Robert Peel once said, “The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence”. This means that everyone is responsible for the safety of themselves as well as the general population. Even though the police are in roles of power, they are also regular people to, meaning they aren’t above the law. In the book “Little Brother” by Cory Doctorow, the protagonist, Marcus Yallow, must find ways to keep himself hidden from the Department of Homeland Security.
He must do this as well as still be able to lead countermeasures to prove that what the DHS is doing is wrong. While doing this Marcus discovers the police have the ability to interpret the laws in a way that may incriminate otherwise innocent people. Doctorow uses the Patriot Act, questionable police detentions, and brutality against peaceful protesters to show how the police interpret laws in a negative way. In a time of a Terrorist Attack the Patriot Act can, and will, be used in an attempt to capture those involved in the threat, even though innocent civilians may be subject to the ramifications of the Act.
The DHS used the Patriot Act to detain Marcus and his “confederates” (20) after they were found with “suspicious devices” (20) near the site of the bombing. These “devices” were just his phone, a wifinder, memory keys, and a arphid cloner. Marcus didn’t use these for terrorism, but to participate in a game called “Harajuku Fun Madness” (7) where he and his friends, the so-called “confederates”, would go around the area to find clues and solve games.
In the eyes of the DHS, these were tools that could have been used in the execution of the bombing, for the teens were “Just the right age” (20) because “Al Qaeda loves recruiting impressionable, idealistic kids” (20). Even though Marcus and his friends had zero ties to any form of terrorist groups, they were presumably guilty in connection to the attack. After this strike against the United States, it seems like everyone is guilty until proven innocent. Brandon Mayfield is a victim of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a part of the Patriot Act, which wrongly connected him to terrorism.
He was unconstitutionally surveilled because of this Act, and in turn, arrested. Mayfield was then detained and held without charge (Patriot Act Victim). This is much like what happened to Marcus, where they were both detained without being told why. To fully understand why the DHS is able to do this, one must know how the Patriot Act works. Title II allows law-enforcement groups to surveil “agents of foreign powers” (Grabianowski). That means it allows the communications of a person to be intercepted if they are related to or suspected of terrorist activities.
Even if a person later is found of being innocent, they may still be surveilled just to make sure that they don’t turn to terrorism later in life. While what happened to Marcus seems wrong, detentions are options in both the Patriot Act and in local police organizations. Similar to what the Patriot Act can do, the police can detain people with only suspicion required. After giving out copies of the ParanoidXbox around the city, Marcus comes to realize that he is being followed. He “Wasn’t going to run, though. [He] knew [he] couldn’t outrun fate” (38).
This means that even though Marcus had the option of running, he knew it was a only a matter of time before what he did would catch up to him. Once Marcus was in the vehicle with them, he found out why he was there, “To ensure [Marcus’s] safety and the general public safety” (39). He was viewed as a threat to the population’s safety and in turn “[He had] been momentarily detained” (39). This “momentary detention” is actually legal. Unlike a full-blown arrest, which requires probable cause, detentions only require reasonable suspicion (Probable Cause).
This reasonable suspicion can come from any number of facts that may cause a person to think something is wrong, but it is more than a simple hunch. The police in the book used Marcus’s Fast Pass log, in which they claim he has “Been riding to a lot of strange places at a lot of funny hours” (39) to base their suspicion on. This doesn’t seem like a logical way to find people who may be a threat. One would think that a terrorist might want to make a pattern so they don’t stick out, rather than do something randomly. One instance of a seemingly questionable detention that lead to an arrest, is in the Cunha v.
Superior Court case. Kenneth Cunha was arrested for heroin possession, but the events that lead to the arrest are what leads to a possible grey-area. After walking through a place where the arresting officer had made 30-40 narcotics arrests prior, the officer watched Cunha and his associate walk into the nearby park and behind the chainlink fence. Even though there was nothing abnormal about the way they were acting, he continued to watch them walk on.
His view was obscured, but the officer watched a deal go down. For him, that was enough to engage with them and the officer made an arrest fter finding heroin (Cunha v. Superior). Without the prior knowledge of the area, there is nothing that would have indicated the possibility of a drug possession. This is where it starts to become a little unclear. If the officer was unaware of the area he was in, would the arrest still have taken place? This can be related to the story because if the police didn’t have the knowledge of Marcus’s log, they might’ve just seen him as a regular kid who was just walking to get some food rather than someone who might be up to no good.
A connection can also be made to the previous paragraph where Marcus and his friends were detained for suspicious activities by the DHS. While only mere suspicion is needed for a detention, the police can spin an event into something much worse than it actually is. While police may view an event as a riot that needs to be calmed, attendees may see it as police using unnecessary violence. The police made the concert out to be “A drunken, druggy orgy of kids who attacked the cops” (72), when in reality it really was a fairly peaceful concert.
Even though the people didn’t disperse when the cops told them to, they never made any attempt to retaliate against the police. It frustrates Marcus that no one is telling the other side of the story, so he decides to make a blog dedicated to the concert where he will have a “Single place where [people] can go that’s intended for the press to find it and get the whole picture” (73). It is meant to show the injustice the police presented when they gassed the crowd with “Not 200 thousand Scovilles. A million and a half” (71).
The author used this to just show how intense the the pepper spray was for the people of that concert. This is much like what happened in Ferguson, Missouri not all that long ago. Peaceful protestors marched down the streets, and eventually moved to the parking lot, well most of them, but some refused to move from their seated position on the street. The police who were watching the event soon were replaced by a SWAT team equipped with the whole nine yards. Even after the protesters were told to return to where they came from, they continued to remain seated.
Reporter Jamelle Bouie left the scene, but he returned later only to find helicopters overhead, officers using tear gas and shooting rubber bullets, as well as using weapons to force people inside (Bouie). Even though the police viewed this as necessary use of force, many would argue that if they had actually taken the time and tried to talk with the protestors, this whole situation could’ve been avoided. While pepper spray may be seen as a fairly non harmful way to subdue a person, it can have damaging effects. Pepper spray is most commonly used for its ability to cause people to voluntarily close their eyes.
In addition to that, while all effects are temporary, some last hours longer than others. There are more than just physical effects, but the psychological effects factor in too. Some of the most common effects are, anxiety, hyperventilation, as well as panic (PEPPER SPRAY). That is what makes pepper spray so effective, the incapacitating abilities in both a mental and physical way allow police to subdue angry crowds without putting their own lives at risk. The ability to turn a peaceful protest into what seems to be a riot shows just how easy it is for the police to change the dynamic of a situation.
Because of the Patriot Act, questionable police detentions, and brutality against peaceful protestors, Doctorow shows how the police interpret laws on a negative way. In the time of a terrorist attack, it seems as if there is an air of uncertainty amongst the population. The police, as well as the government, can use this to their advantage. This power is unfair to the innocent victims that get messed up in this. By detaining people to get information and making peaceful events somehow transform into what is told to be riots are just a few examples of how laws can be interpreted to fit certain situations.