Police in Henderson, Nevada, in 2011 kicked in Anthony Mitchell’s front door, ordered Mitchell to lie on the floor, shot him with pepper balls when he failed to crawl toward them at their command and then shot his cowering dog with pepper balls for good measure.
Mitchell’s offense? He refused to allow the police entry to his home so they could use it for a “tactical advantage” against his neighbor who had barricaded himself in his home.
Silly Anthony. Didn’t he know that in this country, when the police demand to use your home you have to let them?
It would be easy to shrug off this outrage by the Henderson PD as just one of those rare instances when adrenaline and testosterone cause a couple of cops to use poor judgment.
Except, thanks to the wonders of an Internet-connected world, it’s clear that instances like this are not all that rare.
Libertarian websites and other police watchdog groups have been cataloguing the instances of extreme police behavior and they reveal not just a disturbing rise in errors by increasingly militarized police forces, but also a bewildering acceptance of these errors by the public and an acquiescence to the increased policing of our lives.
Many Americans are rattled by the revelations that the U.S. government is cataloguing every cell phone call and monitoring our Internet activity, all made legal by a law of Congress and validated by a secret court that does not answer (so far) to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Yet we accept far more intrusive invasions of our personal privacy on a regular basis. We’ve learned to live with DUI road blocks, immigration road blocks, forced drug testing of school children, frisking at airports, ubiquitous police video surveillance and in New York City, “stop and frisk” searches on public streets of anyone at anytime for no reason at all.
When police kick in the door of the wrong house, terrorize a family and then kill their dog, as happened in June in Buffalo, N.Y., and in March in Chicago, and in 2011 in Philadelphia, and in 2010 in Minneapolis, we shrug and say “oh well, mistakes happen.”
In a country of liberty, we incarcerate millions of people, more than any other nation in the world, including nations like China and Russia at which we look down our noses for their lack of liberty.
The ink scribbles on parchment enshrined in the National Archives as the Constitution and Bill of Rights are just that, a bit of ink and paper.
Yet you could take them out of their airless glass cases and set them on fire and not destroy the country because it’s not the writing that we venerate, it’s the meaning of the words written on those parchments that says what freedom means.
Those words only mean what we say they mean.
And when it comes to words of liberty, they don’t seem to mean much anymore.