The Constitution can be an awfully inconvenient thing sometimes. You know, with all of its requirements for annoying little details like probable cause and prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures, it can be downright difficult to run an effective police state in this country. It’s almost as if the framers were more concerned about the rights of the individual than with empowering a strong, intrusive government. Go figure, right? Don’t worry, though. There are always plenty of people elected to positions of authority who are willing to break some eggs and not let a few words on a 225 year old sheet of parchment get in their way…
People like New Orleans city councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, for instance. She’s seen enough gun violence in her town and is by-God going to do something about it. Her solution: random traffic stops to look for for illegal guns. No potential for abuse there.
It’s a practice she says former Chief Richard Pennington used in the 90’s. Hedge-Morrell says something drastic needs to change in light of the Halloween shootings on Canal and Bourbon Street that left two people dead and 14 others injured.
The councilwoman says she doesn’t believe technology will solve this problem, but instead, street policing will. She’d like to see more officers concentrate on certain neighborhoods so that they could figure out where the hot spots are and then target those areas.
And what has the councilwoman so exercised? It was the two dead bodies and 13 casualties, including two shootings in and near the French Quarter, on Halloween night.
But the idea of random traffic stops isn’t settling well with the ACLU who say warrant-less, suspicion-less stops violate the public’s constitutional rights. Director Marjorie Esman says the practice could open the floodgates to a number of other legal issues as well.
“It assumes that the guns that have been the cause of the recent spate of violence are in fact in peoples cars. It assumes that the people carrying those guns have cars and are transporting those guns in their cars and that is not necessarily the case so it isn’t likely to be effective,” says Esman.
But legal niceties don’t seem to have figured into what Councilwoman Hedge-Morrell wants to do. Neither do the facts. At least one of the shootings happened on Bourbon St. where cars are prohibited. A random traffic stop likely wouldn’t have done anything to prevent it. Of course, it’s probably just a matter of time before she also proposes a random stop-and-frisk program, too.
And since it’s legal to carry a gun – concealed or not – in your vehicle in Louisiana, the typical “random” stop probably won’t take more than fifteen or twenty minutes while the NOPD’s finest check your gun and your record for priors and warrants. The city that care forgot has never been known for its efficiency. Or the courtesy and effectiveness of its police force.
I don’t know whether the swearing in process for New Orleans city council includes the promise to uphold and defend the Constitution as with congressional seats and other federal positions. But advocating random civil rights violations should be enough to trigger the impeachment process even if you’ve only been elected as the Crescent City’s dog catcher, a job with which Ms. Hedge-Morrell would likely have her hands full. Here’s hoping her constituents remember that at election time.