National security not valid excuse to trample rights

Freedom Newspapers

The longer the frustratingly indeterminate “global war on terror” goes on, the more threats to American freedoms present themselves here at home. This is an unfortunate but inevitable byproduct of any war, especially one with such hazy objectives. (Does anyone believe terror as a tactic of the weak in political struggles can be eliminated from the world?) If we are to maintain the freedom our leaders tell us our servicepeople are fighting for, we must be eternally vigilant.

These observations are prompted by two recent news items.

On Nov. 28, the Miami police announced they plan to stage random shows of force at hotels, banks and other public places “to keep terrorists guessing and remind people to be vigilant,” as an AP story put it. The police might, for example, surround a bank and check the IDs of everybody going in and out while handing out leaflets.

Miami Police Chief John Timoney said the plan was not prompted by any specific, credible threat of an imminent attack in Miami, but noted the city is usually mentioned in intelligence reports.

This idea is so bad as to be almost beyond parody. It’s hard to see how random, dramatic displays of police power will make us all safer. A cynic would say that the major point must be to get citizens accustomed to being compliant when authority figures demand to “see your papers please,” as in a tin-pot dictatorship.

That same week Denver’s Rocky Mountain News reported a woman in Arvada, Colo., faces possible prosecution for refusing to show federal officers her ID when she was riding a commuter bus to work.

Deborah Davis, 50, whose four children include a 21-year-old son serving in Iraq and a Navy veteran, commuted daily from her home in Arvada to a job at a small business in Lakewood. The bus passed through the Federal Center, the site of a number of government offices, and on occasion federal officers would board the bus and demand to see the IDs of everyone, whether they were getting off at the Federal Center or not.

Davis, after a troubled weekend spent researching her rights as an American citizen, decided on Sept. 26 to refuse. When she did, federal officers removed her from the bus, handcuffed her and put her in the back of a federal police car while they called higher authorities. They gave her two tickets and released her. She is due in court Friday.

We recognize a legitimate concern about heightened security in the wake of 9/11. There are occasions — entering a federal property or secure building — when it is probably legitimate to ask to see a form of ID. But the war on terror should not become an excuse to empower various authorities to demand to “see your papers please” any time, any place, without a shred of suspicion or justification.