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.



  1. Add to that list the FAA. Funny thing is, most of the guys I work with from there are very nice and reasonable, but the yokels above them are absolute… well, yokels (that doesn’t seem to be a word). There are few (if any) people alive today that are actually capable of handling power – in any institution.

    I am good friends with two state cops. One’s retired now and the other flies the police helicopter out of Reading. Both are super nice guys that I think the world of. Interestingly enough, the retired guy absolutely loathes the state police system and has had multiple run ins and lawsuits against them. Seems it really is a “good old boys” club where you are crucified if you dare to question the system – even from within. I’m sure he’d agree with you on many of your comments.


    Comment by Clayton — March 27, 2009 @ 7:28 pm

  2. Dun dun daaaaa! You’re not “the glass half full” type are you? And I bet you walked in the snow to school – UPHILL both ways! Yes, they’re all out to get you, they’re all crooked, they hate everybody, and there are no exceptions. That should give you a warm fuzzy. Come on – ALL or NOTHING; they’re there “to destroy your life”?? You’re kidding right? Sheesh.

    You’re angry about something or wanting to stir the pot. Don’t get me wrong, that’s totally fine with me. Telling people to be cautious – good; telling people to be paranoid and automatically distrust and despise any law official – not so good. But what the heck, it’s your writing and your opinion, so have at it. Over-generalized statements always make me wary though. I think we’ve come further than that.

    What do I know though – I have blonde hair and all blondes are dumb right?? I’m just being snotty. I think I’ll go watch Charlie’s Angels and see how it’s really done!

    Comment by Bethrusso — March 27, 2009 @ 8:29 pm

  3. Any attorney worth his salt would advise his clients to do exactly as Ira just did. Every time, without exception.

    Comment by D. L. — March 27, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

  4. I agree with this week’s writings all the way. Just this week, an NFL running back was harrassed and the cop pulled a gun on him. His mother in law was dying of cancer, so him and his wife rushed to the hospital. They came to a red light stopped and made sure that all was clear and proceeded, well the thug cop pulled them over right by the hospital. Next he ordered em out, the wife and another woman ran in to see her mom while her NFL husband was threatened by the cop. The NFL player said give me a fine but I gotta go, but the cop rudely held him until his mother in law died and it was too late for him to tell her good bye. Thankfully, the cop was fired.

    I’m all for the law to go after illegal immigrants and thug gangsters, drug dealers etc, but they are too chicken to go after those people. And instead throw their wieght around (usually literally) by harrasing law abiding citizens! After I saw a game warden lie and falsely accusing several friends, I from that day forth have realized, just like you said, to never trust them. They will do anything to get a confession. Always call a lawyer! And have your day in court. They’re just like 95% of government employees, too dumb to get a real job. The only government employees that you know are there for a good reason are our honorable military.

    Comment by Matt Yutzy — March 27, 2009 @ 11:36 pm

  5. Am I being moderated for some reason?

    Ira’s response: All comments are moderated until I release them. Don’t know why the video won’t link.

    Comment by RagPicker — March 28, 2009 @ 2:46 am

  6. Guess not. But the attempts to post a link to a series of youtube videos are not showing up.

    Comment by RagPicker — March 28, 2009 @ 2:47 am

  7. Hello Ira,

    I was reading your blog online and am wondering if you might be able to help me with some research. I work for a small independent production company and we are researching a documentary project about Rumspringa. Do you have any ideas as to how I should go about meeting kids who are on Rumspringa and questioning if they should join the church? Perhaps you know the communities that practice Rumspringa and where the kids hang out?

    I really appreciate your help and thank you for sharing your (Running Around) experience–it was very interesting reading your blog.

    Warm regards,


    Ira’s note: Before releasing this, I checked out Celia’s site and she does indeed work for a production company in Manhatten. If anyone knows any Rumspringa Amish youth who might want to talk to her, let me know and I will connect you.

    Comment by Celia — March 28, 2009 @ 8:25 am

  8. Send her to Sarasota from Jan-Mar 2010. Let her search Siesta Beach for Amish bathing suits & swimming trunks and start firing questions. In the evenings meet with the Amish youth from PA, OH, IN, IA, IL at the Volleyball games in Pinecraft Park.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — March 28, 2009 @ 9:46 am

  9. Thanks for the advice Ira. In our area just this past week 2 Amish guys got hauled in to jail for 5 days by the DNR. They own deer and I don’t know all the details but they came to the 1 guy’s house and as he came out of the house they kicked his feet out from under him and he fell and hit his head on a rock and went unconscious. They kicked him to try to wake him up and then dragged him to their car. This was all in front of the wife and kids – he’s a minister. This is what the wife told our family. They were put in jail without bond. His paper when he was released said something about owning some wild deer and resisting arrest. They’re saying that the Amish guy tried to take out 1 of the officers and the other 1 had to step in and knocked him down just in time to save his partner. So there’s 2 different versions going on here, but I think, too, that we really don’t have freedom under our government, and it scares me what they can and do get away with.

    I also believe that if this Amish guy did do something illegal, he shouldn’t just be allowed to get away with it. He should be held accountable to the state for his actions. BUT I also think they went way overboard because they knew they could probably get away with it.

    Comment by ELLEN — March 28, 2009 @ 10:21 am

  10. You know, maybe you’re bringing to light something I’ve never thought about or researched enough – if I have to be fair about this. I’ve worked for a lawyer and I know the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” with the legal system but I hate the thought of teaching my kids that everybody’s out to get them. I’ve seen many a video of police brutality – I know it’s out there, we all do. Ad nauseum. I’ve always told them though, if they’re out and feel like they’re in trouble to head to the nearest police station. I don’t know what to say now. Do I still say that?

    This is SO ironic that my 17 year old just NOW (this minute) told me about dropping her friend off at home yesterday (whose dad is a policeman) and the friend took off her seatbelt as they pulled in. The dad said she didn’t have her seat belt on and he should give my daughter a ticket right now for letting her ride with no seatbelt! They had to argue with her dad to convince him the seatbelt was on! At least he was her relative. Wow.

    I’m just all confused now. Grrrrr. Andy Griffith – now there was a good sheriff!! I need to move to Mayberry. :)

    Comment by Bethrusso — March 28, 2009 @ 10:38 am

  11. To save your life or what is left of your life. I ask, rather emphatically plead, that you to read this article and watch the video clip.

    Theme: Plead the fifth. If you are innocent, plead the fifth. If you are a Christian law abiding citizen, plead the fifth.

    Save a friend’s life. Forward this address.

    Ira’s response: ABSOLUTELY STELLAR!!!! Thanks for posting. EVERYONE needs to take the time to watch these videos. Both of them, but for sure the first one.

    Comment by Dave Miller — March 28, 2009 @ 3:14 pm

  12. Hi Ira:

    If you met me at a supercenter/at Hienz field or our Pittsburgh Penguins arena/Applebees/or at a church house you would have no clue who I am, and I would never recognize you either.

    I bumped into your site and have been reading everything for the last 2 days. I grew up about 2 miles from your childhood days in Aylmer and it is amazing how close I can relate to your experiences. I live in western Pa, have lived here 14 years and have a lot of the same feelings about politics/religion and people that purposely don’t educate themselves for fear of what will happen to their beliefs.

    I will write again if you have any interest in more info. So long.

    B. Hochstetler

    Comment by Ben Hochstetler — March 28, 2009 @ 8:27 pm

  13. Ben, I wonder if Ira would welcome a guest post from you? Sounds you have some good stories up your sleeve! :-)

    Comment by Vera — March 28, 2009 @ 10:33 pm

  14. All it takes for roles to become reversed, is to reprogram one generation.

    What has been lost sight of?
    Who is working for who.
    Simple as that.

    Proverb; Don’t bite that hand that is feeding you.

    Comment by Fritz — March 29, 2009 @ 11:35 am

  15. Great site, I enjoy reading it. I warned my family, this site may become required reading. Love the video-clips by Gary North.

    Comment by Dave — March 29, 2009 @ 7:49 pm

  16. Hello Everyone – As a teacher, the sister of a police officer (he’s my dear little brother) and the niece of the Public Defender of the 13th CC of Hills. Co. (Tampa), it all comes down to a few things. (1) Being able to effectively communicate and relate with all members of society (2) Passion and Respect for our US Constitution and (3) Protecting one’s Rights: emotional, physical and legal. A good read or movie to rent on this topic is “Gideon’s Trumpet.” The author is Anthony Lewis, the late Henry Fonda plays Gideon in the movie. The Supreme Court case that the book and movie is based on was the catalyst for the creation and need of PUBLIC DEFENDERS, which Ira you would have made a darn good one. Most people think (assume) their job is to set the scum of the earth free. It is not. It is to see that justice is legally served. In my family we have had to learn that sometimes you must agree to disagree and let love prevail. Oh Yeah … 1 bad “apple” does not ruin the whole batch!

    Take Care All,
    Michelle V.

    Comment by Michelle V. — March 29, 2009 @ 10:55 pm

  17. Appreciate your lawyerly advice.

    Your “red check mark” comment may be close to truth, as these articles show:
    “…58 strong, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) … “fusion centers” [are] for fusing forces that free people separate to forestall tyranny: the police, the military, and the private sector.
    “… “There is never ever enough information when it comes to terrorism” says Maj. Steven G. O’Donnell, deputy superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police. “That’s what post-9/11 is about.”
    “… they all share the same outcome and justification: they spy on us to protect us. …”

    See (and click on the Major O’Donnell link too)

    But befriending those charged with protecting makes sense. Just like “they” can see “us” as a threat, we can get the same wrong mindset. Those in uniform are people too, with human feeling. More so if they know you as a friend. Grigg’s article (thanks!) made me think of how Jesus taught to respond in similar days: if he forces you to go one mile, go two. In other words, don’t be belligerent (among other things).

    Comment by LeRoy — March 30, 2009 @ 9:06 pm

  18. So I watched both videos.. I admit there were points there I hadn’t thought of. Of how an innocent person could be proven guilty. And I know it’s the way of the law.. of the world, to never admit guilt, or even talk to a law enforcer. I’m sure you’re giving good advise.. as a lawyer. BUT.. I have to tell you, I get so tired of people not taking responsibility for their actions. Even car insurers will tell you.. never admit fault. So there can be this person, guilty as can be, everyone knows it. But he’s supposed to plead the fifth.. say not guilty. I lose respect for this person. Man up… take responsibility.. take the consequences if necessary!
    You spoke of the plain folks being naïve, harmless as doves. But not wise as serpents. Maybe that’s me too. But what about Joseph of the Bible. Very unjustly accused by Potiphars wife. Spent years in prison because he took a stand and had integrity. Apostle Paul, beaten and thrown in prison how many times. Jesus himself, the only sinless person to walk this earth.. was crucified. Were they all unwise people? God used all those situations to bring honor and glory to Him.
    I’m not saying I’d go down without a fight if I was unjustly accused. But be honest. Be forthright. After all (you probably saw this one coming from the beginning) there will be The Great Judgment Day… I don’t want to be found guilty or a liar there. Even if I’d have to suffer here on earth.
    Yes, I know there are crooks out there in uniforms. But my experience in my small town has been positive with the police. They’ve been there to help me, protect me, and even show mercy when I deserved that speeding ticket! So my first judgment of those in uniform will still be that they are there to serve & protect.. unless they prove otherwise.

    Comment by Susan — April 1, 2009 @ 10:38 pm

  19. Thought you’d like this, after reading your post…

    another Kentucky guy, not as well known as Gatewood, tho’ :~)

    Comment by pilgrimhen — April 3, 2009 @ 7:54 pm

  20. And away he gooooes! Or should I say went?

    Comment by Francine — April 29, 2014 @ 3:27 am

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