No Papers

Day 27

We woke up in Texas and are going to sleep in Texas, but during the day we were hanging out in New Mexico. We spent the day in Carlsbad. We finally did our laundry (after 27 days) and cleaned up the van a bit. Then we headed down to Carlsbad Caverns. The last elevator down is at 5:00pm and we got there at 4:58…plenty of time to spare. Thanks to Milree Keeling for the National Parks Pass, we had free entry into the caverns.

The underground layer of caverns are amazing. It is like a hidden palace of rock formations. Very cool. The drive to Carlsbad was also great. It feels so good to be back in the desert. When I was young, I was told that the way to remember the difference in the spelling between “desert” and “dessert” is that you would, of course, want two desserts, not two deserts. I don’t know though. I think I’d rather have two deserts.

Anyway, after Carlsbad Caverns we headed toward El Paso, Texas. Upon crossing the border into Texas there was a checkpoint. There were cones and signs up that said to stop for a license and insurance check. I couldn’t believe it. It seems un-American to me to have a checkpoint between state lines. And that is exactly what I told the officer who was standing at my window. I asked him what the purpose of the checkpoint was. He told me that is was to keep the roads safe. I asked him if he didn’t see the checkpoint as infringing on civil liberties. He told me to pull the van over and park on the side of the road.

That officer called the Sheriff over and told him that I was “making trouble.” They made us get out of the van. I told the Sheriff that checkpoints between states were un-American. I asked him if he has seen The Hunt for Red October. The two Russian officers in the submarine talk about how, in the United States of America, you don’t need to show papers when you travel from state to state, unlike in Russia. (Listen to the clip here.)

Borodin: Do you think they will let me live in Montana?
Capt. Ramius: I would think they’ll let you live wherever you want.
Borodin: Good. Then I will live in Montana. And I will marry a round American woman, and raise rabbits, and she will cook them for me. And I will have a pick-up truck, or umm… possibly even…a recreational vehicle, and drive from state to state. Do they let you do that?
Capt. Ramius: Oh yes.
Borodin: No papers?
Capt. Ramius: No papers. State-to-state.

(Listen to the clip from The Hunt for Red October here.)

The Sheriff said that he had never seen the movie. I asked him what the purpose of the checkpoint was. He also told me that it was for safety. They were making sure folks had drivers licenses and if they saw anything suspicious, they would search for drugs and guns. He asked where I was coming from and where I was going to. I told him. He asked what I was doing with all the equipment in the van. I told him that we were making a documentary about gay rights in America. That is when they called the drug dog over to search the van. That is about the same time that I grabbed the camera and told them that I was filming this.

The officer with the dog would not let me film the search, but I described the scene as the drug dog climbed into the back of the van and then into the cab. I asked the Sheriff if he did not consider the checkpoint and search of my van a violation of my civil liberties or of the 4th amendment. He said that he did not. I told him that I felt less free in my country now that I had entered Texas through his checkpoint. He said that on September 11th, 2001 there were people that were “free” to fly planes into buildings. “Wow,” I thought, “did he really just go there?” I told him that if we had police stopping citizens and searching their vehicles without warrants, then the terrorists were winning and America was losing.

To his credit, the Sheriff did agree to be on camera and do a short interview with me. I asked him why he searched my van. He said that I was acting suspicious. I asked him to explain how I was acting suspicious enough to warrant a search of my vehicle. The Sheriff told me that I seemed suspicious because I was “asking questions.” (Question authority?) I’m glad I got the event on film, but can’t believe that it happened. I can’t imagine the State Police stopping people at the border of Massachusetts to check their ‘papers’. We would not stand for that. I told the Sheriff that as well. He didn’t seem to think too highly of Massachusetts.

After that whole incident, I put my American Civil Liberties Union membership card in my wallet instead of keeping it in my bag where it had been. I also have my handy-dandy pocket sized copy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that I brought with me on this trip and keep in the cab at all times. Next time I am stopped at a checkpoint between states and asked to produce my ‘papers’, I’m going to hand the officer my ACLU membership card and make sure the camera is rolling.

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7 Responses to No Papers

  1. Brian Mason says:

    Good work chrises! keep those crazy texans in check!

  2. Karen Mason says:

    Unbelievable! Chris and Chris were you guys afraid of the dogs? I would of been.Chris I am glad you questioned the officer. Always question what you don’t understand. Lots of love to the both of you. Love MOM

  3. Mills says:

    Just a FYI on stopping people at checkpoints: It happens in New England too. I live in Cambridge and was driving with a group of friends through New Hampshire on our way to Montreal for a long weekend over this last Memorial day. On the south bound road (opposite of our direction), the NEW HAMPSHIRE police (of all New England states) had a road block up and were stopping people and checking for ID’s. We had the same reaction you had in Texas. I mean, the Live Free or Die state? It was really shocking.

  4. Jane Minkley Baker says:

    Chris and Potter, I am so sorry that you were put through this experience. Not all of TX is friendly and you wandered into the area that is close to Mexico. Unfortunately people in those areas of the state are more suspicious because they are filled with fear that someone may slip across the border and enter into “safe” TX. This is fear talking and it speaks loudly about anyone that is different – that includes immigrants of any nationality and unfortunately GLBT people too. We did not speak about fear in the interview with you but it is real in TX. Generated by government leadership in this state and previous national administrations.

  5. Buck says:

    That was an illegal search you know. All you had to do was refuse permission. Unless they had arrested you they couldn’t search the van. Even if they had arrested you they could only search the areas of the van you could reach from where you were actually sitting and nowhere else until they got a warrant from the judge. The Supremes just ruled on that last month. NEVER, EVER give police permission to search your vehicle!!

  6. Chris Mason says:

    I know it was an illegal search. I did NOT give them permission. I never give police permission to search. I carry the bill of rights around with me and have it bookmarked to the 4th amendment. Everyone always think the 1st amendment is my favorite, but it is actually the 4th. That is why I grabbed the camera and filmed the event. When I asked the Sheriff about the search violated my 4th amendment he said that it did not because it was an “unintrusive” search with the dog. Then he said that if the dog had smelled something, they would have called a judge and gotten a warrant to search the vehicle. That is probably legal these days. The courts have eroded the 4th amendment away over time. To me, the dog search is a clear violation of the 4th, but try telling them that. I did. They didn’t appreciate it.

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