(MintPress) – “No one has the right to impede your freedom of movement or search your property when you’ve done nothing wrong — even if they wear a badge,” says the police accountability organization, Cop Block, on its website.
Describing itself as a resource for the education of individual rights through the dissemination of different viewpoints and tactics that seek to curtail the all-too-common rights violations and unaccountability that exist in law enforcement today, the group recently posted a contest on its website encouraging the public to submit educational pieces about encounters with police at suspicionless checkpoints.
The point of the contest is to spotlight the Fourth Amendment violations at these checkpoints — which prohibits search and seizures without probable cause, and to educate the public on knowing what their rights are should they find themselves stopped at one of these points.
Pete Eyre, one of the many people involved with Cop Block, says the group is holding the contest because they are trying to get people to recognize the ridiculousness of these checkpoints.
“If me and my friends were to stop a bunch of cars and shake down the cars, people wouldn’t accept it,” Eyre said. “Just because you have a badge doesn’t mean you can [unnecessarily stop people].”
According to Checkpoint USA, checkpoints began in the United States in the late 1970s when the Supreme Court authorized a loophole in the Fourth Amendment at permanent internal immigration checkpoints for the sole purpose of determining the citizenship of those passing through.
But that goes against what Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Michael Bermudez Bermudez, a spokesperson for the U.S. Border Patrol, told the Peninsula Daily News of what the true purpose of checkpoints are: “To apprehend terrorists and illegal immigrants.” He added that the checkpoints were also used “in conjunction with local law enforcement to arrest felons, seize drugs and weapons and to deter illegal activity.”
As Mint Press previously reported, the government considers the areas stretching 100 miles inland from the actual border a “Fourth Amendment-Free Zone,” which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) refers to as the Constitution-Free Zone.
Due to the large size of the zone, the Constitution-Free Zone is applied to the entire states of Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
Though some may hesitate to ask questions from an authority figure like the police, Eyre says he encourages people to ask questions if they get stopped at a checkpoint and point out that they didn’t do anything wrong.
Stopped himself at a checkpoint in Texas, Eyre says he kept asking the border patrol agent if he was free to go and if he was being detained. Pulled over for further inspection, Eyre says he stayed firm even when the supervisor came over and kept asking if he was free to go.
“That’s what often happens,” Eyre adds. “They won’t say ‘yes, you don’t have to answer the question,’ they just rephrase their question … At one point in the conversation I asked, ‘Am I supposed to believe you because you have a badge on?’ and [the border patrol agent] said ‘yep.’”
Eyre also recommends filming interactions with law enforcement, including checkpoints. Though he adds that when filming, you should use an off-site live stream so that there is an objective record of the events that occurred. “It’s not your word versus theirs,” he explained.
“My rights apply no matter where I’m at,” Eyre said.
As it’s written in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Inspector’s Field Manual, there are two types of policing at “inland traffic-checking operations” — checkpoints and roving patrols.
The manual describes the protocol for both types of traffic-checking as follows:
“Border Patrol agents can make routine vehicle stops without any suspicion to inquire into citizenship and immigration status at a reasonably located permanent or temporary checkpoint provided the checkpoint is used for the purpose of determining citizenship of those who pass through it, and not for the general search for those persons or the vehicle. Inquiries must be brief and limited to the immigration status of the occupants of the vehicle. The only permissible search is a ‘plain view’ inspection to ascertain whether there are any concealed illegal aliens.
“In contrast, INS officers on roving patrol may stop a vehicle only if aware of specific articulable facts, together with rational inferences from those facts, that reasonably warrant suspicion (reasonable suspicion) that the vehicle contains illegal aliens. Absent consent, a more in-depth search requires probable cause for both types of inland traffic-checking operations.”
Many people speaking out against these checkpoints highlight this point clearly outlined in the manual that the border patrol was never granted the authority to use the checkpoints to look for terrorists, felons, illegal narcotics or weapons, and cannot be used as a legal basis for deterring illegal activity.
But the border patrol insists these checkpoints are a “critical tool to protect against illegal activity.
“It’s not just illegal immigration we are focusing on because we are reducing crime when we take a felon off the street,” Bermudez said.
After talking to Eyre, it’s evident that checkpoint searches are often extreme. He shared that one time when he crossed from Winnipeg to Detroit, he was pulled over for a secondary inspection, and described one of the border patrol agents as being “brainwashed” in that he “spit out war on terrorism rhetoric.”
Eyre told Mint Press that the agent expressed concern about the videos and pictures Eyre and his friends had taken on their trip, saying that the images of U.S. infrastructure could be used by terrorists.