More than a quarter-century ago Mr. Samuel Harris wrote Anarcho-Tyranny, U.S.A. .
Prescient? “I provide. You decide. We abide™”
On the morning of September 22, 1993, a law-abiding citizen named B.W. Sanders was driving his car down the street in Raleigh, North Carolina when all of a sudden he found himself flagged down by a policeman and presented with a ticket for $25. Mr. Sanders, it turned out, had not been wearing his seat belt, and under a new state law, that crime carries the penalty he received. But in this case, it was not just a traffic cop who flagged down Mr. Sanders. It was a force of some six dozen police officers as well as the governor of North Carolina himself, James B. Hunt.
The governor was searching for a photo-op with which to advertise both the new seat belt law and his own personal devotion to law-and-order. Not only the 70 or more police officers but also an innumerable supply of newspaper reporters and TV newsmen were on the scene to record the governor’s triumph over the forces of lawlessness, and the next day Mr. Sanders’ wicked ways were recorded in the public press for his family, his employers, his neighbors, and indeed posterity to gander at.
To make doubly certain that criminals like Mr. Sanders got the message loud and clear, Governor Hunt held a news conference near the state capital and harangued a crowd of some 150 police officers and state troopers, who were able to take time off from the apprehension of public enemies like Mr. Sanders to attend the governor’s words. “I took an oath to protect the people of North Carolina,” intoned the Tar Heel State’s answer to Dirty Harry, “and this is one way we must do it. . . Folks, we’re serious. We mean it. We’re going to do this.” And indeed, serious he is. As part of the war on the unbuckled seat belt crisis, the Raleigh News and Observer reported, “Law officers in all 100 counties [of the state] will intensify their efforts to find and cite motorists not using their seat belts. Agencies will compete against each other, winning cash for turning in the best performance.”
Governor Hunt’s grandstanding might be harmless enough were it not for certain other facts about certain other crimes in North Carolina that also sometimes make the news. Only a week before the apprehension and public humiliation of Mr. Sanders, the same newspaper reported on the state’s prison crisis. It seems that North Carolina has another new law in addition to the one on seat belts.
This other law, passed by the General Assembly, imposes a cap on how many inmates can be incarcerated in the state prison, and the crisis is that, under this cap, most of the inmates now eligible for parole were imprisoned for violent and assaultive crimes. Most of the less dangerous criminals have already been turned loose, and now the prison system must release public enemies even more dangerous than drivers who do not buckle their seat belts. Since last June, no less than 14 parolees (including one of the men now charged with the murder of Michael Jordan’s father) have been arrested and charged with murder, and another parolee, a veteran of the state’s death row, murdered his girlfriend and then committed suicide, thereby unfairly depriving Governor Hunt of yet another photo-op.
Last August alone, North Carolina paroled 3,700 prison inmates. One might think that if the governor of the state and the 150 police officers and state troopers who took time out of their public jobs to listen to him slap himself on the back for busting poor Mr. Sanders were really interested in upholding their oaths of office, they might turn their attention to the results of releasing hardened and violent criminals who have already been caught, sentenced, and imprisoned. [continue reading…]