Archive for November, 2013

“Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution and to the Republic for which it stands. Miracles do not cluster, and what has happened once in 6000 years, may not happen again. Hold on to the Constitution, for if the American Constitution should fail, there will be anarchy throughout the world.”—Daniel Webster

I will be the first to acknowledge that there is much to be thankful for about life in America, especially when compared to those beyond our borders whose daily lives are marked by war, hunger and disease. Despite our kvetching, grumbling and complaining, most Americans have it pretty good compared to less fortunates the world over.

Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that all of our so-called blessings will amount to little more than gilding on a cage if we don’t safeguard the freedoms on which this nation was founded, freedoms which have historically made this nation a sanctuary for the oppressed and persecuted. And if there is one freedom in particular need of protecting right now, it is the Fourth Amendment, which has been on life support for quite some time.

It used to be that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which enshrines the rights to free speech, free press, assembly, religious exercise and petitioning one’s government for a redress of grievances, was considered the most critical of the amendments in the Bill of Rights. Since writing my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, however, I have come to believe that the Fourth Amendment, which demands that we be “secure” in our persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government and, consequently, stands as a bulwark against the police state, is, in fact, the most critical.

Frankly, the right to speak freely doesn’t help you when your home is being invaded by a SWAT team or the government is spying on your emails and phone calls, and tracking your whereabouts. It certainly doesn’t help you when you’re in the back of a police cruiser or face-to-face with a cop hyped up on the power of his badge. In fact, exercising your right to free speech in such scenarios today, even nominally, will more than likely get you pepper sprayed, tasered, shot or at the very least charged with resisting arrest or disorderly conduct.

In the true spirit of Thanksgiving, then, which George Washington looked upon as a time to unite in prayer and beseech God “to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed,” here is a list of things about this emerging police state that I am not thankful for and will never remain silent about as long as the government remains the greatest threat to our freedoms.

Police shootings of unarmed citizens. No longer is it unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later. This trend originates from a police preoccupation with ensuring their own safety at all costs, with tragic consequences for the innocent civilians unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. For example, consider the 16-year-old teenager who skipped school only to be shot by police after they mistook him for a fleeing burglar.

SWAT team raids. On an average day in America, at least 100 Americans have their homes raided by SWAT teams (although I’ve seen estimates as high as 300 a day), which are increasingly used to deal with routine police matters: angry dogs, domestic disputes, search warrants, etc. Unfortunately, general incompetence (officers misread the address on the warrant), collateral damage (fatalities, property damage, etc.) and botched raids (officers barge into the wrong house or even the wrong building) tend to go hand in hand with this overuse of SWAT teams, with tragic consequences for the homeowner who mistakes a SWAT raid for a home invasion, such as the 107-year-old Arkansas man killed after a “shootout” with a SWAT team or the 19-year-old Seattle woman who was accidentally shot in the leg by police after she refused to show her hands.

Arresting Americans for altogether legal activities such as picking their kids up from school, holding Bible studies at home, and selling goat cheese. Unfortunately, our government’s tendency towards militarization and overcriminalization, in which routine, everyday behaviors become targets of regulation and prohibition, have resulted in Americans getting arrested for making and selling unpasteurized goat cheese, cultivating certain types of orchids, feeding a whale, holding Bible studies in their homes, and picking their kids up from school. This last incident actually happened in Tennessee, when Jim Howe, a father of two elementary school-aged kids, was arrested and jailed after insisting on walking his son home as soon as school let out rather than waiting 35 minutes for carpoolers to get their kids first.

Jailing Americans for profit. At one time, the American penal system operated under the idea that dangerous criminals needed to be put under lock and key in order to protect society. Today, as states attempt to save money by outsourcing prisons to private corporations, imprisoning Americans in private prisons run by mega-corporations has turned into a cash cow for big business, with states agreeing to maintain a 90% occupancy rate in privately run prisons for at least 20 years. And how do you keep the prisons full? By passing laws aimed at increasing the prison population, including the imposition of life sentences on people who commit minor or nonviolent crimes such as siphoning gasoline.

Transforming the schools into quasi-prisons and teaching young people that they have no rights. Zero tolerance policies which criminalize childish behavior continue to destroy the lives of young people such as the 14-year-old arrested for texting in class; the 6-year-olds suspended for using their fingers as imaginary guns in a schoolyard game of cops and robbers; the 12-year-old hauled out of school in handcuffs for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker; or the 17-year-old charged with a felony for keeping his tackle box in his car parked on school property, potentially derailing his chances of entering the Air Force.

Turning community police into a standing army, extensions of the military. What we must contend with today is the danger of having a standing army (which is what police forces, increasingly made up of individuals with military backgrounds and/or training, have evolved into) that has been trained to view the citizenry as little more than potential suspects, combatants and insurgents. It is particularly telling that whereas in the past, law enforcement strove to provide a sense of security, trust, and comfort, the impression conveyed today is one of power, dominance and inflexible authority. Yet appearances to the contrary, the American police force is not supposed to be a branch of the military, nor is it a private security force for the reigning political faction. It is supposed to be an aggregation of the countless local civilian units that exist for a sole purpose: to serve and protect the citizens of each and every American community.

Surveillance drones taking to the skies domestically. With at least 30,000 drones expected to occupy U.S. airspace by 2020, ushering in a $30 billion per year industry, police departments are already queuing up for their drones. Indeed, the drones coming to a neighborhood near you will be small, capable of flying through city streets and buildings almost undetected, while hovering over cityscapes and public events for long periods of time, providing a means of 24/7 surveillance. Able to take off and land anywhere, able to maneuver through city streets and hallways, and able to stop and turn on a dime, these micro-drones will still pack a lethal punch, equipped with an array of weapons and sensors, including tasers, bean-bag guns, “high-resolution video cameras, infrared sensors, license plate readers, [and] listening devices.”

TSA searches that accustom citizens to life in a police state. Under the direction of the Transportation Security Administration, American travelers have been subjected to all manner of searches ranging from whole-body scanners and enhanced patdowns at airports to bag searches in train stations and sports arenas. Mind you, this is the same agency that is now installing detention pods in airports, requiring passengers to submit to searches and screenings before they can exit the airport.

Illegal, invasive spying on Americans. There is no form of digital communication that the government cannot and does not monitor—phone calls, emails, text messages, tweets, Facebook posts, internet video chats, etc., are all accessible, trackable and downloadable by federal agents. In other words, there is nothing private from the government, which has used a variety of covert, unconstitutional tactics to gain access to Americans’ personal data, online purchases and banking, medical records, and online communications. The government’s methods include the use of supercomputers to hack through privacy settings, collaborations with corporations to create “back doors” for government access into encrypted files, and the use of strong-arm tactics against those technology and internet companies who refuse to cooperate. It is estimated that the National Security Agency has intercepted 15 to 20 trillion communications of American citizens since 9/11.

Thus, while there’s much to be thankful for—the blessings of family, security, food, opportunity, etc.—it’s the things I’m notthankful for that have me greatly concerned about the emerging American police state. So do me a favor. Before you get distracted by the gathering of family and friends and the feasting and the football and the fleeting sense of goodwill and the traditional counting of blessings, take a moment to remind yourself and those around you of the things we should NOT be thankful for this year—the things that no American should tolerate from its government—the things that don’t belong in the “city on a hill” envisioned by John F. Kennedy as the standard for a government “constructed and inhabited by men aware of their grave trust and their great responsibilities.”

Mind you, if we do not push back against the growing menace of the police state now, future Thanksgivings may find us giving thanks for creature comforts that serve only to lessen the pain of having lost our most basic freedoms. In other words, it’s time for “we the people” to heed Abraham Lincoln’s advice and take our place as “the rightful masters of both Congress and the Courts—not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.” — John W. Whitehead

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“These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered. Yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”—Thomas Paine

The year was 1961. I was fourteen years old, the only child of blue-collar workers living in Peoria, Illinois. Lacking any great understanding of the winds of change that were blowing through our nation and the world, I sat transfixed in front of our small black-and-white television as John F. Kennedy delivered his inaugural address as the nation’s 35th president. The sound might have crackled and the picture wavered, but Kennedy’s message came through loud and clear. It was a message of hope, challenge and faith to an America that could be a beacon of freedom to the rest of the world.

Kennedy called us the “heirs of that first revolution” and spoke of rights that come not from the state but from God. “Let the word go forth,” he said, “that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.”

I realized that Kennedy was not talking to my parents or my teachers or the cop on the beat: he was talking to me. Everything in me wanted to be part of an America that was a champion of justice and a model of virtue. I longed to be part of making that dream a reality. It was a pivotal moment in my life, one that eventually led to my career in constitutional law.

When Kennedy called on Americans to “bear the burden of a long twilight struggle” to defend freedom in its hour of maximum danger, I never would have guessed how long that twilight would last—or that half a century later, we, the American people, would come to represent the gravest threat to our freedoms through our apathy, ignorance and indifference.

The world is a very different place from when I was a teenager. We undeniably live in perilous, uncertain times. Our nation is plagued by perpetual war; a deteriorating economy; shadowy enemies bent on terrorizing us; increasingly aggressive government agencies. Governmental tentacles now invade virtually every facet of our lives, with agents of the government listening in on our telephone calls and reading our emails. Technology, which has developed at a rapid pace, offers those in power more invasive, awesome tools than ever before. The groundwork has been laid for a new kind of government where it will no longer matter if you’re innocent or guilty, whether you’re a threat to the nation or even if you’re a citizen. What will matter is what the president—or whoever happens to be in power at the time—thinks.

We have an appalling literacy rate; a populace with little understanding of history or the United States Constitution; porous borders with countless illegal immigrants flowing over them; ravaging natural disasters; a monstrous financial deficit; armed forces pushed to their limit, spread around the globe.

We’re embroiled in endless wars against rebel enemies that seem to attack from nowhere. Our country is both ideologically and politically fractured. America’s credibility around the world is at an all-time low. And I am not alone in believing that we may be only one terrorist attack away from becoming a military state. Our very freedoms are at stake.

Is there any hope? Yes, there is. But that hope does not rest with a president, Congress or the government. And it never has. That is an illusion. As I point out in my book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, the only real hope in any significant change for the better rests in the American people. But first we have to regain a sense of America’s history and reclaim our inheritance.

The freedoms we often take for granted did not come about through happenstance. They were hard-won through the sheer determination, suffering and sacrifice of thousands of patriotic Americans who not only believed in the cause of liberty but also acted on that belief. The success of the American Revolution owes much to these men and women. In standing up to the British Empire and speaking out against an oppressive regime, they exemplified courage in the face of what must have seemed like an overwhelming foe.

Those revolutionaries were average citizens, not agitators or hotheads. They were not looking for trouble or trying to start a fight. Like many today, they were simply trying to make it from one day to another. But they finally had enough and decided to stand and fight for the one thing that makes an American an American: freedom.

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It wasn’t easy. Many lost their livelihoods and homes. Many lost their lives. But, like Tom Paine, they would not be sunshine patriots. They would not shrink from service to their country.

If we are to survive as a nation, we must regain the spirit of the American revolutionaries. It’s time to turn off the television set, put down the cell phone and, if need be, take to the streets and make sure our voices are heard. Some of our fellow citizens are already on the frontlines of freedom. Let’s join them. In the words of Patrick Henry:

Why stay we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me: give me liberty, or give me death!

–John W. Whitehead

“The argument for up-armoring is always based on the least likely of terrorist scenarios. Anyone can get a gun and shoot up stuff. No amount of SWAT equipment can stop that.”—Mark Randol, former terrorism expert with the Congressional Research Service

Why does a police department which hasn’t had an officer killed in the line of duty in over 125 years in a town of less than 20,000 people need tactical military vests like those used by soldiers in Afghanistan?  For that matter, why does a police department in a city of 35,000 people need a military-grade helicopter? And what possible use could police at Ohio State University have for acquiring a heavily-armored vehicle intended to withstand IED blasts?

For more on this pressing issue, read A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, available online and in bookstores.

Why are police departments across the country acquiring heavy-duty military equipment and weaponry? For the same reason that perfectly good roads get repaved, perfectly good equipment gets retired and replaced, and perfectly good employees spend their days twiddling their thumbs—and all of it at taxpayer expense. It’s called make-work programs, except in this case, instead of unnecessary busy work to keep people employed, communities across America are finding themselves “gifted” with drones, tanks, grenade launchers and other military equipment better suited to the battlefield. And as I document in my book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, it’s all being done through federal programs that allow the military to “gift” battlefield-appropriate weapons, vehicles and equipment to domestic police departments across the country.

It’s a Trojan Horse, of course, one that is sold to communities as a benefit, all the while the real purpose is to keep the defense industry churning out profits, bring police departments in line with the military, and establish a standing army. As journalists Andrew Becker and G. W. Schulz report in their insightful piece, “Local Cops Ready for War With Homeland Security-Funded Military Weapons,” federal grants provided by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have “transformed local police departments into small, army-like forces, and put intimidating equipment into the hands of civilian officers. And that is raising questions about whether the strategy has gone too far, creating a culture and capability that jeopardizes public safety and civil rights while creating an expensive false sense of security.” For example, note Becker and Schulz:

In Montgomery County, Texas, the sheriff’s department owns a $300,000 pilotless surveillance drone, like those used to hunt down al Qaeda terrorists in the remote tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Augusta, Maine, with fewer than 20,000 people and where an officer hasn’t died from gunfire in the line of duty in more than 125 years, police bought eight $1,500 tactical vests. Police in Des Moines, Iowa, bought two $180,000 bomb-disarming robots, while an Arizona sheriff is now the proud owner of a surplus Army tank.

Small counties and cities throughout the country are now being “gifted” with 20-ton Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles. MRAPs are built to withstand IED blasts, a function which seems unnecessary for any form of domestic policing, yet police in Jefferson County, New York, Boise and Nampa, Idaho, as well as High Springs, Florida, have all acquired MRAPs. Police in West Lafayette, Indiana also have an MRAP, valued at half a million dollars.

Universities are getting in on the program as well. In September 2013, the Ohio State University Department of Public Safety acquired an MRAP, which a university spokesperson said will be used for “officer rescue, hostage scenarios, bomb evaluation,” situations which are not increasingly common on OSU’s campus. In reality, it will be used for crowd control at football games.

Almost 13,000 agencies in all 50 states and four U.S. territories participate in the military “recycling” program, and the share of equipment and weaponry gifted each year continues to expand. In 2011, $500 million worth of military equipment was distributed to law enforcement agencies throughout the country. That number jumped to $546 million in 2012. Since 1990, $4.2 billion worth of equipment has been transferred from the Defense Department to domestic police agencies through the 1033 program, in addition to various other programs supposedly aimed at fighting the so-called War on Drugs and War on Terror. For example, the Department of Homeland Security has delivered roughly $34 billion to police departments throughout the country since 9/11, ostensibly to purchase more gear for their steady growing arsenals of military weapons and equipment.

The Coffee County Sheriff’s Department added this OH-58 helicopter to the county fleet as part of the Coffee Airborne Law Enforcement Unit, which is now in commission. According to Coffee County Sheriff Dave Sutton, the helicopter was received from the Dale County aviation unit under the Federal Government 1033 Program at no cost to the county or sheriff’s department.

While police departments like to frame the acquisition of military surplus as a money-saving method, in a twisted sort of double jeopardy, the taxpayer ends up footing a bigger bill. First, taxpayers are forced to pay millions of dollars for equipment which the Defense Department purchases from megacorporations only to abandon after a few years. Then taxpayers find themselves footing the bill to maintain the costly equipment once it has been acquired by the local police. It didn’t take the residents of Tupelo, Mississippi, long to discover that nothing comes free. Although the Tupelo police department was “gifted” with a free military helicopter, residents quickly learned that it required “$100,000 worth of upgrades and $20,000 each year in maintenance.”

Police departments are also receiving grants for extensive surveillance systems in order to create microcosms of the extensive surveillance systems put in place by the federal government in the years since 9/11. For example, using a $2.6 million grant from the DHS, police in Seattle purchased and setup a “mesh network” throughout the city capable of tracking every Wi-Fi enabled device within range. Police claim it won’t be used for surveillance, but the devices are capable of determining “the IP address, device type, downloaded applications, current location, and historical location of any device that searches for a Wi-Fi signal.” Police have already been testing the network.

It doesn’t look like this trend towards the militarization of domestic police forces will be slowing down anytime soon, either. In fact, it seems to have opened up a new market for military contractors. According to a December 2011 report, “the homeland security market for state and local agencies is projected to reach $19.2 billion by 2014, up from an estimated $15.8 billion in fiscal 2009.”

In addition to being an astounding waste of taxpayer money, this equipping of police with military-grade equipment and weapons also gives rise to a dangerous mindset in which police feel compelled to put their newly high-power toys and weapons to use. The results are deadly, as can be seen in the growing numbers of unarmed civilians shot by police during relatively routine encounters and in the use of SWAT teams to carry out relatively routine tasks. For example, a team of police in Austin, Texas broke into a home in order to search for a stolen koi fish. In Florida, over 50 barbershops were raided by police donning masks and guns in order to enforce barber licensing laws.

Thus, while recycling unused military equipment might sound thrifty and practical, the ramifications are proving to be far more dangerous and deadly. This is what happens when you have police not only acquiring the gear of American soldiers, but also the mindset of an army occupying hostile territory. In this way, the American citizen is no longer seen as an employer or master to be served by public servants like police officers. With police playing the part of soldiers on the battlefield and the American citizen left to play the part of an enemy combatant, it’s a pretty safe bet that this particular exercise in the absurd will not have a happy ending. — John W. Whitehead

“There are always risks in challenging excessive police power, but the risks of not challenging it are more dangerous, even fatal.”—Hunter S. Thompson, Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century

No longer is it unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later. What is unusual is our lack of outrage, the relative disinterest of our elected representatives, the media’s abysmal failure to ask questions and demand answers, and our growing acceptance of the status quo in the United Police States of America—a status quo in which “we the people” are powerless in the face of the heavy-handed tactics employed by the government and its armed agents.

However, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, it’s all part of the larger police state continuum. Thus, with each tragic shooting that is shrugged off or covered up, each piece of legislation passed that criminalizes otherwise legal activities, every surveillance drone that takes to the skies, every phone call, email or text that is spied on, and every transaction that is monitored, the government’s stranglehold over our lives grows stronger.

We have been silent about too many things for too long, not the least of which is the deadly tendency on the part of police to resort to lethal force. However, as Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

For the sake of 13-year-old Andy Lopez, we can be silent no more. The Santa Rosa teen was shot dead after two sheriff’s deputies saw him carrying a toy BB gun in public. Lopez was about 20 feet away from the deputies, his back turned to them, when the officers took cover behind their car and ordered him to drop the “weapon.” When Lopez turned around, toy gun in his hand, one of the officers—a 24-year veteran of the force—shot him seven times. The time span between the deputies calling in a suspicious person sighting and shooting Lopez was a mere ten seconds. The young boy died at the scene. Clearly, no attempt was made to use less lethal force.

Rationalizing the shooting incident, Lt. Paul Henry of the Santa Rosa Police Department explained, “The deputy’s mindset was that he was fearful that he was going to be shot.” Yet as William Norman Grigg, a commentator for LewRockwell.com, points out, such a “preoccupation with ‘officer safety’ … leads to unnecessary police shootings. A peace officer is paid to assume certain risks, including those necessary to de-escalate a confrontation with someone believed to be a heavily armed suspect in a residential neighborhood. A ‘veteran’ deputy with the mindset of a peace officer would have taken more than a shaved fraction of a split-second to open fire on a small male individual readily identifiable as a junior high school student, who was carrying an object that is easily recognizable as a toy—at least to people who don’t see themselves as an army of occupation, and view the public as an undifferentiated mass of menace.”

Unfortunately, this police preoccupation with ensuring their own safety at all costs—a mindset that many older law enforcement officials find abhorrent in light of the more selfless code on which they were trained—is spreading like a plague among the ranks of police officers across the country, with tragic consequences for the innocent civilians unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet the fatality rate of on-duty patrol officers is reportedly far lower than many other professions, including construction, logging, fishing, truck driving, and even trash collection. In fact, police officers have the same rate of dying on the job as do taxi drivers.

Nevertheless, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 400 to 500 innocent people are killed by police officers every year. That does not include the number of unarmed individuals shot and injured by police simply because they felt threatened or feared for their safety. This is the danger of having a standing army (which is what police forces, increasingly made up of individuals with military backgrounds and/or training, have evolved into) that has been trained to view the citizenry as little more than potential suspects, combatants and insurgents.

Consider what happened in Cleveland, when two police officers mistook the sounds of a backfiring car for gunfire and immediately began pursuing the 1979 Chevrolet Malibu and its two occupants, a woman driver and a man in the passenger seat. Within 20 minutes, more than 60 police cars, some unmarked, and 115 officers had joined the pursuit, which ended in a full blown-out firefight in a middle school parking lot that saw 140 bullets fired in less than 30 seconds. Once the smoke cleared, it quickly became evident that not only had the officers been mistakenly firing at each other but the “suspects”—dead from countless bullet wounds—were unarmed. As the Plain Dealer reports:

Despite varying levels of experience, all 13 officers who fired their guns—and many who did not—told investigators they thought deadly force was needed to stop a violent encounter with two suspects who they believed were armed. “I’ve never been more afraid in my life,” said Officer Michael Brelo, who fired 49 shots that night. “I thought my partner and I were being shot and that we were going to be killed.”

Incredibly, no officers were injured in the shooting. Nor was any apparent effort made to resolve the situation using less lethal force. Sixty-three of the officers involved in the fatal shooting have since been suspended.

I doubt the police officers involved in this massacre are bad cops in the sense of being corrupt and on the take, or violent and abusive, or bloodthirsty and trigger happy. Nor are they any different from most of the cops who patrol communities large and small across the country. Just like you and me, these officers have spouses and children to care for, homes to maintain, bills to pay, and worries that keep them up at night. Like most of us, they strive to do their jobs as best as they know how, but that’s where the problem arises, because they have clearly been poorly trained in how to distinguish what is a real threat. They have also been indoctrinated into the mindset that they have a right to protect themselves at all cost and empowered to shoot first and ask questions later with a veritable arsenal of military artillery, much of which has been provided by the federal government.

These shootings are occurring with such frequency now that they are quickly forgotten, lost in the morass of similarly heartbreaking, tragic incidents. It was barely a month ago, for example, that police in Washington, DC, shot and killed 34-year-old Miriam Carey after she collided with a barrier leading to the White House, then fled when pursued by a phalanx of gun-wielding police and cop cars. Carey’s 1-year-old daughter was in the backseat. Seventeen gun shots later, Carey was dead and her toddler motherless. It was what is known as a “bad shoot.”  As James Mulvaney, a professor of law and police science, explains: “A ‘good shoot’ in police lingo is one in which officers use deadly force to prevent a suspect from inflicting serious harm. A ‘bad shoot’ is one in which there might have been a nonlethal alternative.”

Even the suggestion that there are nonlethal alternatives is misleading. Nonlethal weapons such as tasers, stun guns, rubber pellets and the like, introduced with a government guarantee of safety for the public and adopted by police departments across the country purportedly because they would help restrain violent individuals, have resulted in police using them as weapons of compliance more often and with less restraint—even against women and children—and in some instances, even causing death.

These “nonlethal” weapons also enable police to aggress with the push of a button, making the potential for overblown confrontations over minor incidents that much more likely. Case in point: the fact that seven-months pregnant Malaika Brooks was tased three times for refusing to sign a speeding ticket, while Keith Cockrell was shot with a taser for jaywalking.

Researchers have discovered that dehumanizing weapons like guns or tasers, which do not require the aggressor (police) to make physical contact with his victim, are aggression-eliciting stimuli. One study found that simply showing an image of a gun to students caused them to clench their fists faster (a sign of aggressive effect) when presented with an aversive situation. If a simple handgun can noticeably increase violent behavior, one can only imagine what impact the $500 million dollars’ worth of weapons and armored vehicles (provided by the Pentagon to local police in states and municipalities across the country) have on already tense and potentially explosive situations.

So what is the answer?

How should we as a society respond when we hear about the Las Vegas police officer who shot an unarmed man at a convenience store whom he “thought” was a homicide suspect, or the Los Angeles cop who shot an unarmed man seen leaving a convenience store where an ATM had been robbed of $40 or the DC cops who killed a young mother in a hail of gunfire? As John Grant notes for Counterpunch: “The ignominious and unnecessary public killing of Miriam Carey should be a human marker that triggers our cultural meaning machine to honestly consider what’s wrong with the picture of a howling pack of cops shooting down a troubled young mother … like a dog.”

The current practice is to let the police deal with it themselves by suspending the officer involved with administrative pay, dragging out the investigation until the public forgets about the incident, and then eventually declaring the shooting incident justified based on the officer’s fear for his safety, and allowing him to go back to work as usual. Meanwhile, the epidemic of police violence continues to escalate while fear of the police increases and the police state, with all its surveillance gear and military weaponry, expands around us.

If ever there were a time to de-militarize and de-weaponize local police forces, it’s now. The same goes for scaling back on the mindset adopted by cops that they are the law and should be revered, feared and obeyed. As for the idea that citizens must be compliant or risk being treated like lawbreakers, that’s nothing more than authoritarianism with a badge. As Grant points out: “As the public killing of Miriam Carey should make clear, a significant part of the problem is cops and the pack mentality they too often resort to. These men and women are encouraged to see themselves on “the front line” protecting us, the people. They are pumped up with post-911 fears and adrenaline and, when it hits the fan, relentlessly determined to get their man or woman. A lot of reality can get lost in this process.”

In other words, it’s time for a reality check, for both the police and the citizens of this nation, and a good place to start is with the words of that gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who warned: “Coming of age in a fascist police state will not be a barrel of fun for anybody, much less for people like me, who are not inclined to suffer Nazis gladly and feel only contempt for the cowardly flag-suckers who would gladly give up their outdated freedom to live for the mess of pottage they have been conned into believing will be freedom from fear.”