September 4, 2007

Fear of a White Powder

There's a test of common sense going on in Connecticut. The story about the white powder that was puffed up to a terrorist threat is well worth watching.

A pair of fun runners used flour to mark a trail through an Ikea parking lot for their running club, and for doing so, they've been charged with a felony.

"You see powder connected by arrows and chalk, you never know," [New Haven Mayoral spokesperson] said. "It could be a terrorist, it could be something more serious. We're thankful it wasn't, but there were a lot of resources that went into figuring that out."

[What would be more serious than a terrorist?!]

While it's clear that overreacting authorities exercised poor judgement and caused a needless ruckus, what is unclear is just how they will handle the embarrassment. No one likes to be embarrassed but those that like it least are them that carry badges and are charged with keeping us safe.

Regardless of how obvious it is that the cops of New Haven freaked out, they will need to pin the blame on the fun runners. The authorities cannot be wrong, just as admitting they screwed up was just not possible for the federal prosecutors of Jose Padilla.

In the Padilla case, no evidence of an actual crime existed so the virtual crime of conspiracy was what prosecutors resorted to. Padilla was convicted of agreeing to agree to a crime in the future. But such preemptive crime fighting runs counter to the principle of innocent until proven guilty. By defintion, the only evidence that someone intended to commit a crime is heresay.

The virtual crime in the Ikea white powder case is "Breach of Peace," which appears in the Connecticut legal code (ch. 943, sec. 53-169 to 53-180) as related to "false information concening bombs." But the false information concerning any possibility of a threat was born in the misjudgement by authorities who mistook obviously harmless baking flour to be a dangerous substance.

If authorities possessed even rudimentary knowledge of the still unsolved(!) anthrax attacks of Fall 2001, they never would have sounded the alarm that they did.

They would have known that anthrax spread by hand in an outdoor setting would be most dangerous to those handling it, and that the anthrax powder sent in the mail in 2001 was not even white colored but brown and granular in its consistency.

Apparently, securing the homeland doesn't include resources like Wikipedia, and doesn't require common sense either, at least not when you can charge innocent people with fake crimes.

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