Join 3,558 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Better Smile When You Cross That Border, Part II
March 19, 2010 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Remember Peter Watts, the Canadian sci-fi writer who in December was arrested and charged with assaulting a border agent, resisting arrest, and being an asshole after being pulled over for inspection while leaving the US because his rental car had Washington plates? He was today found guilty of "failure to comply with a lawful command" by a Port Huron, Michigan, jury. Part Three, The Sentencing, will take place April 26. Watts faces up to two years in federal prison.

Further:
posted by FlyingMonkey (138 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's because the facists are still running the borders.
posted by humannaire at 1:54 PM on March 19, 2010


Are they against faces?
posted by longbaugh at 1:58 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


jesus fucking christ. he's basically been convicted of not being fearful enough of police. this is disgusting.
posted by shmegegge at 2:00 PM on March 19, 2010 [38 favorites]


But we're safer from the terrorists and Canadians.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:06 PM on March 19, 2010


I don't even know how to express my disappointment here. Watts is a talented writer, is clearly not a danger to society, and committed no crime other than apparently not being obsequious enough. You would think that law enforcement officers would be confident enough in their toughness to not make every question asked of them into a fucking felony, but this is just more proof they're just middle-schoolers with guns
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:07 PM on March 19, 2010 [21 favorites]


Also it's funny because this morning I was like, out of nowhere, "I wonder if anyone ever told Peter Watts that he uses italics way too often" but I guess he's going to fucking prison so it's not very funny now
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:08 PM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


I am sensing a strong business opportunity for well-concealed set of cameras and microphones, arrayed throughout your vehicle, pointing out the driver's side, with one inside the vehicle, recording to a hard drive wherein tape is "rolled over" every so often, so that you can press a button at the start of your encounter and you will have the previous ten minutes, plus anything going forward, until the storage runs out. Encrypted. With timestamps and GPS burned into the bottom of the feed. You'd need good microphones, I think. I might even put them at a higher priority than sharp video images.

Record every interaction you have with law enforcement, when it is feasible, ever.
posted by adipocere at 2:09 PM on March 19, 2010 [39 favorites]


Why not Beer Summit 2: Electric Boogaloo?
posted by sallybrown at 2:09 PM on March 19, 2010


Stories like this make me GRAR. I will spare you a long, feverish rant about authoritarianism in the 21st century, but I will not spare you my GRAR.

GRAR.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 2:09 PM on March 19, 2010 [30 favorites]


Motion for GRAR seconded.
posted by Drastic at 2:12 PM on March 19, 2010 [11 favorites]


Authority hates questions, because questions require reasons.

And reason is something authority rarely does well.
posted by yeloson at 2:12 PM on March 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


I wish I had a clever smart-aleck comment to make about this but I don't. The idea of someone being convicted of being mouthy to armed police authorities and asking why they were being ordered to get on the ground... just leaves me vaguely nauseous. Does this mean that private citizens (of whatever country) are required by law to never question steps being taken against them by law enforcement? Is the only recourse to comply and then try to address any injustices or over-exertion of authority through the courts? I don't understand the implicit surrender of freedoms this finding implies.

I certainly hope this entire fiasco is rectified in the appeals process.
posted by hippybear at 2:12 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've been through this and other border crossings a few times, and there are cameras everywhere. Where is the video evidence that can make this more than a he said/she said situation?
posted by rocket88 at 2:14 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


From Watts's blog: "Their job is not to rewrite laws, or ignore stupid ones; their job is to decide whether a given act violates the law as written."

Does Canada not have jury nullification? And this is just the conviction. Talk of prison is premature unless there is a mandatory minimum or something.

The comments on his site are pretty harsh. I hope those are people he knows. Telling him to look on the bright side, he'll have plenty of time to work out and write is a bit cold.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:16 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


What constitutes “failure to comply with a lawful command” is open to interpretation. The Prosecution cited several moments within the melee which she claimed constituted “resisting”, but by her own admission I wasn’t charged with any of those things. I was charged only with resisting Beaudry, the guard I’d “choked”. My passenger of that day put the lie to that claim in short order, and the Prosecution wasn’t able to shake that. The Defense pointed out that I wasn’t charged with anything regarding anyone else, and the Prosecution had to concede that too. So what it came down to, ultimately, was those moments after I was repeatedly struck in the face by Beaudry (an event not in dispute, incidentally). After Beaudry had finished whaling on me in the car, and stepped outside, and ordered me out of the vehicle; after I’d complied with that, and was standing motionless beside the car, and Beaudry told me to get on the ground — I just stood there, saying “What is the problem?”, just before Beaudry maced me.

And that, said the Prosecutor in her final remarks — that, right there, was failure to comply. That was enough to convict.


Grrrrr...
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:16 PM on March 19, 2010 [7 favorites]


If a policeman can tell me to do things, and then arrest and charge me with felony "failure to comply with a lawful command" which is upheld in court, can anyone explain to me how I'm not just a second-class citizen with less rights than the police officer?

A police officer can give me an order, and I must comply or risk losing my individual freedom (in addition to risk of bodily harm caused by the violent police officer). Even if the order is bogus, at no point can I resist or fail to comply, or the police officer is authorized to use force. I, however, cannot use force against the police officer or risk further bodily harm and additional loss of freedom.
posted by TheFlamingoKing at 2:18 PM on March 19, 2010 [27 favorites]


The moral of the story: always automatically assume that border guards/airport security officers etc etc are victims of Peter's Inversion (means don't just justify ends, the means become an end in themselves and the upholding of "laws" or "regulations" is that end regardless of whether the strict upholding of them leads to nonsensical outcomes).
posted by Electric Dragon at 2:18 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


OK, I've only read the first article...and a couple of links that really didn't give me a better picture of the event, but... here's my thought..

Messing with a border agent is like messing with airport security... it does NOT make sense to do so.

Not following an instruction as simple as stay in your car ups the tension right away...

And, I'm "impatient" every time I go to the airport, and stressed, and tired, and dreading the ordeal, but I still remain polite and follow directions when told I need to go through further screening.

Yep, the whole fucking world sucks, security sucks, we're oppressed... but, this guy seemed to have used very poor judgement.
posted by HuronBob at 2:19 PM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've been through this and other border crossings a few times, and there are cameras everywhere. Where is the video evidence that can make this more than a he said/she said situation?

Did you actually read any of the post? This isn't a he said/she said situation. The jury did, in fact, watch the video evidence. Second to that, everyone agrees to what happened during the period for which Watts was charged. Officer Beaudry ordered Watts to get on the ground. Watts kept standing, asking Beaudry what the problem was. Beaudry maced Watts. That's what happened. The issue is that, apparently, simple failure to quickly enough comply with a command is sufficient grounds for conviction of a felony.

Watts points out that the jury sent out a question: "“Is failure to comply sufficient for conviction?”". The judge apparently answered that, according to the statute, failure to comply was indeed sufficient to make Watts guilty of the statute as written.

That appears to be a failure of the legislative system, not a failure of the judicial system. It appears that Watts really was guilty of what he was charged with; it's just that what he was charged with is a bullshit law.
posted by Justinian at 2:21 PM on March 19, 2010 [36 favorites]


Remember we're hearing about this largely (maybe even wholly) because of the identity of the suspect/victim/perp rather than the facts of the case. "Contempt of cop" happens all the time to people who can't speak out in this loud a voice.
posted by sallybrown at 2:22 PM on March 19, 2010 [28 favorites]


Who are the monsters here? "We the People". That's the thing about democracy - you have no excuses. In a dictatorship, "they" are doing things to you. In a democracy, we do it to ourselves. We love to complain about politicians. But we have no right to complain - this is a democracy, we voted them in... and can always vote them out. Police brutality? Abuse of power? They serve us. Which means we allow them - indeed encourage them - to abuse us. This jury - our peers - represent that principle in action.

We have nobody else but ourselves to blame.
posted by VikingSword at 2:26 PM on March 19, 2010 [11 favorites]


Note that it appears what Watts was actually found guilty of was Michigan Penal Code
750.479 "Resisting or obstructing officer in discharge of duty".

The problem is 750.479 part 8a specifically states that "obstructing" the officer includes a "knowing failure to comply with a lawful command". That's so broad that, as I said, this seems like a failure of the legislature not the judiciary. If I were on the jury I would almost certainly not have voted to convict but I can see how a reasonable person trying to do his or her duty to the best of his or her ability might feel it necessary to convict under that language.
posted by Justinian at 2:27 PM on March 19, 2010


Maybe Cory can make some calls!
posted by Ratio at 2:28 PM on March 19, 2010


Oh, if Watts gets anything but a suspended sentence here I'd be both appalled and shocked. He ain't gonna do hard time in the pokey. Not that this makes things right of course but it's a different level of injustice than forcing him to do 2 years hard time.
posted by Justinian at 2:29 PM on March 19, 2010


If he does do jail time someone needs to get Amnesty International involved.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:31 PM on March 19, 2010


This'll do wonders for the tourism industry.
posted by mek at 2:31 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Does Canada not have jury nullification?

The alleged crime took place on the U.S. side of the border, and Watts was accordingly tried in a court in Port Huron, Michigan, United States.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:32 PM on March 19, 2010


This'll do wonders for the tourism industry.

I know a surprising number of Canadians who have stopped visiting the US because of just this kind of garbage.
posted by stinkycheese at 2:35 PM on March 19, 2010 [13 favorites]


Regardless of any other justice or injustice done here, I can't help noting this:

Behrendt said she flagged Watts for a random inspection after noticing his vehicle -- which he had rented -- had Washington license plates.

I think someone does not understand what "random" means.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:35 PM on March 19, 2010 [26 favorites]


Lastly, the guy who made this comment on the Times-Herald story about the case claims to have been on the jury. It reads like something one of the jurors would say, so I don't have any reason to disbelieve it:
s a member of the jury that convicted Mr. Watts today, I have a few comments to make. The jury's task was not to decide who we liked better. The job of the jury was to decide whether Mr. Watts "obstructed/resisted" the custom officials. Assault was not one of the charges. What it boiled down to was Mr. Watts did not follow the instructions of the customs agents. Period. He was not violent, he was not intimidating, he was not stopping them from searching his car. He did, however, refuse to follow the commands by his non compliance. He's not a bad man by any stretch of the imagination. The customs agents escalted the situation with sarcasm and miscommunication. Unfortunately, we were not asked to convict those agents with a crime, although, in my opinion, they did commit offenses against Mr. Watts. Two wrongs don't make a right, so we had to follow the instructions as set forth to us by the judge.
So it sounds like the jury thought Watts was getting the shaft, the customs agents were assholes, but that Watts was guilty of the crap they charged him with. That's a reasonable position. I think a better position is the one I'd take, which is that I wouldn't convict somebody of a bullshit charge by a bunch of assholes even if he was technically guilty, but I don't think you can say someone is unreasonable for not doing that.
posted by Justinian at 2:36 PM on March 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


This is world-class dumbfuckery. The logical outcome of this is that every single person physically arrested for any reason whatsoever has "knowingly failed to comply", by simple virtue of the fact that the police officer had to physically move, perhaps only even exert verbal effort, to cause the arrestee to obey.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:38 PM on March 19, 2010


Well, shit. I feel a little sick now. I dropped some cash in his Paypal account when this happened; he wrote a nice response (as he's been doing with every contributor.)

His post says he'll abide by the outcome of the trial, but also that he was going home. If I were in his shoes I'd abide with it by staying the hell out of the U.S. for the rest of my life.
posted by Zed at 2:40 PM on March 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'll ask the dumb question: do other countries pull this kind of thing regularly? Is this an American issue or just one of those things that come with having a police force and a legislature willing to pass anything to be "tough on crime?"
posted by adipocere at 2:41 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


The alleged crime took place on the U.S. side of the border, and Watts was accordingly tried in a court in Port Huron, Michigan, United States.

Yeah, I got that. What I was referencing was the section from his blog that I quoted. What I was asking was does Canada not have the concept of jury nullification, since the Canadian quoted seems way more understanding of the whole thing that I would have been. There's no way you could have gotten me to vote guilty given these facts.

Just because he was in violation of the statute doesn't mean the jury had to find him that way.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:43 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


This'll do wonders for the tourism industry.

Just imagine the words "tourism" and "terrorism" in G W Bush's voice.

"We need to encourage tourism to America."
"We need to fight terrorism on our borders."
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:44 PM on March 19, 2010


"I have no complaints about the judge, a seventysomething Irish dude with a fondness for St Patrick’s Day who drives a blood-red ‘vette."
Oh, come on. Was that description necessary?
posted by ericb at 2:44 PM on March 19, 2010


I wouldn't convict somebody of a bullshit charge by a bunch of assholes even if he was technically guilty, but I don't think you can say someone is unreasonable for not doing that.

I will say it.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:44 PM on March 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


adipocere I'll ask the dumb question: do other countries pull this kind of thing regularly? Is this an American issue or just one of those things that come with having a police force and a legislature willing to pass anything to be "tough on crime?"

Third world nations do it all the time.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:45 PM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


From the article: "Behrendt said she flagged Watts for a random inspection after noticing his vehicle -- which he had rented -- had Washington license plates."

It's not really a random inspection then, is it?
posted by reptile at 2:47 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Doh, didn't see DevilsAdvocate said the same thing already. Carry on...
posted by reptile at 2:48 PM on March 19, 2010


Look, I'm about as "Fuck cops" as it gets. There are a lot of significant and pervasive problems with police in this country, and the special treatment they get is disgusting. But in the context of a vehicle stop, especially a border search, there are rules about what people are and are not supposed to do, and those rules exist for a damn good reason. It is an extremely high-risk situation and these cops get understandably jumpy, and so it's not unreasonable to expect people being subjected to a lawful search to avoid escalating the situation. This is the guy who got out of his car without being asked - a very big problem and probable threat - and started yelling questions at the cops, then refused to get back in the car when instructed, and resisted a lawful arrest. That is not okay.

It's good to distrust and suspect the actions and statements of the cops, but sometimes they are in the right, and this guy being a beloved author doesn't make his actions somehow justifiable.

Jury nullification has no place in this, or in any state subject to rule of law, but we've had that thread.
posted by kafziel at 2:52 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


When I was ten or so, we'd play this game - you've probably played it, too - Step On A Crack, Break Your Mother's Back. You're moving down the sidewalk as fast as you reasonably can, dancing like a sneakerfooted Astaire in an attempt to keep your feet off the lines in the cement.

There was always One Asshole Who Pushed You On A Crack; he'd push, you'd stumble and lose the game as your Converse landed all over the lines. Didn't matter that you'd been pushed; didn't matter that the asshole who pushed you might be the kid who won that day. You'd Stepped On A Crack.

I was ten or so, back then. It's a little (no, a lot) disheartening to see the same drama being played out by ostensible adults.
posted by Pragmatica at 2:52 PM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oh, come on. Was that description necessary?

Yeah! As soon as I finish my Jameson's, him and me are going to step outside. There are a lot of results for "astro zombie" "jameson" site:metafilter.com
posted by Zed at 2:54 PM on March 19, 2010


Kafziel's description of what happened does not appear to mesh well with reality.
posted by Justinian at 2:55 PM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Looks like juries are turning into authoritarian assholes, too.
posted by Malor at 2:56 PM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


This is the guy who got out of his car without being asked - a very big problem and probable threat - and started yelling questions at the cops, then refused to get back in the car when instructed, and resisted a lawful arrest.

this version of the story, depending on who you ask, seems to have been eviscerated in court, and what they ultimately convicted him for (again, depending on who you ask) seems to have been saying "why?" when asked to get down on the ground instead of immediately dropping.
posted by shmegegge at 2:57 PM on March 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


Who are the monsters here? "We the People". That's the thing about democracy - you have no excuses. In a dictatorship, "they" are doing things to you. In a democracy, we do it to ourselves. We love to complain about politicians. But we have no right to complain - this is a democracy, we voted them in... and can always vote them out. Police brutality? Abuse of power? They serve us. Which means we allow them - indeed encourage them - to abuse us. This jury - our peers - represent that principle in action.

We have nobody else but ourselves to blame.


There is no democracy. We have a democratic process to elect a republic of leaders. Those leaders are appointed with powers to make decisions for their constituents. The probability that anyone elected their leader for the purpose of creating Michigan Penal Code 750.479 is likely close to 0, but the code was created nonetheless by the elected republic.

Of 100% of people in a congressional district or state, only a handful of them vote. Typically, some portion of them voted for the unelected candidate, meaning that an even smaller amount of the 100% is responsible for actually appointing that individual with the powers of the office.

Contrary to what you have said, "they" exist, as the group of people responsible for actually selecting an individual for office is almost always a minority when compared to the population as a whole. And they most certainly have a right to complain when their rights or the rights of other individuals are trampled because of a law written by a very small group of individuals that were selected by a small minority of the whole group.

I would argue you won't find much sympathy to your argument on MeFi if I phrased your question as "There are no excuses why we don't have gay marriage in America, because we're the ones that voted these leaders in, and this is a democracy, so we really have no one to blame but ourselves."
Additionally, I think you might be hard pressed for many here on this site to accept a gay marriage ban in a state like Texas, where it was put to a democratic popular vote and overwhelmingly supported. Just because the process was democratic does not mean that it doesn't represent the tyranny of the majority.
posted by TheFlamingoKing at 2:58 PM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Jury nullification is the solution for every verdict you don't agree with.
posted by smackfu at 2:59 PM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've been through this and other border crossings a few times, and there are cameras everywhere. Where is the video evidence that can make this more than a he said/she said situation?

I cannot speak for this case, but I notice when there are video and audio recordings of a police encounter with civilians in which the civilians have been arrested, assaulted, or merely executed, this often seems to be when authorities become very concerned with privacy laws.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:00 PM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'll ask the dumb question: do other countries pull this kind of thing regularly?
Obstruction is very much a catch-all charge used by police in the UK if they can't get you on an actual crime but would like to arrest you or threaten you with the same*, but the maximum sentence is a thousand quid fine or a month inside, and on the rare occasions they do take it to court a small fine is most likely unless your were really trying it on.

*"The threat of arrest for obstruction is widely used and abused by the police to make protestors do as they are told"
posted by Abiezer at 3:01 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Along some other timeline, I did not get out of the car to ask what was going on. I did not repeat that question when refused an answer and told to get back into the vehicle."

His own words. Watts's story has changed a few times, but when the last thread on this came up, those were the events as reported at the time by all parties.
posted by kafziel at 3:01 PM on March 19, 2010


What are my rights at the U.S. border?

United States Border Patrol -- Allegations of abuse.
posted by ericb at 3:01 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ugh. I thought a state of sound mind, of compos mentis, was necessary before the question of compliance with the law was addressed. Watts writes:

what it came down to, ultimately, was those moments after I was repeatedly struck in the face by Beaudry (an event not in dispute, incidentally). After Beaudry had finished whaling on me in the car, and stepped outside, and ordered me out of the vehicle; after I’d complied with that, and was standing motionless beside the car, and Beaudry told me to get on the ground — I just stood there, saying “What is the problem?”, just before Beaudry maced me.

A man is struck repeatedly in the head. Hard, trained punches. He asks a question: "what is the problem?" Behind this question we can infer either of two things: some specter of calm contempt for the rule of law, a kind of Socratic niggling that holds steady, asks questions, even under punches; or an incipient concussion. Presence of mind, or absence of mind. A man is struck repeatedly in the head.
posted by kid ichorous at 3:04 PM on March 19, 2010 [24 favorites]


But in the context of a vehicle stop, especially a border search, there are rules about what people are and are not supposed to do, and those rules exist for a damn good reason. It is an extremely high-risk situation

For whom? Cites?
posted by kid ichorous at 3:07 PM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


His own words. Watts's story has changed a few times, but when the last thread on this came up, those were the events as reported at the time by all parties.

that's not a change in his story, and it also doesn't resemble your representation of the incident.
posted by shmegegge at 3:08 PM on March 19, 2010


Jury nullification is the solution for every verdict you don't agree with.

Man, throw-away comments like these are a real problem. It's difficult to read what's behind the sarcasm here. Do you agree with the verdict? Do you disagree with the legitimacy of jury nullification as a means to correct context-specific injustices, which may be caused by a broken and generally unfixable set of laws?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:09 PM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Record every interaction you have with law enforcement, when it is feasible, ever.

There is an application I keep on my phone specifically for something like this; Qik. It doesn't do everything, but it does one thing pretty well; record video, and while it's recording stream it to their servers.

Meaning, if I'm taking a video of something, and someone seizes my phone and impounds the memory card, that video sill exists, on Qiks servers. You can even set it to default to the videos being publicly or privately viewable in the preferences.

I dread ever having to use it for something other than fun, but I like knowing it is there as an option.

I also think that I might be growing paranoid in my old age.
posted by quin at 3:09 PM on March 19, 2010 [29 favorites]


I do not understand people like kafziel who bend over so far backwards to support authority figures. Watt's didn't attack an officer. He didn't forcibly resist an officer. He apparently didn't so much as raise his voice to an officer. Watt's only crime here was to ask a question of a guy who had just beaten on him repeatedly.

Unfortunately it appears that actually is a crime in Michigan.
posted by Justinian at 3:12 PM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oh god shoot me shoot me shoot me "Watts" not "Watt's".
posted by Justinian at 3:12 PM on March 19, 2010


But in the context of a vehicle stop, especially a border search, there are rules about what people are and are not supposed to do, and those rules exist for a damn good reason. It is an extremely high-risk situation and these cops get understandably jumpy, and so it's not unreasonable to expect people being subjected to a lawful search to avoid escalating the situation.

One problem is that what makes a "lawful search" is governed by standard rather than rule, and many of the multiple factors influencing whether a search was lawful or unlawful rely on the involved police officers' honesty about not just what actually physically happened, but also about how the police felt about what happened (like did they feel threatened, did they believe destruction of evidence of a crime was imminent, etc). When a search is being questioned, the officers who conducted the search have very powerful incentives to do whatever they can to make the search seem legal.

Actually, I believe there are lowered standards (less stringent requirements for the police to meet) for searches of cars and those involving border checks.

It's only reasonable to expect civilians to do what they can to avoid escalating the situation; however, cops are (or should be) the experts here on what they can and can't do, and it's also reasonable to expect that they'll behave responsibly and not overreact to rude but harmless behavior from a person who knows less about the law than they do.

Looks like juries are turning into authoritarian assholes, too.

The jury here is not to blame. They applied the (fucked up) law to the facts, as they were instructed to do. They might not have even known about jury nullification--and I'm fairly certain the defense attorney would have been barred from even hinting that it was an option.
posted by sallybrown at 3:18 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Who are the monsters here? "We the People". That's the thing about democracy - you have no excuses. In a dictatorship, "they" are doing things to you. In a democracy, we do it to ourselves. We love to complain about politicians. But we have no right to complain - this is a democracy, we voted them in... and can always vote them out. Police brutality? Abuse of power? They serve us. Which means we allow them - indeed encourage them - to abuse us. This jury - our peers - represent that principle in action.

We have nobody else but ourselves to blame.


This is not true. Let's leave aside the fact that this happened in Michigan, where I, a citizen of South Carolina, have exactly no influence. Pretending that I lived in Michigan, who, exactly, would I need to pull out of office? The governor? The mayor of Port Huron? Who appointed these border patrol agents to their jobs?

So, let's say it's the Governor of Michigan. What other factors might be important to voters than this one case? Economic reforms? A state health-care program? Gay marriage? If he's the perfect candidate on all the other major issues but on the appointment of these border security agents, is it still worth throwing him out?

And assuming that it is, assuming that we can throw out the abusive Governor, what will we replace him with? If history is any judge, someone almost exactly like him, but with a different letter next to his name and slight variations on Michigan's important issues. In other words, someone who is as likely to rehire these border security guards as not.

Our levers of power aren't precise enough to fix this problem.

"We the People" just means that we aren't ruled by a hereditary monarch, not that each citizen is personally responsible for every bad decision by anyone employed by the government.
posted by JDHarper at 3:21 PM on March 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


A man is struck repeatedly in the head.

Oh, they were just searching his face for hidden weapons. Sort of like how unarmed black folks run away to aim their backs at police - backs loaded with hidden nuclear grenades, or pregnant women need tasering to disarm the suborbital laser targeter hidden in their unborn children.

Basic training at the academy. Protect and serve!
posted by yeloson at 3:21 PM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'll ask the dumb question: do other countries pull this kind of thing regularly?

Tip: when traveling to Canada, make sure you do not hold a stapler in a threatening manner.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 3:22 PM on March 19, 2010


There is no democracy. We have a democratic process to elect a republic of leaders. Those leaders are appointed with powers to make decisions for their constituents. The probability that anyone elected their leader for the purpose of creating Michigan Penal Code 750.479 is likely close to 0, but the code was created nonetheless by the elected republic.

We vote for those representatives or "leaders". If we all - or the majority - voted someone who promised to do X, then the rep would do X, and when he failed to do X, we'd vote him out (or even recall, as for many positions a recall is also possible). We the people.

Of 100% of people in a congressional district or state, only a handful of them vote. Typically, some portion of them voted for the unelected candidate, meaning that an even smaller amount of the 100% is responsible for actually appointing that individual with the powers of the office.


Whose fault is that? We the people. If we don't vote, it's our fault.

Contrary to what you have said, "they" exist, as the group of people responsible for actually selecting an individual for office is almost always a minority when compared to the population as a whole. And they most certainly have a right to complain when their rights or the rights of ohttp://mefi.us/images/mefi/italic.gifther individuals are trampled because of a law written by a very small group of individuals that were selected by a small minority of the whole group.

"They" exist only insofar as we allow them to. By voting, or by not voting. It's still of our doing.

I would argue you won't find much sympathy to your argument on MeFi if I phrased your question as "There are no excuses why we don't have gay marriage in America, because we're the ones that voted these leaders in, and this is a democracy, so we really have no one to blame but ourselves."

On the contrary. We the people voted to institute oppressive laws, or did not vote to repeal oppressive laws. It is our fault. We the people must change. Education and outreach efforts, protest, rebellion, lobbying. And then... VOTING. Again.

Additionally, I think you might be hard pressed for many here on this site to accept a gay marriage ban in a state like Texas, where it was put to a democratic popular vote and overwhelmingly supported. Just because the process was democratic does not mean that it doesn't represent the tyranny of the majority.

See above.

Bottom line: We The People.

And I've got news for you. We are a Republic, that's true. But... WE HAVE THE POWER TO CHANGE THAT TOO. By... voting.

Go vote. Educate, protest, lobby, and educate some more. And then vote again. And again.

Because it is in our power to decide what we end up with.
posted by VikingSword at 3:22 PM on March 19, 2010


Do you disagree with the legitimacy of jury nullification as a means to correct context-specific injustices, which may be caused by a broken and generally unfixable set of laws?

Right. If the laws are bad, fix the laws. I don't want juries deciding cases outside the law, because they might decide to ignore the laws we like next time.
posted by smackfu at 3:24 PM on March 19, 2010


The border agents are rotated around the country, so aggressive tactics used in the south get distributed all around the U.S. - sound familiar?
posted by acro at 3:26 PM on March 19, 2010


Is this an American issue or just one of those things that come with having a police force and a legislature willing to pass anything to be "tough on crime?"

UK: Assault claims by asylum seekers, Asylum-seeker 'was assaulted by security men during deportation'

posted by smackfu at 3:28 PM on March 19, 2010


Pretending that I lived in Michigan, who, exactly, would I need to pull out of office? The governor? The mayor of Port Huron? Who appointed these border patrol agents to their jobs?

Any and all. Until you get the desired results.

So, let's say it's the Governor of Michigan. What other factors might be important to voters than this one case? Economic reforms? A state health-care program? Gay marriage? If he's the perfect candidate on all the other major issues but on the appointment of these border security agents, is it still worth throwing him out?

It's all about our priorities. If our priority was to paint every chicken green, then that's exactly what we'd get, ahead of all those priorities which we deem lesser, such as gay rights, or health care. And who is responsible for having priorities? We The People.

And assuming that it is, assuming that we can throw out the abusive Governor, what will we replace him with? If history is any judge, someone almost exactly like him, but with a different letter next to his name and slight variations on Michigan's important issues. In other words, someone who is as likely to rehire these border security guards as not.

We'll replace or recall anyone who does not follow the will of the people. And we'll keep doing it until we get all the chickens painted green, if we so desire. And if we make it enough of a priority we'll get it done lickety split.

Oh, and if we are united in our views, we can not only get green chickens, but civil rights for all, health care and education for all our kids. Just by voting! Who'd have thunk that! And yet, there it is, we have the power.
posted by VikingSword at 3:29 PM on March 19, 2010


I am a dull and simple cop
Can't tell frustration from assault
and though I have never read his books

I wish I could beat on Peter Watts! HEY!

Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa.....
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:29 PM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


You know, the brownshirts really are in place, just waiting for the right leader to come along.
posted by jamjam at 3:31 PM on March 19, 2010


Let's leave aside the fact that this happened in Michigan, where I, a citizen of South Carolina, have exactly no influence. Pretending that I lived in Michigan, who, exactly, would I need to pull out of office? The governor? The mayor of Port Huron?

St. Clair County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Wendling.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:32 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


[juries] might decide to ignore the laws we like next time.

Is this ever actually a problem in real life? I'm not sure this is a good argument for invalidating the use of jury nullification, unless it actually happens.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:33 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


posted by kafziel a vehicle stop, especially a border search . . . is an extremely high-risk situation

posted by kid ichorous For whom?


Uppity Canadians driving rental cars with Washington plates.
posted by mattdidthat at 3:34 PM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


If you decide to cross an international border, you have consented to a search. It isn't like being pulled over at a traffic stop. Its a very scary legal gray area in which you have very few immediate rights.

So, he had no right to refuse a search, and did so anyway. Then he got out of the car, got in the officers face and refused to get on the ground.

I think the TSA security theater is useless, I think the US and Canadian Border patrol suck (FWIW my experiences with Canadian border personnel have been worse than those with the DHS.)

That being said, if you pick a fight with either of them, they will usually win.

I know I know, short skirt blah blah. He actively acted like a dick. He wasn't just sitting there innocently. They shouldn't have beat him up, he didn't deserve that. Ultimately he should have stayed in the car and not fought a search he had no right to refuse. It would have been better for everyone as the violence that ensued seemed to require that precipitating factor.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 3:36 PM on March 19, 2010


Oh, if Watts gets anything but a suspended sentence here I'd be both appalled and shocked. He ain't gonna do hard time in the pokey.

Even if he doesn't do time, that conviction will make going on American promo/signing tours, conventions, meetings, etc., a huge pain in the ass at best.

I know a surprising number of Canadians who have stopped visiting the US because of just this kind of garbage.

Hell, I don't particularly relish the idea of crossing the border just because the last DHS guy I faced decided to aggressively cross-examine me about the non-nuclearness of my family, and implied a threat of future entry denials ("Well, I'll let you in this time, but next time...") because of it.

He couldn't seem to wrap his mind around the fact that I don't know where my father lives, and thus the only truthful answers I could give to "Does your father live in the US?" and "Are you traveling to the state where your father lives?" were "I don't know." or "Possibly?"
posted by CKmtl at 3:36 PM on March 19, 2010


Is this ever actually a problem in real life?

Pretty much any article that says "aquitted by an all-white jury".
posted by smackfu at 3:37 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


“We love to complain about politicians. But we have no right to complain - this is a democracy, we voted them in... and can always vote them out.”

Well, yeah, but we do have a right to complain (technically). And complaining would be part of the process of voting them out. Technically this (specific bit) is not police brutality since it was within the bounds of the law (although I agree whole heartedly (with Justinian, et.al) that this is a bullshit law). So the problem is the legislation.
The belting him a few times and escalating force unnecessarially, yeah, that'd be police brutality.

“A police officer can give me an order, and I must comply or risk losing my individual freedom (in addition to risk of bodily harm caused by the violent police officer). Even if the order is bogus, at no point can I resist or fail to comply, or the police officer is authorized to use force.”

That’s always struck me as a sort of Gödelian flaw in the legal system in terms of effective procedure.
Law is determined by consensual validation (rep. democracy). Authority is derived from the law. An illegal order is invalid because its predicated on individual arbitrary authority instead of consensus. And yet, it’s illegal to resist an illegal order and this is supported (here) by consensual validation (in this case a different part of that - the jury) – and the jury is constrained by the law.
Big mess o’WTF there.

On the other hand, you go with jury nullification of statute all the time and you have what was going on in the south with the KKK where a guy would be brought in with nary a shade of doubt to his guilt and the jury would cut him loose.

“I'll ask the dumb question: do other countries pull this kind of thing regularly?”
Uh, seriously? (even has a nice synchronicity "People have a right to complain..." quote there)
posted by Smedleyman at 3:38 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fucking hell. Utter idiocy. I have no words.
posted by Artw at 3:43 PM on March 19, 2010


(Sorry for continuing the jury nullification thing though, kafziel is right about that other thread already having a debate on that, which already brought up all the same points.)
posted by smackfu at 3:46 PM on March 19, 2010


Michigan: Failed state
posted by Artw at 3:51 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm wondering if we'll be able to view transcripts. I found the court data online at the courthouse site just using first and last name to search records and got all the relevant data for retrieval. I'm curious to have a look because it's hard to get a coherent timeline of what happened when. Transcripts may or may not help that, since the two sides had two different versions of the story anyway.
posted by custardfairy at 4:03 PM on March 19, 2010


This reinforces my opinion that there needs to be some sort of clear delineation of "under arrest" and "under investigation" other than in the cop's mind. Things that are perfectly legal as a citizen become illegal when "under arrest", but there's no way for you to know when that is. Of course, this is by design, as it allows police to use whatever force they want, at any time, then retroactively back-justify it by saying that you were "under arrest" at the time. A police officer could literally tackle you, out of the blue, and if you simply try not to fall you can be charged with resisting arrest. If he hurts himself in the process, you'll be charged with assaulting a police officer.

I love Qik, and that seems to me a fantastic use of it. But it's illegal in many states to record police at all. And, conveniently, their dash cam tapes have a habit of going missing.

Also, GRAR!!!
posted by LordSludge at 4:05 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


It sounds pretty much like the police side of things was demonstrated to be bullshit and it doesn't matter anyway, so theres not that much point to it, unless you want to have a go at finding some kind of "Aha! Peter Watts WAS choking police officers, and they are fully justified in beating the shit out of him" smoking gun and making the various apologists who always jump out of the woodwork happy.
posted by Artw at 4:07 PM on March 19, 2010


(That was to custardfairy in regards to picking over transcripts)
posted by Artw at 4:08 PM on March 19, 2010


Pretty much any article that says "aquitted by an all-white jury".

This makes no sense. A racist all-white jury isn't acquitting a defendant because of an unjust law, but because the defendant is white. This isn't an argument against jury nullification, this is an argument against racist, all-white juries.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:10 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


arrested and charged with [...] being an asshole

Say what you like about the draconian handling of this case, but somebody over there really knows how to draft useful laws.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:10 PM on March 19, 2010


posted by LordSludge But it's illegal in many states to record police at all.

Which states are these?
posted by mattdidthat at 4:15 PM on March 19, 2010


For twenty-nine of the fifty states — that's sixty percent of 'em, folks — tourism is one of the top three employers. In other words, most states depend heavily on tourism. It brings in well over $500 billion annually.

Needless to say, these stunts by the TSA are harming the industry. The US Travel Association may be a good place to crawl for stats. Their numbers indicate that these abuses are costing the US hundreds of thousands of jobs and many hundreds of billions of dollars.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:19 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


What a great way for Michigan to advertise itself as a tourist-friendly destination -- add a few cameras, a smarmy emcee, and perhaps we have a reality show in the making...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 4:34 PM on March 19, 2010


Is it not more of a shithole that people desperately try to get out of than an actual tourist destination though? If so it can be as crappy as it likes to people with the misfortune to pass through it.
posted by Artw at 4:36 PM on March 19, 2010


But it's illegal in many states to record police at all.

Which states are these?


The police in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania are apparently taking the position that the audio component of the recording is unlawful if you do it without their consent.
posted by Wufpak at 4:37 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've got to stop reading about this before I start saying things that attract the attention of the authorities.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:46 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think everyone understands that you have "Less Rights" at the border then you do in general. Your stuff can be searched for no reason, for example. And it's always been the case.

That said, if I were on the jury I would not have voted for conviction, because there is not, as far as I know, a specific time limit on how long you have to "comply" The standard shouldn't be "Until you get pepper sprayed". And it's not at all obvious that an ordinary, law-abiding citizen who wasn't used to dealing with the police would understand what was going on.
So it sounds like the jury thought Watts was getting the shaft, the customs agents were assholes, but that Watts was guilty of the crap they charged him with. That's a reasonable position.
No it's not! Besides, the customs officers were "sarcastic"? Seriously?
Looks like juries are turning into authoritarian assholes, too.
That's what jury selection is for. Weed out all those troublesome authority questioners.
So, he had no right to refuse a search, and did so anyway. Then he got out of the car, got in the officers face and refused to get on the ground.
Totally false. He was convicted for not "getting on the ground", not for refusing to consent to a search.
Needless to say, these stunts by the TSA are harming the industry. The US Travel Association may be a good place to crawl for stats. Their numbers indicate that these abuses are costing the US hundreds of thousands of jobs and many hundreds of billions of dollars.
It cost Chicago the Olympics. Countries didn't want to hold the Olympics in a country that would abuse their own citizens if they traveled to see it.
posted by delmoi at 4:50 PM on March 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


posted by Wufpak The police in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania are apparently taking the position that the audio component of the recording is unlawful if you do it without their consent.

Unfortunately for the police in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, they're wrong.
posted by mattdidthat at 4:52 PM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Are you allowed to say that, or will they beat the shit out of you?
posted by Artw at 4:54 PM on March 19, 2010


I argued against jury nullification in a previous thread, but this case has shown me the light.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 4:54 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I find it interesting that it seems that the person being arrested is the one with the responsibility of defusing the situation. Whereas the police officer is actively encouraged to escalate until violence is "necessary".

Why is this okay with everyone?
posted by Talanvor at 4:57 PM on March 19, 2010 [14 favorites]


I've witnessed the authority figure bullshit from pretty much all such services, government or private, even if I personally seldom experience it as a white male (the worst encounter I had was with a private security guard who had absolutely no clue about laws governing photography). However, there's always been a shining exception to this - park rangers. These folks are awesome. Unfailingly polite, helpful and generally beyond reproach - I have never experienced, nor witnessed anything but the best from them. Maybe I was extremely lucky. I don't know if it's the job, the kinds of people it attracts, the powers they have/don't have, or what, but if cops/border agents and sundry enforcers were all like that, we'd be in paradise. Time for another camping trip - with the added bonus of not getting ulcers from reading some of these depressing FPPs, ha!
posted by VikingSword at 4:57 PM on March 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


If a policeman can tell me to do things, and then arrest and charge me with felony "failure to comply with a lawful command" which is upheld in court, can anyone explain to me how I'm not just a second-class citizen with less rights than the police officer?

Straw man, TheFlamingoKing (and others who made similar arguments). This was not a police officer. This was a border agent, literally empowered to act as the first line of defense at the border. Regardless of whether or not Peter Watts posed any such threat, that's what they are, and that's how they think. Referring to them as "police" is as misleading as referring to a Green Beret as a National Guardsman (not saying the BG are uberlethal commandoes). Their training, duties, and (perhaps most of all) mindset are completely different. Treating them with the same level of indifference that you might give an ordinary beat cop is a ridiculous mistake, as this instance demonstrates.

In no way am I justifying the actions of the border guards. However, regardless of what's right or wrong in this world, a national border is no place for a sane person to test out their personal freedoms.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:10 PM on March 19, 2010


Yup, I see we are getting the usual demonstration of how Nazi Germany was allowed to happen.
posted by Artw at 5:24 PM on March 19, 2010 [8 favorites]


This reminds me of a few years back when I had jury duty. The accused had several charges against him, including one for obstruction of justice due to his unwillingness to identify himself. We ended up acquitting him of that charge as it seemed he was not avoiding identifying himself to impair the progress of justice, but due to a general disrespect for the whole proceeding.
posted by Samizdata at 5:34 PM on March 19, 2010


I drove home through several 'security alerts'/bomb scares in Belfast today, and the police were nothing but pleasant and informative.

My qualms about coming to the USA were weakening recently, I'm sorry they had to be reinforced once again.
posted by knapah at 5:35 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is it not more of a shithole that people desperately try to get out of than an actual tourist destination though?

Naw, it is a nice place to visit.
posted by marxchivist at 6:00 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


unless you want to have a go at finding some kind of "Aha! Peter Watts WAS choking police officers, and they are fully justified in beating the shit out of him" smoking gun

I don't really doubt Dr. Watt's side of things, other than that once you've been beaten about the head and sprayed with mace it can be difficult to remember exactly what happened (that isn't a dig, and I don't think he did anything out of line or unreasonable).

Mostly I was confused about why one officer would tell him to get out of the car, and then another might tell him to get back in, and how that might make anyone a little uncertain of which authority wielding git to listen to, and it sounds like they did a great job of cornering Dr. Watts with their own conflicting orders.

I was also curious as to whether a transcript would provide any information about the video footage presented, since we're unlikely to ever see it aired.

I've no wish to encourage people who support bullying and complete and unquestioning respect of authority.
posted by custardfairy at 6:01 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Straw man, TheFlamingoKing (and others who made similar arguments). This was not a police officer. This was a border agent, literally empowered to act as the first line of defense at the border.

But wouldn't the law he broke be equally valid for any officer?

Michigan Penal Code 750.479 "Resisting or obstructing officer in discharge of duty".
posted by ODiV at 6:23 PM on March 19, 2010


From ericb's link upthread on your rights dealing with border guards --

Be aware that DHS agents have recently set up constitutionally-questionable "security checkpoints" up to 100 miles inside U.S. territory.

WTF?
posted by stinkycheese at 6:25 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Motion for GRAR carried.
posted by runehog at 6:28 PM on March 19, 2010


Amen to Marxchivist.

Artw, I hate crooked cops as much as you, but don't be a dick.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:33 PM on March 19, 2010


> regardless of what's right or wrong in this world, a national border is no place for a sane
> person to test out their personal freedoms.
> posted by IAmBroom at 8:10 PM on March 19 [+] [!]

Not if your goal is a smooth crossing, anyway. Coming to this question from slightly to the right of the NRA, I have to say there's never a wrong time or place to exercise your personal freedom, or try to. Thoreau, Jefferson, blood of patriots, all that. But if you are going to do such a thing it's certainly best to go into it prepared with a clear-eyed view of what you may be risking and what makes it worthwhile to you to take such a risk. It's not a situation to sleepwalk into, where you have to go "What's wrong? What's the matter?"
posted by jfuller at 6:41 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


And assuming that it is, assuming that we can throw out the abusive Governor, what will we replace him with?

Her. And probably another democrat.

As for artw's "hur hur michigan is a failed state and a shithole people want to escape from," well you, sir, can fuck right off. There's a hell of a lot more here than Detroit and you're only broadcasting your ignorance. All the way from Seattle.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:09 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


My mom was charged with this a few months ago. A car had broken down in back of her during rush hour and the traffic was stop and go even past the busted car. The car had broken down in a one-lane exit so it needed to be pushed ahead to an available emergency lane to clear traffic. A cop in front of my mom told her to stop. One of the cops in back, pushing the broken car, motioned for her to move out of the way. She gave the cop in front of her the universal "huh?" sign with her hands and pulled forward about 10 feet, just enough room for the broken car to be pushed clear.

The cop in front of her absolutely lost it because he thought she flipped him off. As she passed him by he yelled at her to pull over. He yelled at her and no explanation he gave her satisfied him. When going to the back of the car to write down her license plate number, he flipped back and forth through some black book. Mom thinks he was trying to come up with something to charge her with and, sure enough, it was failure to comply with a police officer.

Just before she drove away, the other cop who pushed the busted car walked up to consult with power-hungry cop and she heard him ask, "Why'd you pull her over?" Even that dude was confused.

She was facing something like 2 years of jail or probation or something and so naturally she's scared out of her mind. She's never had a ticket in her life. She's an executive at one of the biggest companies in the state. She's 5'2" and a few years from retirement.

At her court appearance a few weeks later, the officer didn't show and the city dropped charges. The judge still lectured her about obeying the po-pos and all that, but since she faced no charges, she didn't bother to explain her case. She just said, "Ok."

In sum, we're all damned.
posted by Tacodog at 7:19 PM on March 19, 2010 [20 favorites]


no explanation she gave him, rather.
posted by Tacodog at 7:22 PM on March 19, 2010


For an inside look at a border agents mind, read No Second Place Winner. It includes clear instructions on how to plant a gun on anybody you might happen to shoot while on duty.

And for what it's worth, border agents' territory extends a long way from the border.
posted by warbaby at 7:39 PM on March 19, 2010


Coming to this question from slightly to the right of the NRA, I have to say there's never a wrong time or place to exercise your personal freedom, or try to. Thoreau, Jefferson, blood of patriots, all that. But if you are going to do such a thing it's certainly best to go into it prepared with a clear-eyed view of what you may be risking and what makes it worthwhile to you to take such a risk. It's not a situation to sleepwalk into, where you have to go "What's wrong? What's the matter?"

Totally. Maybe there should be a free speech pulloff at the border crossing. Perhaps the government can sell an "Ask A Question Pass" for the wealthy, so they wouldn't be subjected to this.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:02 PM on March 19, 2010


Borders suck, period.
posted by maxwelton at 8:18 PM on March 19, 2010


This makes no sense. A racist all-white jury isn't acquitting a defendant because of an unjust law, but because the defendant is white. This isn't an argument against jury nullification, this is an argument against racist, all-white juries.

Well, in the minds of many all-white Southern juries in the mid-20th century, anti-lynching laws were unjust. The good white people of the community had, in the minds of these jurors, the right to vigilante action against black men who had been accused of accosting or associating with white women.

And that's the trouble with jury nullification. The definition of "unjust" is entirely within the minds of the jurors.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:38 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


And that's the trouble with jury nullification. The definition of "unjust" is entirely within the minds of the jurors.

As opposed to being entirely within the minds of the same people who run our for-profit "justice" system?

Sounds like a fine alternative to me... but then, I think jury trials were meant to be more than yet another rubber stamp on the way to a guilty verdict.
posted by vorfeed at 8:50 PM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


kafziel : Jury nullification has no place in this, or in any state subject to rule of law, but we've had that thread.

Jury nullification provides The People with their second-to-last recourse against tyrrany.

The last recourse involves an awfully lot more people dying. So yeah, I'd say nullification damned well better have its place in any civilized society.


mr_roboto : And that's the trouble with jury nullification. The definition of "unjust" is entirely within the minds of the jurors.

Society defines "justice" in the first place. Yes, we now look back and say "wow, we did what?", but at the same time, when the government acts against the will of its citizens, its citizens have an obligation to respond.

Sometimes, that means you can't convict for a lynching. And sometimes, it means you can't convict for "failure to grovel fast enough".


"Better that 10 guilty men go free than one innocent man be wrongly convicted"
posted by pla at 8:51 PM on March 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


kafziel It is an extremely high-risk situation and these cops get understandably jumpy,

What? These guys are clearly idiots. Fucking idiots. They deliberately cause unnecessary conflict with ordinary normal people who just want to go on their way, in order to stroke their petty egos. (Which is no less corruption than demanding a bribe would be.)

And they've successfully continued about this course of action, acted in this stupid manner, for what, five years? Ten? That is how "high-risk" the situation is.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:58 PM on March 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


The hand speaks. The hand of a government man.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:22 PM on March 19, 2010


Mostly I was confused about why one officer would tell him to get out of the car, and then another might tell him to get back in, and how that might make anyone a little uncertain of which authority wielding git to listen to, and it sounds like they did a great job of cornering Dr. Watts with their own conflicting orders.

I agree. My armchair opinion is that you should obey the last command from a cop that you hear; then at least you could argue in court (if you live that long) that you used a reasonable method for resolving conflicting orders. On the other hand, if cop A seems like a raging psychopath and cop B seems like a reasonable person (far-fetched, I know), then obey A regardless of the order of commands, because you'll be more likely to live to see the inside of a courtroom.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:45 PM on March 19, 2010


In no way am I justifying the actions of the border guards. However, regardless of what's right or wrong in this world, a national border is no place for a sane person to test out their personal freedoms.

Except that in my experience and all other international travelers I have talked to, the U.S. border guards are by far more unpleasant and liable to charge you with something on a whim than almost any other country in the world. Is the U.S. border really such a dangerous place that these guys have to be giant cocks to everyone?

Waiting in line at airport immigratoin, I have probably seen about a dozen people sent away for further questioning (undoubtly to a terrifying small windowless room), merely because their English wasn't good enough to understand the questions of the border guards, who make their questions confusing on purpose.
posted by afu at 9:46 PM on March 19, 2010 [7 favorites]


kafziel It is an extremely high-risk situation and these cops get understandably jumpy,

To further refute your ridiculous assertion, do you know what happens to people who spend long periods of time in actual high-risk situations (such as machine shops)? They tend to lose the sense of fear about it, to misjudge the risk, to get over-confident. "I know what I'm doing with this, I won't bother putting on the goggles, same way I didn't bother the last fifty times. Whoops, my eye!" The opposite of 'understandably jumpy'.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 9:48 PM on March 19, 2010 [8 favorites]


At times like this, I like to remind everyone of Jury Nullification. You never know when this may come in handy.
posted by bpm140 at 1:03 AM on March 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Peter Watts: If that is the case, I cannot begrudge the jury their verdict. Their job is not to rewrite laws, or ignore stupid ones; their job is to decide whether a given act violates the law as written.

Peter Watts takes the law much too seriously for his own good. The law is not rules cast in stone. It's just a couple of examples that the legislators came up with and that need to be applied to carefully in view of the case at hand.
posted by sour cream at 7:48 AM on March 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


He's very nice about the senile judge and the hack prosecutor too. I'd be all "fuck all of you guys!". Though, TBH, perhaps waiting until *after* sentencing for anything of that nature is a good idea.
posted by Artw at 7:58 AM on March 20, 2010


However, there's always been a shining exception to this - park rangers. These folks are awesome. Unfailingly polite, helpful and generally beyond reproach - I have never experienced, nor witnessed anything but the best from them.

Unless you consider punitive cavity searches and, you know, taking clubs to people's casts to be beyond reproach, I'm going to go ahead and guess that you've never set foot in Yosemite.
posted by stet at 10:25 AM on March 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I dunno. I've managed to cross the US-Canada border countless times without incident, including under situations that caused questions. Somehow I managed not to piss off the border guards. Maybe because I was polite, respected their authority, and wasn't insolent toward them?

Nah, that couldn't be it.
posted by Doohickie at 1:45 PM on March 20, 2010


GRAR GRAR and moar GRAR

These kind of permissions allowed to security forces, be it local police or border guards, frightens me down to my little toes. I have epilepsy; sometimes I'm confused or belligerent during a seizure. They're gonna taze me to death some day. Or half-to-death and then send me to prison for having the seizure despite commands to cease.

Every time it's voting day, I choose against allowing more of these kinds of permissions for security... and every time the idiots vote away more of our freedoms. I live in Arizona, I should be used to it by now. They vote for Arpaio around here.
posted by _paegan_ at 2:40 PM on March 20, 2010


I sent Mr. Watts a little money after the first Metafilter posting about this, and he replied to make sure I meant him to apply it to his legal defense rather than to rescuing stray cats.

Again: I sent him money for him to use to keep himself out of jail, and he wrote back to me to make sure I wouldn't rather he spend it on stray cats. (And this wasn't a form letter; he visited my Web site first, and made a wry comment about it in his e-mail.)

This is a mensch.
posted by nicwolff at 4:12 PM on March 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


If you decide to cross an international border, you have consented to a search.

At least in Asia, only customs folks can touch your bags. You can, and should, refuse searches by anyone else.

It isn't like being pulled over at a traffic stop. Its a very scary legal gray area in which you have very few immediate rights.

It may be a high-pressure area, in that DHS/ Border Patrol folks think they're in a Paul Greengrass thriller, but legal gray area it isn't in other parts of the world. I cross the Malaysia-Singapore border every week for work, and I'm always cognizant of the exact rules under which these folks operate. And I make sure they know I know this, without being a dick at it.

More to the point, if it's a gray area, it damned well better not be. Surely not to the point where an officer's assault is legally ignored.
posted by the cydonian at 6:50 PM on March 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


DVD Extras and Director Commentary

Watt includes comments from another juror, who reiterates that they didn't think Watts was an insolent jerk and that he was abused by the officers, but they also felt that they had no choice but to convict him of an overly-broad offense.

And Watts explains why he got out of the car. No, it wasn't because he was a stupid asshole who wanted to start a fight, although -- surprise, surpirse! -- this seems to be another element that the Times-Herald glossed over.
Some have wondered why I’d ask what was going on in the first place, and why I would have to leave the vehicle to do that. After all, wasn’t it obvious what was going on? I answered these questions on the stand but the reportage seems a bit deficient in that area (the Times-Herald simply claimed that I felt that “the officers were required to answer my questions”), so I’ll get it out here:

There were two seriously weird things about this stop. Firstly, we were being pulled over while trying to leave the US, which in my experience was unprecedented (usually you expect to be stopped by officials from the country you’re entering). Secondly, the search began without my knowledge, without anyone asking me to “pop the trunk” so to speak. This was absolutely contrary to official protocols. Ron Smith, a spokesperson for the Port Huron detachment, confirmed this when commenting about this very case: “Of course they would have told the driver beforehand” (“Canadians Don’t Forfeit Right to Privacy at the Border”, C. Clarke, pA5 of the Dec 14 ‘09 edition of The Globe and Mail). But they did not. The first I knew of it was when I turned to see guards at every door, already going through our stuff.

I turned back to ask Behrendt what was going on, but she had moved away from the car and was talking to someone else at a distance. So I got out to ask what was going on; that was when everything went pear-shaped.

The point is, this was not a routine border check. In my experience, it was extremely unusual.
posted by maudlin at 12:48 PM on March 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


As an American with dual Canadian residency, I too have crossed the border into Canada many times while driving a US-plated rental car. 99% of the time it's completely uneventful, but it can instantly and for seemingly no reason turn into a pretty awful experience, with force, threats, and all. I've had happen as well. What happened with this guy is so disproportionate to what ought to have happened.

Once I've even encountered the weird US-custom's random checkpoint right on the side where you
apprach Canada's border guard crossing to get into Canada. That's backwards, I wonder why they care at all about who is leaving the US?! They just block the road right in front of Canadian customs, so if you're not paying attention closely you won't notice them until they make you stop, and that can be surprising. And then you notice they are US and not Canadian police. They do just surround your car, and they quickly search your trunk while visually inspecting and talking you through the rigmarole. I guess that circumstance can turn into a tragedy on just a hair trigger, and I think Watts should just be immediately pardoned.

This has definitely gotten out of hand. What the hell is wrong with American juries? Hasn't a single one of them heard of jury nullification to tell the others about it? There are always rare cases where the letter of the law and what actually happened are so far apart in circumstance that only a jury ought to decide for themselves. That's the entire goddamned point of a thousand years of common-law legal precedent upon which Western Civilization stands!
posted by archae at 9:44 PM on March 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Border Issues

Trying to Make Sense of the Peter Watts conviction...
posted by Artw at 3:31 PM on March 22, 2010


Politics, free trade, violence
posted by Artw at 3:34 PM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


SF Author Peter Watts Talks About Hard Science Fiction, and Being Beaten By US Border Guards
posted by homunculus at 11:49 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sign for the US Border: unprovoked beatings ahead
posted by homunculus at 8:27 PM on April 16, 2010


Thanks for keeping us up to date, guys. I guess now we wait for sentencing.

This has certainly killed any remaining desire to go down to the US anytime soon (kind of a shame with the dollar where it is).
posted by ODiV at 9:15 AM on April 17, 2010


« Older One Nation Under Sex....  |  Atomic Surgery:... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments