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William C. Altreuter
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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Darius G. Pridgen is a local shaman who has been a very visible civic presence around here for quite a while. He was just elected to the Common Council in Buffalo, and I see by today's paper that he is working on a resolution that will call on the mayor and other city officials to scrutinize security in City Hall. I suppose this is an understandable response to the events in Tucson last week, but it is, I think, a wrong-headed impulse. Government buildings should be open and accessible. It makes me sad every time I go to court and have to deal with the hassle. In state court I have a magic card that gets me past the metal detectors, but this is of small use when I'm going there with a client. Federal court is, of course, a big make-a-federal-case-out-of-it production. I have to show ID, empty my pockets, and naturally my Swiss Army knife isn't going in. I like courthouses, and I like the idea that the justice system is the branch of government that everyone is empowered to participate in directly. I hate that the courts feel as though the have to behave as though they are under siege. People should be able to walk in and watch without feeling as though they are subjecting themselves to law enforcement scrutiny. I shouldn't have to feel like that in City Hall either. Unfortunately, the Rev. Pridgen's resolution sounds like it will result in some security consultant noting that the building could be made more secure by limiting the number of entrances, and putting cops all over the place, and installing metal detectors, and all the rest of it. I can't say if that will make the place any safer-- nobody can, really. I can say that it will make me feel estranged from the governmental process, and I suspect that it will estrange the people who work there from their constituencies.

The Rev. Pridgen has a church on the East Side. Were I so inclined I could attend services there tomorrow simply by walking in. That is how government should be too.

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