Government Gone Amuck

Posted on Tuesday 1 August 2006

“Law and justice are not always the same. When they aren’t, destroying the law may be the first step toward changing it.”

—Gloria Steinem

This was the quote of the day today, and somehow it seems very appropriate given some of the recent stories I’ve been reading. I’ve noticed a very disturbing trend in the legal system and law enforcement. The way the legal system is going, I am very fearful for the country as a whole.

Jackboots in Philadelphia

The first story I’d like to point out to my readers is one from Channel 10, the NBC affiliate in the Philadelphia area. It is about the police trying to intimidate Neftaly Cruz for photographing them in action with his cell phone camera. The police arrested the man, after spotting him taking the photo from his yard. Cruz said that the police told him that he broke a new law that prohibits people from taking pictures of police with cell phones. He also said that they also threatened to charge him with conspiracy, impeding an investigation, and obstructing an investigation.

I don’t see where taking a photo of an event taking place in public can be illegal, especially if you are standing in your own yard at the time you took the photograph. If it were legal to pass laws like this the videos that show police abuses—like the beating of Rodney King, and the misconduct of police in New Orleans after the hurricanes—would very likely never have come to shed light on what actually happened.

The fact that the police feel it is acceptable to try and intimidate and threaten citizens is unacceptable. The police work for the people. Public oversight of their actions must always be acceptable and legal.

Absentee Father Granted Inheritance from New Jersey has a story about a judgement in New Jersey. New Jersey Superior Court Judge Thomas P. Olivieri recently ruled that an absentee father, had the right to collect an inheritance from his abandoned daughter. Ruben Martinez abandoned his daughter shortly after her birth with spinal cord injuries, and he never paid child support for her. Yet, the judge ruled that Martinez has the right to collect an inheritance after his daughter’s death. The judge further ruled that he can not be held responsible for the back child support he owed, as that issue died with the child.

This makes little sense to me. He abandoned his daughter voluntarily, and refused to support her while she was alive—yet he should profit from her death after neglecting all responsibilities as her father.

Terrorist Fishies

The Boston Globe’s website,, has a story about a pre-emptive strike against a restaurant in Freeport, Maine. The ten koi, that were confiscated, had been on display in the restaurant’s aquarium since it opened 15 years ago. However, Maine outlawed importing freshwater fish without a permit a few years ago—well after the time Ly opened his restaurant.

Apparently, Cuong Ly, the owner of a Chinese restaurant is guilty of illegally importing the koi fish that lived in the aquarium of his restaurant—even though the law that he is being charged under did not exist at the time he brought the fish to Maine. The fish are considered an invasive species, and would compete with native fish if released into the wild.

Don’t we have any real criminals that they could be investigating?

Turning Up The Heat

The Salt Lake Tribune has an article about a non-profit agency turning off the air conditioning to a large low-income apartment complex in response to complaints from the luxury condominiums nearby. The residents of the Pauline Downs Apartments are suffering during this nationwide heatwave, as their air conditioning is turned off between the hours of 8 p.m. and 11 a.m.

Since the complex is run by the Housing Development Corporation, a subsidiary of Salt Lake City’s Housing Authority, and not actually public housing, the complex is not under any obligation to provide air conditioning to its residents.

The housing authority is complying with a city noise abatement ordinance, but putting low-income residents lives at risk in order to do so. That makes a lot of sense.

Sex, Drugs, and Cops

Then there is the CNN story about Federal Agents being shot at while trying to arrest Federal prison corrections officers. A grand jury indicted six of the guards at the Federal Correctional Institution Tallahassee, and the federal agents were in attempting to serve arrest warrants when the shooting began.

The guards were allegedly smuggling contraband into the prison to sell and in exchange for sexual favors from the female inmates. The guards were also suspected of monitoring prisoners’ phone calls to identify and intimidate prisoners who were discussing the criminal conduct with other people.

Getting a Brake

The site has a report about a local judge ruling against fixed gear bicycles.

A bicycle messenger, Ayla Holland, was given a ticket on June 1, 2006 for riding a bicycle without brakes. The Oregon Revised Statute 815.280(2) states, “A bicycle must be equipped with a brake that enables the operator to make the braked wheels skid on dry, level, clean pavement, strong enough to skid a tire.”

Holland was riding a “fixie,” which is a fixed gear bicycle, with no other brakes, other than the use of the pedals to stop the bicycle. However, the bicycle should qualify under the current wording of the law.

The judge, who appeared to have a bias against bicycle messengers, as seen in his about messengers riding much too fast, not being able to stop safely. The judge also said, “The brake must be a device separate from the musculature of the rider. Take me for instance. I don’t have leg muscles as strong as a messenger…how would I stop safely?”

However, it appears that the judge is overstepping his authority. All bicycle brakes are dependent on human musculature, with the leg muscles being far stronger than the ones in the fingers, which are used by the majority of bicycle caliper brakes—including the ones the judge ordered be installed on Holland’s bicycle.

The cop and the judge are both grossly misinterpreting the law. The law, as it is currently written, doesn’t state anything about how brakes are defined. Holland’s bicycle, as it was on the day of the ticket, complies with the law.

Art Teacher Fired For Her Art

An Austin art teacher, Tamara Hoover, has been fired for being an artist. According to this article, Hoover was well liked by her students, respected by her peers, and had only one problem with a fellow teacher. Even though Austin often has women sunbathing topless on local lakes, and a local hobo often wears a thong… the local school officials quickly fired Hoover.

The photos of Hoover were not pornographic in nature, but did feature some nudity, including poses with another woman. However, she is an art teacher, and her photos were well within the bounds of the modern standards of art.

The FCC and PBS has a story about PBS and the FCC. Apparently, the language in Ken Burns’ new seven-part series on World War II may incur steep fines. The language used by World War II servicemen is unacceptable to the FCC. Big surprise…soldiers swear. The FCC fines the media for swear words and nudity, but allows graphic and almost unlimited violence to be shown on our televisions and in the movies.

The FCC has to get a clue. What is so offensive about the nude human body or mere words. It isn’t like people aren’t going to see nude bodies at some point in their lives, or hear someone swearing—and possibly use even worse language themselves. They are very unlikely to see a person wielding a sub-machine gun shoot twenty or thirty people at point-blank range.

Swearing and nude bodies don’t cause damage to a person—unlike the use of guns, knives, swords, and other objects of mayhem commonly depicted in television and movies. Which does it really make more sense to ban?

Gang Colors?

Of course, not all the fascist and authoritarian actions are being done by the government.  The Kansas City Star has a story on a southwest Missouri mall enforcing a dress code policy against a 10-year-old girl. Apparently, the little girl’s bandanna, decorated with peace signs, smiley faces and flowers, violates the mall’s code of conduct. Even though several of the retailers in the mall sell bandannas, wearing them in the mall is forbidden.

The rule the little girl was violating was the 10th of the 17 offenses listed on the mall’s code of conduct, which states “Failing to be fully clothed, or wearing apparel which is likely to provide a disturbance or embroil other groups or the general public in open conflict.” I fail to see how a little girl, wearing a bandanna with peace signs, smiley faces and flowers, is likely to cause a disturbance or embroil others in open conflict.

2 Comments for 'Government Gone Amuck'

    August 9, 2006 | 5:50 am

    Minor quibble: you probably meant “amok” — insane, out of control — rather than “amuck” — mired in manure. Yeah, there’s a whole lot of manure out there, but if the givernment were mired in it, it wouldn’t be so out of control.

    We do have a case in Albuquerque similar to that in Philadelphia. In order to catch bartenders over-serving patrons (selling drinks to people who are already drunk), the police have started administering breathalyzer tests to patrons exiting bars, even if they’re not the designated driver — the drinker isn’t supposed to be subject to a penalty, but the bar owners say this testing is discouraging bar patronage. A bar owner started to use his cell-phone camera to document the detainment. The police told the bar owner to stop doing that, and the bar owner refused. At this point, the police started to beat the bar owner up, claiming they needed to administer force because he was threatening the security of police operations. By this time, two other bar employees had come out, and they recorded the beating on their cell phones. The police tried to confiscate those phones, and by this time some bar patrons and also members of the band playing in the bar (one of whom had a day job at the local newspaper) also had their phones out and were taking pictures.

    Yes, it is good to prevent drunk driving by screening drivers for alcohol. But what good does it do to scan non-driving bar patrons to check whether a bartender has served one drink too many? How the heck can a bartender tell what a particular customer’s blood-alcohol level is anyway? Some people get really tipsy with only one drink, while others hold their liquor well and can be well over the legal limit without showing it.

    Gotta agree that an absentee father who has refused to take responsibility for a child while the child is alive shouldn’t have any claim to benefits from the child’s death.

    On the FCC case, I note that our local PBS management is going to go ahead and run the documentary, with a disclaimer at the beginning but without any censorship. I applaud the decision. There’s a big difference between obscene, sexual, or otherwise offensive material that is just there gratuitously, and language that is, albeit offensive, an integral part of the message conveyed. We want to honor our veterans for all that they have gone through. That language is part of conveying exactly what those soldiers did and experienced. To cut it would mean downplaying the severity of the conditions they endured to preserve the ideals of freedom in the world. It would be really ironic if the sort of freedom they fought for were suppressed, just to preserve somebody’s standards of “decency,” in a documentary about the fight itself.

    August 9, 2006 | 12:09 pm

    Carol Anne-

    I believe I meant to write amok…not amuck…but both are rather appropriate given what’s been going on… they’re pretty deep in the brown stuff as it is.

    I’m glad to see that your local PBS station has some brains and integrity. 😀

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