“Some infringement on constitutional rights is OK and we have not violated anything as far as the Constitution”

You know something good must be going on when you get a defense like that, huh? Reader Nicole sent us this story about an Arkansas town that’s dealing with a high crime rate by imposing a curfew. The authorities insist that it’s for citizens’ own good and that they’re sure the citizens would agree. After all, “at 3 o’clock in the morning, nobody has any business being on the street, except the law” (from Councilman Eugene ‘Red’ Johnson, probably not named for his politics). Yup, that’s right, someone’s deciding what time these people have a right to be out on the street. And, as Nicole points out, this is (of course) an impoverished area, where many people work night shifts and do indeed have a “reason” to be out on the streets. (Or would Red rather have them go on welfare? Nope, didn’t think so.) Surely there are better ways to deal with high crime rates than this.

After writing this, I learned JJ had already written on this. But since we’re drawing out different things, I figured I’d put mine up too!

8 thoughts on ““Some infringement on constitutional rights is OK and we have not violated anything as far as the Constitution”

  1. Sadly, such infringement is hardly new. Growing up in rural Connecticut we experienced this. Lots of adolescents work in the food industry & keep bad hours & if they were walking home they were harassed.

    It wasn’t just during the evenings, though. Kids in groups larger than two(!) were told to ‘move on’. The police threatened arrest with a statute dating from the Civil War that banned assemblages of more than two people on account of the possibility that they might be spies! And in fact I’ve heard this same excuse used in other states as well.

    The latter anecdote just goes to show you that when you suspend basic rights in wartime, there will always be people willing to use those same rules in peacetime. Food for thought during the ‘war on terror’ (and during other wars on abstract nouns).

  2. That’s really interesting– I hadn’t thought of this as so widespread. I knew there was a widespread stopping of people for walking while black, of course, but that obviously doesn’t apply to you. And I also wouldn’t have expected it so much in rural areas.

  3. Terror isn’t an abstract noun. ‘Terror’ is; but the war is on terror, not ‘terror’.

    I’ve heard lots of people say that ‘the war on terror’ is a meaningless expression – but they just seem to be making a use-mention fallacy, as far as I can see. I’m all for pointing out the idiocies of the Bush administration, but there’s plenty real stuff to pick on without making stuff up.

  4. Wow! You get a prize for pedantry for that first point, Anonymous and that’s high praise coming from me. War on an abstraction, maybe? War on a method? But I don’t quite get your second point. Anyone who says ‘war in terror’ is a meaningless expression is doing just fine for use and mention– though whether the claim is true will depend a lot on what is meant by ‘meaningless’. I also think that there are very reasonable points being made by those who say the things you’re criticising, and that actually thinking about those points advances the discussion better than pedantry (however much I do enjoy the pedantry). And do you *really* think that people who make use/mention errors are making things up? most non-philosophers do make use/mention errors, and plenty of them are making damned good points while doing so.

  5. A bit of historical context — this is same place that gave us the 1919 “Elaine Race Riots” in which 200 or so (depending on sources the numbers range from 70 to 700) Black residents were massacred.

    Here’s a site put together by someone at Ark State–Jonesboro of news paper articles from the time: http://www.clt.astate.edu/sarahwf/elainrt/elaevnt1.html

    something from the Central Arkansas Library’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas: http://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=1102

    and of course, WIKI: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elaine_Race_Riot

  6. Sorry, Jender: I should’ve been clearer. I’ve heard a lot of people say the expression is meaningless because ‘terror is just a word, and you can’t declare war on a word’. But terror isn’t a word! Of course, it might be meaningless for other reasons.

  7. I’m glad you did this!

    Since we have a little retreat on a barrier island in hurricane country, this time of the year we face the possibility of being ordered from our property (aka mandatory evacuation). After the last hurricane, streets we can normally pass through were blocked by police cars to keep out looters, I suppose, since owners were allowed on them.

    That seems less objectionable, though I am not sure why. It is still subject to abuse by the enforcers since they get to take people away AND the police themselves can do some looting, as has been alleged in New Orleans.

  8. Thanks!
    I think that there are some bigger issues here from the point of view of those in lockdown. There seems to be an assumption that the police are safer than the criminals, or even that they are there to help, there is always a HUGE police bias against those in poverty, which, at times, can make them more dangerous when they are there.
    There is also the issue that they don’t go into places like that any other time, for instance when I still lived in the ghetto someone was trying to break into my house, which, incidentally was behind a crack house, I called the police, that was 4 years ago, I am sure they still have not shown up.
    While I am not approving of horizontal violent crime things are different in poverty, one who would never otherwise have been a criminal, is often forced into criminal activity as a means of survival. There are few jobs available, at least in Ohio there is little education that will help one get into college (this has to do with a larger problem with education that I am looking at in an article I am writing) the jobs one can get pay slave wages, try to live on minimum wage for rent utilities ect.

    Another very important point to look at is that living in an area like that is already traumatic, young children see others gets shot and stabbed, one has trouble being outside anyway, afraid to stay in or go out, hearing gunshots so often one only notives their lack, too much untreated PTSD, so imagine on top of that trying to go to the store and having a cop, who is rarely on your side, stick a military gun at you, it compounds the problem. This problem is brought on by poverty, when one is seeing ones children and peers get murdered and knows there is little chance of getting out one has little to lose and so is more careless. The trauma related symptoms go one even if one does leave, for instance it took me an entire year in a safe neighborhood, with a therapist, on a second floor, for the therapist to convince me it was safe to put the sofa in from of the from window, I had lived in projects and ghettos for 33 years, there you cannot do that, too many drive bys.
    Since these areas of poverty are socially constructed they could be easily ended by the dominant class, who of course, will not end them by providing jobs with living wages. There are very few who choose to stay there for no reason, it is lack of opportunity in the so called land of opportunity.
    Fanon wrote exstensively about horizontal violence among the poverty stricken in The Wretched of the Earth. Having lived in that state for so many decades I feel epistemically responsible in looking at Fanon’s settler/colonized as this countries poverty stricken/middle class. I have seen what Fanon describes in Algeria happen here on a daily basis. on pages 52-3 he says “The colonized man will first manifest this aggressiveness which has been deposited in his bones against his own people. This is the period when the niggers (Fanons word) beat each other up and the police and magistrates do not know which way to turn when faced with the astonishing waves of crime. When the native is confronted with the colonial order of things, he finds he is in a state of permanent tension. The settler’s world is hostile, which spurns the native while at the same time it is a world of which he is envious. This hostile world represents not merely a hell from which the swifest flight possible is desireable but also a paradise close at hand. …Confronted by the world of the settler the native is always presumed guilty. This is never a guilt which he accepts, it is rather a kind of curse.” Tupac Shakur also wrote of the horrors of horizontal violence and the police state “Give them guns step back watch them kill each other” and then in another song, speaking, now ironically to the former bush president “You ask me when will the violence cease, when your troops stop shooting brothas down in the street, ya’ll had enough time to make a difference, bear witness to your own business, now Bush doesn’t know what to do, I predicted this in 2Pacalypse” and in others a call to stop the violence anyway even with no economic equality.
    Of course there is anger, one cannot be hungry and be in drug ridden areas for long and be happy, the crimes started in order to get necessities spiral out of control spurred on, I think, by the anger at knowing those down the street have too much. There is also the trauma of family members being murdered, I have had 3 teenage cousins from the next generation murdered in less than 2 years, 2 in 3 weeks just a few months ago. It is hard for the others their age to care about anything, they have survivors guilt and assume they will also be killed.
    This is an obvious case of the constructor blaming the hamred, this would never happen in a middle class neighborhood, clearly punishing the poor for living where they force us to live.
    Sorry for going on so much, this is such a huge issue for us, and, if you look at starving someone, feezing them, keeping them awake all the time because it is too frightening to go to sleep in those areas as violence or torture, as some look at it when it is the military doing it to those from other countries, then you do only see the violence commited by the overindulged.

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