A Cure Worse Than the Disease

A Stitch in Haste takes issue with those of us who were concerned at the series of events leading to Larry Craig’s arrest:

Again, he was not “arrested for foot-tapping.” It is disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

First, my concern is not so much for Senator Craig and now that his career is over it ought to be a little easier to address the real issue of concern. The Craig case was important in that it highlighted two things: First, a nuisance that many (blind) people didn’t realize existed, though it’s been around for decades. Second, a reaction to that minor problem that constituted a more serious threat to liberty than the problem itself, a cure worse than the disease.

Obviously, Craig was arrested for more than foot tapping, but that was an element of the arrest and just one of several that ranged from slightly odd to completely normal. What I, among others, found shocking was the way the officer in the arrest report casually referred to recognizing the tapping of a foot “as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct.” It is no such thing. It’s a common human action. I just realized I’m doing it now.

Another item cited by the officer was placing the luggage against the door of the stall. The officer said that his “experience has shown that individuals engaging in lewd conduct use their bags to block the view from the front of their stall.” My experience in airports has been that the loudspeaker regularly reminds you not to leave your luggage unattended, that it will be confiscated. So, my experience has been that I take it with me everywhere and since I don’t want it in my lap while using the restroom, I place it…drumroll please…against the front of the stall.

Craig fidgeted and apparently made eye contact with the officer through the stall door while waiting for the stall to open. If I have to go and I have to wait, I fidget. No surprise there. If I’m waiting and I see a pair of ankles without pants around them, I might make eye contact with the person sitting there pants up, too. (And I’m assuming, since the arrest report didn’t state it, that the officer probably wasn’t sitting there with his pants down. Maybe I’m wrong.) Of course, in my case it would be fairly obvious that I was ticked off, not turned on. Anyway, apparently the officer interpreted this as peeping and an illegal act. I’ve had people make eye contact that way and always just assumed that they were waiting for the stall; it never occurred that they were flirting. Paranoia strikes deep when you’re in law enforcement, I guess.

The one thing that I even found odd was the whole handswiping thing and to those of us uninitiated in the joys of bathroom sex, it just seemed weird. Not threatening or overtly sexual, just weird. More the kind of thing that would make you say to the person next to you, “What are you doing, buddy?” than “Leave me alone, pervert.” I suppose of all the actions, it’s the one that might “arouse alarm or resentment”, but just barely.

Of course, the arresting officer’s statement and the audiotape of the interrogation call the whole handswiping thing into serious doubt and it’s the interrogation that may be the single most important issue here. The interrogation smacked of shakedown. To paraphrase the officer: We can settle this here for $520 and no one will ever know, Senator. Or you can go to court. Of course there will be reasonable doubt, there’s just a ton of reasonable doubt and you’ll probably win. But we’ll splash it all over the evening news and the accusation is all it will take to ruin your life. This won’t be a sex charge you plead guilty to, but if we go to trial it will be a sex trial. Of course, where the shakedown artist got caught was that when a US Senator pleads guilty to a crime, it doesn’t ever stay right there and someone will know before it’s all over.

Even if it wasn’t a purposeful shakedown, the piecing together of a series of actions ranging from innocent to mildly questionable by an overly aggressive cop running an ill conceived sting is far scarier than the prospect of having to tell a pervert to bug off. It’s far less burdensome to my liberty to have to say “Leave me alone, pervert” than to face this sort of interrogation. It’s far less burdensome to my liberty to have to explain to a pervert that I’m not interested than to have to hire a lawyer to explain to a judge that I had Willie Nelson on my mp3 player and didn’t have any place else to put my luggage.

Is there a problem with people meeting for anonymous sex in public places? A nuisance level problem. But this cure is far worse than the disease.

Talking Points Memo Document Collection: Statement of Officer Karsnia

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