August 7, 2008
Lie and Order (Bob Franken)
@ 9:41 am
I admit it. I watch "Law and Order.” I'm not proud of that, considering its leading players are cynical cops who routinely bully each and every citizen they encounter and prosecutors who daily violate the letter and spirit of the Constitution in their simple-minded effort to convict or execute anyone they've decided is a "bad guy.”
What? That's not what the show’s characters are about? They're heroes, not thugs, you say? The program is a look at the brutal world of crime-fighting on the mean streets, you say?
We're both right. It is a jungle out there. Except that while celebrating the exploits of our so-called protectors, it glosses over their willingness to run roughshod over our fundamental rights in their zealous pursuit of truth, justice and the American way.
Real-life examples are all around us. It should not have taken this long to MAYBE solve the anthrax case. It DEFINITELY should not have taken the harassment of possible suspects and their families by investigators trying to overcome their incompetence. They were so brutish and so clumsy that their first widely publicized "Person of Interest,” Steven Hatfill, won nearly $6 million in a lawsuit against them. It was a rare comeuppance.
Will there be one for the police of Prince George's County in suburban Washington? After a SWAT team and narcotics detectives, investigating a package of marijuana, battered down the doors of a local small-town mayor, terrorized his family and shot dead his two Labrador Retrievers, the cops have now arrested someone else. All embarrassed officials say now is that the mayor and his family had "an unlikely involvement.” Maybe they should add "WHOOPS."
Shouldn't the police killers of the two dogs be prosecuted? Shouldn't all those who are responsible for this assault be prosecuted themselves? It won't happen, of course. In fact, I can envision some future "Law and Order" episode where a few facts are twisted around into a plot in which the family deserved to have their door battered and their pets slaughtered.
The point is that we have to be very, very careful about the power we give to our law enforcement personnel. Time and time again we have been reminded that some of them will soon abuse that power.
In the days and months after Sept. 11 our lawmakers passed legislation, with the backing of a panicked nation, that weakened the protections against a police state that many of us take for granted.
Authorities were quick to take full advantage of that. As a result, we have lost some of our precious liberty.
Constantly, hardliners argue we must not handcuff our authorities as they fight all the evildoers, domestic and foreign, who represent genuine dangers to our country. But if we don't restrain them, they inevitably go too far. The danger is very real that "Law and Order" will continue to sweep aside freedom.
We call that a dictatorship.