Friday, August 27, 2010

Tribal Warfare

Well, anyone who has followed the 16 year battle over the illegal sale of untaxed smokes by Indian cigarette retailers-and our own coverage of the controversy-can't be surprised by the latest news that there could be violence on September 1st-the date when the state is finally prepared to implement the enforcement of its own tax laws. As the NY Post reports: "Gov. Paterson is on the warpath. The state, after decades of failed talks, is slated to begin collecting taxes on cigarettes sold on Indian reservations Wednesday. The last time the state tried to collect the tax, in 1997, protests erupted and tires were burned on the Thruway, shutting down a 30-mile stretch. "There will be quite an uprising and protest to this, but I am going to maintain this policy," Paterson said. "This is a very dangerous situation," he told WOR-AM. "There is a -- I think -- high alert. The State Police tells us over and over again that there could be violence and death as a result of some of the measures we're taking."

The state's cigarette stampers and tobacco retailers certainly are hoping that next Wednesday will be the dawn of a new day-the industry simply can't continue to survive in an anarchic environment. And the implied threat of violence has not been taken off the table: "The tribes have generally viewed efforts to tax their cigarettes as an attack on sovereignty, and occasionally have threatened to resist the moves with violence. Seneca Indian President Barry Snyder Seneca has repeatedly said "violence is not on our agenda," but the nation's leadership acknowledges that some of the tribe's more than 7,000 members might disagree."

Paterson, for his part, seems to be following Mike Bloomberg's advice to toughen up in the face of the threat of disruption-but he was upset by the mayor's imagery: "Gov. Paterson this morning shot down as "inappropriate" a recent controversial comment by Mayor Bloomberg over the state's effort to collect taxes on the sale of cigarettes by Indian tribes.Bloomberg suggested that Paterson stare down threats of Indian violence by standing on the state Thruway with a cowboy hat and shotgun while delivering the message the taxes will be collected..Paterson, who plans to begin collecting taxes on cigarettes sold by Indian nations on Sept. 1, said he is not looking to "raise the tension of a potentially dangerous situation with any kind of rhetoric."

Fair enough, but it's also not the time to be looking too timid when some folks are trying to threaten the state to back off enforcement. As the NY Daily News reports: "A spokesman declined to say if the state police would ramp up security in anticipation of problems when the tax goes into effect next Wednesday. "We won't speculate about any potential for protests," Sgt. Kern Swoboda said. "Are we trained to deal with riot control and other situations like that? Absolutely." While Seneca Indian Nation President Barry Snyder called for nonviolence, other members of the 7,000-strong nation vowed to do whatever necessary to block the Sept. 1 start of tax collection.
"Let's start setting up some fires here and there just to let the public know that we are serious and we are ready to battle if this is what it is going to come to," read one post on the Seneca Voice blog. "I don't want violence, as our way is to be of peace, but if the state of New York wants our money, if they want our freedom then let them come in and get it." (emphasis added)

In our view, the time is right to tamp down the lawbreakers, their threats, and the phony claims of a sovereignty that the Supreme Court has long ago declared to be bogus. Serious as the threats nay be, the failure of the state to properly respond would be a far more serious situation-and would totally undermine the rule of law in New York.