Toeing the Line

This Country Is Going to Jail

November 16, 2012

Multiple Pages
This Country Is Going to Jail

Last week we learned that the guy who made that anti-Muslim film is going to prison for a year. It is apparently now illegal to embarrass this administration. What I find even more shocking is the apathy my friends express. Their shrugs would make Atlas blush. They tell me he’s an idiot who deserved to go to jail because he violated his parole. These are people who probably smoked a joint yesterday and have committed a handful of felonies in the past week, but all of a sudden they’re sanctimonious about parole violations.

I don’t think these people honestly believe he got what he deserved. I think they’re pretending it was legit because to ponder that we are a nation under arrest is too scary. I find their apathy scarier, because if we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything.

When violating the filmmaker’s civil rights didn’t stick, the feds kept digging until they found a charge. They could do this to any of us because they’ve made everything illegal.

Here in New York guns are so illegal, you can go to jail for having a paintball gun. A Manhattan storeowner just got fined $30,000 for stocking toy guns. Down the street from him, a bagel store was fined for letting crumbs hit the floor. A bodega near my house got a $20,000 fine for selling vanilla-flavored cigars. The city claims that such cigars make smoking attractive to kids, but the storeowner told me that a “city-certified vendor” had sold them to him.

“We’ve gone from a country where everyone is born a sinner to one where everyone grows up to be a criminal.”

I once went to jail for head-butting a guy who had struck a woman for firing him from his job. I never called the cops but he jumped into the back of a cop car to escape a beating and after he got out of The Tombs, he pressed charges.

Here in New York, it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t spent a few days in The Tombs. Former Mayor Giuliani’s zero-tolerance policies mean everyone’s subject to arrest, even his daughter. I know of several people who were sent to The Tombs for smoking a joint in an alley. I also knew one poor bastard who spent three days down there because he was selling pants from his stoop. I recently went to court for urinating in public (at three in the morning in an abandoned industrial part of town), and you should have heard the charges in that courtroom. One kid was in front of the judge for littering. He had allegedly thrown some paper on the ground.

The cops, lawmakers, lawyers, judges, and politicians are running the show. If they don’t like the cut of your jib, you’re going to jail. Sometimes, they do like the cut of your jib and you go to jail anyway.

When a man named Weldon Angelos was sentenced to 55 years for selling marijuana in Utah, the judge who sentenced him said the law was “unjust, cruel, and irrational.” That’s the scariest thing. Yes, it’s chilling to see a filmmaker go to jail because he offended someone, but often people go to jail not because the authorities have a problem with him but because some random guy does. Today, one person can have a beef with you and you’re off to jail.

When a seafood importer lost out on a bid for a lobster contract, he sent an anonymous fax to the Fish and Wildlife Service claiming that Abner Schoenwetter, the guy who got the bid, was using the wrong container. Turns out Honduras had recently decided you have to ship lobster tails in bags, not boxes. Soon after the tip, officials from the FBI, IRS, National Marine Fisheries, and Customs stormed his place and threw him in jail FOR SIX YEARS! He lost his business, his family, and everything.

The revenge war is almost as serious as the drug war. An ex-con recently told me I would be horrified to see how many men are in jail for getting in an argument with their girlfriend. Often a girlfriend will get a restraining order during a breakup. Later, the couple will make up and he’ll move back in with her. The next time they get into an argument, she calls the cops and he’s going to jail for violating the restraining order.

This is a subject where both Democrats and Republicans are equally guilty. Democrats like it when someone goes to jail for offending Muslims, and many Republicans have no problem with pot smokers going to jail. It seems libertarians are the only ones getting mad here. Everyone should be furious about this because when everything is illegal, anyone can go to jail. Police need to justify their jobs and with no lawbreakers there’s no need for enforcement.

Reading through the EPA’s bragging blog is enough to make you deathly ill. Case after case is proudly listed as they waste people’s time on hunches and throw people in jail for things nobody can understand. Krister Evertson is an inventor and entrepreneur (remember those?) who is trying to create things that improve our lives. But while transporting some sodium metal he “failed to take protective measures to reduce the risk that the transported material would react and damage persons or property” and was sentenced to two years in prison with a half-million-dollar fine. He didn’t damage anyone’s property, but he may have. His company is now bankrupt. Thanks, guys!

In New Mexico, there is a wildlife preserve that is so sacred, you can get arrested merely for walking on it. Indy 500 winner Bobby Unser learned this the hard way when he went to jail for possibly wandering on it while stranded in a blizzard. The forestry officials quizzed him after he recovered from the ordeal in the hospital. They told him they wanted to help him find his snowmobile. Based on his hazy recollection of his route, they postulated that he must have come through the reserve. They hit him with a $5,000 fine and six months in prison. Were they worried he broke a frozen branch while stumbling through the snow?

In northern Idaho, Jack Baron asked the local government if he could unblock a ditch that was flooding his land. They said fine, but after he did it, the EPA gave him a fine. They claimed he was—get this—disturbing a wetland. This brought a felony charge and tens of thousands of dollars of debt. He and his wife lost everything and now live in a trailer.

Our incarceration rate is higher than that in China, Russia, Cuba, or Iran. We have “5 percent of the world’s population. But…almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.” There is a drug arrest in this country every 19 seconds. Charles Lynch faced 100 years in prison for selling medical marijuana legally. There are around 75,000 arrests yearly for prostitution.

If someone violates your rights, run and tell a police officer or a grownup. No, wait—run away from the police officer. Nope, don’t do that, either. OK, if an authority figure violates your rights, tell the world. Film it and put it on YouTube. You might get arrested, but you’ll get released because these people hate attention. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

On Tuesday, a tourist from Atlanta sued the city of New York for false arrest. Cops trapped him into “stealing” $27 by leaving it in an empty old purse under a bench. As he put it to the New York Post, “I couldn’t believe New York City has the resources to have five undercover police officers sitting all day in the bushes looking for people like me.”

But this isn’t only New York City, it’s the entire country. And it’s not only picking up discarded purses that’s a crime, it’s everything. We’ve gone from a country where everyone is born a sinner to one where everyone grows up to be a criminal. Our sins used to be between us and God. Now that we’ve granted the state with godlike power, it’s up to them to assign our penance. Well, I for one ain’t havin’ it. It’s time we remembered the first word on the Gadsden flag is “Don’t.”


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