- When the politicians violate the Bill of Rights with
the Patriot Act or some other guaranteed-to-bring-peace-and-security-to-the-world
scheme, they always reassure us by saying:
- "If you aren't guilty, you have nothing to fear."
- If only that were so. The truth is that innocence is
no protection at all against government agencies with the power to do what
they think best - or against a government agent hoping for promotion and
willing to do whatever he can get away with.
- * Tell a businessman he has nothing to fear from the
piles of forms he must file to prove he doesn't discriminate.
- * Tell a home owner he has nothing to fear when his property
is seized by the government in a mistaken - or contrived - drug raid.
- * Tell a taxpayer he has nothing to fear when the IRS
drags him into a "taxpayer compliance" audit that eats up a week
of his life, costs him thousands of dollars in accounting fees, and threatens
him with unbearable penalties.
- It is the innocent who suffer most from government's
intrusions. How many times have we seen the following pattern?
- 1. The press and politicians demand that something be
done about violent crime, terrorist acts, drug dealing, tax evasion, or
whatever is the Urgent Concern of the Month.
- 2. A tough, new, take-no-prisoners law or policy is put
- 3. After the dust settles, the initial "problem"
continues unabated, because the guilty continue to slip through the net.
But the innocent are left burdened with new chores, expenses, and hazards
ó more mandatory reports to file, less privacy, reduced access to
products and services, higher costs, heavier taxes, and a new set of penalties
for those who shirk their duty to fight in the War on ___________ (fill
in the blank).
- 4. And, needless to say, the ineffectual law is never
- Being innocent doesn't allow you to ignore the government's
demands for reports ó or to say "No, thanks" when a government
agent wants to search your records, your place of business, or your home
ó or to refuse to observe regulations that were aimed at the guilty,
- When coercion is used to solve social problems, we all
suffer. The coercion fails to achieve its stated aims, but it is wondrously
effective at harming the innocent.
- Even worse, every year a few million innocent people
suffer special burdens ó greater than those the government places
on all of us. The dismantling of the Bill of Rights has allowed the government
to disrupt their lives, confiscate their property, or even kill them ó
even though they've committed no crimes.
- I hope you never become one of them.
- Not Even Ministers Are Safe
- For example, suppose you're a 75-year-old minister living
in Boston. You've worked all your life to console those who are poor in
money or spirit.
- One afternoon 13 men with sledgehammers break down the
door and charge into your apartment. They're wearing helmets, battle fatigues,
and boots ó and they're armed with shotguns and pistols.
- They force you to the floor, pin your legs and arms,
and handcuff you. They scare you so badly you suffer a heart attack ó
and within 45 minutes you're dead.
- Who were these criminals?
- They weren't "criminals." They were members
of a SWAT team searching for drugs and guns. There wasn't anything illegal
in your apartment, as you could have told them if they had stopped long
enough to ask you.
- But they didn't stop and they didn't ask. They didn't
have to. They knew you were a bad guy, and they weren't going to allow
you to escape or to flush your drug inventory down the toilet.
- Six weeks after you die, it is revealed that the SWAT
team raided the wrong apartment. You have been completely exonerated. But,
unfortunately, the government can't bring you back to life.
- Not one of the SWAT team members ó or the prosecutor
who okayed the raid ó was prosecuted or suffered any career damage
for causing the death. Compare that with a pot smoker who is hurting no
one but might have to spend several years in prison if he gets caught.
- This isn't fiction. It is the story of the Reverend Acelynne
Williams, and how he died on March 26, 1994.1
- Fatal Attractions
- And the tale isn't extraordinary. Donald Scott was shot
to death when a task force of 27 men smashed into his house in Malibu,
California, on October 2, 1992. They claimed Mr. Scott was growing marijuana
ó although their only evidence turned out to be a false report from
an anonymous informant.2
- Similar stories can be told of other people who were
shot without warning, whose homes were torn apart, or who went to prison
for resisting arrest ó people like Harry Davis of Fort Washington,
Maryland; Charlotte Waters of Los Angeles; David Gordon of Bridgeport,
Connecticut; Xavier Bennett, Jr., of Atlanta; Kenneth Baulch of Garland,
Texas; Robin Pratt of Everett, Washington; William Grass of Kentucky; Albert
Lewin of Boston; Manuel Ramirez of Stockton, California; Charles DiGristine
of Titusville, Florida; and Donald Carlson of San Diego.3
- All of them were innocent. But all of them had plenty
to fear from government. And now their families will always fear government
as much as any Soviet citizen did.
- By ignoring the Bill of Rights, acting on anonymous tips
and intruding without warrants, government agents have put all of us in
jeopardy ó the innocent as much as the guilty.
- Maybe you haven't been hurt yet by a government agent
acting on a malicious report or on his own ambition. So far, a mean-minded
office rival or business competitor hasn't stooped to giving a false tip
about you to the police or the IRS.
- Be thankful. And hope it doesn't happen next year. You
might not be given time to prove your innocence.
- The Bill of Rights Is for the Innocent
- The outrages I've mentioned violate the Bill of Rights.
- Because our school system doesn't teach much about Constitutional
safeguards, many people think the Bill of Rights is just a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free
card for criminals. And they wonder why we should protect the rights of
killers and thieves.
- But the Bill of Rights wasn't written to protect criminals.
It was designed to protect you:
- ï To make sure a zealous prosecutor can't take you
to court over and over again on the same charge ó searching for
a jury that will convict you.
- ï To make sure the police can't break into your
home unannounced on the mere chance that you might have some drugs or illegal
weapons stashed in your closet.
- ï To make sure politicians can't confiscate your
home or other property to fulfill some dream of social reform.
- ï To make sure you don't have to answer questions
put to you by the police ó so a ruthless policeman can't twist your
words out of context or browbeat you into confessing something you didn't
- ï To make sure your attorney can cross-examine any
accuser or any witness against you.
- Of course these safeguards protect the guilty as well
as the innocent. But brushing them aside gives government employees the
power to do as they wish ó to harass whomever they think is guilty.
- Why There's So Much Violent Crime
- And these safeguards, which are respected less and less
every year, haven't been letting the guilty off. Crime rates haven't skyrocketed
because of criminals using the Bill of Rights to their advantage.
- Crime is soaring. . .
- ï Because the government's War on Drugs has transformed
a minor social problem into an immensely profitable enterprise for those
willing to defy the law;
- ï Because many of the government's schools have
- ï Because the government packs the prisons with
non-violent offenders, making it necessary to release the thugs early;
- ï Because the government diverts law-enforcement
resources to fighting victimless crimes ó as well as to affirmative
action, gun control, and other social reforms ó leaving too little
with which to protect your life and property; and
- ï Because government schools teach young people
that inequality of wealth is unjust ó providing a moral justification
for taking from someone more "fortunate" than oneself.
- The government has inspired or abetted a thousand criminals
for each one it has freed on a legal technicality.
- Why the Bill of Rights Is Important
- When Constitutional safeguards are honored, they rescue
innocent people far more often than they let the guilty slip away.
- In fact, new laws that violate the Bill of Rights usually
hurt the innocent more than the guilty.
- The truly guilty make it their business to be aware of
a new law and take steps not to let it ensnare them. But the innocent,
secure in the knowledge that their innocence will protect them, suddenly
find their property confiscated through asset forfeiture ó or their
liberty destroyed by zealous police or prosecutors trying to pad their
- And when the Bill of Rights is ignored and an innocent
person is convicted, the truly guilty are left free to continue committing
violence. That's why the Bill of Rights must apply to all people ó
citizens or aliens, innocent or presumed guilty, nice guys or thugs.
- Unfortunately, the Constitutional safeguards are ignored
more and more by Congress, the police, federal officials, and the courts.
Disregarding the Bill of Rights has done nothing to reduce the crime rate,
but it has put your life and mine in jeopardy.
- As a result, we have neither physical protection from
the guilty nor legal protection for the innocent.
- Until the Bill of Rights is a living document again,
I hope the government doesn't think you're suspicious or covet your property
for one of its programs.
- Your innocence probably won't protect you.
- This article was adapted from a passage in <http://www.libertyfree.com/>Why
Government Doesn't Work, the complete text of which is now available for
downloading at <http://www.libertyfree.com/>LibertyFree.com.