'The Citizens Deserve Peace'—but Not Freedom


On Tuesday the city council of Helena—West Helena, Arkansas, unanimously gave police the authority to impose a 24-hour curfew on any part of the city. A.P. reports that a 24-hour curfew already has been in effect in one especially crime-ridden neighborhood of the town for a week. (Doesn't that make it a 168-hour curfew?) So far the curfew has resulted in 32 arrests, mostly for misdemeanors. Although police, who are armed with "military-style M-16 or M-4 rifles, some equipped with laser sights" as well as "short-barrel shotguns," could arrest people simply for leaving their homes, they say they have refrained from doing so:

[Police Chief Fred] Fielder said officers had not arrested anyone for violating the curfew, only questioned people about why they were outside. Those without good answers or acting nervously get additional attention, Fielder said.

The aptly nicknamed Councilman Eugene "Red" Johnson averred that "at 3 o'clock in the morning, nobody has any business being on the street, except the law." He evidently did not address the propriety of being on the street during the other 23 hours of the day. More generally, city officials dismissed constitutional objections raised by the American Civil Liberties Union: 

"If somebody wants to sue us, they have an option to sue, but I'm fairly certain that a judge will see it the way the way the citizens see it here," Mayor James Valley said. "The citizens deserve peace, [believe] that some infringement on constitutional rights is OK and we have not violated anything as far as the Constitution."

I confess the distinction between infringing on constitutional rights and violating the Constitution escapes me. But according to A.P., "The council said those living in the city want the random shootings and drug-fueled violence to stop, no matter what the cost." They argued, in effect, that civil liberties are a luxury that people in poor, violence-plagued neighborhoods cannot afford, "at one point questioning the Little Rock-based attorney [from the ACLU] if she'd live in a neighborhood they described as under siege by wild gunfire and gangs."

Yet the violence is mostly related to the illegal drug trade. So the government creates a black market that disproportionately hurts poor people, enforces its drug laws in a way that disproportionately hurts poor people, and responds to the resulting violence and disorder with police tactics that disproportionately hurt poor people. When civil libertarians object, they are dismissed as privileged pointy-heads who do not understand the problems of poor people.

[via The Freedom Files]