POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

Don't just do something: stand there!

by David Trumbull

September 9, 2005

Recently Mayor Menino pled near powerlessness to halt drug use in the Boston Public Garden. "It's a public park. You have a person ... on a bench and shooting up. How do you know?" (Boston Herald, August 27, page 4.) I suggest that Mayor Menino rethink his priorities for health and quality of life for the residents of Boston. Remember, he had no difficultly banning (and enforcing the ban) of a legal activity --smoking-- in public places, even in bars that admitted only adults and which had been established as "cigar-bars" where all patrons and staff entered understanding that there would be smoking.

It's a pity that his nanny-like meddling with the health choices of consenting adults does not extend to an activity that actually is illegal, dangerous or even fatal to the individual, and disruptive of our public spaces. He illustrates a twist on an old saying

Don't just do something: stand there!

Politicians want to "do something" about crime, employment, terrorism, even the weather. Unable to solve the difficult problems, they turn to increasingly more outlandish regulation of legal activities. Lacking resolve to go after likely terrorists, they hire more rent-a-cops to try the patience of little old ladies in wheel chairs at airports.

I have to empty all my pockets and consent to be searched just to get into my polling place on Election Day. But the Republican suggestion that we ask new voters to show some proof of identity and citizenship is taken, by the liberals and Democrats, as an unconscionable affront to human dignity.

Faced with intractable problems, our politicians fall into a sort of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Just keep on repeating the random searches, rosary-fashion, and all will be well. Yes, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution notwithstanding, we do have a state religion, and the random search is one of its sacramentals. And I am an infidel.

But why stop with random searches? The logic behind random searches --as opposed to targeted searches based on profiling of likely criminals-- just as easily applies to random arrests. Why not random convictions? Maybe a random hanging every so often will make people feel safer on the trains, planes, and buses.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And if it is broken and you can't fix it, at least don't make it worse just so you can say you are doing something. Or as our mothers said, "It won't heal if you keep picking at it."

David Trumbull is the chairman of the Boston Ward Three Republican Committee; he may be contacted at (617) 742-6881 or Boston's Ward Three includes the North End, West End, part of Beacon Hill, downtown, waterfront, Chinatown, and part of the South End.