Sunday, November 27, 2005

Checkpoint Denver: One woman's story

We do a lot of ACLU bashing, mostly because we think it's deserved and at least partially because we enjoy it. However, if a report out of Denver is anywhere close to accurate, we're going to toss them a few roses.

Deborah Davis doesn't consider herself a hero. Certainly not a modern-day champion of the Constitution. Yet, in her own way, she might be a little of both.

Two months ago, this 50-year-old mother of four was reading a book while riding to work on RTD's Route 100. When the bus rolled up to the gates of the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood, a guard climbed on and demanded Davis, as well as everyone else on board, produce identification.

Perhaps it was that inherent American distaste for producing papers on demand, but Davis, who had gone through this drill before, decided to pass.

That didn't go over too well.

"I told him that I did have identification, but I wasn't going to show it to him," Davis explains. "I knew that I wasn't required by law to show ID and that's why I decided I wasn't going to. The whole thing seemed to be more about compliance than security."

According to Davis, the guard proceeded to call on federal cops, who then dragged Davis off a public bus, handcuffed her, shoved her into the back seat of a police car and drove off to a police station within the Federal Center.

While I was unable to reach anyone at the Department of Homeland Security on Friday to comment on Davis' case, the offense/incident report corroborates her basic story.

Though, it should be noted that, according to the arresting officer, Davis became "argumentative" before she "was physically removed from the bus and placed under arrest.

The Denver Post article goes into the details of the charges against her. She could wind up spending 60 days in jail for failing to provide documentation that she was a what? A working mother riding public transportation to her job on a route that just happened to cross into a "federal center."

Federal Center. That sounds serious. Here's what Deb Davis' web site, Papers, says about this:

The bus she rides crosses the property of the Denver Federal Center, a collection of government offices such as the Veterans Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, and part of the National Archives. The Denver Federal Center is not a high security area: it's not Area 51 or NORAD.
In fact, according to the signs and the flags, Uncle Sam would just love it if you would stop by and chat awhile, maybe have a cup of java.

But have your papers at the ready.

Just a quick note: While there is a federal "No Fly List" for airlines, there is no such "No Ride List" for metro bus lines. And if there were, wouldn't it make more sense to screen your passengers BEFORE they get on the bus, not in the middle of the ride to work?

Our natural inclination on matters of security is to give the government a fair amount of leeway in the post-911 environment.

But a conservative viewpoint must first and properly wish to "conserve" the basic freedoms that were bought so preciously by former generations. The right to express ourselves without fear of Big Brother. The right to associate with others of our own persuation. The right to petition for grievances.

Too often what many wish to expand is "license", not freedom. That does not appear to be the case here. No American should be forced to produce papers on public transportation unless a) there is an imminent threat against the government and b) there is reasonable grounds to suspect that the individual is a part of that threat.

Tightened security must still follow the basic law and the guarantees of the Bill of Rights. It does not mean that some chowderhead security guard, even one working for the gov'mint, can arrest citizens at whim if he's having a bad day. To follow that path is the Dark Side. Go there we must not.

We recommend you read the story and visit the web site. If you have information that would make this case make any more sense, we'd be happy to hear about it.

In the meantime, we're interested to see how the government's going to handle this. There is a balance to everything, or should be, and that includes the concepts of freedom and security.

It would be a shame to win the world war on terror but lose our basic freedoms here at home while doing so. No, that's not right. It would be a crime against humanity.


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