There is a panic on the land. Soon no man will be free.
A recent example of this panic comes from Garland, Utah, a town with 1,943 people living in 588 households in Box Elder County on Interstate 15 just north of the Great Salt Lake. A very frightened or very self-serving man named Marty Hiles was, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, “shocked ” to discover that the Vagos Motorcycle Club was trying to raise money for the Marine Corps “Toys For Tots” Christmas toy drive in Hiles’ town.
The Tribune reports that Hiles is “joking” when he calls Garland, “his personal ‘Mayberry.'” But, Hiles is serious enough about owning Garland to want to repeal the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
The First Amendment
The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Those words probably seemed self-explanatory in 1791, when the Bill of Rights was ratified and became the most basic core of what unsophisticated people still call “Americanism.”
For most of the last 218 years, “the right of the people…to assemble” has included the implicit right of every person “to associate” with anybody he wants. So, in the segregated south both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan enjoyed the right to gather together, agree and disagree, argue, organize, eat and drink and raise money to buy toys for poor kids at Christmas.
Marty Hiles version of America no longer includes that right and, not surprisingly, he has found allies in a handful of demagogic politicians and the local police.
The Gangs Of Garland
After seeing an ad for the Vagos’ fundraiser in a local newspaper and seeing flyers for the event at a restaurant and in a local park Hiles complained to the police. “Gang detectives,” according to the Tribune, cautioned Hiles that trying to get money to buy toys for needy kids at Christmas might be, “a ploy for recruiting members to participate in illegal activity.”
And, just as Hiles was shocked to see a Vagos flyer, you may also be shocked to learn that Garland, Utah, has “gang detectives.” Not a “gang detective,” singular, but “gang detectives” plural. How many toys do you think you could buy with the money that might be saved if Garland cut back to just the one gang detective?
“To me, gangs are urban terrorists. People are afraid to report or stand up to them,” Hiles told the Tribune. “We’re not trying to scare people, we’re not trying to make Garland look bad. We’re just trying to be proactive.” Or, possibly Hiles would rather become a community fear monger than put up his Christmas lights.
Gangs, Gangs Everywhere
Hiles convinced a cop named Loring Draper, who works with the Ogden Metro Gang Task Force to speak at a Garland neighborhood watch meeting. Draper told the frightened citizens of Garland that they had not yet been frightened enough.
Gang activity “is happening everywhere,” Draper told the citizens. “There is not a community that is safe from it.”
Hiles is also “spearheading a grassroots effort to toughen gang laws in Utah” and he has enlisted the aid of two frightened, or at least cynical, politicians: Garland City Council member Jonna Constock and State Representative Ronda Menlove. Menlove also lives in Garland. No, really. That is Ronda’s real name.
Who Is A Gang
Representative Menlove intends to introduce a bill that will outlaw being an associate or member of a criminal gang. You know, like the well known “Sons of Liberty” gang in 18th Century New England. Members of that criminal crew included such notorious outlaws as Paul Revere, Patrick Henry, John Hancock, John Adams and his cousin Samuel Adams.
Menlove’s proposed law is based on California’s Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act. That California law has been the model for numerous “anti-gang” statutes throughout the country.
And, all of these statutes have been challenged by critics like the American Civil Liberties Union. The challenges have all argued that the government should not use police power to prevent members of groups that have been portrayed to be offensive or scary from associating with one another.
But, generally throughout the second Bush Administration courts have ruled to limit the First Amendment.
For example just today, January 12, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that state’s “anti-gang” statute to be constitutional. That ruling and others have, in effect, put the burden on unpopular or demonized fraternal organizations to prove that they are not “a gang.”
The larger issue might be that the freedom to be afraid has begun to trump all other freedoms.