ST. IGNACE, MI — An annual tradition since 1958, the Labor Day walk/run across the Mackinac Bridge creates the kind of family memories that last a lifetime. New for this year, families and friends will have the demeaning experience of police performing warrantless bag searches to add to their priceless memories and timeless photographs. For the 56th annual event, the Michigan State Police (MSP) will conduct searches of bags, purses, and backpacks for all attendees wanting to make the walk across the bridge — all without probable cause of a crime.
This year, the Annual Mackinac Labor Day Walk is expected to draw more than 40,000 people up to the Straits of Mackinac to cross its five mile expanse by foot. The Mackinac Bridge, known affectionately to Michigan residents as the Mighty Mac, spans the 5 mile stretch of freshwater lake separating Michigan’s upper peninsula from its lower half. Built in 1957, the bridge is a symbol of a time when America still built magnificent structures and remains the world’s 3rd longest bridge in total suspension today. And for one day each year the bridge is converted from a purely vehicular affair into a pedestrian spectacle which has to be experienced to fully appreciate.
This year, every single one of the 40,000-plus participants who wishes to make the pilgrimage will be subject to new security measures. The State Police will be conducting warrantless searches of their property if they try to cross with a purse, bag, or backpack unless they choose to voluntarily leave their belongings behind. The State authorities advise all walkers to leave all “non-essential” items in their vehicles to “avoid delays.”
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, a new level of government authority is emerging which seeks to push the current standard of freedom back just a little more. Each new tragedy seemingly presents a fresh opportunity for the government to further push back the standard.
MBA Executive Secretary, Bob Sweeney, said, “We appreciate all participants’ willingness to submit to a search, or to leave their bags in their vehicles.” Also adding, “That will help make the walk safe and enjoyable for everyone.” However, this statement belies two indisputable facts: First, that all participants agree to the willful disregard for their 4th amendment rights as though they were given a choice in the matter, and second, that government authorities have any responsibility to make the walk either safe or enjoyable.
Consenting to a warrantless search by the police or any government authority assumes that you are certain of what they might be looking for, and, further, that you are not in possession of the offending material. By now, most of us have heard the seemingly rational argument that, “if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.” But when it comes to your privacy, you have everything to hide and everything to fear by allowing indifferent bureaucrats access to your intimate possessions with no transparency or accountability for their intentions. We can only assume what the MSP will be looking for as they rifle through your personal belongings, but we have no way of knowing what they are really looking for or what they intend to do when they find it.
In 1948, Justice Robert H. Jackson, issued this judgement, “The point of the Fourth Amendment which often is not grasped by zealous officers is not that it denies law enforcement the support of the usual inferences which reasonable men draw from evidence. Its protection consists in requiring that those inferences be drawn by a neutral and detached magistrate, instead of being judged by the officer engaged in the often competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime.”
The “inferences” of which the Justice speaks are exactly the kind that police officers are wont to make in the absence of a warrant. You invite them at your own risk. The Mackinac Bridge Authority and the Michigan State Police want you forgo your 4th amendment rights and absolve them of having to formally deprive you of them. All while allowing a decidedly tendentious autocrat, rather than an impartial official, decide if what you carry on your person is sufficient reason to further violate your privacy.
As a final word on whether or not the 4th Amendment is intended to protect what you carry on your person, I offer the words of Justice Potter Stewart: “For the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places. What a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection. But what he seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected.”
As to the second assertion by Executive Secretary Sweeney that suppressing your constitutional rights to the will of the government will ” . . . help make the walk safe and enjoyable for everyone.” — I refer you to the following Disclaimer of Liability from the Mackinac Bridge Authority (It’s at the bottom of the page in all caps). It seems that the authorities do not wish to be held responsible for either your safety or enjoyment, as they clearly disavow their responsibility for any and all liability walkers might incur during the walk. One must wonder, then, why the government feels the need to search participants’ property if they are not to be held responsible for any and ALL risks involved with participating in the walk.
Finally, all of this may be moot because, according to the Department of Homeland Security, it would seem that the state of Michigan (both the mainland and upper peninsula) lies within what the ACLU is calling the U.S. Constitution Free Zone. This 100-mile wide strip extends around the border of the country and covers Michigan in its entirety. You can read more on this here, but suffice it to say, the government has little to no respect for your 4th Amendment rights if you happen to live within these areas of the country.
If you are heading up north for the Labor Day Bridge Walk this weekend, remember to be safe and have fun. But never forget the importance of your privacy, defined by the words of Justice Brandeis as, “the right to be let alone–the most comprehensive of rights, and the one most valued by civilized man.”
If you wish to complain to about the new security measures required for the first time this year, please use the resources below to have your voice heard.
Mackinac Bridge Authority Executive Secretary, Bob Sweeney
N 415 I-75
St. Ignace, Michigan 49781
St. Ignace Visitors Bureau
906-643-6950 or 800-338-6660
Michigan State Police Headquarters
333 S. Grand Ave.
P.O. Box 30634
Lansing, MI 48909-0634
Information: (517) 332-2521