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Archive for June 10th, 2011

I chatted with über-blogger Glenn Reynolds about the budget, the race for the White House, and other economic issues.

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Here’s the kind of story that makes me fear for the future of the nation. It is a disturbing example of both government stupidity and soft tyranny.

The police may not be ticketing for smoking in the parks, but they are still ticketing parker visitors for crimes like…eating a doughnut in a playground. Yup, this weekend the police gave two young women in Bed-Stuy summonses for eating doughnuts in a playground while unaccompanied by a minor. Tickets for being an adult in or around a playground have been popping up fairly frequently lately—see the Inwood chess players—but instead of giving the offending citizens a warning and urging them to leave, the NYPD’s M.O. appears to be to hand out a ticket. Here’s how our reader, an anthropology graduate student, describes her experience this weekend:

    As we were getting ready to move on, two officers approached us. Amongst themselves they debated whether the children’s toy next to us meant that we were there with a child. Then they asked us, “Are you here with a child?” We told them no. One of the cops moved on to the couple on a bench nearby, also ostensibly childless, while the other one asked for our IDs. We handed them over and soon we were being guarded by this cop as his partner took our IDs to their police car. My friend and I were confused. We had seen parks with gates that had a sign clearly stating that adults without children were not allowed in. This park had no such sign. …I got really angry and asked the officer if he honestly believed he was helping this community by giving us these summonses. His response only made me more angry. “I don’t believe in anything,” he said. “You don’t believe in anything? In helping people? Then you probably shouldn’t be a cop,” …His partner returned. He had written two of the summons. We had been there for over twenty minutes now. He handed over our IDs to the cop that had been guarding us. Of course, they each had their own numbers to maintain so they were splitting the violations. This cop attempted to be sympathetic. He proceeded to tell us that he was trying to be a gentleman by just giving us summonses instead of taking us in for questioning, because that was what “they” wanted him to do. If he just gave us warnings and told us to leave, he would get in trouble for “doing nothing all day.” …Because we hadn’t been drinking alcohol or urinating in public, we do not have the option of pleading guilty by mail. Not that I am planning on pleading guilty. But either way, we have to show up in court or a warrant will be issued for our arrest. My friend does not live in New York and I am out of the country all summer, so this is going to be an ordeal in itself, given that the summons has no information on how to contact the court. Nor do we know how much we owe. Because the cops had no idea about that, either. They were just “doing their jobs,” in the most mindless sense of that phrase.

Presumably, the ban on adults near playgrounds is supposed to hinder child molesters. But does anyone really think a child molester will be deterred by a summons? And does anybody think two women eating doughnuts are the people likely to molest kids (I presume 99 percent of such crimes are committed by men)? And is anyone else outraged that the cops were basically filling a quota of tickets so they could show their supervisor that they weren’t “doing nothing all day.”

I’d like to say this is stupidity, but that doesn’t quite capture the essence of this story. I’m also tempted to say this is the nanny state, but that’s not quite right either. Another option is that this is incompetence, but the cops actually followed the policy as written.

The best I can come up with is that this is a classic example of modern government, a loathsome entity that at best is a nuisance and often becomes a tyrant.

(h/t: Amy Alkon)

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