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Archive for December 5th, 2006

Commandos

As most of you know, I work as a letter carrier. Of the many things I like
about my job- including the exercise (I walk 11 miles a day), the fresh air, the
generous leave policy (5 weeks a year, plus 11 federal holidays)- I would have
to include the rotating days off. That is, one week I have Monday off, the next
week I’m off Tuesday, and so on. As the work week begins on Saturday, that means
that every six weeks I get a three day weekend. This makes up for not getting
the two day weekend every week that most of you take for granted, fruit of the
sacrifices of the labor unions a century or so ago.

Generally, we travel to Michigan on my long weekend, to visit my widowed
mother and my sisters and brother.

My mom is 80, but could pass for much younger, a family trait. To give you
an idea of her youthfulness, last summer she came to Ohio. The children took her
to see their fort in the woods adjoining our backyard. "That’s nice," I said
when they told me they had taken Grandma to the fort. Then, a few days after she
left they took me to the fort and I realized that getting to it involved
crawling under a fence and scrambling up a brush-covered hillside.

This past weekend the children were more eager than usual to visit Grandma,
as the previous long weekend, six weeks before,  I had gone to Alabama to see
Maclin’s daughter, my godchild, marry, and they had stayed home.

So it had been a good long while, especially to a child, and we had a grand
time, even though my brother and his family were out of town and there were
therefore no cousins to play with. The weather was bad too, cold and wet, and we
were housebound except for a trip to the Flint Institute of Art, a very fine
museum for a city that size, let alone one that has endured decades of
decline.

But all good things must end, and Sunday, after Divine Liturgy and a quick
lunch we headed back to Ohio.

The trip was uneventful, aside from the increasing agitation of Michael
Seraphim, who is a year and a half and our fussiest baby so far. He was, as an
infant, known as "Fussy Fussmore", "Doctor Cutie and Mr. Fuss", and "The
Horrible Adorable Baby", among other things.

He is also, by the way, incredibly cute, so we cut him considerable
slack.

But his annoyance grew the longer he was confined to his carseat. As it is
illegal in Ohio to take a baby out of his carseat, even to nurse – which is
legal in Michigan- we are loathe to do so unless the alternative is a screaming
fit.

The children did their best to distract him. Maria, who is nearly four, and
who told me last week "I’m half wild and half magic", is particulary adept at
consoling Michael, but even she was unable to get his mind off the woes of
confinement.

When we were about a half hour away from home, driving in the dark, we
started telling him that it was all right, that we were almost home.

Then I saw a sign: "RIGHT LANE CLOSED AHEAD". No big deal; traffic wasn’t
that bad and it shouldn’t slow us down much.

Then I saw the brake lights, and soon  it was stop and go.

"Must be an accident", I said.

And then I saw the next sign: "OVI CHECKPOINT AHEAD".

"What the heck is ‘OVI’ " we asked. We know a Romanian priest named "Father
Ovidieu", "Ovi" for short, and we joked that it was Father Ovi, stopping every
car and incensing it.

We decided that "Ohio Vehicle Inspection" ws the most likely candidate, and
we started worrying. Maria is not quite four, the age when it is legal to be out
of a carseat. Does she weigh more than 40 pounds, the other criterion?

I began getting pretty outraged at this random police stop and quietly
prayed that I would hold my tongue. I mean the nerve. Here we are, innocent
citizens- well, mostly- driving home from Grandma’s, for heaven’s sake, with a
fussy baby and we’re stuck in a traffic jam because of some random checkpoint.
What is this, Iraq? The Soviet Union?

The children, true to form, had exciting theories. The police were looking
for a escaped killer! Or there had been a kidnapping and they
were trying to rescue the victim!

Patric, who is nine, told Joey, who is six, "Make sure your seat belt isn’t
too loose or the police will take Mommy and Daddy to jail !"

When we got nearer we saw Lawrence Township, Stark County, and Ohio State
patrol cars and dozens of police officers and deputies, wearing reflector vests
and waving flashlights around. There was a large sheriff’s bus on the side of
the road. Spinning police lights were everywhere.

But as we neared they just waved us on; apparently traffic was backed up
too far and they wanted it to move.

The next day I bought a local paper, trying to find out what it was all
about, but there was nothing. Nada.

When I got home from work I called the Lawrence Township police and asked
what was up on highway 21 last night. The policeman explained that it had been a
checkpoint for the Ohio Vehicular Intoxication unit, coordinated by the State
Highway Patrol.

I understand that being a cop in rural Lawrence Township is probably a
pretty boring job, and that participation in the OVI checkpoint is likely the
most exciting thing that’s happened all year, but that did little to stem my
outrage.

"Isn’t that like a police state, or a communist country, just stopping
people randomly?" I asked.

"But sir, we apprehended one seriously intoxicated driver. Wouldn’t you
rather endure a little inconvenience rather than have a drunk driver injure or
kill your family?"

"By that logic we should all just give up our rights and allow the police
to randomly strip search us for hidden weapons. I mean, what if someone has gun?
What’s a little inconvenience?"

He protested that it wasn’t the same at all, but I was unconvinced.

The police are supposed to be public servants, and there is a world of
difference between stopping a criminal in the act and stopping passersby in
hopes of nabbing a criminal.

But then too many police officers have forgotten their vocation these
days.

I remember a story in the local paper a couple years ago. There had been a
drug raid in Millersburg, the county seat of Holmes County, just to the south of
us. For some reason, like all the local drug busts I recall, all the people
arrested lived in the poorer, rundown parts of town. Real kingpins, I always
think.

There was a photo with the story, a group of deputies walking down the
streets of Millersburg after the raid. They were wearing camouflage clothes and
black berets, like commandos.

Huh? I thought. Why do they need camouflage? This is a small town street,
not a jungle, in Millersburg, biggest town at 3,500 or so in the county with the
largest Amish population in the world. Real camouflage would be straw hats and
suspenders.

Such nonsense reveals a dangerous attitude toward law enforcement, a
militarization which is the antithesis of our traditions of common law, common
sense, and the common good.

Statism, bigness, and centralization take many forms today, all symptomatic
of the alienation of citizens and the arrogance of their erstwhile
overlords. And from the Bush administration to the Lawrence Township Police, the
argument is the same: we must endure inconvenience and loss of freedom if we are
to be safe and secure.

We almost take it for granted, though occasionally it is made clearer and
more vivid than usual, sitting in traffic with a crying baby, eager for
home.

Daniel Nichols

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