Where’s the outrage?

21st July 2003, Comments 0 comments

Amsterdam city council has granted the police the power to randomly stop and search people — but no one seems to care.

Amsterdam city council decided last week to grant the police stop-and-search powers.

 This means you, and anyone else, can be randomly stopped in the city centre or Southeast, interrogated and personally searched. The intention is to block off “high risk” areas and systematically search everyone caught inside the cordons.

The ostensible reason for these new powers is to cut down on crime, a noble pursuit as there usually is when rights are being curtailed. More specifically, it is to find concealed weapons – knives and guns – in areas where they seem to turn up. Crime is on the increase in the Netherlands, and this is the political response.

But it is not an acceptable response.

Western democracy has a long tradition of personal liberty. Generally speaking, it is a principle of free societies that you may go about your business unmolested by the authorities. The police are there to intervene when a crime occurs or is about to occur.

But with the new stop-and-search legislation the government has got it backwards. They – and by extension the police – are no longer working for you. You are now held in contempt, and you and everyone else, are a suspect.

Is random, systematic searching proportional to the threat of street violence? It is not. It is not reasonable, or proportional, to subject the entire population to body searches and detention to collect a few knives. Lazy and cost efficient, compared to the work of catching criminals, but not proportional.

Is it a reasonable restriction on freedom? Again, no, for the logical extension is to watch everyone, weeding out the bad apples. It is not reasonable to shut down streets in a free country to conduct body searches of citizens and bystanders.

Is it connected to the task at hand, namely removing illegal weapons from circulation? Perhaps the search itself, but not on the entire population and not when it includes unlimited interrogation rights ("Why are you in the Netherlands? Where do you live?") that have nothing to do with the stated purpose of the legislation.

No, indeed, the stop-and-search is an outright decimation of your basic human right to live without police interference. And it may also be against the European Declaration on Human Rights and, in that sense, an illegal intrusion of state power on the individual.

But where is the outrage? On television, countless Dutch people tell the cameras that, well, if it’s going to cut crime then it must be ok.

Yes, and Mussolini made the trains run on time.

And where are the courts? They cannot intervene until someone objects to an actual search, someone with the will, determination – and money – to take on the state. Pity the fool with that axe to bear.

Expats who believe they should not be subjected to physical molestation and interrogation from the state must live in dread of what will happen if they are stopped.

If you do not go quietly into the night, if you refuse to be searched, you will be arrested, fingerprinted, and thrown in jail for doing nothing other than asserting what is enshrined by European law and two thousand years of mostly-enlightened jurisprudence.

You will be a criminal, or at least an official dissident, unless and until you then ruin your reputation and your finances with a quixotic run at the court system.

So what are you going to do?

November 2002

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