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.
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."