I found this while doing an obituary search for a patron. I don’t know the context for the raid that the editorial refers to and I’m going to try and find out because I’m sure there was more to this story than the author is referring to. The writing isn’t fantastic but it is interesting. This came from the hand of an angry American at the height of the cold war.
Trouble in the Congo with repurcussions [sic] in the United Nations has pretty well occupied public attention for the past 10 days or two weeks.
And the sounds of strife and arbitrary police action in trouble spots abroad drowned out echoes of gestapo or ogpu tactics in our own country.
Recent news dispatches told of midnight police raids in a New Jersey town. Sixteen persons were taken from their beds and hauled off to jail. Bail was placed so high that the prisoners had to remain locked up over night.
They were not guilty of murder; not guilty of treason, kidnapping, robbery, arson or any other crime of violence. In fact they were dragged out of their homes at midnight with the same brutal disregard of their rights as any victim of any police state.
The only thing these people had done to incur such treatment was failure to return library books they had borrowed. The dispatches say the police action was very effective, that scores of persons who had overdue books were streaming into New Jersey libraries.
Shooting a couple of book borrowers probably would have served as an example too and quite likely would have had the approval of the library board, which apparently has adopted one of the tenets of Communism–that the end justifies the means.
It seems somewhat extreme to us–staging midnight raids and the filing of criminal charges in order to speed the return of library books.
It has always been our understanding that a library customer was subject to a fine of a penny or so a day for everday [sic] a book was overdue and if he lost a book or for some other reason failed to return it, he or his sponsor, co-signer or whatever, was liable for the value of the book.
Jailing people for debt is no longer permissable in this country except under exceptional cases in which the person causing the arrest is also responsible for boarding such prisoner.
We fail to see how a book borrower could be charged with larceny anymore than could a borrower of money who failed to satisfy the loan. It would seem to us that the recourse of the library board would be to sue the borrower and his security–if any–and recover the amount the book cost plus costs of the suit etc.
We think the tactics adopted by the New Jersey library people are taken out of the pages of the gestapo guide book. We are surprised that the police employed would have any part of it. We understand that one or more of the persons so handled have gone to court about it. We wish them success and hope that they recover substantial damages from members of the library board as well as the arresting officers or their bondsmen.
It disturbs us to know that someplace in our country are people who not only think along the line of police state leaders but actually follow their methods.
The midnight invasion of a home by an armed squad, the hauling off of occupants to jail on flimsy charges are police state methods and calculated to bring terror to all citizens. If such methods are left to go unchecked it wouldn’t be difficult for the big government crowd to proceed along the other lines that lead to dictatorship.
Let us hope it doesn’t happen here. It could, you know, if we aren’t constantly on our guard.
Published on Thursday, February 23, 1961. Send me a message if you would like the source.