Hazy Shade of Criminal

July 11, 2018
3 mins read

Every Jacksonville City Hall reporter has his or her favorite dumbass bill. Mine is one filed, ironically enough, by a councilman now staring down dozens of charges in a scheme to defraud.

Councilman Warren Jones filed a bill to ban backing into driveways a couple of years back. After Jones left council, the bill was pushed by Reggie Brown, the erstwhile CEO of such key local companies as RB Packaging and A Plus Training and Consultants, said that trunks of abandoned cars in people’s yards were being used as drop points for, well, packages.

Scary stuff. It required an equally scary solution: a prima facie presumption of guilt for backing into one’s own driveway. Apparently, the needs of government, to offer a collective and illusory notion of safety, superseded the right to choose how one functions on his or her own property.

It didn’t go so well for that bill. Brown got lit up in the media, castigated by colleagues for attempting to direct how people parked their own cars on their own properties. Thus, the bill died the ignominious death it deserved.

It wasn’t that anyone on the #ItsEasierHere council gives a flying fig about civil liberties. It’s that the bill actually illustrated the craven security theater at the heart of government, and how the need for security leads to expanded enforcement functions.

People do not want, as a matter of course, police to make judgment calls about their property. People, in a time of limited resources, would prefer that cops spend their time and energy finding those guilty of real crimes.

As a noted criminal justice theorist famously said, though, “Wish in one hand; piss in another. See which fills up first.”

You might want the cops to solve violent crime. But what we get, so often, is low-hanging fruit. The “stop and frisk.” The “walking while black.” The overpolicing of the poor, often rooted in what cynics calls profiling, which plops people on a perpetual treadmill that often has generational impacts.

But, as the kids say, prisons are jobs—American jobs.

When we know that the law enforcement world has, by definition, an adversarial relationship with large swaths of the community, a relationship driven by political influence ranging from public sector unions to private prison lobbies, we cannot help but be cynical when law enforcement wants more pretexts for perpetual surveillance.

A recent example reported by Action News is especially egregious. Down in St. Augustine Beach, the police department wants to maintain a “safe city” by “reducing crime and maintaining livable neighborhoods.”

How? By checking to see if people’s cars are locked and possessions stowed away. And by doing the same at people’s houses.

It’s as if they saw the recent 8-1 SCOTUS ruling in Collins v. Virginia, which prohibits warrantless searching of automobiles on private property, and said, “Hold my beer.”

Here’s the beach cop hustle: If you have, say, spare change visible in your parked car, the po-po will write up a little card and stick it on your vehicle. The same is true if your door is unlocked. See, if they didn’t do that, livability would be imperiled.

Likewise, if your yard is overgrown, or your garage door is unlocked, or if you don’t have the outside light on because you want to see the fireflies—well, the cops have reason to walk onto your property and take a look-see.

What if you have an open window? Well, expect a cop to approach and investigate. Maybe they bring the SWAT. Maybe they bring the K9. In any case, they have a policy pretext now to step onto property without probable cause or a warrant and investigate.

My take is that the beach needs a better lawyer, as this will be challenged in court if it goes on long enough. People, even in Trump’s Amerika, still have a presumption of privacy.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, still valid, pending the next national security emergency requiring a suspension of such niceties, is clearer than gin. Search warrants must be written by a judge and have probable cause. Otherwise, there are no reasonable grounds for search and seizure.

Probable cause is eroded here in favor of a subjective determination that one is an “easy target for a criminal.”

Nobody likes theft. Especially of Bill of Rights safeguards instituted in direct reaction to a government that overstepped its rights because it could get away with it.

Having written dozens of columns around the theme of civil liberties over the years, I know this one won’t drive any more change than the previous.

However, as you vote in upcoming elections, it might behoove you to ask candidates whether they side with the prerogatives guaranteed in the Constitution, or of the wholesale erosion of rights that never quite achieve the security they promise.


Correction: This article previously incorrectly identified the councilman who introduced the bill regarding backing into driveways.

Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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