When Did Tennessee Go Thug?

One of my favorite episodes of the old Star Trek (the original series in the late sixties) was Mirror, Mirror, in which Captain Kirk and a few other crew members have an accident in the transporter and materialize in a parallel universe where the Enterprise is a warship for an evil empire. Spock wears a goatee and the crew gains promotions by assassinating their superiors. It is a nightmare version of reality.

That story has always struck me as a powerful metaphor for how our country has changed since 9/11. But right now I am thinking of it as I read stories about Tennessee.

A group from Maury County was so concerned about the safety of their drinking water actually went to the authorities at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The response was straight out of the old Soviet handbook:

“‘We take water quality very seriously. Very, very seriously,’ said Sherwin Smith, deputy director of TDEC’s Division of Water Resources, according to audio recorded by attendees. ‘But you need to make sure that when you make water quality complaints you have a basis, because federally, if there’s no water quality issues, that can be considered under Homeland Security an act of terrorism.’”

The group was aghast and asked him to repeat himself. He did, without seeming to have any fear that he was openly and on the record using anti-terrorism laws as a tactic to intimidate a group of people appealing to him for healthy water.

If that interpretation of the law is remotely true, then the law is plainly unconstitutional according to the First Amendment which reads in part,

“Congress shall make no law … abridging … the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In the meantime, a restaurant owner in East Nashville, experienced a “spot check” as a police raid that shut down the after-hours establishment and cost the owner hundreds of dollars in revenue.

“As patrons munched on Shepherd’s Pie inside East Nashville’s Family Wash restaurant last Friday, an entourage of a dozen law enforcement officials unexpectedly entered around 10 p.m. in a way the owner alleges resembled a raid. The group – comprised of two Metro Police officers, as well as Metro Codes, ABC beer board, health department and fire marshal officials – is called Metro’s Environmental Task Force. Its function is to ensure restaurants and bars are following alcohol, food, health and other codes. But Family Wash owner Jamie Rubin says in his 16 years in Nashville’s food industry, he’s never seen or heard of anything like this. ‘To say I’m outraged would probably be a bit of an understatement,’ Rubin said. ‘They may want to call it a “spot check.” But you can talk to anybody that was in there – employees, patrons – it was a raid. That’s what it was.’”

According to Rubin they were all dressed like cops and presented no identification or authorization before aggressively interrogating all the staff. The city’s “Environmental Task Force” is not mentioned on the Metro’s website. Later, one of the Metro inspectors claimed it was all a misunderstanding because she wanted safety in numbers in that part of the city. So, if you live in an area lacking police protection, at least be comforted that your government overseers will always bring all the security they need.

You pay both ways.