The Freedom Beat
August 1, 2008
One of the things the conventional media does extremely well is to normalize the disintegration of our culture. This article is a classic example. Through tone and language, the writer trivializes a major assault on democratic rights, buries objections to it, and makes it sound like just one more interesting thing about living in a city.
DeNeen L. Brown, Washington Post – Checkpoints stand as more than physical barriers against violence. They separate the wanted from the unwanted. They are gateposts meant to divide the good from the bad, to keep chaos away from calm. They are forbidding guardhouses with searing lights, dogs and people in uniforms. They create assurance in a society that wants certainty. Sometimes, they succeed. In the District’s violence-torn Trinidad neighborhood, the latest checkpoints have provided nine sweet days of peace.. . .
Controversial as they are, checkpoints have tried to divide the good from the bad throughout history. They have been heralded for disrupting terrorism. Cursed for disrupting commerce. Praised as necessary filters of bad intentions. Condemned for human rights violations.
They hold within them the power to check death. Here, authority figures look for wires in your shirt or dress, a shaky hand, a nervous eye. A stutter.Incongruent behavior.
Even if you have nothing to hide, you ride up to a checkpoint slowly. Hands on the wheel, careful not to make any sudden movements, although your license and registration are there in your black evening bag on the back seat. You hold steady as the officer points that bright beam of light, blinding your eyes and obscuring his face.
From inside the car, the officer looks almost supernatural, a guardian at the gate. You sit still, careful to answer all questions, careful not to hesitate with words, careful to show good intentions.
Hoping only for passage to the other side, the side where the other good people abide.
“I was stopped on Montello and Owens Place,” recalls Lowana Coles, 45, a federal worker who has lived in Trinidad for eight years. “I was driving through on my way home and they had the checkpoint up. I was summoned to pull over, so I pulled over. They explained what they were doing.”
She showed the officer her license and proof of insurance. “I told him I was glad they were in the neighborhood and wished they could do it more often.”
A small inconvenience for peace at night. “It saddens me to hear these people are being killed literally for nothing,” she says. “I’m sure it will get much worse before it gets better. I want to run away, but where will I run to?”
Checkpoints date back at least to biblical times, with gates in walls built against aggressors. Some checkpoints were built of turf, some of earth, rock and stone, stretching for miles, later abandoned when the evil on the other side retreated. There were the walls of Jericho to protect the city from nomads. The Great Wall of China, built to withstand the power of the Huns. The wall of Antonius, an ancient Roman barrier built across Britain, intended as a defense against the people of the north. The Berlin Wall, constructed in 1961 to keep people in. Checkpoint Charlie become a symbol of the Cold War, symbolizing the separation of East from West. Depending on which side you were standing on, it was seen as a gateway to freedom, or a usurper of it. . .
In conflict zones, checkpoints have been dangerous places to guard — and dangerous places to pass. Countless soldiers have been killed by seemingly innocent people. And seemingly hostile, but innocent, people have been killed by soldiers.. . .
The barriers bring with them questions of civil liberties, the right to move unencumbered.
The Partnership for Civil Justice sued the District of Columbia in June to challenge the constitutionality of checkpoints. “The District’s military-style roadblock system was deployed, in part, to give the appearance that the government is addressing this deeply felt need,” the class action complaint argues. “But it is neither constitutional, nor effective.”. . .
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