Another update: San Francisco is contemplating paying residents to snitch on their neighbors who short-term lease their homes. To quote the Boondock Saints, the hits just keep on coming.
Over the last couple of years I have observed something that has become increasingly common in America, an unspoken truth. Your freedoms depend on where you live and, specifically, who lives next to you. I’m not just talking about the state you live in, because at the end of the day the laws on the books don’t mean anything if they aren’t enforced, and many of them are so trivial that it requires citizens to report those violations – or just things they don’t like that aren’t against the law but they claim they are.
For example, if you live in the middle of a neighborhood where all your neighbors are laid back, possess common sense, and are generally self-reliant, you have a great deal of freedom. You can let your kids play on the front lawn with air soft guns, let them run around the street unsupervised, and maybe even let them ride a bicycle without a helmet and not have a SWAT team brought in to deal with the potentially dangerous situation. You can cut a tree down without a permit or make other trivial changes to your property that won’t get reported by your “if you see something say something” neighbor.
If you live in the wrong neighborhood, however, with the wrong residents, you can feel like you live in a police state. Everything you do is watched and monitored and controlled through the ticky-tack nonsense of municipal code and other inane rules. I had a childhood friend whose family lived right next to a greenbelt. Their neighborhood, who in his former life must have worked for the SS, somehow obtained aerial photos of the property and discovered they had unknowingly placed debris from their yard a few feet over the property line and on the greenbelt. He contacted the city and the city threatened to fine my friend’s family if they didn’t move the debris within 48 hours. I was one of many kids who came to help them out and I couldn’t believe their neighbor didn’t simply notify them about it – or the fact that he cared enough to do something about it in the first place. Then I realized there are people who do it out of pure spite.
Truth be told, it takes only one resident to sour a whole city block. They’re the cantankerous old man, spineless male yuppie, hair trigger control freak woman, or busy-body old lady.
Ironically, they’re also extremely anti-social, an accusation we libertarians get often, which is humorous. We don’t call the police on innocent people minding their own business.
This story out of north Wisconsin proves my point fairly well. A couple of high school seniors were celebrating their imminent graduation with a Nerf gun war late at night. Some woman saw them playing with Nerf guns – yes, brightly colored toy guns that shoot soft foam pellets – and thought they were real guns. She called the police and told them that she saw armed men near the high school. When the police arrived they arrested all the students, some of whom were still in their cars, then released them and issued a $250 citation.
It’s funny that those who call us libertarians anti-social engage in anti-social behavior by using a man with a gun and a badge to deal with things they don’t like. Rather than going outside to see if the kids actually had real guns and confirm her fears before possibly making a false report, the woman called the police and said they definitely had firearms.
Think of the implications of that statement. She was stating something as a fact that she didn’t know for sure, that the kids had firearms near a high school. It’s a miracle that none of the students were accidentally shot by a trigger happy cop like this 13-year-old was in California when he was seen walking around with a air soft gun resembling an AK-47. How many kids do you see in broad daylight carrying an AK-47? If you read the story, you’ll find the cop shot him eight times, then handcuffed him. Yes, handcuffed a child he shot eight times in the chest.
The Wisconsin woman who called the police, whether she knew it or not, put those boys’ lives in jeopardy by making false claims about what she knew. She neither heard gunshots nor any kind of noise that would indicate violence intent on the part of the boys. When normal people see something odd, their first instinct isn’t to call the police.
It’s funny those who own guns are called paranoid. They’re not the ones who call the police and give reports based on raw emotions.
To be totally honest, I’m not sure where the problem originates. It could be the complete breakdown of communities. Poverty has nothing to do with it. Read the memoirs of Bill Guarnee and Babe Hefron, both of whom passed away recently. They lived in horrid poverty in Philadelphia during the 1930’s in neighborhoods made up various ethnic groups, such as the Irish, Italians, Poles and Jews. Yet they got along fairly well. The cops knew everyone and their parents to the point where they simply reported things to families when the kids committed petty crimes rather than beat them and throw them in jail. It wasn’t idyllic by any means, but there was an unmistakable sense of community which I feel is sorely lacking today. No one called the police on them because they were playing kick the can or involved in a street fight, which occurred often and usually ended with them shaking hands.
Neighbors tend to not know each other’s names, or trust them. This leads to a kind of fear that paralyzes people and causes them to call the police when some children are building a tree house rather than speak to them, because they are afraid. It’s much easier, and lazier, to call the cops and let them deal with your problems. When I was having trouble with a neighbor making loud noises once, I mentioned to a friend that I planned on speaking to them about it. They freaked out and said I should call my landlord or the police but not speak to the neighbor directly. I asked why and they said something along the lines of “what if they open the door and shoot you? You don’t know who you are dealing with.”
All I can say is that if you’re that afraid of your neighbors, you shouldn’t live in that neighborhood.
Yet, at the same time, if law enforcement officers weren’t so overtly aggressive and militaristic in handling these situations, it wouldn’t occur. Many people are clueless about this rapid change in police conduct and think the police will simply investigate, rather than arrive with their guns drawn.
Police departments may or may not know it, but every time they engage in heavy handed tactics or one of their officers shoots someone without any reasonable cause, they lose supporters in the community and people keep their mouths shut rather than talk when they see something. This in turn generates ill will on both sides and leads law enforcement officers to treat residents all as suspects and potential criminals.
At the same time, there are some cities and neighborhoods where police have legitimate concerns for their safety. There are areas of Chicago, Oakland and D.C. where a cop might as well be in a war zone, notwithstanding they knew full well what they were getting themselves into when they signed the paperwork and put on the uniform.
The trouble is officers in small towns where there is virtually little crime behave with the same discretion and think they have a right to do so. William Norman Griggs at Pro Libertate has documented dozens of these cases in Utah and Idaho where police harass innocent people.
Then again once more, such behavior by law enforcement has increased as a result of the War on Terror, which is designed to be perpetual. While others may not see a correlation, I do. Officers are not only being trained to treat ordinary Americans as potential threats and patrol the streets as a Marine would the roads around Baghdad, but surplus military equipment and vehicles are being sold or given to police departments under Department of Homeland Security grants. In one instance, the police chief in Concord, New Hampshire put in a bid for a Lenco BEARCAT under the auspices of needing it to combat “domestic terrorists” like the Free State Project, an organization that has kicked out members who advocate the right of violent resistance.
Ultimately, all this means is that your freedoms are determined by whether or not your neighbors respect your privacy and leave you along in a legal sense unless you’re violating their rights or not respecting their property. In an ideal world, you want to find a community that is tight-knit, everyone knows each other by first name, the kids play in the street together and if they have plastic swords no one is going to call the cops because they are only called to clean up the mess of some would-be murderer and don’t bother to ask a whole lot of questions because they have common sense and can tell a clear-cut case of self defense when they see it.
Some of us have the option. Others don’t due to various reasons mainly resulting from financial or economical. If the only job you can get is in a bad area, you don’t have the luxury to pick and choose.
As a libertarian, I obviously see privatized security and neighborhood watch groups as two solutions to this problem, among other things. As a reporter I wrote an article about one such community in an unincorporated area where petty crime was rampant until they started cooperating to keep an eye out.
But this is the ultimate answer, the long term solution. That doesn’t address the immediate issues in the short term. And to be frank I’m not sure where to begin. All I know is that the current situation cannot continue indefinitely.