Prelude to an American Police State

The Colorado Freedom Report:  A libertarian journal of politics and culture.

The Colorado Freedom

Prelude to an American Police State

by Ari Armstrong, April 23, 2003

Last Friday night I went with family to the Macaroni Grill in Westminster. It's a great family restaurant -- good food (fantastic bread), a decent house wine, fair prices, and good service. (Perhaps a little crowded.)

On Friday, though, the waiter was quick to demand government-issued identification papers when we ordered drinks with our dinners. (Even the grandfather present had to display his identification papers to order a drink.) I asked the waiter if he really thought I was under 21, and he explained the restaurant had been busted the night before.

Apparently, two undercover enforcement agents visited the restaurant -- no doubt at taxpayers' expense -- and ordered drinks. The female agent was a 20-year-old woman, so of course the cops sprang into action. The waiter was fined and fired, and the restaurant may lose its liquor license for a time. I wasn't able to determine which police department or agency made the bust.

When I went to South America as a highschooler, I went to the clubs and ordered drinks along with the older crowd. It was no big deal. In Europe, it's common for older children to drink small amounts of alcohol with meals. Predictably, it is the United States that has more trouble with binge drinking.

The 21 law is unjust and counterproductive, as I have previously argued. And it's simply ludicrous for the police to spend tax dollars to make a bust at a family restaurant for selling a drink to an adult woman. Obviously, local law enforcement offices are radically overfunded if they have the time for this kind of bullshit.

A theme has emerged in this week's articles in the Colorado Freedom Report. Whether it's the police persecuting blue-collar workers for selling alcohol to undercover adult cops, or the police arresting gay men for having sex in the privacy of their own home, or the police abusing the Fourth Amendment on the side of the road, the police in the United States are too often out of control. The Police State rises ominously all around us. The image of the helpful peace officer keeping people safe from thugs is quickly fading into memory. Instead, the modern police force more resembles an occupying army. But the police are "merely" the agents: the primary fault lies with the legislators. "Just following orders!"

What we are talking about precisely is fascism. Not the fascism of the death camps, but a banal, tedious, petty fascism that slowly leaches the spirit of freedom from the American soul.

Fascism is defined as state control of nominally private property. Such as the property of a restaurant owner. Or our property in our own bodies in our own houses.

America is a law-respecting society. When the laws are simple and honest and their focus is the prevention of violence, respect for the law is a virtue. But today, as the prohibited and the mandatory slowly squeeze out what's left of our liberty, the worship of laws makes us subjects of an oppressive state.

"Papers please!" Think about it. Just to have a drink with your dinner, you have to produce government-issued identification documents. What the hell?

The authoritarians are clever, though. By punishing a few, the politicians and legal enforcers compel decent hard-working Americans to do most of their dirty-work for them. After all, how can I get angry at a poor waiter who must request my papers under threat of getting fined and losing his job? "Don't get mad at me -- it's somebody else's fault." And so we wander around Kafka's castle, lost in the maze of senseless regulation.

The Colorado House recently passed bill 1317 requiring store owners and clerks to refuse business to people who buy cold medicine, if a clerk "knows or reasonably should know" the buyer plans to use the cold medicine to make meth. And who gets to determine what's "reasonable?" Primarily police and prosecutors, of course. If clerks don't "reasonably" divine the intentions of complete strangers buying common house-hold items, the clerks are subject to a Class 3 felony. And if the clerks turn in somebody who was just innocently stocking up on essentials, well, we'll just let the police sort it out. ("Policia?") Nevermind that the rise of methamphetamine production is a direct result of prohibition. But never fear: implementation of the bill is delayed so the police can "train and educate wholesalers and retailers" how to properly glorify the Fatherland.

No longer do the authorities merely encourage Americans to spy on each other. The principle that's being established here is that politicians can force everyday people to spy on each other and turn over "reasonable" suspects to the authorities, on penalty of going to prison. Once this principle is established, it won't take long before it's a felony not to turn in people for all sorts of legal offenses. Whereas I read dystopian novels like 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 as frightening warnings, sometimes it seems like some politicians view these books as training manuals.

Vince Darcangelo wrote "The war on music" for the April 17 Boulder Weekly. He reports that, on April 10, the national Congress "passed provision S. 226, the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act," formerly known as the Reducing America's Vulnerability to Ecstasy (RAVE) Act. The bill will "hold owners and promoters of music events liable for drug violations committed by patrons."

No longer is it sufficient to require the police to go after drug users and sellers. Now, the politicians hope to force business owners to enforce these prohibitionist laws as well. If they don't, they go to prison. One local critic describes the measure as "broadly worded to be used at will." As Darcangelo summarizes, "The problem with the... Act is that it punishes the owner for crimes committed by others -- even though they may have had proper security in place, no knowledge of their patrons' transgressions and may not have even been present at the event."

When police are so overwhelmed by the Nanny State laws the politicians have to threaten to send everyday Americans to prison if they don't help enforce those laws, it's time to take a step back and reevaluate the direction our country is headed.

Thankfully, a few things are going in the right direction. Almost everybody thinks the Texas police who arrested the gay couple are idiots, and sex laws are actually being repealed. In Colorado, some of the government controls over our personal firearms were recently removed. At the same time, though, much more ominous laws are being written that increase the state's control over people's actions and their property.

The spirit of liberty cannot long survive the proliferation of fascist laws. When people constantly have to worry whether they'll go to prison if they're not sufficiently diligent in spying on each other, they cannot possibly maintain the proud tradition of independence and freedom. We like to say freedom burns in the human heart. Boston T. Party holds the more cynical but more historically accurate view that freedom is quite fragile, enjoyed only by a small minority of people throughout history.

Liberty in America is not at risk of imminent collapse. People here are too ornery for that. There are still a lot of people who would rather punch a politician in the nose than spy on fellow Americans for the government. Still, there's only so much a free society can take before it is no longer a free society. Nobody quite knows how to define the line between freedom and oppression, but once that line is crossed, it will be almost impossible to go back.

The Colorado Freedom