Jun 11, 2006

On Freedom in a State of Fear

Left: Ohio State House building; photo by historymike

(Columbus, OH) "Hi. May I ask what you are doing?"

These were the first words the state trooper with the stiff-brimmed hat said to me as I stood on the sidewalk outside the capitol building to snap some photos.

I always have to self-censor to prevent myself from saying something combative, like "why the hell should you care? I'm on public property!"

I instead decided that it would be better to avoid getting hauled into a police station for being too "smart," and informed the officer that I was taking photographs of the building.

"Where are you from?" he asked.

I explained that I lived in Toledo, and kept taking photos.

"Is that a very long trip?" he asked.

Playing along, I mentioned it was about three hours, counting morning rush hour traffic.

"What brings you to Columbus?" he continued. By this time I was beginning to get irritated; I knew that I had been singled out as a suspicious character, and I was beginning to resent that it is somehow "suspicious" to be a dopey tourist taking pictures of state icons.

Still, the thought of having to call to Toledo for bail money kept me in check.

"I was down here for some academic business, and I decided to add to my collection of stock photos of Columbus landmarks," I said, letting my camera hang from my neck. I was waiting for the dreaded "I.D. please" comment when the officer reminded me to be careful when I was near the High Street curb.

"Cars drive by real fast here," he said. "Have a nice day."

The officer continued to watch as I circled the building, and a needless confrontation over individual liberties was avoided.

The entire exchange took less than 90 seconds, and yet I wondered if my name and license plate were entered into a database (I parked at a meter across the street). Perhaps the same information was passed along to the Department of Homeland Security.

At no time was I really inconvenienced, and the questions I was asked seemed harmless enough. Yet I was saddened that the innocent days of tourists freely visiting American government facilities have long since disappeared.

I grew up believing in the dream of American exceptionalism, and even though events such as Watergate, Vietnam, and the current war in Iraq have caused me to become a bit cynical, there is a part of me that still wants to believe that the United States - though imperfect - offers the best model for world to emulate.

Being seen as a suspicious person in the eyes of government representatives, though, caused me to recognize the state of fear, or fear-state, into which we have descended.

I walked back to my car just a little more cynical than I was before I arrived in Columbus, and I could not help but look in my rearview to see if I was being followed.

No one was there, I think.


McCaskey said...

Just suppose you were Arab or Arab-American in appearance? Darker skin and hair, and all the other facts, including why you were there taking those pictures, were the same. Think the "questioning" might have been a bit more intense?

3,000 people died on 9/11/01/. Tragic beyond all words. As are the repercussions, in so many ways large and small, in which we all live ours lives, that continually happen since that day.

Berserker said...

Sorry you were inconvenienced, sir. And, Gee, we're all very sorry that the cop checked you out.

However, we are at war and sometimes wars are inconvenient.

Oh, and if you're miffed because you don't think that you should have to be at war because the rest of the world is, then maybe you should think about the probability that the next victim of the war will be someone who is as cynical as you.

Terror attacks people with all types of attitudes. Yours mine and ours...

Have a safe day.

Jake Porter said...

This is not America anymore. National ID cards, searches without warrants. It has been going on for years with both the Republicrat parties.

Just wait until they give you your national ID card with an RFID chip in 2008. You won't be able to travel anywhere with out your papers.

Give me complete security even a police state, anything but death, not death.

historymike said...

Agreed, McCaskey.

historymike said...

I was not inconvenienced, Berserker, and I mentioned it in my post.

Nor was I "miffed;" "saddened" might be a more appropriate term.

You are free, however, to read whatever you want into my post. It appears that you have a preset opinion about me.

historymike said...

You paint a disturbing - but quite likely - scenario in your comments, jake.

Do said...

Since January I have made 5 trips to Columbus - all 5 have involved meetings in the State House. Security is high and exploring the hallowed halls is discouraged. Sadly.

The receptions are wonderful, the food is extraordinary, the music is calming, and the company is interesting - until you look up and see a ring of state police scoping out every one in the room.

Kind of spoils the event.

Anchorage Activist said...

Berserker - I respect your concern for our nation's security, but how useful is it to roust a tourist in Columbus, OH when our borders, until recently, have been wide open?

And it goes beyond security. Creeping totalitarianism is manifesting itself in so many other areas of American life. Whether it's photo radar, seat belt laws, bicycle helmet laws, hate crime laws, liberty has been sucker-punched by security. Not even the reddest of the red states, Utah, escapes, where three guys now find themselves facing Federal civil rights charges over a couple of bar fights three years ago (read about the Shaun Walker case over on Nikki's Nest for more info; while she puts a hard left spin on it, the facts themselves are essentially correct). And now, NewsMax on-line reports a couple of Jersey lawmakers want to ban the sale of Ann Coulter's new book because it "offends" them. BOO-HOO-HOO!

Don't forget - it was Benjamin Franklin who once said "Those who would exchange essential liberty for a bit of safety are deserving of neither."

Brian said...

Sounds to me like a vigilant law enforcement officer doing his job.

Had he searched you, that would have been a violation of your civil rights.

Asking you what you were doing and why you were doing it is no harm to you or your rights.

-Sepp said...

C'mon HM, nobody takes pictures of dumb ol buildings unless they have evil intentions. The cop was doing his job but, it reminded me of one night about 15 years ago when a friend and I were walking "suspiciously" down the AW trail at 2 am. A TPD cruiser stopped, the cops jumped out, threw us against the car and banged us off the hood, searched us, took personal info, ran us for warrants and made comments to provoke us. We came back clean of warrants and were told "we were lucky" and they "weren't going to take us to jail this time" and then drove away leaving us scratching our heads with a busted lip and a nosebleed to continue on our way. Our "crime"? Long hair and outside at a late hour. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

josh narins said...

While travelling in Israel, I was waiting for a bus, but I had a backpack and a peice of luggage with me.

I also had quite a good tan by that point, and had been keeping my hair "1" clipper short.

So, the security guy comes up to me, asks me something in Hebrew, and I say, reasonably politely, that "I'm sorry, I can't understand you."

He says something very like "No, it is OK, now I can hear your accent. It is OK."

To which I should have responded "Shibboleth"

liberal_dem said...

"However, we are at war and sometimes wars are inconvenient."

War? Do you mean that folly going on in Iraq?

Or do you mean that mis-named 'War on Terror?'

'Sometimes wars are inconvenient.' Yes, the deaths of those 2500 US military were 'inconvenient.' You know, undertakers, burial plots, wills, probate...

It is equally 'inconvenient' that hundreds of billions of tax-payer dollars has been tossed down that Iraqi black hole. Our decaying roads and bridges are 'inconvenient' as well as our national debt.

Yes, wars do bring inconvenience to the citizens whose leaders wander off the deep end.

McCaskey said...

The sense I got from reading Mike's post was that he was not so much irritated at the police officer, but the fact that the security landscape has changed so much that an individual can't even take pictures of a state building without attracting attention of law enforcement.
I have no idea where the line should be drawn nowadays. But if small freedoms we took for granted less than five years ago become more and more eroded, one has to wonder exactly which side is winning the war on terror.

Berserker said...


If you have to ask, then you wouldn't comprehend the answer. I hope you had fun with your irrational tirade.

Anchorage Activist

"Berserker - I respect your concern for our nation's security, but how useful is it to roust a tourist in Columbus, OH when our borders, until recently, have been wide open?

So you're saying that because the borders were "until recently, have been wide open" means that vigilance is useless? That a law enforcement officer can't ask some simple questions without someone crying about it on their blog?

Give me a break!

Cry babies!

Name withheld to protect the guilty said...

"So you're saying that because the borders were "until recently, have been wide open" means that vigilance is useless? That a law enforcement officer can't ask some simple questions without someone crying about it on their blog?"

Nobody's suggesting that vigilance is useless, but it seems that we're in great danger of moving beyond that. It's only a matter of time, I fear, before people walking down the street will hear the black-uniformed official behind them yell "Papers please!" Although probably not with the movie accent that comes out "papers pliss."

Anchorage Activist said...

Berserker - I guess you would characterize the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution as "crybabies" too for taking a stand against practices they disagreed with, too. There's a difference between vigilance and paranoia.

McCaskey seems to have better grasped the essence of Mike's commentary.

Berserker said...

"Founding Fathers?!"

So, you're saying that a cop asking Mike a question causes you to invoke the Founding Fathers?!

Sure, be vigilant for your constitutional rights. However, over-reacting to a PERCEIVED issue doesn't do justice to the memory of the Founding Fathers.

To invoke that in this context is just demagoguery.

BrianMaxson said...

Look around you, people.

The "terrorists" already won the war.

They've accomplished their goal. Instill fear.

Just watch a movie about/within an airport before 2001.

Elderly people having to take their shoes off. Having TSA ask me if either me or my wife would submit to a body search. "Sure! I'll just leave this with my wife until after you search me."


BrianMaxson said...

Oh, and almost forgot.

While on your flight and you hanker an iced tea and the attendant claims they don't "have" iced tea, ask for a cup of hot tea and a cup of ice and enjoy the look on their face.

I do it on every flight.

Anchorage Activist said...

No, Berserker, the mere act of a cop alone asking questions is not the problem. It's within the general context of the progressive war on liberty in this country that warrants concern.

Consider the proliferation of nuisance laws that challenge and even violate outright the presumption of innocence. Implied consent, asset forfeiture, hate speech and hate crimes laws - these are all measures that presume guilt. Even the possession of significant amounts of cash is considered questionable nowadays. If you don't fit a prescribed profile, you're no longer considered a harmless eccentric but instead an incipient outlaw.

Some pre-emption is appropriate for public safety, but pre-emption has permeated so many aspects of American life that liberty itself becomes subject to pre-emption. In the old Soviet Union, one would be asked to prove they "belonged" several times per day, constantly being asked to show credentials and explain themselves. Is this what you want America to become?

Dariush said...

Excellent posts in this thread by just about every contributer, particularly Anchorage Activist.

The content of Berserker's posts, however, instantly brought to mind that famous quote from Samuel Adams:

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains set lightly upon you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen."

Kate said...

Uh hello? Did I miss something? What's with the national id cards?

I don't have one. But I'm a divorcee with a big dog, a take no shit attitude and a big law firm on a leash.

I hope they're not stupid enough to ask me for one :-)

Jake Porter said...

What's with the national id cards?


In 2005, The federal government passed the Real ID Act. You can read more about it here.

In my opinion the best way to stop the Real ID cards are to not accept them, and try to get your state legislature and local governments to tell the federal government, "NO!" I am even considering a 2008 run for Iowa State Representative because of this issue.

Kate said...

Oh for crying out loud....how in the world did I miss that?

Possibly I thought it so Orwellish that it would never be taken seriously? My bad apparently.

I won't accept one. And I'll fight if penalized for not carrying one.

No law may be enacted that supersedes Constitutional liberty. Sorry - not invoking demagoguery - just stating the painfully obvious.

Berserker said...


The content of Berserker's posts, however, instantly brought to mind that famous quote from Samuel Adams:

If I brought that to your mind, then you obviously don't have one.

Once again, you and your ilk prove that you have little, if any, grasp of history or the concept of freedom. You use quotes out of context to weaken your country and strengthen her enemies. I suspect that the sacrifice of those few who really know from whence this nation came, will cover the stinking trail left by the crap you throw.

Kate said...

I think there are more here in agreement than it looks at first glance.

We are conditioned to think that all problems can be found, dissected and resolved in 30 minute sitcom increments.

The media is telling us - quite clearly that the war is wrong. I heard two senators say that we should dialogue with Osama bin Laden.

We're fighting each other with largely unrealistic expectations, revised historical perspective and out and out lies at times.

Critical evaluation would help the polarization that our country is facing. Hope to see this soon...

Hooda Thunkit said...

Hey Mike,

That sharp young officer forgot to mention that your left front tire was ~3 lbs. low and your Visa Card was perilously close to the limit.

Homeland Security made note of it though, in your file... :-)

(That "mole thing" is in there too!)