Aug 1, 2008

What if Osama bin Laden is taping a message when we find him?

Should we let him finish before arresting him?

Apparently, the police in Jackson, AL, think so:
Police allowed Hopkins to finish his sermon before arresting him

WTF!? He is a murderer and (probably serial) child rapist! What is the point of the police waiting? So his holy message wouldn't be lost?

Looks like you can get away with almost anything in the name of religion, and even when you cross all bounds, you still get way more respect than other criminals.

UPDATE: Over at Pharyngula, many commenters think the police did the right thing because (1) Hopkins was not about to flee or commit another crime, and (2) he is only charged with those crimes at this point, not convicted. Those people are completely missing the point. Commenter karen (#31) has it right:

The police wouldn't wait for any other type person to finish his business before arresting him. This is just pandering to the woo.

The procedure for arresting a preacher must be exactly the same as that for arresting anyone else. If it is not, the police is violating the Constitution, specifically the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment.

UPDATE 2: It gets interesting. A comment by "Doug the Trucker" (#104) challenges my (and PZ's) view in a valid way:

OK, former LEO here.

We try to avoid creating a scene when arresting someone, especially if it in a public place where an arrest might stir up an even larger problem. From the description, Mr. Hopkins was in a controlled area, wasn't planning on fleeing, and was quickly arrested after the sermon. If there had been reason to believe he was armed, or was about to take off and run, then the officers would have moved in for an immediate arrest.

We try to do this for everyone, not just clergy.

If this is factually correct, I am ready to agree that the police did the right thing. But, for now, I find it hard to believe that the police would normally wait when arresting someone for murder.

UPDATE 3: Another police officer says this is standard. Well, I would hope it would be, but how then do we explain numerous accounts of SWAT team drug raids, high-speed chases, and so on?


watercat said...

Seems to me they did the right thing; who wants a horde of angry baptists rioting to keep you from dragging their prophet away?
OTOH, it would be nice if the cops acted so civil in other cases, like you suggest.

bullfighter said...

As you said, I am not in favor of unnecessary hasty arrests or theatric displays of police force. My main concern here is the inconsistency that I perceived between this arrest and other arrests for heinous violent crimes. But it is quite possible that the perception is driven by highly visible reports of exceptional cases, and that the police in this case followed the usual procedure.

In any case, it is something the public ought to be informed about. I'd rather be wrong and learn something than not raise the issue at all.