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We've Always Been At War with Eastasia

First read the link:


Ok, done?

Now how do you feel about it? I'm horrified by it. Is La Crosse, WI that safe a town? Is there really nothing else for the police to be enforcing? Or is the reality a combination of "It's a college town and the kids are drinking too much" and "Hey, our budget's been slashed, let's raise some cash!" Truthfully, I think there are two things of note here: (Morality) Police inspection of our daily lives and the question of what constitutes privacy in an era of Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, etc.

In any community there needs to be a level of trust and forgiveness for policing to be effective. Look at our poorer communities and the active hostility and distrust between the people and the police. You can't tell me that doesn't hurt law enforcement efforts to clean up the gang situation and promote safety. Obviously, it won't erode to that extent in La Crosse, but it speaks to something that's changed. There's less tolerance these days for simple misbehavior. Partly its money and partly its because there's so much yelling about how soft on crime we are.

The Wire (quite possibly the finest TV show ever done) made one of the finest points on the war on drugs , Baltimore PD Major Bunny Colvin (serving as a foil for writer David Simon) talks about containing the drug war on the streets by creating "free zones" where things are kept in check. He compares the tactic to the "brown paper bag" that let cops ignore men drinking on the stoop and focus on keeping the peace in the community. (To watch the speech - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2fV-_eiKxE and then watch the whole show)

Granted, La Crosse isn't Baltimore, Los Angeles, etc, but I hate to think what happens when we forget that people as whole are creatures with a tenuous respect for the letters of legal matters instead of the spirit of them. A long time back I remember reading a J. Edgar Hoover quote, probably apocryphal, where he claimed that the average American broke a law every 30 seconds. And this would have been back before the giant web of cross-competing, endlessly stacking laws we see today had piled quite to their current Brobdignagian proportions.

Regarding privacy matters and the new generation. While the Constitutional "right to privacy" has been a matter of continuous debate, the line has always been that if you put it out in public, it's fair game - e.g. your trash and of course now your writings on social networks may be considered fair game. Of course, the question for the courts is for invitation systems (like Facebook) is there any right to privacy or expectation of freedom from surreptitious legal monitoring? What will this mean for the post Gen X'ers, the Millenials, who were raised on tweeting, texting, sharing and putting everything out there? Will this sort of policing have a chilling effect on a generation's sense of openness? (And would that necessarily be a bad thing? - I'm looking at you people who tweet that you're eating a burrito.)



southpolie's picture

This is not really a case of morality police, since actual crimes are alleged. But you make a good point about the consequences of relationship building with the community. Seems the police are more interested in stocking up with the latest weapons and tactics than dealing with the public in a reasonable and rational manner these days.

The police officer noted "Posting those photos, he added, helps glamorize alcohol consumption and binge drinking" which *is* a case of morality police, since alcohol consumption and even binge drinking are not illegal if you are not underage.

Anyway, I would hardly consider facebook photos to be convincing evidence of criminal activity. Who is to say the photos were not photoshopped? Or the kids were not drinking non alcoholic beverages just to be social? They should have held their ground and fought the charges.

Drew Beechum's picture

I agree this isn't a serious case, but really it's the implications of it that make me wary. Your quote to me drives home the idea of it being a case where they found a case where the average citizen wouldn't complain about the enforcement and they could grab extra money for their coffers.

Its the implications that worry me. The surrendering of the expectation of privacy is one of those things that people don't realise when they're going online. Look at the cases we see of employers refusing to hire someone because of things dug up off their facebook pages or the web. People need to remember that once you put it out there, you can never take it back into your own protected sphere.

David Uhl's picture

"Who is to say the photos were not photoshopped? Or the kids were not drinking non alcoholic beverages just to be social? They should have held their ground and fought the charges."


Or just say that was when they were down on Mexico or up in Cananda, and then tell the cops to pound sand. 

I hope every underage kid who's got pictures of them drinking on their pages adds little captions that says "During my vacation out of the country".  Not much the cops could do at that point.

Brewgyver's picture

While few would argue that underage drinking isn't a serious problem, certainly the UW-L students drinking in a private home were posing no threat to the safety of the community.  For a town the size of La Crosse (at 112k population, it's just slightly larger than Burbank) to task a sworn officer to this kind of duty is a shameful waste of recources.  Unfortunately, the sqeuaky wheel gets the grease.  Organizations like MADD squeak very loudly indeed, and their political influence can be intimidating. 

But is policing Facebook, et al for such violations good public policy? Doubtful.  The La Crosse officer mentioned that similar methods are used to "catch sexual preditors."  In fact,  a Google search showed that a lot of the arrests of sex offenders related to Facebook and MySpace have occured in states that have a "Megan's Law" statute that prohibits sex offenders from even having internet access, and they were arrested for that alone, not for acutally using such sites to commit crimes.  Besides that, the claim that such methods catch sex offenders is pretty much saying the ends justify the means, using an example that they think is unassailable puclicly. Why do they think that?  Because too many people are ready to throw out all due process when it comes to sex crimes.  Certainly, we've all That is a very dangerous attitude.  When cops, prosecutors, lawmakers, and "the government" in general are allowed to act as if the ends justify the means, bad things happen.

Is using Facebook to cite underage drinkers good policework? No, because it's chickenshit, and chickenshit is never good policing.  If I were one of the kids cited, I think I'd start carrying a camera everywhere, and do a little chickensit documentation myself.  Get video everytime I saw a cop car speeding, making illegal U-turns, parking in fire lanes, etc, and put THAT on You Tube, linked via Facebook, and send a compilation to the local TV station.


PHB2234's picture

Since when is seeing internet photos of a person holding a beer bottle, or even sipping an amber beverage sufficient evidence that consumption of alcholic beverages has occurred?  Were it me, I'd have told them to stuff it and refused to pay the citation.  Make them prove in court that actual consumption had occurred.  Once again, the cops must not have enough to do there if they've got time for this.

Brewgyver's picture

It is very unfortunate that these young people are being hoodwinked into pleading out to these bogus charges.  I forgot to mention in my previous post that both the La Crosse Police AND the local court are playing very fast and loose with the law.  Underage drinking is NOT a felony, it's a misdemeanor, or possibly even an infraction.  A police officer's Powers of Arrest in the case of a misdemeanor are limited to such crimes committed in their PRESENCE.  A cop cannot make an arrest for a misdemeanor that they don't personally witness.  This is why when shoplifters are caught by store security personnel, the store employee has to make a Private Person's Arrest (so-called because you don't have to be a Citezen to make one).  The cop merely transports and books the thief, and the arresting person - not the cop - has to testify if it goes to court.

As Rich pointed out, these kids SHOULD have had an excellent chance of beating these spurious charges in any court worthy of the name.  As a matter of fact, it still is not too late.  With proper representation, they could petition the court to set aside their pleas, and make a motion to dismiss the charges.

Sounds to me like a good job for the ACLU.  Of course, they're not likely to take the case, as they tend to pick and choose the Liberties that they defend.

David Uhl's picture

"As a matter of fact, it still is not too late.  With proper representation, they could petition the court to set aside their pleas, and make a motion to dismiss the charges.As a matter of fact, it still is not too late.  With proper representation, they could petition the court to set aside their pleas, and make a motion to dismiss the charges."


You might say stuffing the entire thing down a memory hole (to stick with the 1984 references.).  LOL


BTW.....that Julia was pretty hot.

brewmaster411's picture

Holding a glass that contains a liquid resembling beer does not necessarily mean the person was DRINKING said alledged beer.   "Officer, I was drinking an O'Doul's, it is non-alcoholic". 

Judge:  "Mr. Prosecutor, can you proves the minor was in fact holding a beer, and did imbibe thereof of said beer?"

Prosecutor:  "No."

Judge:  "Case dismissed"

The only way the alledged defendant can be found guilty is if he actually was stupid and admitted to the crime.  Then there is the question of his Miranda rights.  Was he informed of them before confessing?  A confession while in Police custody and without the presence of an attorney (especially for a minor) and reading his rights will also have the case dismissed. 





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