As Ronald Reagan once said in jest, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
The city officials of Paragould, Arkansas are about to do something terrifying, They are about to enact martial law on the city, sending police into the streets armed with AR-15 rifles and the authority to stop anyone and demand to know what they are doing. Stovall and Mayor Mike Gaskill announced last week at a town hall meeting that “the program” would begin in the new year, 2013.
As for those who might complain about being harassed, Stovall has an unqualified promise, “We have a zero-tolerance. We are prepared to throw your hind-end in jail, OK. We are not going to take a lot of flak.”
Martial law is the imposition of military rule by military authorities over designated regions on an emergency basis. Martial law is an extreme and rare measure used to control society during war or periods of civil unrest or chaos. Martial law may be declared in cases of major natural disasters, however most countries use a different legal construct, such as a state of emergency.
In the case of Police Chief Stovell, fear is the motivator. He announced at a meeting at the West View Baptist Church that “the city would be placed under martial law as a deterrent to crime.” Paragould historically has a very high burglary rate, but violent crime is substantially below the national average, and in 2010, there was not a single murder in the town.
However, Stovall insists, “The fear is what’s given us the reason to do this. Once I have stats and people are saying they’re scared, we can do this. I’ve got statistical reasons that say I’ve got a lot of crime right now, which gives me probable cause to ask what you’re doing out. It allows us to do what we’re fixin’ to do.”
What Stovall is “fixing to do” is to fill the city’s streets with SWAT operators toting AR-15s and official permission to harass anyone. According to a release from the police department, this is how the plan will work:
Once an area has been identified as a high crime neighborhood, the select group of officers will saturate the area in an attempt to curb the criminal behavior that is plaguing that particular neighborhood. Officers will accomplish this in a variety of different methods. Officers will be working to identify residents in the affected area so that we can better serve our affected neighborhoods. Most often, this identification process will be nothing more than making contact with a subject, handing them a business card, and asking if they live in the area and if there’s anything we can do for them.
During hours in which crime seems to be more prevalent (that is, between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.), our process will become more stringent. We will be asking for picture identification. We will be ascertaining where the subject lives and what they are doing in the area. We will be keeping a record of those we contact.
Stovall says, “If you’re out walking, we’re going to stop you, ask why you’re out walking, check for your ID. We’re going to do it to everybody. They may not be doing anything but walking their dog, but they’re going to have to prove it. Criminals don’t like being talked to.”
Of course, the same can be said of citizens.
Martial law is an extreme and rare measure used to control society during war or periods of civil unrest or chaos. It may be declared in cases of major natural disasters, however most countries use a different legal construct, such as a state of emergency.
On a national level, martial law may be declared by Congress or the President of the United States under Articles I and II of the Constitution. On the state level, a governor may declare martial law in her or his own state, except in Arkansas, where the mayor and the chief of police can also declare martial law.
Stovall insists that constitutional quibbles over probable cause do not apply because the crisis justifies imposition of a citywide curfew and garrison-state measures. He admits that he did not consult with an attorney before reaching his conclusion and he “doesn’t even know that there’s ever been a difference between what he is proposing and undisguised martial law.”
The department says it is not out to violate anybody’s rights, just trying to prevent crime.
Maybe Reagan wasn’t joking when he said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”
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