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"I don't care what anyone but a court of law thinks," says Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker "Until a court says otherwise, if I say it's constitutional, it's constitutional."
August 27, 2002 6:35 AM   Subscribe

"I don't care what anyone but a court of law thinks," says Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker "Until a court says otherwise, if I say it's constitutional, it's constitutional." Sure, we've talked before about how Delaware is a cesspool of evil, but that was before it was reported that the cops in Wilmington were compiling a database of future suspects, before crimes were actually comitted.
posted by ph00dz (78 comments total)

 
"Hello, Wilmington Police? Yes, can I have your precrime department, please?"
posted by SpecialK at 6:46 AM on August 27, 2002


"I don't care what anyone but a court of law thinks,"
-Mayor James M. Baker

That quote should be in his opponents brochure next election.
posted by mrgavins at 6:58 AM on August 27, 2002


I'll bet it will only take about 5 posts before some pseudopatriot says, in a non-sarcastic manner, "If you haven't done anything wrong, then you don't have anything to worry about."
posted by yesster at 6:59 AM on August 27, 2002


Philip K Dick: Prognosticator.
His genius shines more brightly as humanity falls further into darkness.
posted by Shane at 6:59 AM on August 27, 2002


Umm, yeah. It's Delaware that's the problem, not politicians or stupid police departments. Nevermind the other 700,000 folks who call the place home.

Can we say dumb-ass generalizations?? There, I knew we could!!
posted by yarf at 7:04 AM on August 27, 2002


"I don't care what anyone but a court of law thinks," says mefi agitator quonsar. "Until a court says otherwise, if I say it's constitutional to smash Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker up the side of the head with a brick, it's constitutional."
posted by quonsar at 7:06 AM on August 27, 2002


"If you haven't done anything wrong, then you don't have anything to worry about."
Actually, if you aren't going to do anything wrong, then you don't have anything to worry about...
posted by Fabulon7 at 7:08 AM on August 27, 2002


"Come on punk, make my day"

Words to live by.

Don't want want the fascist police force "man" breathing down your neck? Don't commit a crime. It's as simple as that.
posted by hama7 at 7:13 AM on August 27, 2002


Nrrrrrrrghhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!
posted by fluffy1984 at 7:17 AM on August 27, 2002


Actually, if you aren't going to do anything wrong, then you don't have anything to worry about...

Scary. Could progress into a debate on eugenics. "We have identified certain personality types genetically predisposed towards crime..."

I'll be suing my parents for sending me to jail because of dad's questionable DNA.

But that's another sci-fi story.

(Sorry, Harlan, I forgot: "sci-fi" is "the sound of crickets f***ing." Wonder if HE ever reads MeFi? Wouldn't that be cool.)
posted by Shane at 7:17 AM on August 27, 2002


Defense attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union oppose the database, which lists names, addresses and photographs of the potential suspects -- many of whom have clean slates....most of the 200 people included in the file have been minorities from poor, high-crime neighborhoods. (emphasis mine)

Well, ya see, the problem here, hama7, is that some of these people haven't.
posted by adampsyche at 7:20 AM on August 27, 2002


I'll bet it will only take about 5 posts...

About 8.
posted by Shane at 7:23 AM on August 27, 2002


Thanks, hama7. I knew we could rely on you. And Shane, you're so right--it's PKD's world, we just live it.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:23 AM on August 27, 2002


Don't want want the fascist police force "man" breathing down your neck? Don't commit a crime. It's as simple as that.

Uh, isn't that precisely the problem here? These people haven't committed a crime, and the "man" is still "breathing down [their] neck[s]".

The mayor says that he doesn't "care what anyone but a court of law thinks" about the constitutionality of the law, and he's probably justified, if not politically savvy, in taking that point of view. Libertarians and liberals alike oppose a number of police tactics as unconstitutional, despite the disagreement of the courts to the contrary.

On the other hand, when Mayor James M. Baker said criticism of the photographing is "asinine and intellectually bankrupt," he's stepping over the line. That's just an ad hominem attack, and indicates that he probably is worried about the constitutional status of this approach. If he wasn't so worried, he wouldn't be so defensive.

As for the constitutionality of this approach, it probably depends on when and where the pictures were taken, and what kinds of activities the subjects were engaged in. The truth is, this isn't an open and closed Fourth Amendment case. It might be a repugnant practice, but that alone isn't enough to make it unconstitutional.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:26 AM on August 27, 2002


Haven't what? Committed crimes?

It's not an imperative that they will commit crimes, but profiling potential criminals is a responsibility of law enforcement, like it or whatever. Probably not.

Don't tell me that potential criminals don't deserve close inspection, any more than potential candidates for public office do.
posted by hama7 at 7:36 AM on August 27, 2002


Just a quick check: potential criminals. Well, who would that include?

Jane over at the end office - she could commit a crime (speeding, loitering, loitering with intent, accounting fraud, chicken theft - the woman could do anything). Then of course there's Ed - he's by the photocopier. He doesn't look all shifty like Jane, but you never know; people can be capable of the most surprising things, and they say its always the quiet ones. I figure he might impersonate a policeman or have unnatural relations with amoebas. Don't get me started about Susan - she could get really mad one day and in a fit of total rage kill her husband; it happens. And they seem so sweet together.

Potential criminals are generally called people. The terms are interchangeable. People shouldn't be subject to this type of scrutiny in a liberal democracy.
posted by fluffy1984 at 7:46 AM on August 27, 2002


Don't tell me that potential criminals don't deserve close inspection, any more than potential candidates for public office do.

The debate should be more nuanced than that, for you create a strawman when you suggest that we argue against any close inspection of potential criminals. The problem, at least for me, is not necessarily the inspection, but rather how it is determined that someone is a potential criminal. These people had committed no crimes; rather, it appears from the article that they were basicaaly poor, male, members of minority groups, and living in areas which saw a lot of crime. That shouldn't be enough to qualify someone as a potential criminal.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:47 AM on August 27, 2002


Don't tell me that potential criminals don't deserve close inspection, any more than potential candidates for public office do.

Worst. Analogy. Ever.

Candidates for public office choose to become candidates, thereby opeing themselves up to public scrutiny. These "potential criminals," who have no prior criminal record, are being chosen simply because they happen to be walking down a particular street at the same time the cops drive by. The only thing that makes them potential criminals is the fact that the police say they are. Circular reasoning is efficient, but not too smart.
posted by cnelson at 7:52 AM on August 27, 2002


Well good gosh. Poor male members of minority groups aren't animals, are they? Are they prone to criminality? You certainly are acting as if they are.

That's racist crap. A human chooses whether to commit a crime or not. Don't try to snow things over with multicultural flapdoodle; a criminal is a criminal.
posted by hama7 at 7:58 AM on August 27, 2002


If you haven't done anything wrong, then you don't have anything to worry about.

What is the difference between finger prints, DNA records, Face Recognition Software, and photo databases of potential criminals?

Our society is having trouble catching people who commit crimes. We have too many laws. We have too few cops. We need a bigger better database.

Unsolved murders, assaults on women, pedophiles, shootings, muggings, people getting beat up. The sooner we stop people from doing these things over and over, the better it will be. What's the problem, really? Really? Are you afraid that some guy getting paid 40K a year to get shot at by drug dealers is going to photoshop you into the Monkeys?
posted by ewkpates at 8:04 AM on August 27, 2002


hama7, are you trying to not make any sense? Because if you are, you're doing a damn good job of it. "A criminal is a criminal" - yeah, that would be relevant if we were actually talking about criminals here. We're talking about people whose crimes are basically "loitering while black and poor."

And I can't figure out what you're trying to say with your first paragraph, so I'll leave it be.
posted by UKnowForKids at 8:09 AM on August 27, 2002


It's a free country and I'll flap my doodle any time I want!

Okay, we're moving steadily into flapdoodle country here.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Some of my closest friends are flapdoodlers.

I'll bet it will only take about 5 posts ...

And again at about 20. Yesster is the prognosticator now!

...so I'll leave it be.

That's wise, UKnow... don't feed.
posted by Shane at 8:12 AM on August 27, 2002


This is actually a standard practice -- every anti-gang and anti-organized crime task force has a fairly exhaustive database of "future suspects," many of whom have no criminal records. The problem comes when these lists are used to create exclusion areas, such as police practices in Southern California which allowed them to harass people on the gang lists.
posted by MattD at 8:18 AM on August 27, 2002


That's racist crap.

Uh, isn't targetting poor, minority males the real racist crap?
posted by adampsyche at 8:22 AM on August 27, 2002


So we should target the usual suspects.

Kaizer still gets away.
posted by Shane at 8:32 AM on August 27, 2002


I'm sure a lot of police forces in high-crime areas try similar tactics. They just keep it under wraps. The problem is, if you label somebody as a criminal, they will probably give in to the label and become a criminal, seeing as they've already been classified. Which doesn't mean they won't resent it, leading to violence.
posted by Summer at 8:33 AM on August 27, 2002


Let's just toss this whole "innocent until proven guilty" thing out, shall we? It's really becoming passe. Civil rights, who needs 'em?
posted by spungfoo at 8:38 AM on August 27, 2002


Don't tell me that potential criminals don't deserve close inspection, any more than potential candidates for public office do.

Well, certainly the police deserve close inspection, and a list of cops who may become abusive, or criminals themselves, would be in order. You know, goose, gander, all that goodness. Perhaps a Wilmington newspaper could start asking for public records on arrest records, civilian complaints, and so on, and let it be known they are making a list and checking it twice.

If you haven't done anything wrong, then you don't have anything to worry about.

Well, actually you do. Quite often it is better to be guilty and rich than poor and innocent. Ask OJ.

If you're included in the Future Criminals of America Club, it may be more likely the cops pick you up and try to build a case against you. This may come as a shock, but innocent people do get arrested, and convicted. Some even end up on death row. Not all of them make it back.

Why make it easier to screw people?
posted by Ayn Marx at 8:40 AM on August 27, 2002


The problem is, if you label somebody as a criminal, they will probably give in to the label and become a criminal, seeing as they've already been classified.

"Probably" there is rather overstated, I should think.
posted by rushmc at 8:42 AM on August 27, 2002


Our society is having trouble catching people who commit crimes. We have too many laws. We have too few cops.

You're on to something! If we got rid got rid of the statutes criminalizing rape, robbery, speeding, using crack, and stalking, cops could catch more kidnappers!
posted by alou73 at 8:46 AM on August 27, 2002


Alright then, rushmc, you 'might'. For example, if you're on this list it probably means you've not done that well in school, live in a high unemployment area and probably live near, associate with or are related to known criminals (possibly gang members). You find out you're already on the police files as someone to watch. You're in an us and them situation. I think for many people the temptation would be to give in and just join the gang or become thief. You probably already feel like you are one.
posted by Summer at 8:47 AM on August 27, 2002


Don't want want the fascist police force "man" breathing down your neck? Don't commit a crime. It's as simple as that.

... a criminal is a criminal.

Christ on a bloody crutch; you make no sense... which I've stated before.

Simple (just for you, hama7!) Logic:
The people in the database have not committed crimes. Ipso facto, they are not criminals.
As they have not committed crimes and are not criminals, then according to your logic above which states that 'the man' should be breathing down their neck if they are criminals, they should not have 'the man' breathing down their necks.
However, they do have 'the man' breathing down their necks, even though they are not criminals.

Therefore, there is a logical inconsistency here with our culture and our way of life.

The justification for this inconsistency is that "they might commit crimes". It is unknown at this point what makes you 'might commit a crime' according to the Wilmington Police Department. As citizens of this nation, we have certain freedoms that are supposed to be maintained unless we begin to break laws, in which case we start to lose freedoms. However, the people on this list are starting to lose freedoms BEFORE they break any laws, just because they MIGHT break laws. This is bad.

hama7: Now do you understand? Instead of throwing simple circular ad hominem logic, either step into the debate and make a good argument or just stand back, sit down, and be quiet like a good little kid.
posted by SpecialK at 8:51 AM on August 27, 2002


Don't tell me that potential criminals don't deserve close inspection, any more than potential candidates for public office do.

hama7, just to put it in terms you might understand, let's say the police in Seoul decide to put everyone with the last name "Hamaker" on a list of "potential criminals." Then every time you step outside your door, the police frisk you roughly and ask you what you're up to. Let's say they frequently search your car too (probable cause and all). How would that make you feel?

Granted, police departments are already deploying these practices as "racial profiling," but usually that's dependent on the prejudices of individual officers rather than an official department policy.
posted by hyperizer at 9:02 AM on August 27, 2002


I like how hama7 says that he is trying to elevate the level of discourse, but everybody needs to break things down very simply to him.
posted by adampsyche at 9:23 AM on August 27, 2002


According to the article, the people who have been stopped and photographed were - at least according to the police - in violation of loitering ordinances. This type of ordinance tends to be egregiously subjective in enforcement, but - it is the law in that jurisdiction.

Obviously, calling someone in violation of that ordinance a criminal is absurd, but if they are technically breaking the law, then a Terry stop is at least marginally justifiable. Given that no one has been arrested, or even issued a misdemeanor summons, is the practice of taking their pictures truly so heinous?

I can see ways in which the practice could be abused, unjustly, by the police - but it would be the abuse that is malevolent, not the taking of pictures in and of itself.
posted by John Smallberries at 9:31 AM on August 27, 2002


So Ron's out on the corner hanging out with friends--his mom thought they were too distracting so she kicked them out. They're having a conversation about the basketball--what they'd do with the money, how much their jobs suck, etc. Joe officer drives by, circles, stops. Every is against the wall now--Ron & Co. know this all too well, so they eat some pride and dutifully follow orders. There's no fine, no ticket, no warning, this is R&D--information gathering. Now, Ron has no control over the use of this information, nor can he stop its procurement, but he must comply. Weeks later, a Ms. Sally Smith is all set to look over a series of photos in hopes of IDing a man she saw burglarizing a minimart, oh but it was dark, and her glasses are dangerously in need of a new prescription. She's encouraged to pick out anyone, anyone who might have been involved--her finger lingers over Ron's face, "it might be him"--and they're off to talk to Ron.
posted by Ms.JaneDoe at 9:50 AM on August 27, 2002


I just don't understand. Someone PLEASE explain it to me. Where does this "don't commit a crime, have nothing to worry about" mentality come from?

I have been a human being for over 25 years now, and let me tell you something, if I've ever met someone who has never committed any crime whatsoever, I owe you all a coke.

Many of these arguments seem to revolve around the concept of redefining exactly what "crime" is. But let me tell you: Just because you don't think it should be illegal, or know that it is, doesn't mean it isn't. A friend of mine, literally not a month ago, said to me "If you don't commit crime, you have nothing to worry about."

The funny thing is, this friend of mine actually owns a penis shaped dildo. She got it as a birthday present gag gift, and she kept it, proudly displayed in it's original wrapping in her apartment as a joke. Believe it or not, possession of that item is a crime in Texas. If she had a few more, it would actually be a FELONY. I told her this, and she just said, yeah well that's a silly law so it doesn't count. Suuuure. Upheld twice by the Supreme Court of Texas and it doesn't count. I just told her I'd come visit her in jail.

I don't own a dildo myself--but then, of course, that opens me up to being a future dildo criminal. I swear to god if I'm on some future dildo criminal list...
posted by Swifty at 9:55 AM on August 27, 2002


SpecOps File: Codename "Swifty"
Name: Cpt. Swifty
Email: cnswift@rocketmail.com
Gender: Male
Potential Futurecrime:
Penis-shaped dildo possession/distribution
Security rating 5.9
posted by Shane at 9:59 AM on August 27, 2002


shane: harlan doesn't have a computer. He still works on a typewriter and never goes online. (all via a very strange phone call from the man himself because of a mailng snafu.)
posted by rodz at 10:01 AM on August 27, 2002


This is absurd. The only reason this is allowed to continue is because of the rather large class division in that area. People with influence don't even realize what is going on near them so the don't press the issue. Those that know don't care because there is such a disconnect with the populous that is directly affected.

I would like to see them try this around where my parents live (in Wilmington) and see what kind of reaction to the "loitering" charges they get. People would lose their jobs. But of course as always no money no power. Horrible.

I would also put blame on the local media. The News Journal is a horrible paper. And while you see the story online, in print it was most likely buried along with the rest of local politics.
posted by Dr_Octavius at 10:02 AM on August 27, 2002


shane: harlan doesn't have a computer.

*Sigh* Thanks, I forgot about that. Manual-typewriter an' all that. Maybe if he was a geek-type he'd be less concerned about online reproduction of his writing. But HE da Man, even if he's sporting Luddite-style.

posted by Shane at 10:10 AM on August 27, 2002


On preview: the whole thing Swifty said about redefining crimes.

Inner city kids standing on street corner talking about basketball:= CRIME

Suburban kids standing on street corner talking about basketball:= Enjoying the day

If you have a law it should be able to be applied equally.
posted by Dr_Octavius at 10:10 AM on August 27, 2002


Swifty:
I don't understand YOUR position. Why would you worry about consequences for actions you don't do perform?

Are you worried about spending too much time in outer space? No? Could this be because you aren't going into outer space?

Are you worried about being arrested for things you haven't done? Which things? Jay walking? Animal cruelty? Driving without a license? But you HAVE a license. I don't get it. Explain your position, because it seems to violate the principle of causal relationships.

Don't buy a dildo, enjoy an anxiety free life.
posted by ewkpates at 10:22 AM on August 27, 2002


Don't buy a dildo, enjoy an anxiety free life.

Maybe someone can explain to me the causal relationship between those two points...
posted by Shane at 10:31 AM on August 27, 2002


Explain your position, because it seems to violate the principle of causal relationships.

I thought this was the point--what the police are doing in this case seems to violate the principle of causal relationships.

Why would you worry about consequences for actions you don't perform?

Because, I believe that what Delaware is doing is creating a situation where suddenly I should worry not only about what I am actually doing, but also about what the police think I might at some point in the future do.
posted by Swifty at 10:38 AM on August 27, 2002


Sorry, meant to put this in my last post but I forgot:

Don't buy a dildo, enjoy an anxiety free life.

I'm sorry, but if the police think I'm holed up in my apartment hoarding penis shaped dildos, with no proof whatsoever other than the smile I customarily wear in public... Well, I wanna know about it.
posted by Swifty at 10:41 AM on August 27, 2002


Swifty (again) : The police are trying to compile a list of people who may commit crimes. If no crimes get committed, no worries. If one does then they have an easy time finding the suspect.

It's like a driver's license. Why should the state know who you are, where you live or kind of car you drive?

Easy. So if you run over little old ladies and one of them gets your license plate number, the cops can find you.

When you got a license, did you worry about the picture being taken? No! You didn't care! Why care now?

And another thing: You don't get to know about it. If you want to buy illegal stuff and hoard it, then please don't ask to see your police file. The police are not there to help you not get caught for breaking the law. (double negative. is this legal?)
posted by ewkpates at 10:49 AM on August 27, 2002


You can opt not to get a drivers license. I think the point is that many (not all) are unfairly singled out for living in the same area where there may be drug dealers.
posted by Dr_Octavius at 10:57 AM on August 27, 2002


The police are not there to help you not get caught for breaking the law.

By God, that almost made sense to me. That's it, I'm swearing off MeFi... and caffeine. For the rest of the day.
posted by Shane at 10:57 AM on August 27, 2002


When you got a license, did you worry about the picture being taken? No! You didn't care! Why care now?

At that point, your picture is being taken for purposes of identification only. Not for classifying you as a criminal. See the difference?
posted by adampsyche at 10:58 AM on August 27, 2002


disconnect with the populous

Disconnect with the POPULACE.

Thank you.

-Mars, unable to restrain self today
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:08 AM on August 27, 2002


Obviously, calling someone in violation of that ordinance a criminal is absurd, but if they are technically breaking the law

I disagree. If you break the law, you are a criminal (perhaps not an habitual criminal, but that's different). If you think that's absurd and don't believe a person should be considered a criminal for doing a particular thing, decriminalize that thing.
posted by rushmc at 11:26 AM on August 27, 2002


If no crimes get committed, no worries.

It's precisely the opposite. Suppose for a minute that I was a resident of Wilmington, profiled for no other reason than someone thought I might commit a crime. Suppose a crime is committed, a crime I have nothing to do with, but my "profile" sends the police to my door. Guess what, I haven't committed a crime, and I'm worried. Suppose I'm taken downtown in front of my family or neighbors? Suppose I'm falsely accused? Falsely imprisoned? And don't give me the "once they investigate they'll realize they have the wrong guy" crap. This isn't television. Sure, they might realize it....but they might not. And I'd warrant that many on this list compiled in advance don't have the access to legal resources I could draw upon...

If they come to my door for any reason other than facts/information ascertained during the course of a specific investigation it's wrong, and just 'cause the people on these lists may be kids in the 'hood doesn't make it right.

It's like a driver's license.

How a transaction I willingly initiate and participate in with the state for the privilege of driving is anything at all like what we're discussing is utterly beyond me....Is it Flawed Logic Week on MeFi? I seem to have missed the memo.
posted by jalexei at 11:37 AM on August 27, 2002


I think at root here is that the police can't really investigate w/out probable cause. This seems to expand the definition of probable cause quite a bit beyond what has traditionally been considered justifiable.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:01 PM on August 27, 2002


jalexei: Perhaps reading the memo would help.

(Sorry. Sarcasm isn't very useful, is it?)

When your data (face, finger, genetic, whatever) is tracked, for ANY reason, by a government organization, that data is available to law enforcement. You can provide that data by standing on a street corner or by applying for a license or by entering a Federal building.

In some cases your profile will be considered in a pool of potential suspects. If you stand on a corner all day in a neighborhood where people buy drugs on corners, you're in the pool. If you own a red car and a red car is used in the commission of a crime, whether you know it or not, you're in the pool.

This is how we catch criminals, jalexei. Your claim that this "isn't television" is odd, since you seem to be concerned that a one armed man is going to frame you for a crime you didn't commit...

Foot note: One of my absolute faves, "This American Life", did a bit on DNA testing requests by convicts. A ridiculous number of people ask for it and the result is positive. They know they did it, they asked anyway.

Mistakes happen (abolish the death penalty) but usually you go to jail for something you did.
posted by ewkpates at 12:14 PM on August 27, 2002


And another thing: You don't get to know about it. If you want to buy illegal stuff and hoard it, then please don't ask to see your police file. The police are not there to help you not get caught for breaking the law. (double negative. is this legal?)

Actually wouldn't this be a violation of government disclosure laws (and the principles on which those laws are based?)

And people wonder why the U.S. is starting to feel a bit like East Germany circa 1980.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:31 PM on August 27, 2002


OK, I'm going to take a deep breath....(relax...relax...)

If you own a red car and a red car is used in the commission of a crime, whether you know it or not, you're in the pool.

The fact that the state knows I drive a red car does not, in any way, shape, or form, indicate that I'd be any more likely to commit a crime than any of the millions of registered drivers I share the road with. In addition, in order to register my car, get plates, etc., I've chosen to share that information with the state. If someone close to me was involved in a hit-and-run with a red car, I'd fully expect (and demand) the police to use DMV records to help with the investigation. You know, the investigation of the crime? That's actually how we catch criminals ewkpates, not necessarily by assuming one is more likely to commit a crime in the future.

The use of personal information (whether willingly given or not) gathered by the state for various reasons in the course of a specific investigation in response to a crime having been committed is not what I'm objecting to. The creation of a list that pre-supposes guilt to crimes not yet committed is what I'm objecting to. Let me simplify:

The fact that I drive a red car being used in an investigation of a hit-and-run accident involving a red car? Good.

Being put on a "likely to drive drunk" list when I register my red car because I have an Irish surname? Bad.

Mistakes happen (abolish the death penalty) but usually you go to jail for something you did.

How comforting. I'm sure those imprisoned wrongly find comfort in your cavalier reassurance that "mistakes happen" and "usually" you go to jail for something you did. Whether the percentage of those wrongly imprisoned is 1%, or 10% or 50% really doesn't matter if it's you. One-armed man? Please. That's exactly my point about "this isn't television." Sometimes police incompetence and flawed interrogation techniques are enough.
posted by jalexei at 1:09 PM on August 27, 2002


This reminds me of the Larry "national I.D. pimp" Ellison interview from the September issue of Playboy:

Civil libertarians are off base here. It's mind boggling how much we don't trust government. Everyone is quoting Ben Franklin: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety". Remember that Franklin lived in this country 200 years ago, when the world was dominated by aristocrats and kings.

That's a direct quote.

Gee Larry, seems to me that things have changed very little since 1776! At least he got the fact that Franklin lived 200 years ago part right. If fools like Ellison who are so keen on destroying civil rights and making a huge profit to boot don't scare the hell out of you, than you must be completely zombified. As someone who has been harassed many times by police thugs in broad daylight for no explainable reason, you'll excuse me for being a tad pissed off about profiling and unconstitutional police databases.
posted by mark13 at 1:09 PM on August 27, 2002


As someone who has never been harassed by anyone in authority in broad daylight or otherwise, add me to the list of people concerned and even angry about profiling and unconstitutional police databases.
posted by AnneZo at 1:57 PM on August 27, 2002


I think you guys are missing the point. It's not a coincidence that this is in Delaware. Delaware, you see, is evil.
posted by ph00dz at 2:04 PM on August 27, 2002


I remember being a potential criminal years ago. Being pulled over, laying on the ground spreadeagled, searched, car practically torn apart looking for "something" a longhair-type might have secreted somewhere in his vehicle.

Never found anything. Once, they never even asked for an ID. Now, I'd take 'em to court. Back then, I was a poor hippie who was glad to get off with just being demeaned and hassled in public. See, I looked like a criminal. I had an old criminal looking car. When they'd finally let me go, they'd say, "Don't cause anymore trouble, son."

But, it's OK, right? Since I hadn't committed a crime nothing happened, and I should feel all glad and happy that society has that kind of vigilance at its disposal, right?

Bullshit. The list is unconstitutional, the idea is unconstitutional. Dollars to donuts --in the minds of investigating oficers-- being on that list is about halfway to probable cause. The rest is easy to make up. And yes, that is pure speculation on my part, but not wholly outside the realm of my experience. I hope it gets struck down, and I hope it costs Delaware some coin large in court if they don't get rid of it posthaste. Next we'll be hearing about how Baker promises to make the trains run on time.
posted by umberto at 3:37 PM on August 27, 2002


phOOdz, I guess you really didn't like Wilmington at all...

Mayor Baker's choice of wording was atrocious, and he deserves the negative attention that he's getting. I don't believe that this practice of photographing people is a good one either, and I'm in Wilmington almost everyday.

But, there's also this quote from a Wilmington News Journal article three weeks ago:
"I saw a father teaching his son how to ride a bike around our block one evening last weekend," said Cooper, who has been a critic of other recent police deployments. "They couldn't have done that last year. We were all inside because that's the only place it was safe to be at night."
I don't know if it will change any opinions here, but it doesn't hurt to have more relevant information.
posted by bragadocchio at 3:37 PM on August 27, 2002


And people wonder why the U.S. is starting to feel a bit like East Germany circa 1980.

The machine-gunned bodies sure are piling up at the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, aren't they?
posted by dhartung at 5:17 PM on August 27, 2002


Hmmm ... Only the guilty go to jail, eh? Well how about this?

False confessions, made under duress, happen all the time. Now, add to this that you have already been profiled by police as a "potential criminal" and they have more fuel for the fire.

Let's be honest also...these people that are profiled tend not to be able to afford decent council. They WILL get railroaded.

Then, even if by some miracle they are acquitted...thanks to today's media, you will always be considered guilty, regardless of the verdict.

Trials can ruin lives.

Take Robert Blake for instance. I'm not saying if I belive he's innocent or not, but the bottom line is, according to the law, he IS innocent until a Jury of his peers proves him guilty Beyond A Shadow Of A Doubt. If he gets off..the press will hound him forever.

Ayn Marx said above: Well, actually you do. Quite often it is better to be guilty and rich than poor and innocent. Ask OJ.

That attitude follows ALL people who are found innocent. Not just the high profile.

Try getting a job when they do a background check and it comes up with "Charged with 2 counts of murder in the first degree. Acquitted."

Or how about this? The McMartin Preschool trial cost these people their lives. Two of the accused spent YEARS in jail awaiting/during trial. Nobody was convicted. Not only did it drain an entire family of all of their money, but these people will never be trusted again to work in the field they chose.

This whole thing stinks and the smell is getting worse every day.
posted by lasthrsman at 7:20 PM on August 27, 2002


he IS innocent until a Jury of his peers proves him guilty Beyond A Shadow Of A Doubt.

It's "beyond a reasonable doubt", which is not the same as beyond a shadow of a doubt. The latter is nearly impossible - see OJ, e.g. - and should not be expected. That is why there are false convictions of course, but if we had to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, we wouldn't be able to convict anyone.
posted by mdn at 7:48 PM on August 27, 2002


mdn: You're right. I had the wrong phrase. My apologies. But it doesn't change the fact that with media hyping every high-profile case, it's difficult, at best, to get an impartial jury. Even if you do, and are acquitted, odds are it'll haunt you for years or more.

Having a case built against you by the police BEFORE any crime is committed, just makes it more difficult for the wrongly accused to defend themselves.
posted by lasthrsman at 9:18 PM on August 27, 2002


Isn't Delaware just doing what the USA is talking about on an international scale? Doing something to Iraq because Saddam may be about to attack someone or something.

Now I know there are a lot of complications in the analogy - but to me it seems that the phrase "pre-emptive strike" is even worse than the Delaware situation because it is also prosecuting a crime that has not yet taken place.
posted by meech at 3:32 AM on August 28, 2002


Summary of arguments against any kind of profiling, a national ID, and a legal system generally:

1. The police are both/either incompetent or criminal.
2. Cooperating with the police when they think you may be guilty of a crime is embarrassing, demeaning, and grounds for a lawsuit.
3. You will probably get bullied into a confession, and sent to jail.
4. Since some people in jail are innocent the state should stop trying to protect us.
5. The state isn't trying protect us, see #1
6. There are no statistical trends in criminal behavior.
7. Better to be a victim of unrestrained criminal activity than falsely imprisoned by police.
8. Citizens should not have to give up any freedoms in order to participate in the state or enter into a social contract.

Well, now that this has been cleared up, I would like to add this to Ben Franklin: Sir, with the greatest respect, laws, and their proper enforcement, are the only sure method of attaining and maintaining liberty. Without safety, temporary or otherwise, we cannot exercise democratic control of the state, wherein the only promise of equality and justice lies.
posted by ewkpates at 5:15 AM on August 28, 2002


Congratulations ewkpates, you took a number of points from nuanced replies to this topic completely out of context, presented a distorted hyperbolic laundry list of blatant exaggerations, and still haven't provided us with a logical, well-reasoned response as to how this is a good idea

Your black and white worldview and inability to argue coherently have been entertaining, but are growing tiresome.
posted by jalexei at 6:19 AM on August 28, 2002


My dear jalexei:

Ad hominem. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?

I know you are but what am I.

Certainly I've been a little silly here and there (giggle, "I'll probably NEVER get the props I feel I ever deserve"), but even a wildly inaccurate reading of this whole conversation betrays a common misunderstanding about the sacrifices and responsibilities required of citizenship.

The truth is black and white. Pragmatism, on the other hand, is grey as all get out.

The truth is that in this country, crime is more of a problem than excessive law enforcement.

Pragmatistically (ok, pragmatically) though, everyone has the right not to be hassled. Which side do you want to come down on? I think we'd all be way better off with less violent crime and more hassling.

Did bragadocchio's contribution go unnoticed? And another thing, how off base is ph00dz?
posted by ewkpates at 6:53 AM on August 28, 2002


Nothing is safer than a cage.

Pragmatistically (ok, pragmatically) though, everyone has the right not to be hassled.

Woah, we agree.

Which side do you want to come down on? I think we'd all be way better off with less violent crime and more hassling.

I think we'd be better off with less of both. Hassling innocent people is not law enforcement. Re; bragadocchio's post, the quote refers to results of police jump-out squads that patrol areas for drug transactions,. From further down the article, "Once drug activity is confirmed, the van rolls in."
Once drug activity is confirmed, you are not hassling innocent people. So bragadocchio's post, while heart-warming, was essentially meaningless in the context of this discussion.

ph00dzs correct: Delaware is evil.
posted by umberto at 8:49 AM on August 28, 2002


No, ewkpates, you haven't been silly, at least not on purpose.

I'll try this once more, and then I'm done. I agree with you that crime is more of a problem than excessive law enforcement. Furthermore, I don't think too many who've contributed this thread would disagree. I'm not against profiling criminals, or sex offender databases, or any collection of information that does not violate the civil rights of innocent citizens. My comments about the abuses that are possible and do go on in some cases was not an indictment of our legal system in general, but rather in response to the particulars presented by a list of "pre-criminals" being composed in a Delaware city. I'm, in real life, comfortable with the level of privacy, or lack there of, we experience as citizens, and I'm comfortable with the authorities knowing what they know about me.

For you to take my critique of a specific initiative that may violate the spirit of the Constitution, if not the letter, and then judge that I have a "misunderstanding about the sacrifices and responsibilities required of citizenship" is a grossly irresponsible leap. Furthermore, I've taken the time to craft some specific analogies as to why I think this list is wrong. Your defense of this list consists primarily of vapid comments like "It's like a driver's license." or "If you haven't done anything wrong, then you don't have anything to worry about." If you have specific rebuttals to what I've presented (with a bit more detail than "we'd all be way better off with less violent crime and more hassling"), I'm all ears.

In short, I'm not exasperated that we choose to disagree on this issue, I'm exasperated that I've shared with you exactly why I don't think it's "like a driver's license" and why, in some cases, if you haven't done anything wrong, then you do have something to worry about, and you've chosen to ignore those points and repeat the same generalities.

The truth is black and white. Pragmatism, on the other hand, is grey as all get out.

And truth is often in the eye of the beholder, or the group that wields the power, while messy old life tends to be shades of grey. For instance, braggadocio's comments (that I did happen to read, btw). Unless you're ready to show me proof that the specific list compiled by the police was the primary factor in the improvement of the neighborhood, then I will respond that any number of techniques that do not violate civil rights can accomplish just that, see below.

I think we'd all be way better off with less violent crime and more hassling.

Ahh, once again the 'ole grey area rears its ugly head. Perhaps it has entered your mind that it is possible to have the first without the second? Here in Boston, the early nineties saw a tremendous spike in murder and crime committed. The Boston police, rather than compiling dossiers on innocent residents of Roxbury and Mattapan, made the choice to put more police in the neighborhoods (again, something I think we'd agree on....shocking, I know), on foot and out of their cars, interacting with community leaders and the community at large, and the result was (helped by other factors such as economic gentrification, etc.) a precipitous drop in violent crime.

Of course we as a society must give up certain freedoms. But that doesn't mean we don't take an active voice, and have a healthy debate, on the compromises we must make to live in a civil society, and make clear that certain compromises should not be allowed, if we aim to fashion ourselves a democracy. If the vague comments you've offered up as "argument" are the best you can do, than I'd say it's you who has a "common misunderstanding about the sacrifices and responsibilities required of citizenship".

I know you are but what am I

If I've lapsed into rudeness or name calling at any point, I humbly apologize. But your inability to respond to my specific points, and to distort and misrepresent what I've stated in my posts is far more of a "nyah nyah" than anything I've written. I look forward to you pulling some quotes out of this post, changing the "sometimes" to "mostly", and presenting a numbered list proving I've called for the abolishment of all law enforcement.
posted by jalexei at 9:04 AM on August 28, 2002


jalexei- I completely agree with your statement "then I will respond that any number of techniques that do not violate civil rights can accomplish [a reduction in crime]."

If we put video cameras on every street corner with accompanying face recognition software, does this violate anyone's civil rights? Do you have a right to stand around on street corners with anonymity? The right to privacy cannot be exercised on a street corner.

This isn't about whether there is a better way, its about whether this particular way of doing it is a violation of civil rights. When you are on streets paid for by taxes which are kept safe by people employed by the state, you do not have a right to anonymity. If, for any reason, a cop wants your photo or autograph or hair sample, you should provide it. This, in a black and white world, is not related to police corruption, misuse of information, or failures of the justice system.

The photos taken by those police offers could exonerate those men as easily as incriminate them. Those men are only going to suffer as a result of those photos if they commit a crime, or if justice fails. Justice can fail without a photograph. Go back a hundred years. Photos make it harder for justice to fail.

Unless you think you have a right to anonymity, I don't understand your position. And maybe you do have this right, but I have never heard of it. If this about minimizing police hassling as much as possible, then I agree: They should put up cameras rather than drive around with a Polaroid.

Finally, although I appreciate your patience and willingness to treat this issue thoughtfully, I don't think you do yourself justice by saying "I'll try this once more, and then I'm done." Dialogue is the way we get at the truth, and having patience with the process is a requirement. If your patience is tested by strenuous (or even insipid) disagreement, then more strenuous (or insipid) disagreement is in order, and more patience.

Footnote to Final comment: Please don't say "inability". It chafes me so. Say "your refusal thus far" or something, so that it sounds like you have confidence in my ability to get it right sooner or later.
posted by ewkpates at 11:41 AM on August 28, 2002


Hey, Why don't the just stop taking pictures and start tagging these obvious potential criminals. A nice yellow ear tag should do the trick...
posted by mojoey at 11:53 AM on August 28, 2002


If we put video cameras on every street corner with accompanying face recognition software, does this violate anyone's civil rights? Do you have a right to stand around on street corners with anonymity? The right to privacy cannot be exercised on a street corner.

Interesting. Would wearing a mask or fake beard or putty cheeks or something to defeat the facial recognition software become a crime? Would it be one's civic duty to be recognized properly by the cameras?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 11:59 AM on August 28, 2002


If we put video cameras on every street corner with accompanying face recognition software, does this violate anyone's civil rights? Do you have a right to stand around on street corners with anonymity? The right to privacy cannot be exercised on a street corner.

You know, I need to get permission and promise anonymity for research studies of public behavior.

But I think you are blurring the issue just a bit here because there is a fairly big difference between community based policing which relies on creating a visible trusted presence in high crime areas, and covert surveilance of individuals without warrant or probable cause. This seems to fall more into the latter.

This isn't about whether there is a better way, its about whether this particular way of doing it is a violation of civil rights. When you are on streets paid for by taxes which are kept safe by people employed by the state, you do not have a right to anonymity. If, for any reason, a cop wants your photo or autograph or hair sample, you should provide it. This, in a black and white world, is not related to police corruption, misuse of information, or failures of the justice system.

Actually the 5th amendment means that I don't need to provide any of the above on request or without a warrant. Granted I usually do provide id but I'm not obligated to provide evidence at a "Terry Stop".

Unless you think you have a right to anonymity, I don't understand your position. And maybe you do have this right, but I have never heard of it. If this about minimizing police hassling as much as possible, then I agree: They should put up cameras rather than drive around with a Polaroid.

It's not so much a right to anonymity as a right to not be subjected to surveilance. Before collecting evidence about me the police need to demonstrate probable cause that I have, or am about to commit a crime. Simply being the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood does not rise to the level of probable cause.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:07 PM on August 28, 2002


I think we're arguing less about practice and more about potential, and on preview, I agree with KirkJobSluder.

When you are on streets paid for by taxes which are kept safe by people employed by the state, you do not have a right to anonymity.

"Public" means the space belongs to me as much as anyone else, not that I'm completely subject to the whims of the "public" authority.

If, for any reason, a cop wants your photo or autograph or hair sample, you should provide it.

I personally would share with a cop any information they requested. As noted, the 5th amendment says I do not have to.

While I don't necessarily want to get into a discussion on video surveillance, I might describe my position thusly: If a crime is committed at an intersection, and video evidence is reviewed to help in the investigation, I have no problem with that. If I appear on video walking to work, say, and someone says, "he looks like a degenerate, let's find out who he is and put him on a list of potential criminals" I have a serious problem with that, and I believe that would constitute a violation of my rights.

And I believe the list and photos being compiled by the Wilmington police veers closer to my second scenario. I'm not disagreeing that in some cases, that may help prevent a crime, as I'm not so naive as to think the people being photographed are all angels. It's just that even as we agree that individuals must sacrifice certain rights for the betterment of society, society must preserve certain rights for the good of the citizenry at large, even if violating those rights might in some cases prevent a crime from happening more easily. And that's where I think we can agree to disagree...
posted by jalexei at 12:43 PM on August 28, 2002


Once drug activity is confirmed, you are not hassling innocent people. So bragadocchio's post, while heart-warming, was essentially meaningless in the context of this discussion.

Umberto, perhaps the discussion had veered away from the circumstances in Delaware. (I don't really get a chance to post during my workday.) I'm pretty much convinced that the pictures being taken in Delaware were on corners staked out by police, by members of the jump out squads who responded when drug sales were underway. I don't agree with the use of those pictures in police lineups. But, I don't think that many of those photographed were innocently walking down the street, minding their own business. (92 of the 117 who had their pictures taken admitted being with someone who was arrested).
posted by bragadocchio at 4:03 PM on August 28, 2002


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