What's scarier: thousands of drunken, out-of-hand college students re-creating the Boulder Mall Crawl on Halloween, or the police intimidating a pair of Facebookers who were encouraging the revival of the event, a once-annual tradition that was squelched in the early 1990s for being a little too popular (and potentially dangerous)?
The answer is easy for ACLU Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein and ACLU Boulder chapter chairman Judd Golden, who wrote a letter to Boulder Chief of Police Mark Beckner criticizing the way the police have responded to Ryan Van Duzer and Jonathan Sackheim, authors of a Facebook page that encouraged people to show up on the mall for Halloween.
Shortly after the page was made, Beckner visited Van Duzer and implied that, without the proper permits, he could be liable for at least $40,000 in charges should the Mall Crawl get out of hand. Van Duzer backed off, but Sackheim declined to meet with the cops — and the department continues to fear problems on Saturday.
"At the core here, these people are simply talking to other people about what they might want to do on Halloween," Golden says, referring to Duz and Sack. "Before social networking sites, no one would consider sending out the police to talk to people having a broad conversation among friends and associates about going out to do something.
"It's just fine for them to say, 'We've had a problem in the past, and we don't want to have a problem in the future. Please don't break any laws'...but they went much further than that. They said, 'We're going to charge you for what other people may do,' which is in the tradition of the worst excesses of police power...."
Ripped from the headlines: Here's how America's favorite crime dramas will tackle Balloon Boy (for more examples, go to the LatestWord blog):
When the balloon lands in the Las Vegas Hard Rock pool, investigators wrestle it away from a gaggle of drunk strippers only to find it empty. The incident is quickly labeled a hoax, but when the team arrives at the Sheen family's Lake Mead houseboat, they find Vulcher Sheen's father dead of an apparent gunshot wound. The investigation quickly focuses on a local high roller (John Goodman) who wagered $25,000 at Caesar's that Vulcher was, in fact, inside the balloon. But while the gambler admits shooting Sheen in the knee, he denies firing the fatal shot. That shot, Dr. Ray Langston (Laurence Fishburne) surmises, could only have been fired by Sheen himself — an attempt to draw attention to himself that went terribly wrong. "Well," Langston says, poking Sheen's lifeless body, "he got our attention, didn't he?"
Law & Order: SVU
After New York firefighters retrieve the balloon from the deck of the Empire State Building, a search ensues to locate six-year-old Hawk Heeney, whose body is later discovered in the attic. Special Victims Unit lead detective Elliot Stabler — already pissed that the balloon-chase coverage cut into Yankees baseball — is determined to prove that Hawk's dad drugged the boy to keep him in the attic during his publicity stunt. In the interrogation room, Stabler intimidates the father to the point of tears, eventually getting him to admit to engineering the hoax in an attempt to land a sitcom with Matthew Perry. The episode ends with Ice-T punching Heeney in the face for no apparent reason.