If our culture did a minimally competent job communicating the essential right of free speech in the United States, people like Ruben Santiago wouldn’t think as the do—as they do being best described as ignorantly, censoriously, arrogantly and stupidly. Both the Left and the Right are to blame for the message not getting out to the public, and, consequently, members of the public who acquire governmental authority: the government can’t threaten you or harm you for mere speech…the Left through its attempts at political correctness, mind control and indoctrination in the schools, the Right in its efforts to use laws to curb expression involving sex and violence in the arts and entertainment.
In Columbia,Police Chief Ruben Santiago took to the Columbia Police Department Facebook page to announce that his officers had seized $40,000 in marijuana from an apartment after a successful drug investigation. Citizen Brandon Whitmer, on his own page, took note of the arrest and opined, “maybe (police) should arrest the people shooting people in 5 points instead of worrying about a stoner that’s not bothering anyone. It’ll be legal here one day anyway.” Santiago replied ominously to Whitmer, saying, “(W)e have arrested all of the violent offenders in Five points. Thank you for sharing your views and giving us reasonable suspicion to believe you might be a criminal, we will work on finding you.”
Somebody in the department with a working knowledge of the Constitution quickly got that post deleted, but Santiago defended it in a double-down post, writing,
“I put everyone on notice that if you advocate for the use of illegal substances in the City of Columbia then it’s reasonable to believe that you MIGHT also be involved in that particular activity, threat? Why would someone feel threaten if you are not doing anything wrong? Apply the same concept to gang activity or gang members. You can have gang tattoos and advocate that life style, but that only makes me suspicious of them, I can’t do anything until they commit a crime. So feel free to express yourself, and I will continue to express myself and what we stand for. I am always open to hearing how our citizens feel like we can be effective in fighting crime.”
He also said that his original response should not have been deleted, as he stood by it.
Wowzers! Santiago is an interim chief, and if that interim isn’t over by now, it better be soon. He is an ethics dunce with a badge and gun, and that is always a dangerous situation:
- It is not reasonable to believe that someone who advocates the legality of something that is currently illegal might be engaged in that illegal activity, any more than it is reasonable to believe that someone who vocally supports the law is trying to throw law enforcement off the track. Believing that a law should be changed is always a valid part of social discourse, whatever the law may be. Encouraging others to defy that law isn’t (though it is also protected speech), but Whitmer didn’t do that.
- Nor did Whitmer really advocate the legality of pot. He merely expressed the opinion that…
1) there were better uses of police resources than arresting drug dealers. That statement doesn’t constitute, by itself, a defense of drug dealers. If I read that a police department is cracking down on public urination, I can feel that this is a poor choice of priorities without thinking that it should be legal to take a wizz in the middle of Main Street; and
2) pot was going to be legal pretty soon. I hope not, but he may well be right. If I agree with him, does this mean in Chief Santiago’s fevered brain that I am also likely to be a pot head? Because it would be difficult for him to be more glaringly wrong…
- “Why would someone feel threatened if you are not doing anything wrong?” This is the rationalization of the police state fascist. “Why not let us search you, if you have nothing to hide? Why not allow us to search your home without a warrant, if you are innocent?” Someone please tell Santiago, ideally without using the term “officious, power-abusing, jack-booted bully” as I would be tempted to, that in the United States of America, citizens don’t have to prove themselves innocent. They are presumed innocent, and are required to be treated as such by law enforcement and the courts until there is tangible and sufficient proof to the contrary. An expressed opinion is not evidence.
- If the Chief knows he can’t do anything until a crime is committed,then he should know that he can’t “work on finding” Whitmer based on his Facebook post, which is not a crime, nor threaten him for posting an opinion, which in fact the Chief did.
What Chief Santiago also did is to threaten to use his power, which is government power, in an effort to curtail protected speech that he didn’t like. He may not do this. He is obligated to know he may not do this, as it is 6th grade civics. Since he either doesn’t know this, or did it anyway, he is unqualified to be a law enforcement official, at least in the U.S.
Maybe Damascus, Syria has an opening.
For the record, I hate Whitmer’s original comment. The first part is the rationalization “it’s not the worst thing” applied to law enforcement, an especially bad area for it, though any area is bad for this worst of all rationalizations. So as long as there are murders, police shouldn’t enforce any other laws? The idea is illogical and asinine. The second part–why worry about people who are breaking the law if the law is going to be changed?–is equally wrong-headed. It is the duty of the police to enforce a law as long as it is on the books, not to prognosticate when the law might be repealed.
I recently gave a legal ethics CLE seminar for a Cleveland law firm ,and had to include 30 minutes of anti-substance abuse instruction. The lawyers have to fulfill that credit along with the rest of their 2013 ethics requirements in continuing legal education. Next year, the substance abuse requirement will be eliminated, but an Ohio lawyer in 2013 who doesn’t take that 30 minutes will still be suspended. Is a thus suspended lawyer going to prevail if he argues, “Hey, what’s the big deal? This requirement will be eliminated next year, anyway!” Of course not. The required reply to that is, “And after it’s eliminated, then you won’t be punished for not meeting it. But as of now, you are in violation of the rule, and will be treated accordingly.” (Bonus reply: “And how did a doofus like you ever graduate from law school?”)
So yes, Whitmer’s post was annoying and dumb, but the First Amendment protects annoying and dumb as well as trenchant and inspiring. He may be a dunce, and even an ethics dunce, but he doesn’t have that badge and gun. Santiago does. Let’s hope that he doesn’t have them for long.
(Yes, I know: he apologized to Whitmer. This means that his superiors told him that he had made an ass of himself and his department and brought unwelcome publicity to Columbia, and he had better start backtracking, or else. Does that mean that he suddenly understands the limits of police power and the supremacy of free speech? Of course not. He’s still an Ethics Dunce; now he’s just an Ethics Dunce on a short leash….with a badge and a gun.)
ADDENDUM: As I was wrapping up this post, I learned that Ken White at Popehat has blogged about this episode, and intentionally didn’t read it, since Ken’s insightful analysis in this area is hard to match, and my fragile ego might be so bruised that I would be unable to complete my own essay. Now I’ll read it…
Excellent job as usual, marred a bit by an obligatory anti-war on drugs section, but Ken’s a libertarian and supports drug legalization, along with mots Popehat readers, and that does not diminish my respect for his abundant skills and accomplishments elsewhere.
I recommend his post—heck, I recommend all of Ken’s posts— which you can read here.
Facts: The Examiner
Graphic: Raw Story