The price of freedom
via Ned Batchelder, I came across the story of an American student, Star Simpson, being arrested for wearing an electronic circuit board as a fashion accessory while visiting an airport. She hadn't threatened anyone, but the police afterwards seemed to be giving the impression that they had seriously considered shooting her. Where does this craziness come from? When I visit my home town this coming weekend, it's quite likely that I'll be greeted at the airport by a couple of policemen toting machine carbines. This didn't use to be normal.
Let's get this straight. I was born and grew up in a free country. These days I live in a different country; also free. The police here carry guns, which I dislike, but so far I haven't seen them swaggering around with machine carbines. As a kid growing up in the UK, the prospect of seeing the police kitted up like that was unthinkable. Any applicant to the police force would have been weeded out damn smart if he'd shown the inclination to engage in such machismo. These days, it's just normal.
Many years ago, I visited Canada, (another free country). The local news on the day I arrived was of a local youth who had gone crazy and charged at half a dozen police officers with a knife. The officers in question were armed with side-arm batons, but they just shot him. I thought: cowards. The locals just shrugged as though it was normal, and it was. A good shoot, eh?
In the UK, we got through most of the IRA years without getting too crazy. If, on a tube train, someone inadvertently failed to make their ownership of a bag obvious to their fellow passengers, you might feel the occasional flush of fear, but there was no danger of them being shot for it.
That's my point. The price of freedom is that we all accept a little fear in our lives. Life isn't safe. Living is fatal. If the sight of public servants in kevlar and gunmetal makes you feel safer, then we should feel sorry for you. You aren't safer - and you just gave game, set and match to the people who would disrupt our "free" existence. Arresting a student for having a techno-chic fashion sense is the same thing. It's meant to make people feel safer. It's meant to justify the existence of the airport swat teams and all the bravado. It doesn't make anyone safer or justify anything. If anything, the more a society relies on gun law, the more likely it is that such injustices happen, and the further from freedom we all are.
If she'd been getting on a plane, her clothing would have been scanned along with her other belongings. If it had been a bomb, she wouldn't have been allowed on the plane, and she would have been arrested. What actually happened was that she was meeting someone. She wasn't even going to fly. So then where's the difference between an airport and any other public place?
Terrorist threats are most effectively countered by quiet unassuming intelligence work. The people who do such work presumably are brave and rarely swagger.
I really hope Star Simpson is exonerated of the phony charges of disorderly conduct and "possession of a hoax device". It strikes me that the ones guilty of disorder were the officers who drew their guns in a public place and threatened her life. The second charge sounds easier. She can easily show that her device was genuine. Not a bomb, but definitely a device.
O say, does that star spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?