Your papers, please!

May 7, 2011

A week ago today I was returning from a two-day trip to central Mississippi. I left a spot southeast of Yazoo City about 8:30 PM and drove directly back to St. Louis.

I was relying on my GPS system and it directed me to take US 49E to get to I-55, so I was driving toward Greenwood, MS on that route. It looked like pretty rural country, as well as I could make it out in the dark. That’s when I came upon a traffic checkpoint in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. There were two police cruisers on each shoulder and four (as I recall) officers standing in the middle of the road. I couldn’t see anything else nearby.

I was a little surprised by this, since it was such an isolated area. But it’s not the first time I’ve run across that. The cops in Wayland, Missouri, a little bitty place near the Iowa border, used to run "seat belt checkpoints" 10 years ago. They only ran them on the holiday weekends: Independence Day, Labor Day and so on. I suppose they got the maximum traffic and number of DWI busts on those days.

When I stopped, the Mississippi highway patrolmen did the usual: flashed their lights inside the car to see what was visible and chatted me up for a few minutes. What bothers me about the stop, though, is they asked for my driver’s license. I showed it to them… but I was sorely tempted to ask why I should. I was obviously sober and was complying with Mississippi’s seat belt law. There were no burned-out lights on my car. In short, there was no visible reason to suspect me of breaking any laws, so what’s with requiring me to show identification?

But I was eager to get home (which didn’t happen until 4 AM Sunday) and I wasn’t familiar with Mississippi state law. For all I knew, arguing with them about it would have meant spending the night in a county lock-up just to find out that they did have the legal right to demand my ID. The Supreme Court has upheld state laws to conduct checkpoints, after all.

Still, I wasn’t happy that I didn’t challenge them on it. What is this "Papers, please!" nonsense?

Today I was trying to find out if I have to put with this stuff in the future. That’s when I came across this interesting article at KSWB, the Fox TV affiliate in San Diego. Police at a sobriety checkpoint in Escondido broke out the window on a man’s car because he refused to roll it down and show them his driver’s license.

Here’s the video that accompanies the article.

Seeing this, I’m thinking that what I did in Mississippi was the practical choice. Nonetheless, it doesn’t sit well. And I’m reminded of my father-in-law saying, "If you don’t defend your rights, you don’t have any."

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