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Your Papers, Please

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A few days ago, Pete Eyre (who serves as outreach consultant to FFF) had an encounter with two police officers in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which Pete videotaped while openly carrying a weapon, which is legal under New Mexico law.

After some conversation, the two officers asked Pete to produce identification. Pete asked the cops if he was required by law to produce an ID, and they responded that he was. Pete pointed out that the officers were wrong because he wasn’t violating any law and, therefore, was not required to produce any identification.

The officers then suggested that Pete must have something to hide. Pete responded that he simply valued his privacy.

Pete steadfastly refused to provide his ID to the officers and, after some conversation with them, departed from the scene without producing his ID and without the cops doing anything to him.

Several years ago, I was traveling in Cuba. Like other communist countries, people in Cuba are required to carry “their papers” with them.

Over the years, most Americans have heard that term, especially in the movies — “Your papers, please.” But how many people have ever given much thought to what the term means? “Your papers” simply means “your ID.”

During my trip to Cuba, I took a cab from Havana to another town about 6 hours away. When I arrived, I paid the cab driver and he returned to Havana. It was about sundown. There were no hotels in town but people were renting rooms in their houses to tourists.

The problem was that no one would rent to me. Why? Because I had forgotten my papers — my passport — back in Havana. Under Cuban law, the people renting the rooms were prohibited from renting to anyone who couldn’t produce his papers.

I finally paid a bribe to an old woman to permit me to illegally stay in her home. I signed the registry that Cuban law required her to keep, but I could see that she was clearly scared to let me stay there. She said to me, “You will never make it back to Havana. There are checkpoints on the roads and they are stopping everyone. They will arrest you and jail you somewhere along the way.”

The prospect of spending the night or several nights in a Cuban jail was not very attractive to me. The matter was especially tense because during my visit, Cuba was prosecuting a terrorist with CIA ties who had bombed some Cuban hotels, killing at least one person. (The trial was being shown on national television, parts of which I watched in public venues. Ironically, it was remarkably similar in appearance and process to the U.S. military tribunals at Guantanamo.)

When I was ready to return to Havana, I decided I’d be better off taking a flight back rather than a cab, despite the fact that the airline was government owned and operated. When I approached the ticket agent, I smiled, spoke English instead of Spanish, and said that I was visiting from the United States. The agent said, “Oh, Cuba’s baseball team is playing in your country.” I responded, “I know. I’m cheering for your team!”

He laughed, gave me my plane ticket, and didn’t ask to see my papers. I made it back to Havana.

What those two New Mexico cops fail to realize is that by asking innocent people for their IDs, they are conducting themselves like the police in communist countries. American police officers need to be taught that in America, cops are not supposed to ask innocent people for their papers. Hopefully, there are two cops in New Mexico who have now learned a valuable lesson in freedom and privacy.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.