Sunday, September 20, 2009

Checkpoint Charlie

Last night returning from a last minute run to the golden arches, I started to make the turn from Firth Sterling to Sumner road. Quizzically I wondered why there were police cars parked in a long row on each side of Sumner (there was no basketball game that I was aware of), but as I made the turn I saw why: 7D was hiding a roadblock. Lovely.

Now as a citizen who has nothing to hide, it still didn't stop me from switching into idiot mode as I was directed to the curblane, proof of which occured as I uttered a "good morning--I mean good afternoon officer"--too bad it was 9pm. But I had no time to offer a witty reply because I was immediately greeted with a flashlight beam in the face. We were off to a great start. I had license ready, but had to go digging for my registration in my bag and then into the glove box for proof of insurance. And thats when a second beam of light flashed into my car. I looked up and saw a smiling 7D officer shining a light from the passenger side of the car. Was it to help me find my insurance? Probably not. But he did it with a smile, so I gave him a nervous smile back. What the hell though? I had no reason to be nervous--or perhaps I did, I mean there were 30 something cops surrounding my car. And it didn't exactly help when I pulled out an expired insurance card from the glove box. I went in for a second look and there was that secondary beam of light again--well wasn't 7D being helpful. This all probably happened within a span of 3-4 minutes and shortly after finding my non-expired insurance card, the mob of police parted so I could be on my merry way.

I was slightly annoyed 7D had managed to make me so nervous. And as I drove toward MLK I wondered what would have happened if I had turned right and subsequently down Stevens or Eaton to go around. The answer came quickly enough as I passed by several more police standing at the end of Wade Road--they had all of their bases covered.

But what was the point of the roadblock? The cop never said, and I never asked. I was too focused on getting home before my french fries got cold, but it did get me to thinking--What is the point to roadblocks in general? Do they really catch that many more drunk drivers or drug dealers or whatever?

The first time I ever encountered a roadblock was in Atlanta. I couldn't see beyond the police, but luckily this wasn't your typical roadblock as they were merely telling cars to turn around due to a flooded street up ahead. The justification for stopping people here: to warn us of an unseen peril that could cause injury or death to an unsuspecting motorist.

But I've also had my fair share of so-called sobriety check points, seat belt checks, registration or drivers license verification, proof of insurance, or even a safety inspection on the side of the road. I have mixed emotions about checkpoints. Primarily because I think they use fear and intimidation to expedit an agenda. We hear that checkpoints are in the name of safety, national security, or crime prevention, but what about the principle of individual privacy and the right to be left alone? Don't we live in a free world? Don't we have rights? Do I believe 7D had the right to stop, interrogate and potentially search myself as well as my vehicle? Not unless it's a crime for a grown 30 year old to buy a happy meal--just for the toy.