In the 1949 science fiction book, “1984,” writer George Orwell describes the mythical land of Oceania where Big Brother watches and controls all aspects of its citizens' lives.
The media is controlled by Big Brother and the thought police patrol for subversives. Children are even encouraged to turn in family members to the police. I know you are thinking that sounds a bit far-fetched. But is it? Recent events at local and national levels make me wonder whether we are approaching Orwell's vision.
Ostensibly, the Patriot Act was a move to protect the United States against terrorism. The official title of the act describes that intent as, “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.” That phrase sounds a lot like something taken directly from Orwell's “1984” book.
Under the auspices of the Patriot Act, things such as roving wiretaps, searches of business records and conducting surveillance of “lone wolves,” among other things, are now permitted as never before.
We now place surveillance cameras almost everywhere, and we will soon deploy unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, to fly over the United States. In our overzealousness to protect against terrorism, we walk a dangerous road to eliminating the balance between safety and liberty.
The most recent local example of this was illustrated in Mayor Mike Levsen's Nov. 26 American News column explaining Aberdeen's policy of “preventative policing.” Under this policy, city police may stop someone who is walking late at night because he or she “may need assistance or are a possible safety concern.”
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ensures “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, paper and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated . . . but upon probable cause . . . ” But Aberdeen's policy suggests that simply being a woman or young adult and being out late is enough to constitute probable cause. This just another form of gender or age profiling.
Next, the policy suggests that "walking erratically" is probable cause because it indicates someone might be intoxicated. In fact, aren't we just discouraging people from doing the right thing (not driving while intoxicated)? Now, we have a policy that forfeits Fourth Amendment protection for all young people, college age or not, legal or not. This policy is wrong.
In defending it, Aberdeen's mayor reasoned that the policy was necessary because “Wandering — or stumbling — into the wrong house happens more than you would think,” and he compared Aberdeen to New York City. Clearly, New York City's population and crime rate are not remotely comparable to those of Aberdeen.
As a military veteran with 21 years of service, I have the utmost respect for our armed forces and the axiom that “freedom is not free.” So it sickens me to see our governments, both national and local, sliding down the slippery slope to becoming the very police state many of us have fought against.
Alan L. Neville is an associate professor of education at Northern State University. The views are his and do not represent Northern State University.