Yes, Virginia, there IS a Constitution, BUT —

it takes people like Michael Righi to stand up for it so it doesn’t totally go down the drain. This young man was arrested yesterday at a Circuit City store in Brooklyn, Ohio. After purchasing some items, he refused to show his sales receipt upon leaving the store. When he asked whether he was suspected of shoplifting, the answer was no; nevertheless two employees prevented him from leaving the premises. So he called the police. Before he knew it, he was placed in handcuffs, patted down, had his wallet removed, was placed in the back of a police car, and booked and fingerprinted at the police station. Why? He had given his name, but refused to present his driver’s license.

His father posted a $300 bail, and the family was finally able to proceed with their reunion, and to celebrate Michael’s sister’s birthday. Now, let me spell this out: without being suspected of stealing or having committed some other illegal activity, you and me and everybody else can rightfully walk out of any store. An employee or manager who tries to stop you and/or insists on searching your bags is violating your civil rights. And unless you intend to drive or are actually driving a car, the cops have no right to ask for your driver’s license. They can demand your name, but only if there’s reasonable suspicion that you have committed, are committing, or are about to commit a crime (seeĀ  Stop and Identify statutes). In Righi’s case, even this was unwarranted because he had already shown his sales receipt to the police officer.

The scary thing is that we’re so ready to obey, to submit to authority, to conform. It’s less hassle, less uncomfortable. The price, however, is freedom. Do we really want to reduce it to the ability to choose between ten different brands of laundry detergent?

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