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DC checkpoint plan latest 'police state' tactic: Councilman
Nick Juliano
Published: Wednesday June 4, 2008

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Over the last few months, city officials in Washington, DC, have instituted an array of tactics that has civil libertarians fearing the nation's capital is looking at the Bill of Rights as little more than a suggestion.

The latest proposal from DC's mayor and police chief would have officers patrolling Soviet-esque checkpoints limiting residents' ability to travel to and from targeted neighborhoods. The plan was reported Wednesday in The Examiner:

D.C. police will seal off entire neighborhoods, set up checkpoints and kick out strangers under a new program that D.C. officials hope will help them rescue the city from its out-of-control violence. Under an executive order expected to be announced today, police Chief Cathy L. Lanier will have the authority to designate “Neighborhood Safety Zones.” At least six officers will man cordons around those zones and demand identification from people coming in and out of them. Anyone who doesn’t live there, work there or have “legitimate reason” to be there will be sent away or face arrest, documents obtained by The Examiner show.

A city councilman who represents some of the affected neighborhoods -- in the District's northeast quadrant -- was cautiously optimistic about the proposal's potential to "crack down on ... open-air drug markets." But the local lawmaker, Harry Thomas, did express worries about DC "moving towards a police state."

Local blog DCist mocked the proposal and its defenders.

"Interim Attorney General Peter Nickles actually said that measures of this sort have 'been used in other cities,'" the blog noted. "Which cities are those, Mr. Nickles? Warsaw?"

Libertarian blogger Megan McArdle asked, "Where the hell am I living?"

DC has had a spate of violence recently, and I applaud the police department's urge to do something. However, this something seems to follow the logic outlined by Bryan Caplan:

1. Something must be done

2. This is something

3. Therefore, this must be done

Crime tears the fabric of society, but so does a government which believes that it may at any time control the movements of its citizens like so many (presumptively suspicious) sheep...

This latest draconian move follows several other recent proposals from DC officials that seemed to look upon individual rights and privacy concerns as little more than afterthoughts.

After outrage from civil liberties and gun-rights groups, DC delayed implementation of one plan that would send police door-to-door in targeted neighborhoods to conduct warrantless searches looking for drugs or guns. The so-called "safe homes" initiative has not been called off, however, so the local ACLU chapter is holding training sessions to educate people of their rights.

Another plan with Orwellian echos has the District creating a 24-hour surveillance network that aims to link together and constantly monitor thousands of closed-circuit video cameras distributed throughout the district.

The neighborhood checkpoint plan is scheduled to go into effect next week in the Trinidad neighborhood in northeast DC, according to the mayors office.

A local law school dean who leads DC's ACLU chapter called the idea "cockamamie" and ineffective.

“I think they tried this in Russia and it failed,” Shelley Broderick told The Examiner. “It’s just our experience in this city that we always end up targeting poor people and people of color, and we treat the kids coming home from choir practice the same as we treat those kids who are selling drugs.”

 
 


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