Can't stop the popping

Yesterday's post about Philadelphia mayoral candidate Michael Nutter left me with the feeling that articulating libertarian views in a large urban area is largely an effort in futility, because ideas like the constitutional right to bear arms are considered fringe. (For that matter, so is the idea that you have a right to live with a dog of your choice...)

Anyway, it all struck me as a bit of a time waster (a cognitive disconnect almost on the level of arguing for same sex marriage with people who favor sodomy laws), but this morning's Inquirer at least reminded me that at least one of Michael Nutter's ideas is actually being debated, and that is his "stop and frisk" proposal (purportedly targeting citizens who might be carrying illegal guns):

One expert says such policies may well help get guns off the street - but carry a potential risk of civil-rights violations.

"The empirical evidence from New York City is that stop-and-frisk as a policy for getting guns off the street helped. I think that's fair to say. The fact is that more surveillance in society tends to be effective," said University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt.

"The only question is, where do you want to set the level of surveillance? It's a cost-benefit analysis," he said. Cities need to weigh the potential benefits against "liberty interests and the inevitable racial disparities and increased complaints of police misconduct" that have followed such programs, he said.

Nutter, for his part, is unswayed.

"We will protect people's civil rights, but no one has a right to carry an illegal weapon," he said in a recent debate. "People are desperately crying out for something to be done now. People have a right to be safe and not to be shot."

He did not respond to phone calls seeking comment for this story.

There's more, of course, and while Nutter might not have responded to phone calls, this morning I found him most responsive.

I kid you not! When I went to the Inquirer web site to get the link to the article, guess who popped up in front of me, in animated form? Why, Michael Nutter himself -- in virtual form of course, with a little speech! I couldn't make the image go away, and it was almost, um, personal! As if I was having the debate right there on the Inky's web site.

Here's what it (I guess I mean he) looked like:


I don't know quite what I think about stop and frisk (especially how far it should go), but the frisky popup was intriguing.

Why can't virtual libertarians pop up like that?

Actually, I was delighted by the fact that the article quoted Bernard Harcourt (a guest blogger at Volokh, home page here), and it's worth noting that Professor Harcourt raised another troubling issue:

Harcourt, the law professor, said the toughest issues surface when "hot-spot" policing brings a flood of officers into a predominantly black neighborhood.

"How do you deal with the racial profiling that takes place? Is it racial profiling if you are in an African American community?"

While it can be argued that police are targeting crime zones - not minorities - perception matters, he said.

"In America in 2007, it's impossible to distinguish the sensitive issues of race from the troubling issues of crime," he said.

It's also tough to distinguish between legal and illegal weapons (32,000 Philadelphians are concealed carry permit holders). And what about drugs?

Nutter says that "no one has a right to carry an illegal weapon," which is true, but isn't it also true that no one has a right to carry illegal drugs?

(And no one has a right to harbor an illegal dog?)

Wouldn't society be safer if the police just searched everyone?

For everything?

UPDATE: Someone just had to ask me whether this post constituted a "STOP AND FISK."


MORE: I now see that the term "STOP AND FISK" is nearly five years old, and was first articulated by Xlrq.

Why it never caught on, I don't know

posted by Eric on 05.12.07 at 08:36 AM


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