The big news amongst civil libertarians (and Libertarians in general) is the order issued by the Mayor to forcibly evacuate New Orleans.
The reasons why the authorities want people to leave are commendable. The sewage system has broken down, and the water choking the streets is little cleaner than what you’d find in a clogged honkytonk toilet on Saturday morning. There is a very real possibility of various plagues breaking out, cholera being the chief suspect. This could stretch relief efforts to the breaking point, as medical supplies and facilities simply aren’t adequate to handle such a disaster.
The methods being used are somewhat less noble. Police are going from door to door, heavily armed and always in a sizable group, ordering residents out of their homes. I can’t find any reliable reports that force has been used yet, but that will probably change by tomorrow. (The live webcams available through this blog show the police staging area for the effort.)
So far these heavy-handed tactics have worked, as individuals are rather loathe to tell the 5 or 6 guys crowding into their living room while toting assault rifles to get bent. But eventually there’s going to be someone who’s going to do exactly that, and then there will be what is referred to as “an incident”.
The Mayor may have spoken, but not everyone is very comfortable with it. The military say they won’t take part in forcibly removing anyone from New Orleans, the LA National Guard said that they don’t take orders from the Mayor, and the police are very leery about the whole thing.
It’s possible that, if everyone isn’t very careful, a homeowner could take a potshot at the police trying to get him out of his house. Then what?
In an effort to reduce the chances of this looming news story, the Mayor has also decreed that all privately owned firearms are to be confiscated. (The place to go for the skinny is Publicola, who has the lowdown and the links.)
My take on all this is that the Mayor is probably right to order the police to get as many people out of the city as possible, but he’s wrong to order a forcible evacuation. He’s also crashingly, loudly, agonizingly wrong to order the police to confiscate legally owned private property.
Eugene has an interesting post about the legalities of the order, and he points out that private security guards are allowed to openly carry military weapons without fear of police. This comment by Robert Lyman outlines a dilemma for those who are on the Left side of the political fence.
It looks like the Mayor is creating a huge problem for both himself and his administration, something that only makes sense if he is either a drooling incompetent or that he has come to the conclusion that his political career is doomed anyway. As far as this goes, though, I’m more interested in the legal and political fallout to come in the years ahead.
And I hope that no one pulls a trigger, although the Mayor’s posturing has certainly increased the chances of something like that happening.