Friday, January 16, 2004
Vanity Fair and New York Smoking Update
After mentioning the current issue (February 2004) of Vanity Fair yesterday, Vice Squad felt compelled to break a longstanding tradition by actually purchasing a copy. As reported, there are two articles that touch upon the smoking ban: the "Editor's Letter" by Graydon Carter and "I Fought the Law" by contrarian Christopher Hitchens. What most caught my attention (no, not the Gwyneth picture on the cover -- though it did bring back happy memories of our times together when she was filming Proof on Vice Squad's campus--) was Carter's claim that the New York police have "been given such broadly drawn powers by the mayor that they can enter offices or small businesses in search of an offending ashtray without permission or without notice." Carter should know, as he has received three tickets for keeping an ashtray in his office. I know that I have complained about inroads into Fourth Amendment protections, but surely a mayor does not formally possess the authority to delegate such powers?! -- please tell me I am correct about this!
Policing criminalized vices (at one time, after all, referred to as victimless crimes) almost necessitates questionable police tactics, and the suspect use of informants. Carter says: "The smoking laws have turned New York into a city of stoolies and enforcers."
The Hitchens article recounts a few injustices in the enforcement of various quality-of-life rules, including the smoking ordinance. One Vietnamese restaurant owner received two citations because customers were smoking outside his restaurant. But isn't that what the smoking ban was meant to encourage, you might ask? Well, yes, but you can't smoke under an awning, either. Were they smoking under an awning? Well, yes and no. There was an awning in the vicinity, but it was not open. This restaurant owner received two citations (he beat the second rap in court) for customers smoking under a closed awning. As Hitchens puts it: "Thus, a hardworking Vietnamese was penalized for, in effect, having an awning in the first place."
Crimlaw has more on how the Fourth Amendment is dying a death of one thousand cuts.