A friend of mine shared this video with me. It’s about six-and-a-half minutes long, and it is video taken from the passenger seat of a car during a DUI checkpoint stop:
What happened was that a 21 year-old driver was stopped at DUI checkpoint in Tennessee. He refused to lower his window all the way down, then asked if he was being detained when the officer asked him to pull over for further inspection. When the driver was finally coaxed to step out of the vehicle, the police asked him if they could check his car. The driver refused, so the police brought in a police dog. The police dog apparently sniffed something in the car, and the police then had probable cause to search the dog.
It’s from there that the story gets murky. According to the video, the police did not find anything. According to police, the video was edited to leave out that they did find some sort of “marijuana grainlets” (whatever that means) in the car. Either way, it was a bad situation that got a little bit out of hand — in my opinion — because the driver decided that he was going to stand up for constitutional rights at a DUI checkpoint in Tennessee (perhaps even planning it ahead of time) and because the officer took his job personally.
I’ve been stopped many times by police. One time, when I first arrived in Pennsylvania, a cop pulled me over for expired tags. (I had not renewed them since I moved from Texas. That was my fault.) He waited in his car for about 30 minutes, without coming over to my car, until a state trooper showed up. Then both of them walked over and the state trooper tried to talk to me in Spanish. The cop was surprised and the trooper annoyed when I answered everything in English. Months later, the cop would confess to me that he had only encountered non-English-speaking Hispanics in his town, so he assumed that I was just another one of “those people.”
I kind of understand that because south-central PA is not one of those places where you encounter a lot of Hispanics driving around. (Yes, the population has since grown, but this was 14 years ago.) Furthermore, the obsession with “criminal illegal aliens” would put me on edge if I saw a Hispanic driving a car with Texas plates and expired tags in south-central PA, political correctness be damned. If all I hear is that immigrants are evil, then I’m going to think that the one in the car in front of me is also evil.
It’s wrong, but it’s understandable.
That’s why I understand that this police officer got annoyed when the driver decided that he wasn’t going to roll down his window and then answered the order to pull over with “am I being detained?” Those kinds of actions set off all sorts of red flags because people who act like that are not Libertarians, as the driver in this video apparently is. People who act like that are trying to hide their breath or their looks from the cops at a checkpoint. And, last time I checked, checkpoints are legal in the United States of America. Your mileage may vary in other countries.
That is a big point in all this, the fact that it happened in the United States. There is zero to no chance that the driver was going to end up in the gulag if he was impaired, or if he continued his defiant attitude towards the police officers. Maybe an arrest or a fine would be in his future, but we’re not talking hard time at the penitentiary or a fine so big it breaks him financially. Likewise, the police officers had to operate within the limits of the law. If they did break the law, as the author of the video asserts, the sue. But he didn’t sue and he doesn’t plan to, according to news reports. (If I believed in conspiracy theories, I’d wager that he’s getting enough attention and probably cash from doing this than he would if he sued.)
There is always another side to every story. In this case, we get an edited video that doesn’t quite go well with the unedited dashcam video released by the sheriff’s department involved in the incident. So it leaves me wondering what was being hidden, and how the video was not so much made to inform as it was made to misinform.
Are there bad cops, cops who take their jobs personally instead of professionally? Absolutely. But they are not in the majority, again, in the United States, based on my experience with law enforcement and based on corruption studies. Now, if there is corruption, and someone is mistreated or hurt because of it, there is plenty of recourse for help. There are internal affairs departments within police departments, and there is the federal department of justice. You can also sue a police department or city government in this country. It’s not a banana republic.
But these stories of police abuse of power and corruption make great news, they get you on news shows and they make you a minor celebrity in some circles. I get it. At what price, though?
And that whole “if you want safety and are willing to give up liberty then you don’t deserve either” thing is so 1700’s. It doesn’t apply to the real world where we need to be inconvenienced just a little bit so that drunk drivers don’t plow into vans full of kids, or where we need to follow police directions because the people who don’t do that pull out guns and shoot at cops who are fathers and mothers. In the real world, things can be legal and not right, or illegal and perfectly right, but we don’t get to decide those things at a DUI checkpoint in the middle of the night in Tennessee.
*Of course, I’m not a lawyer, but here is a great breakdown of this precise incident by someone who is.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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