Monday, January 30, 2012

The Application of Precedents (or, Be Careful What You Wish For)

Police action against demonstrations in the US is beginning to concern me greatly.

Forceful police action against the people we perceive to be enemies of the state has a long and glorious (sarcasm alert) history. The latest round of demonstrations, and the police reaction to it, sets a dangerous precedent. When the police grow accustomed to using riot gear and pepper spray to disperse a small crowd, and the public grows accustomed to seeing it, it is not a long stride to the point at which ALL public disturbances have a strong possibility of forceful dispersion, even peaceful ones. It may be the Occupy movement today, but what would happen if the next Tea Party movement, or Student movement, or Labor movement, or Religious movement were next. When we allow actions such as this, we allow precedent to be set; there is no guarantee that we will approve of the next place this precedent is applied.

The PATRIOT Act is a good example of this. A lot of people were strongly in favor of the PATRIOT Act when it was first introduced. It was advanced as a tool for the suppression of Al-Qaida type terrorist groups in the US. Sweeping powers were given to the FBI and the newly created DHS to find, identify, and prosecute people who were deemed terrorists. Today, of course, those agencies are under the administration of a different group than when it was first applied. DHS has issued sweeping statements regarding domestic terrorists, including attributes such as food stockpiling and pro-gun tendencies. This has spawned a backlash on the Right saying that this was not the original intent- too bad, you put it in place, so you can't complain now. The same group of people that was perfectly happy to let the Bush administration snoop into people's lives without warrants has misgivings about the Obama administration doing the same. On the flip side, groups that were extremely vocal regarding the Bush administration's military policies are content to let the Obama administration undertake similar policies. It is important to remember that when a person votes to allow certain powers and policies, the person put in charge will not always be there. Power is ceded to the position, not the person in it.

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