Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Local News

I do not watch the local news. I actually don't watch any news anymore, since I moved to Birmingham. I know, it's terrible. I can't possibly be an engaged citizen if I don't know what is going on in the world. I do still read the news. I read national and global news on many different news sites, and I follow many different local news organizations on Twitter. I have found that 140 characters is the perfect amount of information to tell me what the hell is going on. If I'm really interested, I will click on the link and learn more. I don't do that all that often, but I have a general idea of what's going on.

Last night I saw a Tweet that I absolutely needed to know more about that didn't have a link to a full story. I still can't find a link to a text story, but here is the link to one of the local news stations video story. It's only a couple of minutes long and I feel that it is really important to be aware of this trend.

Birmingham, Alabama is using a citizens' patrol. They trained several citizen volunteers from a community that experiences a lot of crime for several weeks at the local police academy so they can help police officers stop crime. I understand that sounds like a pretty sweet idea, but I am very afraid of where this is headed. I may be a little alarmist, but this sounds very, very familiar to me, and not in a good way.

Now for the history lesson. If I remember correctly from high school and college history, there was a political regime that relied on everyday citizens to report crimes and suspicions to the local authorities. I'm sure it started out innocently enough, trying to protect their neighbors, but it pretty quickly escalated to finger pointing, beatings, and assumptions of guilt by the authorities. That regime was the Nazis in Germany. The citizen policing and the citizen spying sent thousands of people to Concentration camps and their deaths. Now I understand that Alabama isn't Nazi Germany, but this really scares me. Congress has been debating indefinite detention lately, and there is the PATRIOT Act. Nearly anything can be done in the name of National Security, including what the TSA does, which would be termed sexual assault if done by anyone else.

Birmingham is calling this a pilot program, and I'm hoping they very quickly realize that this is a very bad path to venture down. We'll have to see. I don't live in this particular community where this is being tested, and I am very grateful for that. All I can do is keep an eye on this news story and keep all of you posted.


P.S. - I realized after I posted this that it was a very one sided story. This particular community is frequently in the news for violent crimes, including murder. I'm sure the city of Birmingham and the residents of this community really just wanted to make it safer, and that is very admirable. This program, however, in my humble opinion, is absolutely not the way to go. The police down here already use anonymous tip lines, and most neighborhoods have a neighborhood watch. I think the problem really stems from people being afraid to get involved. These volunteers are taking a big risk by being part of this program. Who knows what kind of retaliation they could face when it becomes known that they helped the police arrest and convict someone. This was a big risk for them to take, and that is admirable. I'm just afraid that this power is going to eventually go to someone's head and it's going to become quite the mess. All we can do is wait and see.

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