From Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing: Dr. Peter Watts, Canadian science fiction writer, beaten and arrested at US border.
I already linked to this from the sidebar, but on reflection, I have a little more to say.
First, it’s worth noting that comment #2 to the Boing Boing post observes “And now the inevitable ‘we don’t know the whole story so we shouldn’t pass judgments but he probably did something to provoke them’ comments can commence.” Indeed, there seems to be a kind of person who makes it their business to hover around at sites like Boing Boing or Consumerist to explain that probably the police had no choice but to beat up that guy, or that we don’t know that Wal-Mart abused that customer, since after all it’s her word against theirs. And indeed, comment #5 shows up right on schedule: “It’s my observation that most of these cases begin with a person who becomes belligerent when asked to do something he doesn’t want to do (get out of the car, step away from the car, etc.) These officers may very well have overstepped their bounds, but I doubt very seriously that Watts is completely innocent.”
For what it’s worth, I don’t know exactly what happened, but a couple of things seem pretty evident to me. One is that this wasn’t a routine border search. Rather, American border guards in Port Huron, Michigan demanded to search Watts’s car as he was leaving the US for his native Canada. This is very squirrelly. We’re conducting exit searches now?
Another is that Peter Watts is, as Charlie Stross observes, the kind of person who’s extraordinarily unlikely to throw the first punch, as Watts is being accused of having done.
Part of me rolls my eyes at Peter for being the person he is, climbing out of the car to question these yahoos. But the smarter part of me realizes that because of people like Peter, we have someone who can push back at the bullshit the first time so that the rest of us don’t get the shit kicked out of us when we finally get tired of it all and push back as well.And that’s why I’m donating to Watts’s defense fund.
UPDATE: Watts on what happened:
Along some other timeline, I did not get out of the car to ask what was going on. I did not repeat that question when refused an answer and told to get back into the vehicle. In that other timeline I was not punched in the face, pepper-sprayed, shit-kicked, handcuffed, thrown wet and half-naked into a holding cell for three fucking hours, thrown into an even colder jail cell overnight, arraigned, and charged with assaulting a federal officer, all without access to legal representation (although they did try to get me to waive my Miranda rights. Twice.). Nor was I finally dumped across the border in shirtsleeves: computer seized, flash drive confiscated, even my fucking paper notepad withheld until they could find someone among their number literate enough to distinguish between handwritten notes on story ideas and, I suppose, nefarious terrorist plots. I was not left without my jacket in the face of Ontario’s first winter storm, after all buses and intercity shuttles had shut down for the night.It’s possible that Watts’s failure to immediate comply with the order to get back into his car constitutes “assaulting a federal officer” according to some point of law. If so, the law is a travesty.
In some other universe I am warm and content and not looking at spending two years in jail for the crime of having been punched in the face.
Of course, these things happen all the time, more frequently to young persons of color who don’t have readers on several continents. But the macro and the micro both matter. We should fight for justice in general—and we should have our friends’ backs.