Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Trying to Make Sense of the Peter Watts conviction...

So,Peter Watts was flagged for a random, stopped, and then got beat up, maced, etc., without any sort of meaningful provocation on his part. He is facing up to 2 years in prison for making the very reasonable statement to the border guards that were assaulting him without provocation: asking the officer who had just been punching Dr Watts in the face for no reason to please explain what the problem was that was getting Dr Watts beat up, maced, handcuffed, arrested, etc., and apparently the only threatening thing he did was ask questions like "So... What's the problem, officer?" and holding his arms out at his side and saying something like "Seriously, like, why are you beating me up without any provocation on my part? I come in peace! I have no weapons! Search anything you want!"

Yet, a jury felt he was legally non-compliant because he didn't move fast enough to get on the ground after a 51-year-old man had been punched in the face by an armed border guard. The jury convicted, not the assaulting officers who acted without meaningful provocation, but Dr Watts. Presumably he was guilty of assault for bruising Beaudry's knuckles with his face.

Any sane, rational human being realizes the statue of the law states that citizens have to comply in the course of lawful orders and lawful acts. Being assaulted is a non-lawful act. Being beat up, maced, etc., without any sort of reasonable cause of peril to the police officer is not a lawful act. Actually, the border guards involved in this fiasco ought to be the ones on trial for assault, and not complying with the people who spontaneously decided to beat you up, drag you from your car, and mace you is part of what makes someone sane.

Which is to say that the jury f***ed up, and now someone's facing jail-time for it, undeservedly. The whole point of having juries is to make sure some thoughtless, indifferent judge doesn't do something like that.

Read about it here... here... and notice how the news article gets this wrong in the first sentence, because it was clear that the only thing Peter Watts was guilty of was an interpretation of non-compliance, not assault, and not obstructing: here...

I, for one, think asking a police officer who's just beaten you in the face for no reason why he is hulking out is a pretty reasonable thing to ask. If I were Dr Watts, I'd be concerned for my safety getting on the ground, where I am defenseless against the unprovoked assault that this border guard was engaged in providing a normal, unarmed, non-violent individual.

When, the f***, did we become a police state?


Jason said...

Very sad. I live just outside Port Huron, and have dealt with the bridge crossing several times. The sarcasm, disrespect, and power mongering is unfortunately the common element in dealing with the border guards. Whether they stop your car and harass you seems to be up to random chance or their whim, more than for any real security suspicion.

Anonymous said...

Show me the bell curve that marks a quantifiable measure of what 'move fast enough' is.

I want to see how this measure factors with individual situational awareness, and physical capabilities.

i.e one person is stressed another calm - relationships of time differ given measures of phycological human factors.

J m mcdermott said...

I don't know if there is cause for appeal, but there is certainly cause for concern that there was no attempt at pressing charges against the border agents that roughed up Dr Watts.

John Markley said...

This isn't an unusual incident, sadly. American law enforcement is crawling with people who think of themselves as demigods and regard everyone else as an occupied population to be subdued, and a combination of public sycophancy and government corruption and collusion makes it almost impossible to hold them accountable.

J m mcdermott said...

In my life, I've encountered only one "good" cop, who did not seem like he was itching for some action. I've encountered more than one bully with a hard-on for pushing people around. It's all anecdotal, but I hesitate to denigrate an entire profession when there are good people out there - at least one guy out there.

I think the problem stems from a cultural mindset of being "tough" on crime. It's very hard for most people, in my experience, to realize that that actually translates to being "tough on citizens", who are just criminals that haven't been caught, yet. People like you and me are easily mistaken for criminals. This is especially true in minority communities that struggle with far worse offenses than what Dr Peter Watts went through on a regular basis.

I don't think there's any solution that could be deemed permanent until the laws are written such that they start to assume that bad people are drawn to positions of authority in much the same way the constitution assumes that power is a corrupting influence.

Anonymous said...

The readers must understand in whatever country and I've been in many, you must force a smile, make yourself small, follow orders explicitly, use the words officer or sir, apologize for moving slow and try to make them understand you have a bad back, bad balance, etc. Remove all sarcasm from your responses to questions. Say I'm sorry frequently and for those with a white skin, act as if black. Follow this advice, however repugnant and you will get through the situation unharmed(95% chance), Do otherwise and you will get the Skip Gates treatment. In the US and Canada that means arrest. In other counties you may never be seen again. I do not like it. But anytime you encounter anyone with a uniform and a gun, do not be casual. Think something bad may happen and act accordingly. I have followed my own advice and only been arrested twice in sixty years and thousands of encounters at borders and traffic stops.

J m mcdermott said...

I'm thirty and managed never to get arrested even once. Admittedly, I'm white, middle class, and spend most of my time in the suburbs built expressly for our somnambulistic shuffle between employment, retail, and respectable housing.

Speaking of which, time for some retail.

You know, one of us ought to *write* something about this whole mess. You first. (I'm busy with mythic women...)