“[I]f the individual is no longer to be sovereign, if the police can pick him up whenever they do not like the cut of his jib, if they can ‘seize’ and ‘search’ him in their discretion, we enter a new regime.”—U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, dissenting in Terry v. Ohio (1968)

With Orwellian irony, the U.S. Supreme Court chose December 15, National Bill of Rights Day to deliver its crushing blow to the Fourth Amendment. Although the courts have historically held that ignorance of the law is not an excuse for breaking the law, in its 8-1 ruling in Heien v. State of North Carolina, the Supreme Court gave police in America one more ready excuse to routinely violate the laws of the land, this time under the guise of ignorance.

The Heien case, which started with an improper traffic stop based on a police officer’s ignorance of the law and ended with an unlawful search, seizure and arrest, was supposed to ensure that ignorance of the law did not become a ready excuse for government officials to routinely violate the law.

It failed to do so.

In failing to enforce the Constitution, the Court gave police the go-ahead to justify a laundry list of misconduct, from police shootings of unarmed citizens to SWAT team raids, roadside strip searches, and the tasering of vulnerable individuals with paltry excuses such as “they looked suspicious” and “she wouldn’t obey our orders.”

When police handcuffed, strip-searched and arrested a disabled man for no reason other than he sounded incoherent, it was chalked up as a mistake. Gordon Goines, a 37-year-old disabled man suffering from a Lou Gehrigs-type disease, was “diagnosed” by police and an unlicensed mental health screener as having “mental health issues,” apparently because of his slurred speech and unsteady gait, and subsequently handcuffed, strip searched, and locked up for five days in a mental health facility against his will and with no access to family and friends. This was done despite the fact that police had no probable cause to believe that Goines had committed any crime, was a danger to himself or others, nor did they have any other legitimate lawful reason to seize, arrest or detain him. When Goines was finally released, police made no attempt to rectify their “mistake.”

“I didn’t know it was against the law” was the excuse police used to justify their repeated tasering of Malaika Brooks. Eight-months pregnant and on her way to drop her son off at school, Brooks was repeatedly tasered by Seattle police during a routine traffic stop simply because she refused to sign a speeding ticket. The cops who tasered the pregnant woman insisted they weren’t aware that repeated electro-shocks qualified as constitutionally excessive and unreasonable force. The Supreme Court gave the cops a “get out of jail” card.

I thought he was reaching for a gun.” That was the excuse given when a police officer repeatedly shot 70-year-old Bobby Canipe during a traffic stop. The cop saw the man reaching for his cane and, believing the cane to be a rifle and fearing for his life, opened fire. Police excused the shooting as “unfortunate” but “appropriate.”

He was resisting arrest.” That was the rationale behind Eric Garner’s death. Garner, placed in a chokehold by police for allegedly resisting their attempts to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes, screamed “I can’t breathe” repeatedly, until he breathed his last breath. A grand jury ruled there was no “reasonable cause” to charge the arresting officer with Garner’s death.

And then you have the Heien case, which, while far less traumatic than Eric Garner’s chokehold death, was no less egregious in its defiance of the rule of law.

In April 2009, a police officer stopped Nicholas Heien’s car, allegedly over a faulty brake light, and during the course of the stop and subsequent search, found a sandwich bag’s worth of cocaine. In North Carolina, where the traffic stop took place, it’s not actually illegal to have only one working brake light. However, Heien—the owner of the vehicle—didn’t know that and allowed the search, which turned up drugs, and resulted in Heien’s arrest. When the legitimacy of the traffic stop was challenged in court, the arresting officer claimed ignorance and the courts deemed it a “reasonable mistake.”

I’m not sure which is worse: law enforcement officials who know nothing about the laws they have sworn to uphold, support and defend, or a constitutionally illiterate citizenry so clueless about their rights that they don’t even know when those rights are being violated.

This much I do know, however: going forward, it will be that much easier for police officers to write off misconduct as a “reasonable” mistake.

Understanding this, Justice Sotomayor, the Court’s lone dissenter, warned that the court’s ruling “means further eroding the Fourth Amendment’s protection of civil liberties in a context where that protection has already been worn down.” Sotomayor continues:

Giving officers license to effect seizures so long as they can attach to their reasonable view of the facts some reasonable legal interpretation (or misinterpretation) that suggests a law has been violated significantly expands this authority. One wonders how a citizen seeking to be law-abiding and to structure his or her behavior to avoid these invasive, frightening, and humiliating encounters could do so.

There’s no need to wonder, because there is no way to avoid these invasive, frightening, and humiliating encounters, not as long as the courts continue to excuse ignorance and sanction abuses on the part of the police.

Whether it’s police officers breaking through people’s front doors and shooting them dead in their homes or strip searching innocent motorists on the side of the road, these instances of abuse are continually validated by a judicial system that kowtows to virtually every police demand, no matter how unjust, no matter how in opposition to the Constitution.

A Government of Wolves book coverIndeed, as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, the police and other government agents have, with the general blessing of the courts, already been given the authority to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance.

Just consider the Court’s pro-police state rulings in recent years:

In Plumhoff v. Rickard, the Court declared that police officers can use lethal force in car chases without fear of lawsuits. In Navarette v. California, the Court declared that police officers can stop cars based only on “anonymous” tips.  This ruling came on the heels of a ruling by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in U.S. v. Westhoven that driving too carefully, with a rigid posture, taking a scenic route, and having acne are sufficient reasons for a police officer to suspect you of doing something illegal, detain you, search your car, and arrest you—even if you’ve done nothing illegal to warrant the stop in the first place.

In Maryland v. King, a divided Court determined police can forcibly take your DNA, whether or not you’ve been convicted of a crime. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Arizona v. United States allows police to stop, search, question and profile citizens and non-citizens alike. And in an effort to make life easier for “overworked” jail officials, the Court ruled in Florence v. Burlington that police can subject Americans to virtual strip searches, no matter the “offense.”

In an 8-1 ruling in Kentucky v. King, the Supreme Court placed their trust in the discretion of police officers, rather than in the dictates of the Constitution, when they gave police greater leeway to break into homes without a warrant, even if it’s the wrong home. In Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of the State of Nevada, a majority of the high court agreed that it’s a crime to not identify yourself when a policeman asks your name.

And now we’ve got Heien v. North Carolina, which gives the police a green light to keep doing more of the same without fear of recrimination. Clearly, the present justices of the Supreme Court have forgotten that the Constitution, as Justice Douglas long ago recognized, “is not neutral. It was designed to take the government off the backs of people.”

Given the turbulence of our age—with its police overreach, military training drills on American soil, domestic surveillance, profit-driven prisons, asset forfeiture schemes, wrongful convictions, and corporate corruption—it’s not difficult to predict that this latest Supreme Court ruling will open the door to even greater police abuses.

We’ve got two choices: we can give up now and resign ourselves to a world in which police shootings, chokeholds, taserings, raids, thefts, and strip searches are written off as justifiable, reasonable or appropriate OR we can push back—nonviolently—against the police state and against all of the agencies, entities and individuals who march in lockstep with the police state.

As for those still deluded enough to believe they’re living the American dream—where the government represents the people, where the people are equal in the eyes of the law, where the courts are arbiters of justice, where the police are keepers of the peace, and where the law is applied equally as a means of protecting the rights of the people—it’s time to wake up.

We no longer have a representative government, a rule of law, or justice. Liberty has fallen to legalism. Freedom has fallen to fascism. Justice has become jaded, jaundiced and just plain unjust.

The dream has turned into a nightmare.

WASHINGTON, D.C —The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reject a lower court ruling that declared it unsafe for California public school students to wear American flag t-shirts to school. In asking the Supreme Court to hear the case of Dariano v. Morgan Hill, in which several students were ordered by school officials to cover up their American flag t-shirts on May 5, 2010, allegedly because officials feared that other students celebrating the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo would be offended, Rutherford Institute attorneys note that the school should have focused on controlling unruly students and not on stifling patriotic speech protected by the First Amendment.

A Government of Wolves book cover“There are all kinds of labels being put on so-called ‘unacceptable’ speech today, from calling it politically incorrect and hate speech to offensive and dangerous speech, but the real message being conveyed is that Americans don’t have a right to express themselves if what they are saying is unpopular or in any way controversial,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “Whether it’s through the use of so-called ‘free speech zones,’ the requirement of speech permits, or the policing of online forums, what we’re seeing is the caging of free speech and the asphyxiation of the First Amendment.”

On May 5, 2010, three Live Oak High School students wore patriotic t-shirts, shorts and shoes to school bearing various images of the U.S. flag. During a mid-morning “brunch break,” the students were approached by Assistant Principal Miguel Rodriguez, who told the students they could not wear their pro-U.S.A. shirts and gave them the option of either removing their shirts or turning them inside out. The students refused, believing the options to be disrespectful to the flag. Rodriguez allegedly lectured the group about Cinco de Mayo, indicating that he had received complaints from some Hispanic students about the stars and stripes apparel, and again ordered that the clothing be covered up to prevent offending the Hispanic students on “their” day. Principal Nick Boden also met with the parents and students and affirmed Rodriguez’s order, allegedly because he did not want to offend students who were celebrating Cinco de Mayo.

Arguing that the decision by school officials constituted viewpoint discrimination against pro-U.S.A. expression, Rutherford Institute attorneys filed suit on behalf of the students and their parents seeking a declaration that the action violated the First Amendment and injunctive relief against a vague school district policy allowing prior restraints on speech to be imposed upon students. The lawsuit asserted that school officials violated the students’ rights to Free Speech under the First Amendment, and their Due Process and Equal Protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. In November 2011, the district court ruled in favor of school officials, citing a concern for school safety. That ruling was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in February 2014. Although the appeals court acknowledged that other students were permitted to wear Mexican flag colors and symbols, it ruled that school officials could forbid the American flag apparel out of concerns that it would cause disruption, even though no disruption had occurred. Three of the nine judges on the Ninth Circuit agreed with The Rutherford Institute that school officials violated long-standing Supreme Court precedent forbidding suppression of protected expression on the basis of a “heckler’s veto,” which occurs when the government restricts an individual’s right to free speech in order to maintain order.

Affiliate attorney William J. Becker is assisting The Rutherford Institute in its defense of the students.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a blow to the constitutional rights of citizens, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Heien v. State of North Carolina that police officers are permitted to violate American citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights if the violation results from a “reasonable” mistake about the law on the part of police. Acting contrary to the venerable principle that “ignorance of the law is no excuse,” the Court ruled that evidence obtained by police during a traffic stop that was not legally justified can be used to prosecute the person if police were reasonably mistaken that the person had violated the law. The Rutherford Institute had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hold law enforcement officials accountable to knowing and abiding by the rule of law. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Court’s lone dissenter, warned that the court’s ruling “means further eroding the Fourth Amendment’s protection of civil liberties in a context where that protection has already been worn down.”

A Government of Wolves book cover“By refusing to hold police accountable to knowing and abiding by the rule of law, the Supreme Court has given government officials a green light to routinely violate the law,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of the award-winning book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “This case may have started out with an improper traffic stop, but where it will end—given the turbulence of our age, with its police overreach, military training drills on American soil, domestic surveillance, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, wrongful convictions, and corporate corruption—is not hard to predict. This ruling is what I would call a one-way, nonrefundable ticket to the police state.”

In April 2009, a Surry County (N.C.) law enforcement officer stopped a car traveling on Interstate 77, allegedly because of a brake light which at first failed to illuminate and then flickered on. The officer mistakenly believed that state law prohibited driving a car with one broken brake light. In fact, the state traffic law requires only one working brake light. Nevertheless, operating under a mistaken understanding of the law, during the course of the stop, the officer asked for permission to search the car. Nicholas Heien, the owner of the vehicle, granted his consent to a search. Upon the officer finding cocaine in the vehicle, he arrested and charged Heien with trafficking. Prior to his trial, Heien moved to suppress the evidence seized in light of the fact that the officer’s pretext for the stop was erroneous and therefore unlawful. Although the trial court denied the motion to suppress evidence, the state court of appeals determined that since the police officer had based his initial stop of the car on a mistaken understanding of the law, there was no valid reason for the stop in the first place. On appeal, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that even though the officer was wrong in concluding that the inoperable brake light was an offense, because the officer’s mistake was a “reasonable” one, the stop of the car did not violate the Fourth Amendment and the evidence resulting from the stop did not need to be suppressed. In weighing in on the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Rutherford Institute attorneys warn against allowing government agents to “benefit” from their mistakes of law, deliberate or otherwise, lest it become an incentive for abuse.

Affiliate attorney Christopher F. Moriarty assisted The Rutherford Institute in advancing the arguments in the amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court.

HARRISONBURG, Va. — Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have filed a Fourth Amendment lawsuit against Virginia police and mental health officials on behalf of a 37-year-old disabled man who was arrested, diagnosed by police and an unlicensed mental health screener as having “mental health issues,” apparently because of his slurred speech and unsteady gait, and subsequently locked up for five days in a mental health facility against his will and with no access to family and friends. A subsequent hearing found that Gordon Goines, a resident of Waynesboro who suffers from a neurological condition similar to multiple sclerosis, has no mental illness and should not have been confined.

The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, alleges that the Valley Community Services Board (VCSB) is ultimately responsible and liable for the deprivation of Goines’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights because the Board allows unqualified persons to make mental health examinations.

A Government of Wolves book cover“By giving government officials the power to declare individuals mentally ill and detain them against their will without first ensuring that they are actually trained to identify such illness, the government has opened the door to a system in which involuntary detentions can be used to make people disappear,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of the award-winning book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “Indeed, government officials in the Cold War-era Soviet Union often used psychiatric hospitals as prisons in order to isolate political prisoners from the rest of society, discredit their ideas, and break them physically and mentally.”

Gordon Goines resides in Waynesboro and suffers from cerebellar ataxia, a neurological condition similar to multiple or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrigs disease. As a result, Goines has difficulty at times with his balance, causing him to walk unsteadily, speaks slowly and with a slur and has problems with fine motor skills. Goines has no cognitive impairment, is of above-average intelligence, and acutely aware of what is happening around him.

The complaint alleges that on May 15, 2014, Goines was having problems with his cable television reception, including disconnections and extremely loud line noise and signals, and called the cable company for assistance. A technician determined that a neighbor had spliced into Goines cable and recommended Goines contact police about the theft. Goines walked across the street to the Waynesboro Police Dept. and reported the theft to one officer, who called on two other officers to follow Goines home and investigate his complaint. However, the first officer reported that Goines was having “mental health issues.” The officers then proceeded to question Goines about his “mental health issues”; Goines told them he did not have any mental health problems. The officers then asked Goines if he wanted to go talk to someone; believing they meant about the cable theft, Goines told them he did. The officers then handcuffed him and transported Goines, who pleaded to be taken home, to Augusta County Medical Center. After he arrived, he was examined by an employee of VCSB who concluded that Goines suffered from a psychotic condition and a petition for Goines’ involuntary detention was filed as a result.

According to the complaint, the VCSB screener was not a licensed medical professional, clinical psychologist or social worker and so lacked the required training to diagnose mental disorders. The petition was granted and Goines was committed to Crossroads Mental Health Center and held against his will and without access to family and friends until May 20, 2014, when a subsequent hearing found that Goines had no mental illness and should not be confined. Affiliate attorney Timothy Coffield of Keswick, Va., is assisting The Rutherford Institute by representing Goines in his civil rights lawsuit.

“The truth is that the State is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all to corrupt its citizens.”—Leo Tolstoy

My 7-year-old granddaughter has suddenly developed a keen interest in card games: Go Fish, Crazy Eights, Old Maid, Blackjack, and War. We’ve fallen into a set pattern now: every time we play, she deals the cards, and I pretend not to see her stacking the deck in her favor. And of course, I always lose.

I don’t mind losing to my granddaughter at Old Maid, knowing full well the game is rigged. For now, it’s fun and games, and she’s winning. Where the rub comes in is in knowing that someday she’ll be old enough to realize that being a citizen in the American police state is much like playing against a stacked deck: you’re always going to lose.

The game is rigged, and “we the people” keep getting dealt the same losing hand. Even so, we stay in the game, against all odds, trusting that our luck will change.

The problem, of course, is that luck will not save us. The people dealing the cards—the politicians, the corporations, the judges, the prosecutors, the police, the bureaucrats, the military, the media, etc.—have only one prevailing concern, and that is to maintain their power and control over the country and us.

It really doesn’t matter what you call them—the 1%, the elite, the controllers, the masterminds, the shadow government, the police state, the surveillance state, the military industrial complex—so long as you understand that while they are dealing the cards, the deck will always be stacked in their favor.

Incredibly, no matter how many times we see this played out, Americans continue to naively buy into the idea that it’s our politics that divide us as a nation. As if there were really a difference between the Democrats and Republicans. As if the policies of George W. Bush were any different from those of Barack Obama. As if we weren’t a nation of sheep being fattened for the kill by a ravenous government of wolves.

We’re in trouble, folks, and changing the dealer won’t save us: it’s time to get out of the game.

We have relinquished control of our government to overlords who care nothing for our rights, our dignity or our humanity, and now we’re saddled with an authoritarian regime that is deaf to our cries, dumb to our troubles, blind to our needs, and accountable to no one.

Even revelations of wrongdoing amount to little in the way of changes for the better.

For instance, after six years of investigation, 6,000 written pages and $40 million to write a report that will not be released to the public in its entirety, the U.S. Senate has finally concluded that the CIA lied about its torture tactics, failed to acquire any life-saving intelligence, and was more brutal and extensive than previously admitted. This is no revelation. It’s a costly sleight of hand intended to distract us from the fact that nothing has changed. We’re still a military empire waging endless wars against shadowy enemies, all the while fattening the wallets of the defense contractors for whom war is money.

Same goes for the government’s surveillance programs. More than a year after Edward Snowden’s revelations dominated news headlines, the government’s domestic surveillance programs are just as invasive as ever. In fact, while the nation was distracted by the hubbub over the long-awaited release of the Senate’s CIA torture, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court quietly reauthorized the National Security Agency’s surveillance of phone records. This was in response to the Obama administration’s request to keep the program alive.

Police misconduct and brutality have been dominating the news headlines for months now, but don’t expect any change for the better. In fact, with Obama’s blessing, police departments continue to make themselves battle ready with weapons and gear created for the military. Police shootings of unarmed citizens continue with alarming regularity. And grand juries, little more than puppets controlled by state prosecutors, continue to legitimize the police state by absolving police of any wrongdoing.

These grand juries embody everything that’s wrong with America today. In an age of secret meetings, secret surveillance, secret laws, secret tribunals and secret courts, the grand jury—which meets secretly, hears secret testimony, and is exposed to only what a prosecutor deems appropriate—has become yet another bureaucratic appendage to a government utterly lacking in transparency, accountability and adherence to the rule of law.

It’s a sorry lesson in how a well-intentioned law or program can be perverted, corrupted and used to advance illegitimate purposes. The war on terror, the war on drugs, asset forfeiture schemes, road safety schemes, school zero tolerance policies, eminent domain, private prisons: all of these programs started out as legitimate responses to pressing concerns. However, once you add money and power into the mix, even the most benevolent plans can be put to malevolent purposes.

In this way, the war on terror has become a convenient ruse to justify surveillance of all Americans, to create a suspect society, to expand the military empire, and to allow the president to expand the powers of the Executive Branch to imperial heights.

Under cover of the war on drugs, the nation’s police forces have been transformed into extensions of the military, with SWAT team raids carried out on unsuspecting homeowners for the slightest charge, and police officers given carte blanche authority to shoot first and ask questions later.

Asset forfeiture schemes, engineered as a way to strip organized crime syndicates of their ill-gotten wealth, have, in the hands of law enforcement agencies, become corrupt systems aimed at fleecing the citizenry while padding the pockets of the police.

Eminent domain, intended by the founders as a means to build roads and hospitals for the benefit of the general public, has become a handy loophole by which local governments can evict homeowners to make way for costly developments and shopping centers.

Private prisons, touted as an economically savvy solution to cash-strapped states with overcrowded prisons have turned into profit- and quota-driven detention centers that jail Americans guilty of little more than living off the grid, growing vegetable gardens in the front yards, or holding Bible studies in their back yards.

Traffic safety schemes such as automated red light and speed cameras, ostensibly aimed at making the nation’s roads safer, have been shown to be thinly disguised road taxes, levying hefty fines on drivers, most of whom would never have been pulled over, let alone ticketed, by an actual police officer.

School zero tolerance policies, a response to a handful of school shootings, have become exercises in folly, turning the schools into quasi-prisons, complete with armed police, metal detectors and lockdowns. The horror stories abound of 4- and 6-year-olds being handcuffed, shackled and dragged, kicking and screaming, to police headquarters for daring to act like children while at school.

As for grand juries, which were intended to serve as a check on the powers of the police and prosecutors, they have gone from being the citizen’s shield against injustice to a weapon in the hands of government agents. A far cry from a people’s court, today’s grand jury system is so blatantly rigged in favor of the government as to be laughable. Unless, that is, you happen to be one of the growing numbers of Americans betrayed and/or victimized by their own government, in which case, you’ll find nothing amusing about the way in which grand juries are used to terrorize the populace all the while covering up police misconduct.

A Government of Wolves book coverUnfortunately, as I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, we’re long past the point of simple fixes. The system has grown too large, too corrupt, and too unaccountable. If there’s to be any hope for tomorrow, it has to start at the local level, where Americans still have a chance to make their voices heard. Stop buying into the schemes of the elite, stop being distracted by their sleight-of-hands, stop being manipulated into believing that an election will change anything, and stop playing a rigged game where you’ll always be the loser.

It’s time to change the rules of the game. For that matter, it’s time to change the game.

AMARILLO, Texas — The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of an eighth grader at Sam Houston Middle School (SHMS) who was allegedly slammed to the ground by police, lain on until he was left gasping for air, then arrested and held in a detention center overnight—all because he wore rosary beads in memory of his deceased brother to a school football game.

In challenging school officials and police over their treatment of Jacob Herrera, who had to be taken to a hospital as a result of the injuries inflicted by the arresting officer, The Rutherford Institute is asking the superintendent of the Amarillo Independent School District (AISD) to rectify the situation by rescinding the school’s ban on rosary beads, which clearly violates the First Amendment. Pointing out that Jacob did request and receive permission from the school principal to wear the rosary beads to the football game, Institute attorneys have also asked that AISD communicate to law enforcement officials the school’s belief that Jacob not be prosecuted for any of the unfounded charges being levied against him, and issue a public statement that the school district does not support or condone students being physically accosted in the manner Jacob was reportedly dealt with by the arresting officer, particularly where there was no threat of harm posed by the student and he was engaged in peaceful religious expression.

“Whether it’s a grown man placed in a chokehold by police for selling cigarettes, or a middle school student body slammed for wearing rosary beads to a football game, the end result is the same: Americans can no longer take for granted the possibility of peaceful, nonviolent, routine interactions with police,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “It’s our hope that school officials will affirm their support for young Jacob and, in so doing, send a strong message to the community that they will not condone such heavy-handed tactics being used against students on school grounds.”

According to Jacob’s mother, Jacob wears rosary beads given to him by his deceased brother and which have particular religious, spiritual, and sentimental value to him. Jacob is not affiliated with any gang and his wearing of the rosary beads is only an expression of his religious beliefs and his devotion to the memory of his lost brother. Indeed, the rosary is used in the Roman Catholic faith for prayers to the Virgin Mary and has clear religious significance. Because of its significance to him, earlier this year Jacob sought permission from SHMS administrators to wear the rosary necklace to school. However, Jacob was told he had to wear the rosary inside his clothing during school hours, because rosary beads, while not specifically prohibited by any AISD rule or policy, have been deemed “gang apparel” that is banned under AISD’s Student Handbook.

A Government of Wolves book coverAlthough Jacob reluctantly complied with the directive that he not wear the rosary beads openly at school, prior to SHMS’s October 29, 2014, football game, Jacob asked the school’s principal for permission to display the beads while at the game and was told by the principal that he could do so. Nonetheless, while at the game that Wednesday evening, Jacob was approached by a police officer who ordered Jacob to either remove the rosary necklace or leave the property. When Jacob refused due to the principal’s permission, the police officer reportedly slammed him to the ground, laid on him until Jacob was gasping for air, and forcibly arrested the teenager. Thereafter, Jacob was held in the detention center until following day, when he was released, but is still under restraints of his liberty due to conditions placed on his release by the County Court. In coming to Jacob’s defense, Rutherford Institute attorneys point out that the entire incident might never have happened if AISD’s policies regarding what constitutes gang apparel had not been so unconstitutionally vague.

“It’s been three weeks since the flashbang exploded next to my sleeping baby, and he’s still covered in burns. There’s still a hole in his chest that exposes his ribs. After breaking down the door, throwing my husband to the ground, and screaming at my children, the officers – armed with M16s – filed through the house like they were playing war. They searched for drugs and never found any. I heard my baby wailing and asked one of the officers to let me hold him. He screamed at me to sit down and shut up and blocked my view, so I couldn’t see my son. I could see a singed crib. And I could see a pool of blood. The officers yelled at me to calm down and told me my son was fine, that he’d just lost a tooth. It was only hours later when they finally let us drive to the hospital that we found out Bou Bou was in the intensive burn unit and that he’d been placed into a medically induced coma.”—Alecia Phonesavanh, the mother of Baby Bou Bou

After a year dominated with news of police shootings of unarmed citizens (including children), SWAT team raids gone awry, photo ops of militarized police shouldering assault rifles while perched on top of armored vehicles, and reports on how the police are using asset forfeiture laws to pad their pockets with luxury cars, cash and other expensive toys, I find myself wrestling with the question: how do you prepare a child for life in the American police state, especially when it comes to interactions with police?

Do you parrot the government line, as the schools do, that police officers are community helpers who are to be trusted and obeyed at all times? Do you caution them to steer clear of a police officer, warning them that any interactions could have disastrous consequences? Or is there some happy medium between the two that, while being neither fairy tale nor horror story, can serve as a cautionary tale for young people who will encounter police at virtually every turn?

Children are taught from an early age that there are consequences for their actions. Hurt somebody, lie, steal, cheat, etc., and you will get punished. But how do you explain to a child that a police officer can shoot someone who was doing nothing wrong and get away with it? That a cop can lie, steal, cheat, or kill and still not be punished?

Kids understand accidents: sometimes drinks get spilled, dishes get broken, people slip and fall and hurt themselves, or you bump into someone without meaning to, and they get hurt. As long as it wasn’t intentional and done with malice, you forgive them and you move on. Police shootings of unarmed people—of children and old people and disabled people—can’t just be shrugged off as accidents, however.

Aiyana Jones was no accident. The 7-year-old was killed after a Detroit SWAT team launched a flash-bang grenade into her family’s apartment, broke through the door and opened fire, hitting the little girl who was asleep on the living room couch. The cops weren’t even in the right apartment.

Ironically, on the same day that President Obama refused to stop equipping police with the very same kinds of military weapons and gear used to raid Aiyana’s home, it was reported that the police officer who shot and killed the little girl would not face involuntary manslaughter charges.

Obama insists that $263 million to purchase body cameras for police will prevent any further erosions of trust, but a body camera would not have prevented Aiyana from being shot in the head. Indeed, the entire sorry affair was captured on camera: a TV crew was filming the raid for an episode of The First 48, a true-crime reality show in which homicide detectives have 48 hours to crack a case.

While that $263 million will make Taser International, the manufacturer of the body cameras, a whole lot richer, it’s doubtful it would have prevented a SWAT team from shooting 14-month-old Sincere in the shoulder and hand and killing his mother.

No body camera could have stopped a Georgia SWAT team from launching a flash-bang grenade into the house in which Baby Bou Bou, his three sisters and his parents were staying. The grenade landed in the 2-year-old’s crib, burning a hole in his chest and leaving him with scarring that a lifetime of surgeries will not be able to easily undo.

No body camera could have prevented 10-year-old Dakota Corbitt from being shot by a Georgia police officer who tried to shoot an inquisitive dog, missed, and hit the young boy, instead. Alberto Sepulveda, 11, died from one “accidental” shotgun round to the back, after a SWAT team raided his parents’ home.

Cleveland police shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was seen playing on a playground with a toy gun. Surveillance footage shows police shooting the boy after getting out of a moving patrol car. Thirteen-year-old Andy Lopez Cruz was shot 7 times in 10 seconds by a California police officer who mistook the boy’s toy gun for an assault rifle. Christopher Roupe, 17, was shot and killed after opening the door to a police officer. The officer, mistaking the Wii remote control in Roupe’s hand for a gun, shot him in the chest.

These children are more than grim statistics on a police blotter. They are the heartbreaking casualties of the government’s endless, deadly wars on terror, on drugs, and on the American people themselves. Not even the children who survive their encounters with police escape unscathed. Increasingly, their lives are daily lessons in compliance and terror, meted out with every SWAT team raid, roadside strip search, and school drill.

Who is calculating the damage being done to the young people forced to watch as their homes are trashed and their dogs are shot during SWAT team raids? A Minnesota SWAT team actually burst into one family’s house, shot the family’s dog, handcuffed the children and forced them to “sit next to the carcass of their dead and bloody pet for more than an hour.” They later claimed it was the wrong house.

More than 80% of American communities have their own SWAT teams, with more than 80,000 of these paramilitary raids are carried out every year. That translates to more than 200 SWAT team raids every day in which police crash through doors, damage private property, terrorize adults and children alike, kill family pets, assault or shoot anyone that is perceived as threatening—and all in the pursuit of someone merely suspected of a crime, usually some small amount of drugs.

Then there are the hands-on lessons being taught in the schools about the role of police in our lives, ranging from active shooter drills to incidents in which children are suspended, handcuffed, arrested and even tasered for what used to be considered childlike behavior.

Case in point: in Pennsylvania, a ten-year-old boy was suspended for shooting an imaginary “arrow” at a fellow classmate, using nothing more than his hands and his imagination. In Colorado, a six-year-old boy was suspended and accused of sexual harassment for kissing the hand of a girl in his class whom he had a crush on. In Alabama, a diabetic teenager was slammed into a filing cabinet and arrested after falling asleep during an in-school suspension. Seven North Carolina students were arrested for throwing water balloons as part of a school prank.

What is particularly chilling is how effective these lessons in compliance are in indoctrinating young people to accept their role in the police state, either as criminals or prison guards. For example, police officers at a Florida middle school carried out an active shooter drill in an effort to educate students about how to respond in the event of an actual shooting crisis. Two armed officers, guns loaded and drawn, burst into classrooms, terrorizing the students and placing the school into lockdown mode.

If these exercises are intended to instill fear and compliance into young people, they’re working.

Sociologist Alice Goffman understands how far-reaching the impact of such “exercises” can be on young people. For six years, Goffman lived in a low-income urban neighborhood, documenting the impact such an environment—a microcosm of the police state—on its residents. Her account of neighborhood children playing cops and robbers speaks volumes about how constant exposure to pat downs, strip searches, surveillance and arrests can result in a populace that meekly allows itself to be prodded, poked and stripped. As journalist Malcolm Gladwell writing for the New Yorker notes:

Goffman sometimes saw young children playing the age-old game of cops and robbers in the street, only the child acting the part of the robber wouldn’t even bother to run away: I saw children give up running and simply stick their hands behind their back, as if in handcuffs; push their body up against a car without being asked; or lie flat on the ground and put their hands over their head. The children yelled, “I’m going to lock you up! I’m going to lock you up, and you ain’t never coming home!” I once saw a six-year-old pull another child’s pants down to do a “cavity search.”

Clearly, our children are getting the message, but it’s not the message that was intended by those who fomented a revolution and wrote our founding documents. Their philosophy was that the police work for us, and “we the people” are the masters, and they are to be our servants. Now that has been turned on its head. Our so-called “servants” with badges are no longer held accountable to the same laws that we are. In their military gear and assault vehicles, they are allowed to operate above the law. In fact, their word is the law.

A Government of Wolves book coverIt’s getting harder by the day to tell young people that we live in a nation that values freedom and which is governed by the rule of law without feeling like a teller of tall tales. Yet as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, unless something changes and soon for the young people growing up, there will be nothing left of freedom as we have known it but a fairy tale without a happy ending.