Sunday, September 12, 2010

I Can Die Happy Now, Or More on Being Rude to CBP Officers

Phuket Island, Thailand

Amy Alkon, the Advice Goddess herself, has linked to my blog post about refusing to answer questions from Customs and Border Protection officers and, in the comments, defends some of what I have said. Swoon.

It's unclear where Alkon would fall in the debate, airing in the comments, about being curt with law enforcement officials. Alkon is such a fan of civility that she wrote a book called I See Rude People (pictured) and probably has a thought-provoking opinion on the matter.

Civility should be reserved for people who are treating you with respect and as equals. The CBP officers are treating returning U.S. citizens as criminal suspects, are asking invasive questions, will eff with you if you assert your rights, and are hiding the fact that citizens have an absolute right of re-entry and a right not to answer questions.

A common police tactic is to begin questioning as if it were a conversation, lulling the suspect -- and you, at CBP checkpoints, are a criminal suspect -- into revealing information that (a) you don't have to supply and (b) can be used against you. In this situation, law enforcement is using social norms of politesse as a weapon. You can be mannerly in your response but, given the inherently adversarial nature of the police-suspect relationship, you can be short, curt and rude to that officer without it being a reflection of how you treat people who did not chose to hold a job badgering citizens.

During such encounters, the police officer's display of manners is phony, manipulative and deceptive. Why does he deserve actual politeness in return?

Plus, as I mentioned earlier, a gruff, unambiguous response to CBP questioning makes it clear that you are not waiving your rights. Politeness can easily lead to a situation in which the officer claims that, after asserting your right to silence, you then voluntarily relinquished it because you kept on talking so as not to seem rude.

CBP officers who ask you questions -- after you've provided proof of citizenship and a written customs declaration -- are not entitled to politeness under a social contract theory. They haven't paid their half of the bill.

Another Point: There is nothing "ruder" than a cross-examination in a criminal trial. The attorney, whether the prosecutor or the defender, will attempt to paint the witness as stupid, blind, deaf, forgetful and mendacious. If it's you in the dock, you want your lawyer to be as "rude" as possible to the testifying officer.

To my mind, the encounter with a CBP officer is not played under the normal rules of civility but under the rules that would apply in a criminal court trial -- since that's exactly where your answers could lead. Since the courtroom rules of evidence apply during the encounter, so can the courtroom rules of "rudeness."

In any event, if rudeness means that I exercise my rights and remind the petit gendarme that his powers are limited, I will be rude.

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Blogger Ray said...

Interesting article, I been detained a couple of times myself and subject to some pretty rude waiting for what seems like hours
only to be told they mistook me someone the watch list.

I agree with the author when I re-enter the US I get nervous and feel apprehensive when entering my own country, the tension is palpable, on the flip- side when entering my destination country in the Caribbean it is a happy time, live merengue music greets you as you get off the plane and enter the building everyone is cheerful and your are waved through customs with a smile 90% of the time.

The contrast is stark and does not bode well for our Police State, ah hum , I mean Republic.

I am appalled at the number of people that think that you are an asshat for even thinking that you have rights! Are the American people so dumbed down that they submit to the inconvenience and risks in the surrendering of their rights as a final act of dhimmitude.

God help us all as slaves of the state, the message from a lot of these psoters is clear "Resistance is Futile"

10:09 PM  
Blogger Dave Sailer said...

I feel undeservedly lucky for having found your blog yesterday. This information could be a life-saver, and I can't wait to find out what else you've written about.

In late 1981, from Bellingham, WA I made a day trip to Vancouver, B.C. No problem going to Canada, but on the way back I got my car searched (only the trunk, luckily -- I hear that they can disassemble your entire car and leave you with a pile of parts if they feel ornery). But the whole experience was rattling.

I tend to do my "aw, shucks" act when confronted by ignorant marionettes drunk on their own perceived status and authority. In a few months I may move out of the country, and expect that it will take at least a couple of trips back before I can permanently stay away, so this is good advice. I'll drop the Mr. Self-effacing Loser act if anyone gets huffy. Very good to know.

I go nuts when I hear people say that they have nothing to fear because they've done nothing wrong. Who said they get a vote? Who said "they" won't come back 10 years from now and nail you for something that the Party has since determined to be subversive and dangerously illegal?

6:10 AM  
Anonymous Avigail said...

I totally agree with the author and only wish I know about these laws when I was younger.
In high school on a post 9/11 trip for school I was marked for "additional screening" and was subjected to invasive questioning, a search and chemical test of my luggage, full pat down, and search of my iPod & cellphone. All of this to a fifteen year old white female who normally is mistaken for a ten year old. They continued this even when I was in tears and directly in front of classmates and teachers.

So thank you for exercising and informing others of their rights.

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not answering is not rude, it is how you say it. But what you might learn, when you politely refuse to answer, is that you are considered rude. Which in turn is very rude.

8:34 PM  

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