Do you recall the post last week about the brain-dead reaction of various website commenters to the Florida arrest prosecution of a man for harassing a manatee?
If they had been commenting about this incident, they would have been on firm logical and ethical ground.
Anthony Brasfield and his girlfriend shared a carefree, romantic interlude one Sunday morning in the parking lot of the Motel 6 on Dania Beach Boulevard, as they released a dozen red and silver mylar heart-shaped balloons and watched them rise, up, up, up into the air, then slowly float away, high and far, until they became tiny specks against the blue. They squeezed each other’s hands, smiled, and…got arrested by a Florida highway patrol state trooper on the spot.
Brasfield was charged with the environmental crime of helium pollution, under the Florida Air and Water Pollution Control Act.Aggravating the offense apparently was the fact that endangered marine turtle species and birds make their abode in John U. Lloyd State Park, about 1.5 miles east of the motel. The third-degree felony is punishable by up to five years in prison.
So apparently, in Florida, it is legal to sell helium balloon and to buy them, but a felony to let them go, at least as many as a dozen. The Florida Highway Patrol would have presumably shot down the old man’s house in Pixar’s “Up,” which, if the old man hadn’t been Ed Asner, would have been a tragedy.
Here was the perfect situation in which a gentle warning (at most) from the trooper would have been appropriate, and an arrest was a flagrant abuse of power. Releasing helium balloons into the air is an iconic image symbolizing freedom and innocence. If it is going to be criminalized, then the state doing so has an obligation to publicize it widely and effectively before engaging in any arrests. Permitting the sales of such balloons (I believe the various theme parks in Florida sell rather a lot of them) and then arresting unsuspecting, well-meaning citizens who let them fly off to amuse their children or themselves is the balloon equivalent of a speed trap, an “air trap,” perhaps. I do not oppose rational environmental legislation, and if helium balloon pose a real threat to the environment, fine: let’s ban them. This, however, is jack-booted environmentalism, and an atrocity against liberty and fairness.
Now, if Anthony Brasfield and his girlfriend had inflated a manatee with helium and released it, the arrest would have been warranted.
[By the way, this makes my week. I have been waiting three years to find a justification for using the “Oh the huge manatee!” meme on Ethics Alarms. I’m sorry about what happened to Mr. Brasfield, but there was this silver lining.]
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