WASHINGTON, September 23, 2014— Imagine you are a kid, in your twenties, and you live in a small-ish, boring town. One night, in the throes of your boredom, you decide to start a parody Twitter account for your town’s mayor. Pretending to be him, you depict your mayoral ramblings as booze-sodden and drug-addled, you make wild accusations and claims and you do so in the guise of the mayor and behind a computer screen. And while anyone with a brain could figure out that the Twitter account was not actually that of the mayor, the actual mayor believes that the law has been violated, and so he takes action.
By sending a SWAT team.
The Mayor of Peoria, Illinois, Jim Ardis, decided the internet meanderings of Jon Daniel warranted a visit from the long arm of the law. So one night in February of this year, four men of the Peoria SWAT team raided the house of Jon Daniel at the behest of Mayor Ardis in order to ascertain the identity of the individual behind the Twitter account. Using the anti-impersonation statute as a shield against violating an individual’s right to free speech, Ardis wanted the man charged, and wanted the Twitter account to be taken down.
A mayor in Peoria, Illinois did not have the political sense or the sense of humor to take a joke and move on and instead sent the SWAT team. Using the SWAT team. Ardis essentially employed city assets in order to punish an individual who had spoken out against him politically. Using taxpayer funded assets to punish your enemies is a growing American political problem.
But that’s not all.
While prosecutors gave the case a whole hearted “hard pass” and refused to charge Daniel with impersonating a public official, the SWAT team did uncover marijuana paraphernalia belonging to Daniel’s roommate, Jacob Elliot. Elliot is still being charged with possession despite the SWAT raid having nothing to do with drugs at all.
This story is making its way into the headlines again today because a Peoria judge has recently ruled that a SWAT raid was a perfectly justifiable use of force when dealing with a reckless, dangerous, and possibly armed parody Twitter account.
This story, and the recent judge’s ruling, raises three key concerns when it comes to the rights of Americans.
The first, politicians wield far too much power, evidenced by the fact that a mayor was able to dispatch what is essentially a para-military outfit, to punish someone for making fun of him.
Second, it raises the concern that these para-military units exist in such numbers.
And third, that these units are being used to intimidate and coerce individuals into compliance using overwhelming force, for crimes or even accusations which are non-violent in nature.
Did anyone at the police station or at the dispatch question the mayor when he said “go raid this house, someone is making fun of me there and I don’t like it?” If not, should we not be questioning the ability of those in power to make decisions such as that? It is difficult to believe that the chief of police did not laugh at the mayor when this SWAT raid was requested. And if he did not laugh, and flat out refuse, then that is the underlying problem with government today; they are far too willing to use far too much force to solve far too small of a problem.
Did the Peoria SWAT team have nothing else to do that night? And if they did not, meaning that there were no other pressing matters more concerning than that of a rogue Twitter feed, why does Peoria even need a SWAT team? Perhaps the Peoria police department should be concentrating on the fact that murders were up 60% from 2012 to 2013, and not on the fact that a man made a fake Twitter account with dicey legality. Large towns, with large populations, and the crime problems which large populations bring, should have a team they can rely on to serve dangerous warrants and end standoff situations. However when SWAT teams are being used to shut down Twitter accounts, it indicates that teams such as these are being deployed to solve situations which a detective or even a case worker could handle.
The increased presence and existence of SWAT teams around the country, and an increasing willingness of politicians and police departments to employ them is a troubling development. One of the reasons that the military is not supposed to operate on American soil is because a standing, armed force controlled by politicians is a direct threat to the liberty of the people. SWAT teams, and other police officers armed like professional soldiers, have morphed into the very thing which the founders feared.
The American people need to realize that situations where an angry mayor in Peoria, Illinois can send an armed team to deal with his political adversaries is the symptom of a much larger problem. American politicians are corruptible, that we have always known. But when every corruptible mayor or city councilmen has the ability to send a SWAT team to your house for speaking your mind, that is a direct threat to the liberty and freedom of every single American.
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