46-year-old Crivitz, Wisconsin resident Vito Congine is a former Marine and Iraq combat veteran who wants to open an Italian supper club. His desire was thwarted by the local village board, which seems perversely determined to demonstrate that government — at all times and at every level — is an inexcusable impediment to human happiness and prosperity.
In mid-June, to express his frustrations and lament his impending bankruptcy, Congine began flying a U.S. flag upside-down in front of the building he wants to turn into a restaurant. There is no state law or village ordinance forbidding the use of a flag — that is, a piece of private property — in that fashion. But this didn’t stop that local police from trespassing on Congine’s property, stealing his flag, and threatening a neighbor with arrest shortly before last Saturday’s July 4th parade.
“Police officers went to the property, which is located directly on the parade route, and observed many people openly complaining about the situation, as well as openly voicing threats of property damage and bodily injury to the property owner,” huffed an official press release from Crivitz’s uniformed tax-feeders.
Sooooo…. As paladins of liberty and intrepid guardians of individual rights, the police took up a defensive position to protect Congine and his property from criminal assault, correct?
Well, perhaps that’s how it would happen in some alternate universe. In the one we’re stuck with, Crivitz’s Heroes In Blue ™ — acting, at least to some extent, in the interest of that most important of considerations, “officer safety” — became the enforcement arm of the mob by invading Congine’ss business property without warrant and stealing other property (the flag).
Steve Klein, Congine’s neighbor, was alarmed and disgusted by this display of arrogant lawlessness.
“There was no safety hazard to it,” Klein (who is also a military veteran) told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “I think they were more afraid of people asking questions [about Congine's grievance with the village board].”
As the police invaded Congine’s property, Klein demanded to know what they were doing. He was answered with a threat of armed violence: “They said, `It is none of your business. Leave or you will be arrested.’”
Marinette County Sheriff Jim Kanikula admitted that Congine had broken no law, and that he was potentially the victim of lawless violence, but insisted that the police action was proper because “it is illegal to cause a disruption…. There were a lot of vets at that parade. You know how veterans react when they see that” — meaning, apparently, a public display of the flag with which they take issue.
A press release issued by the Crivitz municipal government likewise commended the police for their criminal actions, describing them as necessary to protect “the health and well being of our citizens and guests in our community” from “a possibile civil disturbance” that would have resulted had the latent militarism of that village’s July 4th parade been catalyzed into actual violence against a law-abiding non-conformist.
There is an expression that describes a condition in which armed representatives of the state can, at their discretion, aggress against property in the name of imposing order: martial law.
This small example is particularly striking on account of its purity: Everyone in a position of “authority” admits that what the police did was illegal, while insisting that it was justified in the name of necessity.
Mike Schinabeck offers the following wry observation:
“I detect a hint of irony in the sheriff’s statement, `There were a lot of veterans at that parade….’ Is he perchance referring to veterans who fought `for our freedom’? Or were they really fighting to maintain the authority of the state? Their apparent lack of respect for Mr. Congine’s freedom suggests the latter.”9:19 am on July 11, 2009 Email William Norman Grigg