Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Protect Me From Lawsuits!

You would think, the way lawsuits are often written about, that they are a blight on society that threatens everyone's future. Michelle Malkin blogs about a House Republican initiative to protect people from being sued for reporting "suspicious activity," by other passengers on airlines or on public transportation.

I'm not entirely without sympathy for this position. Every day, when I ride the subways in New York City, I hear an announcement urging me to tell MTA officials or NYPD officers if I see suspicious activity. If the government is encouraging me to do so, then I shouldn't be sued for it.

But, the potential for abuse here is so obvious that it barely needs explaining. If I'm a racist, for example, I could report a member of my favorite hated race as suspicious. Should the person I've reported have no recourse against me? What if I'm not a racist but just paranoid? Does everyone in the world have to conform to standards of behavior that don't spark my paranoia?

This all arises from a lawsuit brought by several muslim clerics who were removed from a flight because they prayed in the terminal before boarding and then sat in the wrong seats on the plane. They're suing the people who identified them as suspicious.

Again, I have some sympathy for the people who complained about them -- it's been our government and media that has told people that suicide bombers pray before the act -- but... what if I complained about a Christian praying before or on a flight? What about the (correct) right wing insistence that public displays of religion are entirely protected by the constitution?

Look... muslims have the right to pray in public. If that makes you uncomfortable, get over it. If it makes you call the authorities, curtail their right to travel and subject them to an investigation, why exactly shouldn't they be able to sue you?


At 10:34 AM , Blogger Jon E. said...

I dunno. I think if the government enjoins you to report "suspicious behavior," then the government should agree to be pretty generous in treating your reporting as good faith and should afford you fairly broad protections against civil action based on your reporting.

For me, the onus for figuring out the true suspiciousness of the behavior lies ultimately not on the citizen-as-amateur-detective but rather on the authorities who get the tip. The exhoration to report behavior is usually so broad (in Chicago, the signs say simply, "If you see something, say something") that citizens are essentially being asked to be a little paranoid. That's fine, but it means that it's the authorities' job to do a good job sorting legitimate tips from useless ones.

If some racist calls the cops on the suspicion that some guy on the street is up to something suspicious, it's the cops' job to look into it. If they discover that, in fact, the guy is simply walking while black, it's their job to say, "Sorry, sir, we got bad info." They should then tell the racist that being black doesn't meet the threshhold for suspicious behavior. If the racist keeps calling in stupid tips, then the cops can start ignoring him. Or if the TSA or the airport cops get a tip about Muslims doing something suspicious near the departure gate, it's their job to ask the tippers what the Muslims are doing. If the answer is "praying," then the TSA or the cops should say, "Um, praying is actually legal. We can't stop people from praying. And, actually, we don't even want to."

It seems to me that if the authorites overreact to a tip (as in pulling our pious Muslims off a flight or roughing up our black walker) then they're the ones who should get sued. To me, the only people who offer up tips who should get sued are the people telling deliberate lies.

At 11:13 PM , Blogger Jon E. said...

Also, Michelle Malkin is a poisonous halfwit. Reading her columns as often as you seem to will probably give you ass cancer.


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