Forum Left. 4/10/12

The Long Finger of the Law

By Ben Tomkins

This had better be the one and only time I have to write about spreading butt cheeks in a publically distributed forum.  I do get paid for this, but there is no known way to argue that it’s not OK for the state to force me to get naked, bend over, pull up my ballsack like Michael Jackson and cough while someone shoves a flashlight and a jeweler’s eye within three inches of my ass without having to visualize it while I’m compiling this sentence.

I suppose what offends me the most about the Supreme Court validating a federal law that enables our police to engage in purely discretionary non-contact strip searches of each and every person who is arrested — regardless of the charge — is the fact that the justices on the bench are about the last people on earth who will be arrested for anything.  It’s a bit like Rush Limbaugh bellowing over the airwaves that only scummy people do drugs when he’d never do anything like that because he’s rich and white.  Oh, wait, yes he would, and let me tell you – that chubby bigot would take a lot of strip-searching too.

Now I don’t disagree with the majority opinion in principle, in that it must be accepted that gang members and various other people living on the edge of desperation may very well bring contraband into the prison system for a variety of reasons, and do so by inserting it into various spectacular parts of their body.  I absolutely put the safety of our law enforcement agents first and foremost over any one individual’s right to keep their clothes on.  As Justice Anthony M. Kennedy put it in the majority decision, “courts are in no position to second-guess the judgments of correctional officials who must consider not only the possibility of smuggled weapons and drugs, but also public health and information about gang affiliations. Every detainee who will be admitted to the general population may be required to undergo a close visual inspection while undressed.”

What bothers me is the “may” part of the argument.  If the courts required that everyone be subjected to a strip search I would much more easily accept a generalized mandate.  You go to jail, it’s just what happens.  You aren’t special.  However, when we start to talk about discretion and the judgment of law enforcement officers when it comes to something as tenuous and cherished as the 2nd Amendment, I think the law is ridiculously overripe for abuses.

One of the major justifications given by Justice Kennedy is the importance of searching gang members who may be trying to smuggle weapons, drugs, information, etc. to other gang members inside the prison.  Sure.  I get it.  But how does one identify a gang member?  Why, the same way one identifies an illegal immigrant in Arizona.  By the shoes, the shirt, the tattoos and the general appearance of the individual.  Of course, there are many other reasons to suspect someone is a gang member and strip-search them.

For instance, individuals who irritate law enforcement officials by questioning their judgment are typically associated with the Crips.  A lot of people don’t know that.  Hell, my own grandfather, who was arrested for drunk driving when he crashed his car into a tree, may very well be hiding a shiv in his butthole because he refused to answer any of the police officer’s questions in a timely fashion.  Reasonable as it was to assume my grandfather had been drinking, God rest his soul, he happened to have had a stroke.

Look, I’m not saying our police don’t need to protect themselves, but I’m entirely uncomfortable with the idea that these searches can be conducted on a purely discretionary basis.  Either make it mandatory or don’t do it at all.  The temptation to use strip searches as punitive measures for minor annoyances is far too great.

Benjamin Tompkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist, and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colo. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of the issue. Reach Ben Tompkins at

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Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at

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