I want to begin this blog by stating that I am not someone who dislikes police. In fact, I have great respect for them. It can be a thankless job, and one where they have to deal with people at their very worst. They must sometimes put themselves in harms way to protect others, and many have been killed in the line of duty doing just that. Because of this, I have much respect for the men and women in law enforcement. Please keep this in mind as you read what follows.
On Friday April 8, 2016, the Clermont, Florida Police Department conducted a “sobriety checkpoint.” Like everyone else on Lakeshore Drive that evening I was detained at this checkpoint.
I considered turning to avoid the checkpoint, but was concerned that I would be followed and pulled over for avoiding the checkpoint anyway, so I decided to go through it. I thought “as much as I don’t like this, I’ll tell them I’ve not been drinking, and will be on my way”…an inconvenience to be sure, but not the end of the world.
So I roll up, and wait my turn in line with everyone else. When the officer finally got to my car, he identified himself, and then asked to see my license, registration, and proof of insurance.
At this point I realize that a lot of you are probably thinking “So what? Just give him what he wants and be on your way.” There was a time when I would have agreed with you. The convenient thing to do would be to simply give him my info and move on.
This night though, something in me said “this just doesn’t feel right.” I thought “if this is a sobriety checkpoint, as their sign indicates, why does he need to see my information to determine whether I am sober?”
I was wearing my seat belt, I was not speeding, I was not breaking any laws (and on any other day, it would be illegal to stop me, as there would be no cause for them to do so), and yet here I was being detained and asked by law enforcement to identify myself. In a free country, this sort of thing should not happen.
I realize that the courts have held that these checkpoints are legal, and as much as I don’t like that, I get it. What I don’t get is why it is OK to detain and ID an individual who has broken no laws. If I come to the checkpoint, and I give you reason to think I have been drinking, then I can understand why you would need to ID me. At that point, you can reasonably suspect that I am doing something unlawful (DUI), but until or unless that happens, I am just another motorist going about his business, and I should be left alone.
Anyway, back to the encounter. Initially I told the officer that I did not want to provide my ID to him. When he asked me why not, I told him that I had committed no crime, and that there was no reason for him to ask for or see my ID. It was then that I was threatened with arrest and fines if I did not produce my papers. Not wanting to be delayed any longer, I eventually agreed to show my paperwork, but it was most definitely under protest. The officer reviewed my papers, and once he decided everything was in order, I was allowed to proceed. The funny thing is, at this “sobriety checkpoint”, the officer never once asked me if I had been drinking. It was all about seeing my papers, peeking into my car, and trying to find something to bust me for.
The officer said that the checkpoint was “all about keeping people safe”, and I am sure that most people believe it when they hear this. It sounds good when they say it, but I have to wonder how many drunks they actually caught at 7 o’clock at night. This was not really about safety, it was all about showing their presence in the community, and was really for all intents and purposes a PR move. I am sure they wrote a few seat belt tickets, and maybe a few other minor things, but beyond that, I am not sure they accomplished a whole lot.
As I reflected on the whole experience later that night, I really became bothered by the whole thing. I felt like I had been forced to give up liberty (even if only for a few minutes) for the sake of security. This just does not seem like a road that free people would want to go down. Do I want to see drunks off the streets? Sure I do. Do I want that to be at the expense of my liberty? My answer is a resounding no!
These seemingly innocuous checkpoints are but a symptom of a much larger problem in this country. As government keeps getting bigger and bigger, and as we continue to give them more and more power, we continue to see our blood-bought freedoms erode.
So that is why, as of last night, I have decided that I will no longer remain silent. I will stand up for my rights. I will be respectful, and I will obey the law, but I will also resist tyranny. This is about more than just a checkpoint. It is about reminding the government that they work for me, not the other way around. This was a nation that was conceived in liberty, and it is high time that we tell those who would seek to limit our freedoms that we will not stand for it any longer.