Sunday, September 05, 2004

Your papers, please

There is a movement afoot in my state, led by our governor, to repeal the restriction that prevents police officers from asking for proof of citizenship status without cause. This follows the recent arrest of a man in North Carolina who was videotaping skyscrapers*. Suspicious, police detained and questioned the man, who, as it turns out, was in the country illegaly, for which he is being charged. Officials are touting it as a foiled terrorism plot and an example of why police should be able to demand proof of immigration status at their discretion.

On the surface, this seems to be common-sense. A person here illegaly cannot expect the same rights as legal citizens, including the right to privacy. The problem arises when determining what situation justifies querying citizenship status. I do not like the idea that the police, a la Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, can stop me on the street and demand to see my citizenship papers.

But I'd never be asked that, would I? I'm white, and no cop will ever stop a white person and ask to see their papers. Anyone even slightly dark-skinned, on the other hand, will become instant targets of suspicion. (Ok, they already are, and have been for decades. However, now a person who may have once been guilty of only "driving while black" can now expect to be suspected of being a terrorist as well.) It's already happening. A Seattle photoblogger has been harrassed twice by police while photographing a local landmark. Ian Spiers is half-black, which gives him a light skin tone remarkably similar to a Middle-Easterner. Suspiciously, none of the white tourists who were photographing the same landmark were bothered.

"Homeland security" is not an excuse to hassle people on the street, legal or not, if they are not doing anything that violates the law. As much as the people in charge would love to ride their delusional wave of power, we are not a police state.

* For the record, here is a .pdf document outlining what any person may legally photograph.


Post a Comment

<< Home