Citizen's Arrest, Citizen's Arrest
By C. David Kelly
Anyone who has watched the old Andy Griffith Show may remember the episode in which Gomer Pyle runs, with arms waving, shouting, "Citizen's arrest. Citizen's arrest." Deputy Barney Fife's unlawful U-Turn on Mayberry's Main Street was the offense.
U-Turns would be considered minor offenses 30 years ago. But in today's hyper-sensitive society, seemingly mundane offenses are landing average, usually law-abiding citizens in front of the judge's bench.
During a long day on the job at a Des Plaines, Ill. shopping mall, Pat Kuehne decided to take a quick smoke break. Now, she probably realized there was a city ordinance that prohibits smoking in public places. She was also aware the ordinance was never enforced since its inception eight years earlier.
To her surprise and chagrin, once the smoke cleared from her break, Kuehne found herself under arrest and facing a court date. Thanks to the complaint of 66-year old Des Plaines resident Lynne Lohr, Kuehne was found guilty in court and ordered to pay Lohr's $47.29 doctor bill. Lohr, who called the police on Kuehne after breathing cigarette smoke in the mall, claims the second-hand smoke triggered a sinus reaction.
Lohr, an asthma sufferer, was certainly within her rights to file a complaint against someone obviously breaking the law. "I just got sick of running from people breaking the anti-smoking ordinance," she said.
The battle lines between smokers and non-smokers have widened through the years. Local and state governments, in response to public outcry from the non-smoking community, have passed ordinances to help remedy the differences.
Is it necessary to call in the police to arrest someone for using a product legally purchased and sold in this country? Are we going to start filling court dockets with cases involving people who light up in a "designated non-smoking area"? In most instances, smokers and non-smokers are able to work out their differences. According to Janet Williams of the Chicago branch of the American Lung Association, most smokers put aside their differences with non-smokers and comply with the law.
Lohr's bringing in the police could be considered overzealous. Let us hope it isn't a harbinger of things to come for today's consumer of tobacco products. Perhaps a simple request for the smoker to put out the cigarette would be a better tact.
The tobacco industry, including American tobacco farmers, have been deluged with assaults from non-smoking crusaders for years. Perhaps no legal commodity in the country has felt the brunt of public condemnation as has tobacco.
Let's just hope that the next assault on tobacco and its consumers doesn't come from citizens running with arms in the air screaming, "Citizen's arrest, Citizen's arrest."
C. David Kelly is assistant director of news services for the American Farm Bureau Federation.