I almost hate to really get involved in this as I know someone will always have some alternate opinion and start to take the thread to a place it doesn't belong. Most of us have had our experiences with the authorities over the past few years and we've learned from them, or at least we've tried to. But the situation seems to be worsening and it's about time we learn exactly what our rights are so that when we are confronted we can legally and rightfully defend them.
Let's put the incident into perspective. As the police officers approached here's what they would have seen.
Anne and I sitting in lawn chairs with a third lawn chair sitting empty and Phil standing nearby. Other than the lawnchairs and a can of bug spray our only other possessions were our cameras and camera bags. Within a hundred feet either side of us there were at least 30 fishermen fishing at the edge of the water. And, by the way, this is a public park.
Do I resent the officres coming and questioning us? No. When they arrived they asked for our ID
and we quickly responded. I handed the officer both a driver's license and a business card showing that I do aviation phogography. We politely responded to their questions. I explained that I had been previously checked out by the Nassau County (adjoining county) police and offered a detective's name and phone number for them to call. They didn't even want to hear it.
After a few minutes huddle off to the side they came over and asked us to accompany them to the park's entrance under the pretense that their sergeant had some questions for us there. They didn't imply that we had a choice in this matter. When I asked for a minute to get a shot of the AF
744 that was already lined up on the runway I was denied.
We accompanied them to the park entrance where the van was parked along with two other police cars. No sooner than we arrived and they are asking us to get into the van and go to the precinct to be questioned by a detective. I didn't want to leave my SUV
unattended in the neighborhood for who knows how long (the last time this happened to Phil it was hours). I asked if I could follow them. The answer no. When I balked at what was going on an officer turned to me and said: "You know I could put you in hand cuffs right now?" We finally agreed that the female officer would drive my SUV
to the station with my wife, and that Phil and I would accompany the two officers in the van. And, btw, we were told we needed to go to the station because they didn't have enough manpower for the dective to come down and question us. When we arrived there were many in the station so I'm not sure how much manpower they needed at the station.
At the station the dectective took Phil away for no more than 15 minutes while Anne and I sat near the desk. We waited for him to return and when he did he indicated that I would be next. Then the detective came and basically said we could go.
At this point we had a discussion which I found enlightening. The detective suggested we stop by the station and advise them when we are intending to go there again. I told him that that was absolutely useless. Unless you have someone's name that they recognize they aren't going to comply or be willing to assist in any manner. So just stopping by and telling them that you would be there would be nothing more than raising a red flag to them that I'm sure would end up getting you checked out. With that the detective gave us his card. That should help, but I'm not sure how much.
In our conversation I mentioned that the officer told me he could put me in handcuffs. The detective looked very surprised by that. And what followed was even more surprising to me. I can't quote him exactly, but the way I read it is that we did not have to leave the park and accompany them anywhere. That if we had told them no they could not have forced us to go with them. And that bodes the question ... what are our legal rights? Could we have refused to go and be within our rights? We've all heard that the Patriot Act infringes on our rights to some extent and grants them additional authority, but how much? Those are questions I'd like to know the answer to.
I believed that we could refuse to accompany them, but was unsure of what the consequences might be. Had we refused would they have accepted it willingly and left. Or would they have found someway to then arrest us, the only alternative they would have to get us to comply, and escalate this to an entirely different level for everyone.
Bottom line is, when they checked my and Anne's id, they would have found that we have lived in the same house for 30 years, had driver's licenses issued by the State of NJ
that were issued in the 1960s, never had any dealings with the law at all other than a sporadic traffic fine our entire lifetime. Plus the fact it was obvious (as we were sitting in plain view) that we had nothing on us or in our belongings that could possibly harm anyone or anything, that is, if you don't count the insects we intended to repel with the bug spray. And, with that, they should have wished us a good day and left us in the park. Period.
The freedoms afforded us as citizens and legal residents of the United States are very precious indeed. Anne and I have traveled the world extensively and seen that many don't offer their citizens the freedoms we have. Any violation of those freedoms should not be tolerated and we have a right to demand them. You know, on the way home the other night I was talking to Anne and told her that had a terrorists been at the park with a camera taking pictures, stopped by the police and questioned as we were, our legal system would have afforded him the same rights as us. And rightly so. I do believe our legal system was founded on the principle of "innocent until proven guilty." And that's the way it should be.
And, one final point. Another thing I expect from our authorities is to be treated with the respect that I, in turn, show them. This episode was handled in a respectful manner, but other encounters I've had have not been. And I resent that. I resent being treated like a criminal for no apparent reason. I undertand the authorities have a difficult and life threatening job at times, but that isn't any reason to treat our citizens without respect when the situation is obviously not dangerous or threatening.
Sorry for being so long with my two cens worth.