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.Share