Saturday, December 12, 2009

Our Own Problems Along the Border

I don't pretend that my voice is going to be anywhere near loud enough to drown out all the noise that's arising from the border arrest and apparent assault of my friend Peter Watts (and here we pause so you can read the two things that Peter has written about it, Boing Boing's entry, John Scalzi's entry, and the post at Making Light, all of which have garnered a fair amount of attention, in our own little subset of fields, at least).

There have been many good things to come out of this, most of all the solidarity for Peter that has resulted in money being raised to help with his sure-to-be-hefty legal fees. And that's important, for sure.

Could I say anything else about what happened to Peter? I could, but if you follow the links you'll see two comments by me on Scalzi's blog (one of them quoted at Making Light), and one, shorter one, at Making Light.

No, what I need to say has more to do with the stampede that may do real harm to Peter's chances to get out of this with his hide and his record intact. One commenter at Whatever, Dora P, has announced that she is planning a possible protest caravan. On Facebook there is now an "Against the arrest and beating of Peter Watts" page, because, I guess, we need to rule out those who are "for" it (although my tongue in cheek moment might fail here because there are people out there who are quick to blame Peter). And everywhere there are comments and other blog posts where people are venting as much fury and rage against the border patrol as they possibly can.

The more noise is made, the more likely it is that the prosecutor will push to take this to court. Much as I remember the way things worked when people would protest against the Tory government in Alberta back in the day, any attempt to embarrass those in authority would result in a digging in of the heels and a severe pushback. The prosecutor has to work with the border guards at Port Huron, and therefore he or she needs to stay in their good graces (and, I imagine, vice versa). These people work together all the time, and build that working relationship on trust. When someone screws up, the automatic reaction will likely be to get their back, and if others are out there working hard to show them up, the wagons circle even tighter.

This is by no means a way of saying that they are right in what they do. It just is. Now, if we're a little less forceful for the time being, then perhaps Peter has a chance of this all being dismissed. But if he goes to trial, then he has a chance to speak to what was done to him in an open court of law, and we can hope that the proper checks and balances, coupled with the money we've helped raise to pay for a good lawyer, will serve to bring to light of day the wrongs that have happened.

And then we can reach out, make calls, write letters, stand up. What happened can't stand, I know that. But right now the best possible result is the short-term one, in which Peter avoids being sent to jail for that mandatory two year term. Everything else, as important as it is, needs to be set back for the time being.

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Gotta agree with that. Timing is critical, especially if we're going to make protests.

I'd rather Peter ended up giving all the money to charity, rather than blowing it on a legal defense.
There are obviously issues with the way the Border Patrol forgets to use common sense while on duty. Sadly, I believe it is true that they have more authority than the average cop to rifle through anyone's belongings on a whim.
I'm pessimistic about how much good can come out of this, but I also know that no good comes if we just sit back and let the show go on without our input. And so having our say is valuable. It's just likely more valuable once Peter has extricated himself from this mess.
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