Boston & You & The Police

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Boston & You & The Police

by Ari Armstrong, April 23, 2003

The enigmatic Boston T. Party, author of several popular libertarian books including Boston's Gun Bible and Hologram of Liberty (available at Javelin Press), spoke to an overflow crowd April 16 at CU, Boulder. A guest of Campus Libertarians, Boston reviewed the subject of another of his books, You & The Police!

We live "in a very rare country that has written-down rights," Boston said, but today those rights are under attack. The PATRIOT Act and the so-called PATRIOT II proposal threaten to undermine the Bill of Rights. "The Fourth Amendment is about 80% gone" already, he lamented. Many of the "security" measures imposed after 9/11 aren't actually useful for stopping terrorism, Boston argued, but they condition the public to giving up more of their rights.

Boston discussed two types of laws. Legitimate laws outlaw inherently bad acts (mala en se) such as murder, assault, and theft. Other laws arbitrarily outlaw acts that don't hurt anybody else (and fall within the category mala prohibita). Some police officers use this later type of law "as a crowbar to get into your life," Boston said.

There is an important truth to the claim, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse," Boston continued. But the laws everybody is expected to know are the "basic laws of humanity." In today's legislation-crazy culture, nobody -- not even the legislators and bureaucrats -- can possibly keep track of all the laws. Thus, Boston's advice on how to stay out of trouble with the police is increasingly important.

There are basically three types of cops, Boston said. Good cops focus on keeping the peace and stopping violent crimes. They are "peace officers." Unfortunately, they constitute a minority of police today. As long as you're not hurting anybody else, good cops will generally leave you alone. The rogue cop, on the other hand, cares more about personal power than the law and is willing to bend the law to punish targeted people. "The rogue cop is the total opposite of the peace offer," Boston explained. About the only advice Boston offered for dealing with rogue cops is, "You can beat the rap, but you can't beat the ride." In other words, there's not much you can do to protect yourself from a rogue cop hell-bent on violating your rights.

Most cops, though, are "intimidating cops." "He'll push you" sometimes, Boston said, but he's not going to step too far over the line. "That's the type of officer we're dealing with tonight," Boston told the crowd.

Boston described three levels of contact with the police. At the level of "contact," the police officer is seeking information and doesn't have any reason to think you've committed a crime. At the next level of a stop or detention, the police officer has a "reasonable articulable suspicion" you may be involved in a crime. The cop can require you to stick around for a limited time. The third level of arrest or custody requires "probable cause."

"My goal for you," Boston said, is to remain at the detention level or lower -- preferably not even at the point of contact. He wants to help honest citizens navigate the legion of ridiculous laws out there. He offered a number of common-sense ways to avoid unpleasant interaction with the police.

  • Above all, don't volunteer information. The police are trained to try to get people to volunteer information. Unless the officer can state a "reasonable articulable suspicion" as grounds to detain you, you are free to go, and you should keep asking if you are free to go. One possibility is simply to talk to your lawyer about it before hand and tell the police officer, "My lawyer directed me not to answer those types of questions." At the point of contact, Boston said, you are within your rights to say, "I appreciate your interest, but I'm busy." He added, there's "no reason to lie to a police officer, because you don't really have to tell them anything." And, "if you're arrested, just shut up... You can't make it any better by talking." (Please note here that I'm not a lawyer and I'm not offering legal advise. I am merely describing a talk. Please consult with a legal professional as the basis of your decisions in dealing with the law.)
  • Don't "consent" to searches! If an officer has probable cause to conduct a search, he won't ask your permission to do so! Again, cops are trained to get people to consent to searches, so you have to be prepared to politely deny the request.
  • Be discrete. If you leave prohibited items out in the open, expect to be searched and arrested. Encrypt information. Lock items in the trunk or another container.
  • Don't be mean or hysterical with a police officer. Be calm, cool, and reticent. (Boston offers many other tips in his book.)

Boston's personal anecdotes often had the crowd in laughter. His talk brought out a lot of people who would not otherwise associate with libertarians. The event was both fun and useful. With Boston as an ambassador, libertarianism is -- if you can believe it -- cool!

At root, it's really pretty simple, Boston said: "If you don't know your rights, you don't have any."

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