Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Our Nation's Birthday

"The government is the potent omnipresent teacher. For good or ill it teaches the whole people by its example." ~ Justice Louis D. Brandeis

Seaside, Oregon is a coastal town to built, primarily, on tourism. Broadway, its version of The Strip, leads from downtown to the sea front boardwalk, and is packed with shops, restaurants, and amusements. Every day, a pudgy good natured candy man stands on the corner of Broadway & Columbia, singing his jingle and handing out samples of salt water taffy to passers by.

We spent our 4th of July weekend in Seaside. Walking along the boardwalk, one couldn’t help but notice signs stating that no illegal fireworks would be tolerated. Thus, during a late night stroll, on the 3rd, I was surprised to see the beach being illuminated by unsanctioned explosions of color. Figuring the police were on their way, I shrugged and continued the stroll. However, upon reaching the main staircase to beach, I witnessed a Hispanic family, mom, dad, and two little kids, being frisked by officers as they were leaving the beach. To make sure I was seeing things correctly, I asked a man, with his two kids, if he’d seen the family being searched as explosions continued to erupt on the beach. He said, “Yes, my kids and I were just talking about that.”

Let me pause to say that I’m a huge fan of law enforcement. I spent years volunteering for my local department, and will always give them the benefit of every doubt. I don’t know what the Hispanic family’s behavior was like before I arrived on the scene. There may very well have been probable cause to search them. It was simply the choice to do it as others were blatantly breaking the law which threw me for a loop.

The next night, the beach was crowded with tents, lawn chairs, and blankets as citizens waited for the pyrotechnic extravaganza to come. We claimed our spot at 5pm along the dividing wall between the boardwalk and the beach. Rain spit from the cloud covered sky periodically, forcing us to huddle under blankets. Music from local radio station 94.9, which had set up speakers along the beach, entertained the crowd.

Between music sets, a recording of Police Chief Robert Gross stated, in no uncertain terms, that illegal fireworks would definitely not be tolerated. As this public service announcement filled the airwaves, unsanctioned fireworks were booming on both ends of the beach, decorating the gray clouds, and a group of four young officers nonchalantly made their way into the alley between the Shiloh Inn and the next motel. The smoke from the illegal incendiary devices was eventually thick enough to burn my eyes, forcing them shut.

I’m not against people having fun. I’m not even against allowing illegal fireworks in designated areas, as long as kids and alcohol are kept from those areas. What bothers me is stating something won’t be allowed, then allowing it. There’s no better way to breed contempt for the law than failing to enforce laws which you’ve stated will be upheld. Children witness such contradictions and grow up thinking that laws are merely suggestions which can be disregarded on a whim.

To my knowledge, no physical harm was done that night, other than the junk being left on the beach, by the thoughtless. Broken chairs, beer bottles, and spent rockets gathered sand and laid forgotten, and the candy man assumed his customary post on Broadway & Columbia as visitors headed home. Yet, I can’t help but wonder what it means when people celebrate our nation’s birthday by ignoring her laws?

On a final note, remember the man who witnessed the search with his kids on the 3rd? That witness was none other than Congressman David Wu. I hope he walked away asking the same questions that I have.