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Did We Forget to Pay the Bill of Rights?

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Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the amazing Technicolor dream coat.

What's this I hear about Los Angeles cops having contests to see who can make the most arrests or impound the most vehicles in twenty-four hours? Has all that sushi made the LA police go soft? What happened to framing and beating people? Here in Chicago, at least, the cops still know how to abuse their power. Even though many of them can be seen in short pants tootling along the lakefront on Segways, and the days may or may not have passed of electrifying suspects' genitalia to elicit confessions, the cops here in Chicago, where they invented the police riot way back in the Haymarket days and have enshrined it with a statue, are keeping the sacred principle of authoritarian license as shiny as a brand new badge.

On Monday, October 1, a couple of Chicago cops went on trial accused of sodomizing a man in their custody with the business end of a flathead screwdriver. Although three screwdrivers and traces of feces were discovered in the cops' glove compartment, the following isn't about this case, and any resemblance to officers on or off trial in Chicago for sodomizing someone with a screwdriver is purely coincidental.

There has been, however, a series of reports on WMAQ, Channel 5 Chicago on police officers practicing collective harassment of residents, and family and friends of residents, at the Harold Ickes Housing Complex on the 23d block of South State Street. It had got so bad, people organized to secretly videotape arbitrary behavior of police, such as sweeps in which residents and bystanders were taken away by cops without cause. I pulled part of the Channel 5 report from the MSNBC website. The anchor was Renee Ferguson:

FERGUSON: "Last June, one of Ickes' undercover mothers shot video. In it, 22-year-old William Hope is strip-searched down to his underwear. The strip-search takes place in broad daylight in front of a playground. A violation, says Deputy Superintendent Charles Williams, of written procedure."

A violation of written procedure? How about a violation of civil rights? Does anyone remember that the people are guaranteed to feel secure in their persons and property? Why does a law enforcement official not know that instinctively? Shouldn't you know the law if you're going to enforce it?

Deputy Superintendent Williams had this to say:

WILLIAMS: "What you saw, that should not have occurred there. They should have sought a more secluded area prior to doing that search."

So his suggestion is that the cops drag this guy off to a secluded spot and strip him. That would have made it okay. It should be common knowledge among everyone, even cops, that is it not okay for police to take an individual to a secluded spot and strip him. Got it? It's not cool, it's not legal, it's not constitutional, it is a violation of your rights even if you have a prior arrest record. It's not even remotely comprehensible as a police strategy, unless the subject in question is known to have a prior record of shooting cops for unreasonably harassing him with a gun hidden in his butt. But that person, in the unlikely event he survived prison and got parole, would probably be gunned down for jaywalking immediately upon being set free, anyway.

It's not surprising that cops and their superiors don't understand the difference between law enforcement and tyranny. The president doesn't understand it, Fox News Channel doesn't understand it, Dick Cheney doesn't understand it, former Attorney General Gonzalez didn't understand it. As for the Republican presidential jockeyers, Rudy Giuliani doesn't understand it, John McCain understands it but doesn't care as long as he protects his career, Mitt Romney doesn't understand anything that's not in the Book of Mormon or the Boston Herald, and Fred Thompson just doesn't know right from wrong or fact from fantasy.

Spying on people just because you feel like it violates the Constitution. I know Joe Lieberman doesn't know that. I guess in the school he went to they pledged allegiance to Stalin. Kidnapping people just because you feel like it and taking them to be tortured in a foreign country is a violation of human rights. President Bush doesn't think so. I guess he was raised by the Bader-Meinhof Gang.

If only there were something, like an International Criminal Court, or, say, a God, that could hold these people accountable for their lapses of memory, knowledge and judgment. But there isn't. If there ever was such a God, Richard Nixon probably had him killed. And if he didn't, Dick Cheney certainly would have by now.

You know why? Because we don't want to tie law enforcement's hands, right? Not when there are terrorists out there who don't abide by such niceties. Wouldn't you rather be alive, kidnapped and tortured by freedom-loving Americans than dead, killed by a terrorist? Those are your choices, okay? Pick one. It's called "choosing the lesser of two evils." You know, like on election day.

I'll tell you whose hands I want to tie: the president's. Upon taking the oath of office, the newly inaugurated president of the United States should have his hands tied behind his back. It would symbolize the constraints imposed by standards of human decency upon even the most powerful person in the world. And it would keep him from touching German Chancellors inappropriately.

There are in fact internationally recognized limits to what governments making claims to legitimacy can do to other human beings, regardless of the circumstances. You cannot torture other people and expect to be treated as a legitimate government by those you torture. See, once you torture someone, that person instantly starts to think there's something wrong with you.

So cops: In spite of what you see our fearless leaders getting away with, you cannot randomly grab people and search them. You do not have the right to do so. We can't stop you. That's obvious, since you do it all the time. But just so you know, it isn't okay. Thomas Jefferson and all those guys in wigs would not approve. I know that makes you shiver in your jackboots, right?

How about this: regardless of any law or any charter, every human being has the right to be free of intimidation, molestation, and incarceration. No law or charter is valid unless it proceeds from that principle. I simply declare this, here and now, without any authority whatsoever. And yet, somehow, it's true! What an amazing world.

People, if a cop grabs you randomly off the street without probable cause, try not to antagonize the drunk fascist, just focus on surviving the ordeal without getting sodomized, beaten or shot, and take up your case when you're safely out of custody.

You will be tempted to become a terrorist, of course. Try to fight that temptation. Someone's got to be the bigger person.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!

You can read past Moments of Truth in the Moment of Truth Archives. Jeff delivers his commentary on "This Is Hell," a unique progressive radio, broadcast live from the campus of Northwestern University on the web here every Saturday morning beginning 10am Eastern Time. The show is podcast, and its archives excellent website are here.