Aug 3, 2008

Police right to wait for sermon to end?

A few corrections and second thoughts about the Rev. Hannibal Lecter:

1. I used the ubiquitous, but wrong, spelling of the infamous name in the title of that post. I should have written "Usama bin Ladin".

2. To avoid misunderstanding: I think the police should generally do their work rationally, and that includes minimizing the possibility of riot or other risk of injury, particularly to innocent bystanders, when making arrests. However, I also feel it is extremely important that all people be equal before the law; therefore, the arrest procedure must not depend on the occupation or social status of the accused. Discrimination based on race, sex, or religion, is particularly pernicious.

3. Testimony in blog comments from former law enforcement officers (in whose identification or words I have no reason not to believe) has convinced me that I was likely wrong in assuming that the police would have behaved differently if the accused had not been a preacher. My tentative conclusion is that I might have overlooked the, let's call it, "man bites dog" bias in news reporting. While there are many reports of police brutality and haste in arresting criminal suspects, the total number of arrests is far greater. It is quite likely that the spectacular raids and high-speed chases we read about are anomalous, and that they make news because they are exceptional.

4. That said, there have also been blog comment testimonies for the opposite view - that theatrical and dangerous arrests are the norm. Incidentally, all those testimonies seem to be about drug-related arrests. That's disturbing. While I can understand that drug arrests present special challenges for gathering evidence (if the police aren't quick, the suspects can get rid of the drug), something is profoundly unjust in a system that, by design, puts suspects of non-violent drug offenses at greater risk of injury during arrest than murder suspects.

5. I think that people who use the "innocent until proven guilty" principle as the main justification for the police waiting until the end of Hopkins' sermon to make the arrest are seriously misunderstanding what that principle means and how it is applied.

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