Friday, September 22, 2006

A government vigilante -- but par for the course

Jackson, Mississippi's mayor Frank Melton has been indicted for "malicious mischief" and burglary. According to the Jackson Free Press blog, these are felony indictments. And they should be.

Melton has been known to don police gear, carry a shotgun while joining police in raids, and have two cop buddies "vouch" for him so he can wear "LE" credentials. Those sound to me like impersonating a police officer, since his apparent intent is to convey the appearance that he is a member of law enforcement (a mayor is not). If you go here and search for "Crazed Jackson Mississippi Mayor" (a little past halfway), there's a hell of a timeline: everything from Melton terrorizing the city with arrests for minor crimes, to "pursuing" a murder suspect and in the end fining him a mere $250. Let's ask ourselves, however, if it's any better when the real police do the same? In truth, "impersonating a police officer" is the least of these offenses.

What is undeniable is that Melton has bypassed not just the rule of law (which contrary to authoritarian conservatives isn't about following the law no matter what, but applying the law equally to everyone), but the principles of justice. Bastiat wrote in The Law that "The nature of law is to maintain justice." As I added, justice is the upholding people's rights, namely life, liberty and property. Well, Melton discarded justice when he trampled over someone's private property. The Jackson Free Press' in-depth coverage and its interview with the victim detail how Melton and his henchmen drove up to what they claimed was a crack house, then smashed it up themselves. No warrant, let alone police, merely their own belief that Evans Welch's house was a crack den.

Melton's volunteer work includes counseling youth against joining gangs, but what have he and his hooligans become, but the very thing Melton claims to oppose? You cannot fight evil by using evil. One of his supporters said "his heart is in the right place," but when is that ever enough? Does that person not understand why we have the saying, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions"? Perhaps Melton's policies are helping to reduce crime, but at what cost? So the people can be just as afraid of government thugs accosting them instead of street thugs?

Pay attention to Melton's Doublethink:
Will I continue to take down houses? Absolutely. I'm going to make sure they're legally taken down, but we're going to continue to aggressively take down the crack houses in Jackson, Mississippi.
Oh, he'll take down houses? I find it interesting that he didn't specify "crack houses," just "houses." In his mind, he's the law, and he believes he can do as he damn well pleases, based on his personal belief that a dwelling has crack addicts inside.

Maybe, though, he misspoke and did mean "crack houses." Nonetheless, he claims he'll "legally" "take down" those dwellings, but then what did he do to Evans Welch? Well, I guess that was the "aggressively" part he mentioned. There wasn't even enough evidence to qualify as "suspicion," let alone "probable cause" that would induce a magistrate to issue a warrant. No, Melton and his thugs merely took matters into their own hands and wrecked a person's home. However, "legitimate" police do almost as bad as a matter of routine. If they think you're dealing drugs, they may not splash paint around your kitchen, but they'll toss around a lot of your belongings (creating a huge mess if not destroying things), seize your computers, and sometimes even rip up your mattresses and teddy bears.

So once again, the War on Drugs manifested itself as government's war on peaceful people and their property -- peaceful people who are harming themselves, certainly, but not others. If a crack addict is stealing, then arrest, prosecute and punish him for stealing. If a gang member kills someone, then go after him for the real crime. Evans Welch has a record of "mostly petty crimes," borne of a mental illness, but he was doing nothing of the sort when Frank Melton and several of "the boys" came over at 8:30 that night.

Because government's powers come from the people, a citizen has the same right as the police to detain a suspect. Most people simplistically call it "citizen's arrest" when it in fact is one way of upholding justice. Beware, however: if you're wrong, you'll face severe consequences for false apprehension and imprisonment, just as police should face the same. Now, if Melton and his punks had observed Welch committing a crime, or fleeing a crime scene with reason to suspect him of wrongdoing, it certainly would have been proper for them to use physical force to detain him until real law enforcement could arrive. Similarly, I don't have a problem with them carrying firearms, even "unlicensed" ones. My problem is what they did, not that they carried certain items.

Evans Welch wasn't committing a crime, at least not a real one with a specific, identifiable victim who was genuinely damaged. He wasn't defrauding anyone. He wasn't damaging anyone else's property. He wasn't threatening or physically harming anyone. All anybody could pin on him was possession of a crack pipe and an outstanding "contempt of court" warrant. The latter was apparently so serious, such incontrovertible proof that he's a menace to society, that police officers were never sent to pick him up for it.

Welch has been convicted of having an "open container," again a victimless crime. Sometimes I see people drinking beer on our Metro-North train ride home, and being perfectly honest and serious, I am harmed more by sober people's coffee. I've never seen a fellow train passenger with an alcoholic beverage spill it, act intoxicated, or bother me with the smell. Contrast that with the people whose mocha-hazelnut-caramel concotions can be smelled halfway down the car, whose myriad paper cups are left anywhere. Fresh in my mind is the guy yesterday morning who spilled his entire cup: he grabbed his stuff and fled to another car, letting the mess spread all over the floor.

Ayn Rand said, "There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. When there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws." Evans Welch has committed numerous crimes, but he's a minor criminal with nothing worth bragging about in jail. Is he really such a danger to "the people" that Melton and his hoods could smash up his home, destroy his belongings, and even pour paint around his kitchen?


Blogger Mike said...

Hey Perry, totally OT, but both emails I tried to send to you bounced, so in case you didn't get my LLP email, just thought you'd want to know that a friend of mine was busted for a "curfew" violation tonight and that the officer strongly implied that I was/am a statutory rapist. I've got a post up here:

Just thought you'd be interested.

Saturday, September 23, 2006 3:36:00 AM  

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