To the Editor:
Regarding your article on the CCRI graduation of May 21, I have a few observations.
When I first saw the article on the front page of the Beacon and the photo of a Warwick police officer examining the contents of someone’s bag, I realized sadly that the debasement of the Constitution has finally reached the shores of Warwick, R.I. Under what circumstances are law enforcement personnel allowed to trample on the Forth Amendment rights of Rhode Island citizens? And then I thought about the military/police debacle in Boston, and said to myself that some people must actually think that this is giving them a greater sense of security if there is a police presence at public events arbitrarily checking bags and personal items. However well intentioned and comforting, it is unconstitutional and therefore illegal, in fact as illegal as the Patriot Act itself.
What makes this action illegal? Here’s a very simple answer. Any police cadet can tell you after his second week in the academy that when probable cause is invoked (the ability to stop, detain, and search), the condition of reasonable suspicion must be satisfied. Reasonable suspicion is defined as a suspicion that a crime has, is, or will be committed. This then gives the officer probable cause to stop, detain and search. See how this works? That’s also why the TSA working at the airport is doing so unconstitutionally. Does one buying an airline ticket automatically become “suspicious?”
Now I dare say that there was no reasonable suspicion for probable cause to stop, detain and search the bags of citizens entering CCRI for the graduation exercises last week. Some would see this as pro-active policing, others like myself see it as an illegal intrusion into our constitutional rights. And it’s a slow creep if we let it continue.
The Constitution is all we have. Without it, we find ourselves back in the jungle. President Lincoln set the precedent for ignoring the Constitution in 1862 when it was most needed, and Mr. Obama has continued where Lincoln left off.
Is this what we want? The continued erosion of our constitutional rights? We are already on a slippery slope.
Benjamin Franklin is oft quoted as saying that he who is willing to surrender liberty for security deserves neither.
Perhaps there are some who didn’t give a second thought to what was happening at CCRI, but they should have paid closer attention because the erosion of the Bill of Rights becomes, once it begins in earnest, intractable.