Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Defending Our Borders from the Canadian Menace

I've put off writing about the Peter Watts incident because I didn't want to write anything out of emotion.  I wanted to be calm and reasonable about the whole thing.

Even days later, it isn't easy, but I'll try.

There's a certain amount of he-said/they-said about the incident.  But it seems that American customs officers stopped Watts's car for whatever ineffable reason (it could even have been been because it was conspicuously not-suspicious-looking; they really do target that), and Peter Watts mouthed off to them.  This is not all that uncommon an occurrence, and most law enforcement officials have been trained in how to handle it without causing an incident.  These guys pepper-sprayed Watts, cuffed him with the usual roughness, and slung him in jail overnight.  Then charged him with assault.

And dumped him at the border during a snowstorm without a coat.

It's this last bit that shocks the conscience.   Even had Watts been guilty (and I don't believe it for an instant), such treatment would have been not only cruel and unusual but probably even illegal.  Yeah, it would have been a drag to go all the way out to wherever they'd impounded the car to fetch the coat.  It probably would have involved extra paperwork, and nobody enjoys that.  But the people responsible had a moral obligation to do it, simply because Watts is a human being.  They didn't do so because he disrespected them.  He talked back to them.  He treated them like they were mere servants.

Which is what they are, remember.  Public servants.

All this happened because the people responsible are far too aware of their own importance.  They've been charged with saving our civilization from the Terrorist Apocalypse and, hoo boy, do they know it!  So, inevitably, getting their props has become Priority One for them, and the whole serve-and-protect thing goes by the wayside.  The assholes.

I told you it wasn't going to be easy staying calm and reasonable about this.

If you don't already know all about this story, you can read much more balanced accounts of the whole thing here and here.



HANNAH'S DAD said...

I've really enjoyed visiting America in the past, and I'd love to go again. But my last visit was in 2000, before the craziness started, and I find I just don't particularly want to go through an American crossing these days.

Which is silly - for the vast majority of people they're a minor inconvenience. But these stories keep happening...

I'm surprised how little I've heard about Peter Watts - there was a piece on BoingBoing, but I would have expected to have seen it everywhere.

Michael Swanwick said...

Apparently Peter's friends raised enough money for a lawyer almost instantaneously. The hope is that charges will be dropped at his hearing Monday. If not ... well, I'll be kicking in a few bucks when they pass the hat around.

The maddening thing is that none of this is making anybody one iota safer.

But I promised to stay calm and rational.

Kathryn Cramer said...

I am also so upset about it that I couldn't write about it immediately.

Michael Swanwick said...

In my effort to be even-handed, I probably gave the border people too much credit. It's quite possible that Peter's "mouthing off" consisted of his demanding an explanation for why they were searching his car.

I'm trying my damnedest to be fair here. But the land I was born in used to brag that we were the free-est country on Earth.

When was the last time you heard an American say that?

Alex said...

@Hannah's Dad: It's all over the blogosphere. Twitter was seeing almost a post a minute the day this became public. I've seen lots of blogs and several mundane news outlets report on this. Google gets almost 100,000 hits.

I've crossed the border more than a hundred times since 9/11/01. Never had an issue, FWIW.

@Michael: I grew up in the '60s and 70s in the US, when core values of democratic and technological progress werew cultural norms. It depresses me every time I come back to see how far it has turned away from the freedoms my ancestors fought for, especially as the rest of the world has moved closer or even surpassed the democratic norms of those days.