Sign for the US Border: unprovoked beatings ahead

Kai was outraged by the conviction of Dr Peter Watts, the Canadian science fiction writer who got out of his vehicle while crossing back into Canada to ask a US border guard why his car was being searched, and was clubbed, gassed, charged with a felony, and left in wet clothes in an unheated cell overnight during a snow-storm. So Kai made this sign warning unwary travellers of what they might expect the next time they cross into Canada at Port Huron. I've checked with Peter (who is awaiting sentencing) and he's OK with this being posted.

Unprovoked Beatings Ahead (Thanks, Kai!)


    1. It’s not a bumper sticker. You’d post it on the Canadian side of the border 100 yards down the road or so. It will piss them off, but they won’t be able to target you as easily as if it were a bumper sticker.

      1. No, no, no…. you slap it on the border guard’s back while you congratulate him on a job well done and compliment his well trimmed mustache.

        Then you send us links to the photos here.

  1. Stick them on other people’s cars. Especially parked cars belonging to border guards having lunch.

  2. You know, I’ve been bothered by this story since I first read about it. I’m bothered mainly because I’m not sure who’s side I’m on. You’d think this would be an easy call to make, since 95% of what I know about the matter I’ve learned from Cory.

    But I’m still torn. I still have questions. For instance, Peter approached the officers to question their reasons for searching his car. Why? I realize he has certain rights, but border guards have certain responsibilities. If they want to search your car, why not just let them? I mean, you’re crossing an international border, for crissake. Why don’t you just sit back and let then search the damn car if they want to?

    Because you are a stalwart defender of your rights? Possibly. Because there’s something in your car you don’t want found? Another possibility (let it be known that I don’t believe this to be the case – if for no other reason than the fact that I am certain they thoroughly searched the car after Peter was incarcerated. I bring this up as a possibility of the border guards’ thought processes). Because he was just in a crappy mood and wasn’t inclined to be fucked with? Yet another possibility (and one I’m leaning toward).

    The reality, though, is that he was crossing an international border. A border between countries that have a long history of friendship. He didn’t really have any reason to fear the guards he encountered at the border. But when they decided to search his car, he objected. Did he have a right to do so? Certainly. Was he smart to do so? Not so much. At least at the beginning of this scenario, the border guards were just working schmucks doing their jobs. I’m still not sure why Peter found this to be so objectionable.

    So I have to admit I’m not so sure I’m still in Peter’s camp. It’s not that I think he should go to jail (although a jury thinks otherwise), but that I think he’s paying the price for his own behavior.

    The guards decided to search his car and – right or wrong – they had the legal right to do so. Peter objected to this, and he did so poorly. The guards reacted badly, and this whole series of events was set in motion. But I don’t think it’s fair of us to place the entirety of the blame on the shoulders of the guards. Peter was equally involved in this scenario, and he is responsible for his own behavior.

    1. Peter Watts may have had no clear reason for questioning the border guards, but they had no clear reason for treating him the way they did or for bringing criminal charges against him. Their response was completely disproportionate to the situation. It’s easy for us to suggest with hindsight that Peter should have known better or that he should bear responsibility for his behaviour, but he had no reason to expect such dickish treatment – the border guards alone are responsible for that, and should be held responsible for it. Why criminalise the victim?

    2. As both a US and Canadian citizen who has crossed the border on many occasions, I can see why Peter may have been a little distressed. Most US Customs Officers are professional, but there can be some real jerks too. Peter may have been asked to step out of his vehicle and wait in a customs office without being given the courtesy of being told that his vehicle was going to be searched. At that point he may have tried to exit the building to inquire about his vehicle and was instead told to re-enter the facilities, when he tried to ask, the officers may have decided that he was not going to comply.

      Personally, I think the border agents should ask your permission to search your vehicle and if you refuse send you back to Canada. However, there are signs all over the place informing you that vehicles are subject to search.

      The one time my car was searched, as I was entering Canada. The customs officers asked if they could perform the search and even allowed me to watch. They couldn’t open one compartment and asked me to open it for them, which I did, and returned to my observation post. The officers asked me about a few prescription drugs I was carrying, and that was the extent of my inconvenience.

      The guards got to know me well and after awhile they’d fore go the usual questions and just ask me if I was going up to see my girlfriend. After I got married the guards then made me go in to see immigration each time and I had to tell them how long I was going to be in Canada while my immigration documents were being processed.

    3. Terry @6 you are so right. I say follow directions and everything will be OK. Go ahead, get into the freight car. Work will make you free. Trust in the Lord, and if you are truly innocent God will protect you.

      What a load of crap.

      I blame the jury, thought oddly Dr. Watts doesn’t. And for that I’m perfectly happy if the judge throws the book at him.

      You are only as free as you let yourself be treated.

  3. In case it is misinterpreted as to why I created this, I’d like to say the following:

    This is a comedic take on a subject that is not at all so. It is a way to make light of a terrible situation and perhaps allow some relief, but I also hope it acts as a reminder. If events are remembered, spread, then the future can be different and perhaps we won’t have another incident like this.

    I hope it will in fact act as a warning as well. I do not believe Peter acted in any unreasonable way, he acted as anyone might and did not provoke what occurred… Even the comments from the jurors who convicted him have indicated that. It may not be a Canadian next, it might be someone you know, it could be your family, or you yourself. When people must act in unreasonable ways simply to stay safe, something is wrong.

    And finally, I hope it acts as a warning to enforcement officers and the system which failed as well. These officers acted, to be blunt, like rabid dogs and will seemingly receive not even a slap on the wrist. Whereas Peter will be sentenced for the crime of daring to ask a question. I have borne witness to similar scenes myself in a very different place, in Africa under the dictatorship of Apartheid. The actions of these few not only create a danger for other enforcement officers, who will be faced with people who no longer trust or no longer know how to act in these situations; but also, degrades both the image and the fabric of a nation founded on the principles of freedom. In other words, rather than protecting, they are creating threats and eroding the principles from within.

    Effectively, I’d rather America be known for justice and courage… rather than tyranny and cowardice. And the only way to do that is to speak up… and perhaps make a mockery of those who prefer it the other way around. ;P

  4. To Terry:

    Your comment showed up while writing mine, so just thought I’d respond.

    To address your question of why he asked, he has stated in his blog that it was an unusual event and one not experienced before. It seems a rather normal human response would be to then find out why or what is occurring. It has also been stated that the guards are meant to inform anyone of their actions, as part of their procedures, most likely to preempt that very normal response (and most likely because it shows a degree of consideration for the other party and prevents escalation). In this case they did not do so.

    I will also ask three questions for consideration:

    Is it legal and/or right to start physically assaulting someone when they have asked you a question? Even if they asked it like a jerk.

    Are authority figures meant to be bound by the law and/or ethics?

    And what is the difference between when someone does not have the right to something, versus negative consequences occurring when they use a right they have? Negative consequences in this case being beaten.

    Be well.

  5. It’s not “UNPROVOKED”. It’s very much provoked. It’s just that the provocation isn’t what you might expect. Hikers wandering in the wild might view a bear attack or a snake bite as “unprovoked”, but from the animal’s perspective, it was very much a response to provocation. The fact that you didn’t intend to be provocative is neither here nor there. They’re the ones with the fangs and the claws, so it’s their perception that matters.

    In fact, it’s not a bad idea to treat cops as dangerous animals who are very sensitive to certain things that the rest of us aren’t.

    Move slowly, speak softly, and use small words.

    1. Are you sure that you want to start down that slippery slope of reasoning?
      Border guards are NOT bears and snakes that lack the ability to reason, they are human beings. We humans are separate from animalia in that we possess the ability to communicate and reason, and most of the time without regressing into violence.
      Let’s not excuse the border guards based on a perceived lack of capacity to reason.

      1. We humans are separate from animalia in that we possess the ability to communicate and reason, and most of the time without regressing into violence.

        You keep operating on that theory, and I’ll keep operating on mine, and we’ll see who ends up like Timothy Treadwell first.

      2. “Are you sure that you want to start down that slippery slope of reasoning?”

        It wasn’t a slippery slope: if anything, it was a bad analogy.

  6. To all of the commenters, thank you for writing in full sentences. It is a pleasure to read discourse where I do not have to make up words or letters to read the writers intent. (I like Boing, Giz, and sometimes Fark, can you hear me now?)

    1. Once before I was in my way to Mexico, crossing border mexicali, and the mexican officer didn’t aloud me to go across the border just because I did I asked why he was so rude? I he tell me ” I going to show you what is rude, you’re not came across my country ” and he send back to USA, I did not question him anymore. Well like me Mexicali has two crossing border so I only drive to the next border and go across to my destination. I guess is only same officer and depend in what is in they mind at that moment. But is once don’t have anything to worried about let them do the source, but don’t aloud to treat you bad that is not permissible to any human to be treat like animal, that is inhuman even do animals need to be treat kindly. Is this is a science fiction story?

  7. @Kai: Excellent poster.

    I understand that law enforcement officers, including border guards feel nervous at times. However, they also wield a great deal of power along with a great deal of autonomy.

    In democratic nations, there used to be checks and balances to make sure that those wielding such absolute power did so reasonably. So that that these great powers were not abused.

    When law enforcement officers strike a non violent person they have detained, that is an abuse. If the victim questions this treatment and is then maced and charged with a felony, that is a travesty.

    Canada and the United States are not at war– with each other. At this point in time Canadian soldiers are off fighting an American war to support our neighbor and ally.

    Perhaps it has something to do with the idea that very few Canadians carry concealed. Maybe Americans know better than to get out of their cars. Most Canadians would not not hesitate to ask questions of, or to question, a uniformed government official about what they were doing.

    Because Canadians don’t expect to be beaten, maced and sent to jail by government authorities for asking questions.

    When questioning authority is a criminal offense, what kind of democracy can you possibly have?

  8. Since 9/11 there has been a tendency by democratic western nations to grant more power to their officials. While some of these additional powers might be reasonable for certain officers it has often been extended to even petty officials. in addition, those in uniform have been brainwashed to some extent that ‘the enemy is everywhere’ and is a constant threat. Any form of fear is now used to subdue the public and provide an excuse for heavy-handedness. In europe we were told Bird Flu could harm us…then it was Swine Flu we were all going to die of. In the UK the terrorist threat level hovers in the upper quintile range almost constantly. Police hassle people just for having a camera in central London. My point is that we are being conditioned to fear..while officials are being conditioned to suspect and assume guilt. Everyone needs to just ‘chill out’ as the saying goes.

  9. Your signage is missing the propeller beanie on the victim…

    Why ask why they were searching? Because he was PAST the inspection. This was an extra stop.

    Because he had EVERY RIGHT to ask.

  10. Peter Watts has explained his side of the story at length in his blog, … Three facts may shed a different light on some comments here. Watts was searched by the Border Patrol, not Customs. He was leaving the USA, having already paid the bridge toll before being stopped. The whole incident started when Border Patrol officers started searching his car without asking or telling him first.

    I grew up in Port Huron, and remember a time when we would cross the border simply because we wanted pastries or to go to the beach. It saddens me to see the border in effect militarized against a nonexistent threat and hardened against friendly neighbors. How many excesses like Watts’ beating will it take before this country comes to its senses?

  11. I’m not trying to blame the victim here, nor am I trying to excuse the border guards. I’m just wondering about what Peter could have done to prevent the whole thing.

    You see, I have issues with authority. I have been pulled over while driving a fair amount of times, and most of those times (somewhere around 95%, probably) I have been given a ticket. The reason I get a ticket is always the same: my attitude. It really pisses me off that our police force spends its time sitting in cars waiting to give tickets to law-abiding citizens while real criminals are busy raping, murdering and selling drugs to children. When I am dealing with police officers, I don’t try to hide my resentment. And it usually results in my having to pay a fine.

    While this may be an abuse of power, I do not in any way blame the police officers for it. This is because I know the whole situation could easily have been avoided if I had just kept my mouth shut and treated the officer with civility and politeness. I choose to behave otherwise, and therefore I have to pay the price for it.

    And I think Peter is in a similar position. He doesn’t appear to be stupid. I’m sure he knew his situation and was aware that he could have just kept silent and allowed a routine procedure to remain just that – routine. He chose instead to confront the guards and question their authority. I don’t believe he was oblivious to the potential consequences of his actions.

    I’m not trying to absolve the guards here. I’m just saying that Peter is responsible for his own behavior, regardless of how anyone else subsequently acted.

    1. At #18, Terry points out that Peter is responsible for his own behavior and might have expected negative consequences. True, as far as it goes. But the issue here isn’t the fact that he ran into any trouble at all, but the disproportionality of the response. If he’d gotten a ticket, I don’t think people would be complaining about it. It’s precisely because the officers went so far beyond what normal people would expect that there’s an outcry.

      Imagine that the next time you’re pulled over and give the officer some lip, instead of giving you a ticket, he beats you and gasses you, and you end up facing a couple of years in jail. Would you still view the situation with the same equanimity, and say, “I should have controlled my behavior?” If you are a bit of a jerk, do law enforcement officials have the right to respond as brutally as they feel like?

      1. How many times do I have to fucking say this?

        I am not, in any way, attempting to excuse the behavior of the border guards.

        Did you get it this time?

        1. How many times do we need to say– despite your ATTEMPT not to excuse the guards, that is effectively what you keep doing! Stop it!

          @Wuss Brillis the Mexico border might help protect against the FBI, but nobody is safe from the Spanish Inquis… erm, the CIA!

          1. This is a completely bullshit statement. Just because you can’t look at the situation objectively doesn’t mean that other people can’t. I refuse to believe that there is no middle ground. People did the wrong thing on both sides.

        2. If you can’t get your point across clearly, it’s not the fault of the other commenters. It certainly appears to me that you’re supporting the bullies in this situation.

          1. This is where I keep getting misunderstood. Why do so many people think that questioning Peter’s behavior = excusing the guards’ behavior? I don’t see the situation as a case of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. To me, it looks more like ‘wrong’ and ‘more wrong’. And I think I’ve been extremely clear about it.

          2. To me, it looks more like ‘wrong’ and ‘more wrong’.< ?i>

            If you think that asking why you’re being detained is wrong, then I would have no hesitation in describing you as an apologist for authoritarian brutality. Totalitarianism happens because people don’t object. Totalitarianism happens because other people blame the people who did object and were brutalized for it.

    2. Because you get belligerent when you’re pulled over for a speeding offense, you assume Peter Watt must have provoked the attack he was subjected to?

      The first and most obvious difference is you’re talking about a case where you have broken the law. Peter Watts had not broken any law.

      The next problem here is assuming that just because you behave a particular way in a particular circumstance, then obviously Peter Watts behaves in that same way.

  12. I don’t know if any of you have noticed but we now live in a police state. It seems the rules don’t apply to our masters and their henchmen. So, get busy living with it or get busy changing it.

  13. Two to tango, sure, but when one is a cop, the game is different. Because they carry weapons and are authorized to use lethal force, they absolutely CANNOT be allowed to act like normal, petty guys with easily bruised egos.

    If they can’t de-escalate a simple angry questioner (with obvious reasons for being angry), they should definitely be fired.

    Not claiming this contradicts anything, necessarily.

    1. querent, you seem to have forgotten that “we the people” also have authority and force. It’s called court of law and the justice system.

    2. To quote the Coffee Party

      We recognize that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans.

  14. My friend was is active duty in the National Guard and a similar thing happened to him. He was outraged at their abuse of power.

  15. And to put it another way…

    Because they we have rights and are backed up by the legal system, we absolutely CANNOT be allowed to act like normal, petty guys with easily bruised egos.

  16. It just seems to me that if the border guards were so insanely belligerent that their default response to a reasonable query is pepper spray and violence, it probably would have come to light before Peter came along.

    1. Which makes about as much sense as saying, if Peter was such a loose cannon, he would have been jailed for something long before he got to the border.

      Logic fail.

      1. Not really logic fail Pipenta.

        The guards have many many occasions through out their day to get it right or get it wrong. Not exactly so for your average border crosser.

      2. I have chosen to believe that you are not just a dick but are actually failing to understand.

        What we’re talking about here is a situation. A situation Peter was unfamiliar with, but which the guards handled pretty much every day. Therefore, Peter’s behavior in the situation stood a good chance of being unpredictable, whereas the guards’ behavior would reasonably be expected to be consistent with their behavior every other day.

      3. re: the loose cannon theory. Peter Watts does previous convictions. I read somewhere – either here or on his blog – that the prosecution are pushing to have the ‘priors’ taken into account at his sentencing.

        I agree that the physical attack on Peter Watts is disproportionate to any verbal confrontation or ‘slow compliance’ that Peter was apparently convicted of in court.

        I agree with Terry, that it’s unwise to do anything that could provoke a confrontation – most people manage to cross a border without causing a scene.

        1. “Peter Watts does previous convictions.”

          No. I do not.

          In 1991, while riding my bicycle along a deserted street at 2am, I was stopped by police and told to show ID. I wanted to know whether I was legally required to do so, and refused to comply until I received an answer. The case was discharged after I agreed to make a donation to a local charity. There was no conviction, and all records were destroyed three years subsequent.


  17. Terry,

    There were some unusual circumstances during the Watts incident.

    * The stop occurred as Peter Watts was LEAVING the US. It is what they call an “exit search”. I’ve crossed the border many times, but never experienced or heard of this kind of a procedure before now. Usually one is questioned and searched by the official of the country one is entering, not the country one is leaving. I guess, Peter Watts had never heard of exit searches either. He had legitimate questions about what was happening.

    * The US officials began to search his vehicle WITHOUT obtaining consent; there was not so much as a courtesy warning. In such circumstances, wouldn’t you feel somewhat distressed and try to obtain extra information?

    * Peter Watts exited the vehicle to look for the female agent who initiated the stop. He wanted to know what was happening to him. When he found her, instead of talking to him, the agent ordered him back in the car. I don’t know if he argued with the female agent at that point, but he did eventually get back in the vehicle.

    * At that point, another agent, the one named Beaudry, came charging in and attempted to aggressively restrain Watts inside the car — we are talking punches and pepper spray. I never understood why Beaudry escalated the situation like this. According to Peter Watts the border guards gave conflicting testimony about this point. One theory would be that Beaudry interprets anyone who exits a vehicle at a search as a potential danger to the border agents. Another theory is that agent B is a little too trigger happy for everyone’s good — a shoot first, ask questions later mentality.

    * At some point in the melee, by his own admission Peter Watts did pull away from Beaudry. This all happened extremely quickly — according to the video shown at the trial 10-20 seconds. One may suppose that once the blows started coming Watts tried to duck and avoid the worst of it. At no point did he lay his hands on the officers, threaten them, raise his voice The prosecution admitted as much at his trial.

    * Here is a link to the statute in question

    The conviction stems from the section of the statute that gives the following definition

    (a) “Obstruct” includes the use or threatened use of physical interference or force or a knowing failure to comply with a lawful command.

    After beating him in the car, Beaudry ordered Watts out of the vehicle and ordered him to the ground. Peter Watts was convicted because he did not fully comply with that order; he did not immediately lay down on the ground when ordered to do so by agent Beaudry. After being pepper sprayed and beaten, he stood there and asked why he was attacked. THAT is the violation which earned Peter Watts his conviction.

  18. “The news that the innocent have nothing to fear is guaranteed to strike fear into the hearts of innocents everywhere.” –Terry Pratchett

  19. I have to say, I am somewhat confused by some of these responses.

    I also do not see that anyone has answered my question:
    “What is the difference between when someone does not have the right to something, versus negative consequences occurring when they use a right they have? Negative consequences in this case being beaten.”

    If I have somehow missed it in the comments, I’d certainly appreciate it being repeated and offer my apologies for the need to do so.

    I ask, because it is my understanding that the legal system is based upon acknowledgement of those rights, upon the principle that to exist in society you must act in a reasonable way.

    To say it another way, what about the initial action (the asking of why he was being searched) is believed to be unreasonable or outside the scope of rights? Why was it unreasonable?

    I struggle to understand this point, especially as I don’t recall any indication that this was even a matter of concern during the court case.

    It almost seems, and forgive me/correct me if I have misinterpreted, that it is being indicated that it is reasonable to expect an official to physically attack you should you ask a question or exert your rights. That because of this expectation, Peter is partially responsible for the events. Is this a correct understanding of the argument?

    1. What is the difference between when someone does not have the right to something, versus negative consequences occurring when they use a right they have?

      Actually, it’s more like negative consequences when someone misuses a right they have. And please note that I am not talking about Peter here – I am talking about rights in a general way.

      For instance, we here in the US have a right to free speech. While this can be (and often is) interpreted as meaning we have a right to say whatever we want to say, there can be negative consequences if we exercise this right in certain ways. Yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater is the classic example. Another would be if we publicly stated that someone else was a criminal when they actually are not. Basically, exercising our rights has negative consequences when doing so causes harm to someone else, or infringes on someone else’s rights.

      There’s an old saying: “Your right to swing your fist stops at my nose”.

  20. It almost seems, and forgive me/correct me if I have misinterpreted, that it is being indicated that it is reasonable to expect an official to physically attack you should you ask a question or exert your rights. That because of this expectation, Peter is partially responsible for the events.

    No. Or at least, I don’t believe so. It is not reasonable to expect an official to physically attack you. The fact that Peter was physically attacked is reprehensible and should be punished.

    Also, the actions of the guards are their responsibility, and only theirs. Likewise, Peter is responsible for his own behavior. Any behavior (or misbehavior) on Peter’s part would not, and certainly does not, justify or excuse the guards’ actions.

    Personally, I just can’t help but wonder where Peter’s border crossing differed from all the others that occurred without incident. Since the same guards don’t assault everyone who passes by them, and I can’t imagine no one but Peter ever reasonably asked about a search, I have to wonder what it was about Peter that so angered the guards.

  21. Ah, thank you for clarifying Terry. Appreciate it.

    As for why it was differed… I’m guessing we will not ever know the real answer to that. It’s been mentioned that there was conflicting testimony on that point. As the one’s responsible will not be charged, it seems it becomes almost an incidental question unfortunately. Based on what I’ve read/seen I’d tend to believe it was a hero or bully mentality, and so irrational and based on near nothing. But, that’s just my interpretation… and it doesn’t really affect any of the real concerns (or even why I feel this poster is necessary), I agree that it can’t be justified.

    Though I wonder… perhaps Beaudry just really, really hates sci-fi and this was an overly critical review of Peter’s books ;P

  22. I don’t know. My hunch is that the same thing does happen again, and again, but it just so happens that PW has friends in high places (i.e. Boing Boing), so that this particular incident has gotten quite a bit more attention than others.

    On the other hand, this particular argument is nonsense to begin with. Most people that murder people, don’t murder people everyday. Of course, they should be made to account if and when they do, one day. Perhaps the officer was off his game, that day—I am too sometimes; the difference is that if I let loose on a passer-by, I go go to jail. He did not.

    (And the argument still stands, even if I was provoked on my off-day. There is nothing to justify beating the shit out of someone for cutting you off in traffic, just as there is no way to justify the officer’s treatment of PW, even if PW actually did try to provoke him (and it seems to clearly be the case that he didn’t))

  23. Oh and certainly understand the response to the question. I’d asked it with an assumption of correct/reasonable use when saying “use a right they have.” But as we both would seem to believe Peter did not go beyond that… it makes my asking somewhat moot =) (Unless applied to other differing opinions of course)

    1. I should also have discussed the fact that we often voluntarily relinquish our rights and/or allow them to be curtailed. When we travel by air, for instance. We allow searches in airports that we would consider a gross violation of our rights in other situations. And – again, I am not talking about Peter here – I wouldn’t be surprised if border crossings are in a similar vein.

  24. Why was he dealing with a US guard while crossing to the Canadian side? That’s out of the ordinary.

  25. I have to wonder what it was about Peter that so angered the guards.

    You are just desperate to blame him for being assaulted.

    1. Occam’s razor says that Watt did something to precipitate the situation, even though the reaction was then disproportionate.

      The story reminds me a bit of the MIT girl who wore an ‘art project’ to an airport.

      BoingBoingers mostly agree that we do have the freedom to strap a piece of breadboard to our chest and walk into an airport terminal with some flashing LEDs and wires on show, if we want to, and that the security guards should figure out that it’s harmless.

      Pragmatists point out that it only takes one twitchy cop to require the would-be rights-exerciser to spend a lot of time and money establishing whether that right really does exist, via arrest, threat of prison, trial, conviction, appeal, etc, but that line of thought is anti-BoingBoing ethos.

      Here, we march under the banner that “if you don’t like something, change it.”

      I think that posting goofy signs near to a border, or testing each cop we meet to see whether that cop can effectively de-escalate a situation, is not the most effective approach to reducing the heavy-handedness of the police in general.

      rather, we need to be writing to our politicians to have the policy changed and relaxed.

    1. That was uncalled-for and insulting.

      On the contrary, you have consistently, and without evidence, taken the stance that he must have done something to provoke the attack. You have maintained that the attack was not the appropriate response, but you have nonetheless continuously stated that Peter Watts must have provoked the response.

      Please state your evidence for this without drawing on your own experiences: evidence from the case at hand.

      1. On the contrary, you have consistently, and without evidence, taken the stance that he must have done something to provoke the attack.

        I really wish you people would actually read the words I write rather than the ones that dance across your feverish brains. I have not, at any point, stated or even insinuated that Peter provoked the attack. This would probably be because I do not, in fact, believe he did anything of the sort.

        What I have been doing – consistently – is question the dichotomy between Peter’s interpretation of his own behavior and the guards’ interpretation.

        Or, to put it another (simpler) way: Why did the guards attack Peter rather than any of the other people who went by them that day? Why did they single him out?

        Did I couch that in language that’s sufficiently guard-accusing for you?

        1. Did I couch that in language that’s sufficiently guard-accusing for you?

          I think if you’ll read my posts again, you’ll see that I have not accused the guards of anything.

          Why did the guards attack Peter rather than any of the other people who went by them that day? Why did they single him out?

          This is indeed a legitimate question. It is very different in tone from this:

          Peter objected to this, and he did so poorly. The guards reacted badly, and this whole series of events was set in motion. But I don’t think it’s fair of us to place the entirety of the blame on the shoulders of the guards. Peter was equally involved in this scenario, and he is responsible for his own behavior.

          I am not a witness to the events. Are you? Where is your information coming from? Peter is responsible for his behavior, and if you read his blog I think you’ll agree that he fully accepts his responsibility. But where is this “poorly” coming from?

    2. Insulting – absolutely. I’d be horrified if someone accused me of saying what you’re saying.

      Uncalled for – not in the least. You want to have your say, but you don’t want anyone to tell you what they think of your opinion.

      1. I actually like to have people tell me what they think of my opinion. I prefer it if they actually talk about my opinion, rather than some personal fantasy, but I suppose I can’t have everything. You yourself told me I’m ‘desperate’ to blame the attack on Peter when I have said nothing of the sort. In fact I feel I have placed the blame for the attack squarely on the shoulders of the guards who actually – well – attacked him.

        What I find curious (and enlightening) is the frequency and increasing ferocity with which I’m being attacked here. For imagined crimes. You keep verbally assaulting me in the name of moderation simply because you think I’m disagreeing with your opinion.

        So please enlighten me. Since you seem to be pretty quick to jump to the attack, maybe you can shed some light on this. Why do you suppose the guards chose to attack Peter rather than any of the other people they had to deal with that day?

  26. Occam’s razor says that Watt did something to precipitate the situation

    Tell that to the victims of the holocaust or the Armenian genocide or Stalin’s purges. Occam’s razor says no such thing. Abuse by authority in Homo sapiens vastly exceeds abuse toward authority.

    If you want to act like prey, go right ahead, but please forgive some of us for not joining you.

  27. What is all this nonsense about ‘rights’ ? The word is ‘power’ and it’s the only word that matters… But I’ll explain the ‘rights’ if you will be so kind as to allow me a moment.

    US border guards have the right to stop you, any time, and almost anywhere – it can be miles from the border but they have the legal powers to stop and search if they can claim a reasonable suspicion that your journey crossed a border.

    They have the right to search you, and read anything you’re carrying – documents or data – and confiscate any item indefinitely. Phones, cameras, laptops, whatever. There is no reason in law for you to complain: it is a matter of courtesy that that these items are returned to you, most of the time.

    Think that one over. Whoever you are, you have no possessions or property: you don’t ‘own’ anything if another person has the right to take it from you and keep it, at his or her discretion and without compensation or even explanation.

    They can put you on a suspect list that’ll get you double-searched at every border crossing and permanently banned from flying, even on domestic air routes.

    That’s the rights published and passed as statutes.

    They also have the right, in practice, to seize you, gas you, beat you up, and perjure their way to convicting you of an offence carrying a prison sentence measured in years.

    The right is well-defended by the law as practiced. They can do these things without without fear of disciplinary action from their superiors, and can make up any pack of lies they please, on oath, in a display of casual contempt for the court, in the sure and certain knowledge that they will not even be rebuked by the judge – far less charged with perjury.

    How’s that for a ‘right’? I can only dream of having such freedoms: their right to swing a fist does not end at the end of your nose, or mine.

    Their rights are, of course supported by ‘We, The People’. Do I need to point out that twelve jurors, just and upright men of the community, exercised their judgement as the peers of the accused to defend the rights of border guards? Or that our (or your!) elected representatives voted in those powers?

    And you will vote for a regime that keeps on paying them, and will probably extend their ‘rights’, right up until the day that you’re the one who’s beaten up.

    And, at that point, you’ll know everything you need to know about rights and powers.

  28. I’m kind of aghast there is so much flak being sent Terry’s way for saying things aren’t always black or white.

    And I still have to believe that if Peter’s legal rights were so clearly and egregiously ignored, it would be a somewhat trivial matter to challenge this in court. Do you have a lawyer ready to appeal this Peter? If not you should get one.

    1. holtt:

      Unfortuneately, as I understand it that’s not possible. Because Peter was still convicted of a felony (even though it amounted to “he asked why he was being beaten instead of immediately dropping to the ground”), he is unable to bring charges against the officers involved. It would only be possible if there had been an acquittal. Basically, part of the outrage in this matter is that because the statute in question is so broadly worded you can be convicted of just about anything, it also means that they can do anything without repercussion, as occurred in this case.

      The Federal authorities declined to prosecute the case, basically dismissing it, but the local authorities decided to pursue it regardless. In regards to bringing false charges forward against Peter, as well as lying in their testimony I believe that would then also fall under the discretion of the local authorities/judge then, to do so. And they are seemingly, not concerned.

      To say it more simply, the legal safe zone that has been created means that they likely, answer to no one.

  29. #6 “He didn’t really have any reason to fear the guards he encountered at the border”

    Google “u.s. immigration horror stories” or replace immigration with customs

    Have you crossed this border, have you experienced the hostility and power tripping ? Also I can see where an American may have a much different view on this than a Canadian as your relationship with law enforcement is so significantly different than ours.

  30. Terry wrote:

    He didn’t really have any reason to fear the guards he encountered at the border. But when they decided to search his car, he objected. Did he have a right to do so? Certainly. Was he smart to do so? Not so much.


    I don’t see the situation as a case of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. To me, it looks more like ‘wrong’ and ‘more wrong’.

    then later:

    Or, to put it another (simpler) way: Why did the guards attack Peter rather than any of the other people who went by them that day? Why did they single him out?

    Being unusual, or otherwise ‘not smart’, and therefore subject to being singled out, does not mean ‘wrong’, or even ‘less wrong’.

  31. link to some helpful videos

    10 Rules for Dealing with Police PART 1

    parts 2,3, 4 are also available

    after watching, if you want, you can make a donation to

    It would be useful to have something analogous for border crossings and for interactions with Canadian LE

  32. Three cheers for Terry. Sounds to me like Peter got jerked around pretty badly. But I read Terry’s comments as standing for the proposition that: “just because individual X gets hassled by an authority figure doesn’t automatically guarantee that X was innocent and the authority figure abused his or her authority.” An entirely true statement.

    More and more, this site seems to promulgate “anti authority” porn. And some of you commenters clearly get off on it.

    I don’t know Peter, so I can’t speak to how normal or abnormal it is for him to have run-ins with police officers and the like. But the first time I heard this story I thought of a friend of mine who invariably carries a chip on his shoulder when it comes to cops, and almost always dares them to knock it off, in some passive-aggressive way or another. The guy doesn’t really get pulled over any more often than anyone else, but he *always* manages to get a ticket, and several times in the past twenty years he’s been handcuffed. Always after something very minor. We all know someone like that, I’ll bet.

    Which is why I think I understand Terry’s point. My friend will say, “All I had was a busted tail light, and they cuffed me!” But I, knowing my friend for two decades, know there must be a little more to the story, and that he chose to escalate the situation. Which may not apply to Peter’s story at all, of course. But Terry’s perspective remains the only reasonable (dare I say “adult”) one I’ve read in this thread.

  33. I think it’s very brave of Terry to come into a forum like this and admit how much of a dick he is to cops, and raise vaguely formulated questions about whether civillian dickishness in general is at the heart of all police brutality.

    Add to this that Terry has gone on in this thread to demonstrate the exact kind of dickishness that is continually getting him tickets, and we’re bordering on some kind of self-referential performance art.

  34. I’m not sure that Terry is communicating very well, but he does raise a good point (deliberately or in passing).

    Peter by his own admission did not do everything exactly by the book. But given the apparently bizarre and violent behaviour by the guards, what exactly was it that set them off? Or was this simply a case of one psychotic guard, and a bunch of other guards that felt compelled to back him up?

    It’s an important question because, while in hindsight it’s easy to say what you should do, when it happens to you it’s not so easy. You tend to react emotionally. It could happen to any of us.

  35. I’m kind of aghast there is so much flak being sent Terry’s way for saying things aren’t always black or white.

    Read Huckleberry Finn or To Kill A Mockingbird. It called a ‘lynch mob’, and it’s enjoyed a surge of popularity on the internet.

    Sorry I haven’t been around to argue about irrelevant minutiae, kids. I realized how foolish I had been in getting all my information about this from Peter and Cory. So I’ve been spending some time looking at other sources for information on the matter (not as easy as you think – you’d be surprised at how many bloggers out there simply copy and paste whatever Cory says).

    I don’t actually expect any of you to do the same, but it has been an interesting and educational experience. I’m especially taken by the fact that every source that gets its information from a source other than Peter (and this includes the majority of the reputable news sources) insists on using the phrase ‘previous conviction’. I kind of have to wonder why this is.

    Okay. I’ll hand back the conch so you all can get back to dancing around the fire. I’ve pretty much had it with this island.

  36. Whole bunch of assholes making such a big deal of how brave Terry is to make his point.

    Is it brave or insightful to ask what a woman was wearing when she was raped?

    Terry is acting like there are other facts to be had, that weren’t in the video and didn’t come out at court. Unfortunately, he can’t link to this – but take his word for it…

    No, Terry (and other idiots like you), this is not insightful nor helpful. We know rapists will use any excuse to dehumanize their victims and we specifically don’t give a shit about their excuses. I’m sure there’s someone like you in the middle east, asking “well, had she left the protection of her menfolk?” as if it changes anything.

    The same with these border thugs. I’m sure they got real pissed about something, but their job is to search vehicles and find bombs/etc, not to beat people up and waste everyone’s time and money.

    Which leads to the issue of being anti-authority with which you want to dismiss all our opinions. We’re anti-“abusive and useless authority”, especially when we have to pay for it.

    I’m very pro Fire Department… I’m against any authority whose first reactions are violence and oppression.

    You bring up the issue of vigilantism, so I’ll run with it – if you’ll excuse the expression… I’m pretty sure if you were beaten for these posts that you’d be pissed if you were telling your story and people kept saying “but, you must have said something pretty offensive”.

    But when you try to blame the victim, it’s cool and insightful…

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