“Littering” Is New Excuse for Mandatory Federal Checkpoints

It almost sounds like a headline from The Onion, or a sardonic joke from an apocalyptic novel. But it’s quite true, and dead serious.

The American public has become accustomed to the spectre of police checkpoints set up on public roadways. In the middle of the last century, these were relatively rare occurrences, usually set up for police to catch a specific criminal or suspect in cases such as kidnapping, murder, or escaped convict. Then came the concept of “sobriety checkpoints”, for which no crime was necessary: all drivers (or a random subset of them) would be stopped and have their breath tested for alcohol and their papers examined. This, of course, is clearly unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court upheld it anyway, although 20% of states have outlawed the practice on their own.

Now, along comes the U.S. Forest Service, who recently set up a checkpoint at popular Redington Pass in the Coronado National Forest (near Tucson, AZ), under the rubric of “reducing littering”, according to KVOA News 4. “Law enforcement stopped about 250 vehicles, reminding shooters to pick up their trash,” said the report, and if that was all, nobody should really have a problem with it.

But that wasn’t all. Armed Park Rangers and Arizona Fish and Game wardens treated this “reminder not to litter” as a full-on Soviet-style internal checkpoint, searching cars and demanding identification from drivers and passengers. As a result, there were four people arrested for outstanding warrants, and 11 others ticketed for offenses ranging from marijuana possession to underage drinking.

Other old hippies will remember that the Federal government also made a big to-do over littering in the song Alice’s Restaurant. The concept of using police power for such a minor thing as an excuse is just as scary now. You don’t have to be paranoid, nor a gun owner, nor a marijuana smoker, nor someone with something to hide to realize that something very un-American is going on here.