George Graham

Freedom’s Just Another Word – for What?

I just received a report that’s being circulated on the web and it got me thinking about that gray area between a police state and a lawless society.

I think about things like that, you know. In between puttering in the garden and feeding the cats, birds, squirrels, possums and Maxi, our poodle.

Anyway, I’m sure you’ve heard the pros and cons of “freedom” by now – if you’re old enough to be reading this.

But for what it’s worth, I’ll give you my muddled take on it. After all, “freedom” is in fashion in America these days, what with all those Tea Party protests and the current small-government fad.

The email that got me thinking was a report that arrests are increasingly being made in various U.S. communities for videotaping the police. Apparently, the cops are sensitive about having their brutality displayed on the web. They’re using (abusing?) state wiretap laws against recording people without their consent.

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I can’t see those charges being upheld in court. If I were the judge hearing one of those cases, it would take me less than a minute to set the cops straight, but even so the people being prosecuted would have to face the expense and bother of fighting the charge.

It’s the same tactic used by our local sheriff in Polk County, Florida. He charged all the sex shop operators with racketeering, which was quite a stretch, and eventually the smut peddlers got tired of the legal hassle and moved across the Hillsborough County line.

Sometimes I agree with that Dickens character who said, “the law is an ass.”

But how would we manage without it?

As a letter to the local newspaper observed, if you want total freedom move to Somalia. You can do what you want there, but so can everyone else. And I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t survive long in that kind of Wild West environment.

Cops can be brutal, especially here in Florida (and, I suspect, Texas). When some baddie shot a couple of deputies – and a police dog! – not far from our home a while back, cops from miles around formed a line and marched through the bushes until they flushed him out. When they found him, the resulting fusillade didn’t leave enough of him to bury. Of course, they found a gun in his hand. They always do.

The way I see it, that makes the cops as much savages as the baddies. But we old folks in Florida feel so vulnerable that some citizens welcome that kind of brutality. It keeps the nasties out of their neighborhoods – so they think, anyway.

It’s a dangerous life being a cop. But that doesn’t justify taking out your fear and frustration on some wretch who happens to break the law when you’re having a bad day. And it certainly doesn’t justify twisting the law to cover up your brutishness.

But how would I act if I were a cop? How would you act? Of course, I wouldn’t be a cop. It’s a lousy job. But, as the saying goes, somebody has to do it.

Don’t get mne wrong. I think police brutality is outrageous. No argument. Police cover-ups are scary. And arresting people who take pictures of police brutality and publish them on the web is clearly a violation of their civil rights.

It’s the kind of thing that fuels conspiracy theories about the threat of a “police state.”

Fortunately, there are organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (which is fighting the arrests in court) to police the police.

And – fortunately – we have courts, flawed though they undoubtedly are, to sort things out.

Strangely, the people who yell loudest about freedom in America, usually abhor organizations like the ACLU.

Go figure.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for