cop that I was the general manager at Graber and was here working, with one guy out in the yard. He seemed to believe me. Then he got out his writing pad.

“Your name?” he asked. I told him. Spelled it out.

I reiterated. I worked here. Was the GM. He jotted notes on his pad.

Then he requested my date of birth. I balked.

“Why do you need my date of birth?” I asked. Politely.

He bristled, his close-cropped gray hair stood on end. His face turned ugly. “Because I’m talking to you,” he snarled.

I said nothing. Just gaped at him, across the counter. Then he caught himself. His whole demeanor changed, in less than a second.

“Look, I just need to know you are who you say you are,” he said, much calmer now. Almost polite. “That’s all. That’s why I need your date of birth.”

So I finally told him. Unhappily. “Don’t see why you need to know that,” I grumbled. He thanked me tensely and walked out. Sat in his car at his computer, plugging in all the info I’d given. And, I thought suspiciously, probably inserting a red mark beside my name as a warning to future cops that I was a trouble maker. And had dared to question his authority.

The experience left me irritated and a little shaken. And then steaming mad. The guy was nothing more than a cheap thug in a uniform with a chip on his shoulder, a badge, and a gun on his hip. A thug of the state.

There are two polar-opposite views out there when it comes to cops. From the left, cops are brutish thugs, out there to bash heads and deprive poor innocent people of their rights and drag as many as possible off to jail. From the right, cops serve and protect; they are that thin blue line between helpless civilians and the savage human beasts that roam the land.

Most Amish and associated plain groups view cops as a necessary arm of the secular government. People to be respected and slightly feared. My father would not have believed in calling the cops for any reason. At least that’s what he professed. I don’t think he was ever really tested on the issue. Never robbed or physically accosted or anything.

Plain people have a simplistic world view. They are honest. They keep their promises. Their yes means yes, their no means no. They don’t swear oaths. And because that’s how they operate, they expect the world around them to be the same way.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m not being critical here. Just stating things as they are. Or as I see them. Ultimately though, most plain folks are naïve, as sheep among wolves, harmless as doves. But not wise as serpents. Most believe that if you don’t do anything wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear. That the government is generally benign. It’s not.

In their rare brushes with the law, they are as innocents led to slaughter. Open, stating their views honestly. Admitting their mistakes. Expecting to be taken at their word, not to have the facts twisted and used against them. Which can come back and bite them. And often does.

I used to be pretty ambivalent on the issue, but mostly a 100% law and order guy. Cops were always right. If you got in the way and got your head bashed, too bad. Shouldn’t have been out there in the first place. I never had much direct contact with cops. They were just a fact of life, the guys stopping speeders and handing out tickets. And solving crimes and chasing bank robbers. In all my years, I’ve only been stopped by a cop once, about fifteen years ago. For speeding. And he let me off with a warning.

Like most people, I used to believe that if a man was arrested and charged with a crime, he was very likely guilty. Why else would he be arrested and charged? Surely those responsible for enforcing the laws wouldn’t knowingly destroy an innocent man’s life. For no other reason than to get a conviction.

I got irritated when a crook got off on a technicality, or was released for lack of evidence. How could that happen? The man was obviously guilty. Or he wouldn’t have been charged. Besides, one could usually just look at the accused, often a bedraggled druggy from a minority group, and tell he was a crook. That’s what I used to believe.

Then I went to law school, back in 1994. Into a pressure packed three year program that made my undergraduate years seem like high school. Attended classes with my peers. Plugged away, day after day. Learned some new perspectives.

And it soon began to sink through my thick skull. The reason the cops and prosecutors have to jump through so many hoops to prove their cases. It’s not to protect the guilty. It’s to protect the innocent. Regardless of how damning the evidence seems, the facts must still be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. The accused must have rights. Procedures must be strictly followed. Otherwise, everyone charged with a crime would be guilty. Including you and me.

I learned too, what it means when an accused pleads “Not Guilty.” That always happens in every criminal case. Before the law, the accused is not stating he didn’t commit the crime. He’s stating that the state must prove he committed the crime. The murderer caught red handed with blood dripping all over him will plead “Not Guilty.” And rightfully so. Even in that case, the state must prove he did it.

Soon enough, I graduated with a fairly radical outlook, considering my background. No longer so ambivalent. I’ve pretty much concluded that the less you have to do with law enforcement at any level, the better off you are.

I’m not out to write an anti-cop screed here. There are a lot of decent guys out there who are cops. At work, I’ve developed a real friendship with a local township cop, who wandered in several years ago, looking to remodel his garage. He’s returned off and on since then, always asks for me, and we figure out the next stage of his project. Young guy, recently married. Very friendly. Decent. I always tell him to leave our Graber trucks alone, and he laughs.

I’m sure there are many others like him. I just haven’t run into them. But to me, he’s the exception. I remain highly suspicious of law enforcement at every level. I concede there are criminal elements who must be confronted by some sort of legal enforce-ment arm. Even so, I’m increasingly edging into the libertarian camp. The enforcers must not be allowed to become oppressors. Must be closely watched. And held to account.

Seems to me that since 9/11 and the passage of the unconstitutional Patriot Act, the police at every level have been relegated to more of an occupational force than a protective one. The Thin Blue Line that prevents chaos has now morphed into a force that causes chaos. And instills fear.

These days, every time some two bit criminal is arrested, he is charged with a litany of offences, many overlapping. Always at the end, “terroristic threats.” A new crime, thanks to our esteemed Dept. of Homeland Security. An argument between two guys or a domestic dispute can now be an act of terrorism. Add years to any sentence. It’s silly. And oppressive.

Norman Rockwell’s idyllic America no longer exists. If it ever did. These days, if a cop intercepted a runaway child, the child would no doubt be taken and handed over to the loving care of the local Children and Youth agency. Charged as a delinquent for the pocket knife in his knapsack. His parents hauled into court and their rights terminated. The family unit decimated. Stuff like that happens every day.

Every weekend in this state, cops set up road blocks to catch drunk drivers. Innocent drivers are stopped, everyone in the car is harassed, forced to produce their identity papers. And heaven help the poor soul who had a glass of wine with dinner that night. He is hauled off in shackles, fined, imprisoned, ruined. It’s insane. Certainly not what you’d expect in a free country. More like Nazi Germany, or the Soviet Union.

This is all done by state and local cops. Which is bad enough. But compared to the Feds, they are amateurs.

I utterly despise federal law enforcement. Loathe every branch. The FBI, the INS, the TSA, and especially the ATF. There is not a single redeeming quality in any of those offices. Or any of their officers. To call them jack-booted thugs is too kind. They are animals, goons. They consume untold billions in tax dollars and do nothing but oppress and murder the populace. Ask the Randy Weaver family in Idaho, or the surviving Branch Davidians in Waco. Or Elian Gonzalez in Cuba.

The state level is perhaps a little less evil. But it was the state Leviathan that convicted and imprisoned Levi Stoltzfoos last year. He sits rotting in a maximum security prison, desititute, robbed by the state, with no hope of release in the next five to fifteen years.

Overall, maybe I’m not being fair. Maybe it’s just me, and my paranoid nature, letting off some steam. But if you take nothing else from this post, absorb this one point. Whether you are Amish, Beachy, Mennonite, or just plain old English. Keep it stored in your heart and mind until the day you might need it. Irrational as it now seems. Remote as such a possibility might be.

If any members of any branch of law enforcement ever show up at your door to “ask some questions,” do NOT engage them. Doesn’t matter what it’s about. Whether your horse broke through the fence and caused an accident, or you unknowingly broke some obscure law, or your taxes weren’t quite properly filed. Doesn’t matter whether the questions pertain to you or to something you may have witnessed. Doesn’t matter if the questioner is a cop, a prosecutor, a detective, or the dog warden. Or a combi-nation of any of the above.

You have no obligation to talk to them. Not without your attorney present. They have no right to even be on your property without a warrant. DO NOT talk to them. Regard-less of how friendly they are or how seemingly innocuous their inquiries. Talking to them will not prove your innocence, or gain you the slightest shred of lenience. It will only dig your hole deeper.

I’ve seen it happen more times than I care to count.

Keep in mind at all times this tragic fact. They are not there for a picnic. They are not there to slap you on the back and socialize. They are not there to find the truth. Or to seek justice. You are a statistic. For the DA to add and trumpet in his next election. For the cops to seek more funding. For the detective to get his raise. For the dog warden to shut down your kennel.

They are there in the name of the law. To destroy your life.

March 20, 2009

The Child in Spring (Sketch #13)

Category: News — Ira @ 6:48 pm


“The years flow by like water, and one day it is spring again.
Shall we ever ride out of the gates of the East again, as we
did once at morning, and seek again, as we did then, new
lands…..and glory, joy and triumph, and a shining city?”

—Thomas Wolfe

The dawn of spring. It always takes me back to the Aylmer days of childhood. In a fading sense each year, it seems, as the vivid memories recede ever further into the mists, and I wonder sometimes which are real and which are ghosts, figments in the subconscious mind of things not lived, but only seen or heard. Or if I can even tell the difference anymore.

Time languishes when you are a child. A day lasts a week. A long adventure from dawn to dusk. Where even the most mundane events are exciting forays into wild, uncharted terrain, the experiences eagerly absorbed and processed by a young and hungry mind. The sun, when it shines, does so endlessly, and a sunset lingers for hours, frozen in the western skies. The seasons creep slowly by, each a span of years by adult standards. A blustery March day, a lingering eternity of dark and wind-swept clouds.

And so it was in those long ago days.

Back then, the winters were always tough up there. Cold. And long. The Lake Erie effect. By late January or early February, our hockey games were over. Thawing and refreezing made the pond unsafe. We focused then on slogging through days and weeks to the coming breath, the warmth of spring, yearned for it with the fervent desire that only children know.

In March then, the winds howled, the hard cold rain spit sideways from the skies, the real thaws came, and the mud. Black greasy sticky stuff. Leeched onto and soiled everything it touched. Clogged our shoes as we huddled against the elements and doggedly trudged off to school on the spongy gravel roads. The great snow banks that had bordered the roads only weeks before now sat sad and shriveled, a shadow of their former grandeur, dirt-spattered by passing cars and trucks.

At school, we sat at our desks and longed for summer and heard the winds swoop and moan and rattle the windows. Chafed at recess, because the yard was too muddy or too wet to go out and play. Set up the carom board and played game after game during the lunch hour.

The sun shone too sometimes in March, and the warm winds blew and dried the earth. Like bees from hives, the plows came then to the fields on every farm about. We heard the jangling teams, saw the farmers hunched over on the cast-iron seats, and the endless ribbons of black dirt flowing from the plowshares.

In the afternoon, we walked home through the bustling neighborhood. And we could feel the pulse of new life in the air. Here a house wife, planting an early garden, there another gathering the flapping laundry from the backyard wash line. And everywhere the timid sprouts of green emerging in yards and pastures. Above us the great rafts of geese and ducks swept back to the north, returning now from their winter stay in southern climes. And maybe it was just me, but in spring I did not feel the deep longings that always stirred within when I saw them heading south in the fall. In October, they were leaving home, in March they were returning. Somehow it just wasn’t the same.

On the farms the impatient livestock milled about knee deep in muddy barnyards. The fields were still too soft and too tender to graze the cattle. So they remained confined, stirring in restless discontent until the day they would be freed.

The mud was everywhere.

And it got me one day, when I was probably four years old. My friend Karen and her Mom were at our house for the day. Karen was my best friend, and we played together several times a week. That afternoon, the March clouds parted, the sun emerged and it seemed like summer. Karen and I played outside, running here and there in the grass and mud.

Shortly after three o’clock, we looked to the west, and saw our siblings half a mile away, coming home from school, over the little hill at Neighbor John’s. Two of my brothers, Stephen and Titus, and maybe my sister Rachel. And several of Karen’s older brothers and sisters.

One of us got the bright idea that we could walk down the road to meet them. So we headed out, two little children, best friends. As we trudged along contentedly, I suddenly decided to veer through our pasture field on the south side of the road.

I don’t know what got into me. I wasn’t showing off or anything. Just a snap decision of a child. No rhyme or reason. Didn’t need one.

“I’m taking a long cut through this field,” I told Karen matter-of-factly. I don’t know where I got it, but that’s the term I used. Long cut. Guess I figured if you can take a short cut, it must follow that you can take a long one too.

Karen looked dubious. But she didn’t dissuade me. She didn’t follow me either.

There was no fence. I slopped through the road ditch and into the field and walked along on the soft dead grass. Almost immediately, serious difficulties arose. Mud. With each step, I sank down further. But I’d get through, I figured. I kept slogging on, veering further into the field. Sank deeper. Finally realizing there was no way forward, I turned back to the road. Too late. I was stuck. And how. Couldn’t move. The harder I struggled, the deeper my little boots sank.

Karen, who’d wisely stayed on the road, saw me sink and heard my distressed wail.

“I’m stuck,” I shouted. Duh. I swayed back and forth. My boots sank even deeper.

Karen remained calm. “Mark will get you out,” she called back. Mark was her older brother, a stocky powerful seventh grader.

By now the crowd of school children approached. Karen ran to meet them.

“Ira’s stuck,” she told them, pointing at me. Duh, again. They could see that much. I was still struggling forlornly, increasingly helpless, sinking ever deeper. But I didn’t cry.

Her brother chuckled a hearty burly chuckle. He handed his lunch box to one of my brothers. Walked into the field toward me. I waited helplessly, fearing he’d get stuck too. What would we do then?

But he plowed right in, and came up to me. “Are you stuck?” he roared cheerfully. Duh, again. He grasped me firmly under my armpits and lifted with a powerful heave. Up I shot, one of my boots making a loud sucking sound as it was unwillingly extracted from the mud. My other boot slipped off and remained stuck. Somehow Mark cradled me under one arm and reached down and pulled up the recalcitrant boot.

Still holding me under one arm, he strode through the mud back to terra firma. I marveled at his strength. We reached the road and he set me on my feet. I stomped and kicked vigorously to rid my boots of mud.

Karen flitted about, proud of her big brother who had rescued her best friend. And that was that. We all walked on home to our warm house, where Mom and Mandy, Karen’s mom, were finishing their afternoon coffee. No one fussed too much at my unfortunate little adventure.

That’s what it was to me. An adventure. A thing to reflect on and ponder. I quietly locked it safely away in the files of my memory.

And that was spring when I was four.

Last weekend several relatives showed up unexpectedly. Lester Yutzy from Kansas was at Steves Friday night for one night. Also, my nephew Gideon Yutzy drove over for the weekend from his classes at Faith Builders in western PA.

Gideon and Ira

Gideon is in his student stage, attending classes and grappling with the issues of his culture and generation. After supper we sat around and debated many things, iron sharpening iron. Fairly or unfairly, I’ve always been mildly suspicious of Faith Builders as a quasi-socialistic Beachy/Mennonite enclave. Somewhat hostile to wealth. Open to theories of voluntary poverty, and so forth. Which are anathema to me. But I might have it all wrong. If so, I’m open to correction. Any Faith Builders students out there who might care to clarify?

We had a great time. Lots of fun, debating. I did manage to push a book on him, entitled Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators. David Chilton’s timeless classic. Which Gideon promised to read. I read the book back in the mid 1990s, and it had tremendous influence on the way I view a lot of things, including wealth. I look forward to hashing it out with him in future discussions.

Obama continues his hapless floundering while trying to socialize every aspect of our culture, under the guise of stimulating the economy. Every time he announces a new bailout, the markets plummet another couple hundred points.

But last week I heard of a policy he wants to change, one that I would definitely support. The lifting of the embargo on Cuba. One of the most senseless policies in our country’s recent history. JFK installed the embargo back in the 1960s, as a punishment for Castro. No president since has had the guts to revoke it.

So when Obama proposes something I agree with, I’ll support him most heartily. As I do on this, the only thing I’ve heard from him that makes even the slightest lick of sense. The embargo’s major accomplishment: It has for over a generation cruelly deprived Americans of the finest cigars in the world. Break open the gates. Cuban stogie, anyone?

My buddy Erik Wesner of Amish America headlined me on his blog again. Very favor-ably. Guess I really need to get him that case of good wine now. Or at least take him out for a decent meal when he’s in the area. Welcome to all new readers.

A few thoughts on last week’s post. Whoa, Nellie. I certainly didn’t expect such visceral reactions. A great cacophony of yowling, like cats with their tails tied together. Readers merrily whacking each other, which was fine. And a few cheap shots at me. But that’s OK. I’m a big guy. I can take it. And all for merely suggesting that alien life might exist out there. I feel fortunate the Inquisition is not around anymore. I would surely be defending myself before a grim hooded tribunal. And be stretched out on the rack by now, in preparation for burning at the stake.

Not that I didn’t appreciate every comment. All 25 of them, certainly a record for recent months. I always appreciate all comments, at least the ones you see posted. But I am surprised nobody excoriated me for enjoying such childish things as Tom and Jerry cartoons. Maybe someone could take up that cudgel this week. Should be no shortage of volunteers.

I wrote what I wrote. I stand by it. And I’d write it again.