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The Plight of Marco Sauceda and the Loss of Our Freedoms PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by John W. Whitehead   
Thursday, 28 July 2011 08:20

A person should feel secure in their own home. No matter black, white, Hispanic, Asian – I don’t care who they are – they should feel secure in their own home. The police have no right to come in your house and push you around and beat you up and do the things they did on March, 15, 2009.” – Ryan Deaton, defense attorney for Marco Sauceda

Too often, we elevate the events of the American Revolution to near-mythic status and forget that the real revolutionaries were neither agitators nor hotheads, neither looking for trouble nor trying to start a fight. Rather, they were people just like you and me, simply trying to make it from one day to another, a task that was increasingly difficult as Britain’s rule became more and more oppressive.

Caught up in the drama of Red Coats marching, muskets exploding, and flags waving in the night, we lose sight of the enduring significance of the Revolution and what makes it relevant to our world today. Yet the American Revolution did not so much start with a bang as with a whimper – a literal cry for relief from people groaning under the weight of an oppressive government’s demands.

America was born during a time of martial law, when government troops stationed themselves in homes and trespassed on property without regard for the rights of owners. Prior to the American Revolution, there was virtually no right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures. During colonial times, British judges issued “writs of assistance,” or general search warrants, that allowed police officers to enter any place upon demand. All that was needed for a judge to issue the warrant was an officer’s assertion of a mere suspicion of illegal activity. As a consequence, British soldiers entered homes and places of business, virtually at will. As time went by, these general warrants were used with increasing frequency. The effects on the American people were devastating and long-lasting. As one colonist wrote, “Our houses, and even our bedchambers, are exposed to be ransacked, our boxes, trunks, and chests broke open, ravaged and plundered by wretches whom no prudent man would venture to employ even as menial servants.”

Fast forward more than 200 years and we seem to have come full circle, once again being victimized by government agents that show little regard for our property or our persons. Indeed, if you want to get a sense of what “justice” in America has been reduced to, just consider the case of 30-year-old Marco Sauceda, who was recently sentenced to serve 30 days in jail and pay a $500 fine for resisting arrest after police mistook him for a burglar in his own home. Sauceda also suffered a gash to the top of his head that required medical attention.

Police entered Sauceda’s home at 111 Finley Street in Lufkin, Texas, on March 15, 2009, allegedly after a neighbor reported seeing a black man kicking in the front door. Obviously frightened, Sauceda, a Honduran immigrant who speaks no English and has the mind of a child, barricaded himself in his bathroom in response to the police invasion. When police did finally get Sauceda out of the bathroom, they pepper-sprayed him, shot him with a pepper-ball gun, and wrestled him to the ground. Throughout the ordeal, a terrified Sauceda remained silent.

Anyone with an ounce of sense would recognize that there’s something wrong when an innocent man with the mental acuity of a child is not only subjected to a warrantless invasion of his home by police officers but is physically brutalized by those same government agents and then forced to serve time for resisting arrest. And in fact, the jurors in Sauceda’s case did recognize that he had been wronged, but other than asking the judge for leniency in sentencing, they did nothing to right that wrong; they rendered him guilty. The judge was no better, going so far as to suggest that the unarmed Sauceda should have been sentenced to six months in jail for, believe it or not, putting the police officers – who were armed to the teeth, no doubt – in harm’s way.

This case – one that has not garnered major headlines or incited populist outrage, especially because it involves an immigrant (and an illegal one at that, although neither the police nor the jury were aware of his status) – highlights everything that is wrong with the so-called criminal-justice system in America, a system lacking in true justice whose shortcomings are more often condoned by the judiciary than set right.

For those who will immediately insist that non-citizens have no rights under the Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that the Constitution applies not just to citizens but to all persons residing in the United States. Thus, illegal or not, Sauceda is entitled to equal protection under the law.

Unfortunately, those protections, such that they are, are being steadily eroded by legislation and court rulings that render the individual completely defenseless against the encroachments of the state. In a very real sense, we truly are back to where we started in those pre-Revolutionary War days, seemingly having learned next to nothing from the tyranny at the hands of the British crown.