Thursday, October 05, 2006

Hold Your Tongue Around Cheney or "Feel the Steel"

From a New York Times article describing what happened to Steven Howards, a Golden, CO environmental consultant who happened to see Dick Cheney on a public street while Howards was walking his 8-year old son to a piano lesson. According to the article, Howards said to Cheney, "I think your policies in Iraq are reprehensible."

"A Colorado man who was arrested in June on harassment charges after he approached Vice President Dick Cheney to denounce the war in Iraq filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday accusing a Secret Service agent of civil rights violations.
"In his suit, filed in Federal District Court in Denver, the man, Steven Howards, an environmental consultant who lives in Golden, Colo., says he stepped up to the vice president to speak his mind in a public place and found himself in handcuffs -- in violation, the suit says, of the Constitution's language about free speech and illegal search and seizure. . . .
"The suit joins two others -- in West Virginia and another in Denver -- charging that Secret Service agents or White House staff members violated the law in keeping people with opposing political views away from President Bush or Mr. Cheney....

[After talking to Cheney] Mr. Howards said he then went on his way. About 10 minutes later, he said, he was walking back through the area when Agent Reichle handcuffed him and said he would be charged with assaulting the vice president. Local police officers, acting on information from the Secret Service, according to the suit, ultimately filed misdemeanor harassment charges that could have resulted in up to a year in jail."

The criminal complaint was later dropped by D.A. Mark Hurlbert (of Kobe Bryant fame) but imagine Mr. Howards' reaction when, according to the Denver Post, the secret service agent...

" came out of the shadows,' Howards said. 'He didn't accuse me but asked me if I had assaulted Cheney. I said no, he grabbed me and handcuffed me behind my back in front of my son. As he led me away, I told him I can't abandon my son. He said he'd call social services.'"

Imagine Howards' horrified reaction, but imagine also the reaction of an 8-year old boy, on the way to his piano lesson, to see a federal agent "come out of the shadows" arrest your dad, and then "call social services" to make sure you were properly taken care of.

This hits home with me since just last year I had to explain to my own 9-year old daughter that I was late picking her up because I'd been arrested. I was only held about ten minutes, and the officers treated me very well, even apologetically, but my crime was refusing to shut my mouth when a judge told me that if I opened my mouth and said one more word to interfere with her speaking directly to my client, in court, pre-arraignment, that she'd bring in the sheriffs.

The worst part was explaining this to my daughter. I thought she was too young to understand that it wasn't only bad people who were arrested. Fortunately for me, she understood and we both learned a lesson.

I can post a transcript of the hearing if anyone's interested. But the lesson of that episode and of Mr. Howards' encounter with Cheney is that we are all about ten seconds away from "feeling the steel" of handcuffs, even when we are just doing our jobs or exercising our First Amendment rights.

In Dick Cheney's America, you shut up and don't talk back or you feel the steel.

But, if you do shut up and don't oppose this mentality, you'll likely feel it eventually anyway, won't you?

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