Archive for September, 2014

 

“Police are specialists in violence. They are armed, trained, and authorized to use force. With varying degrees of subtlety, this colors their every action. Like the possibility of arrest, the threat of violence is implicit in every police encounter. Violence, as well as the law, is what they represent.”—Kristian Williams, activist and author

If you don’t want to get probed, poked, pinched, tasered, tackled, searched, seized, stripped, manhandled, arrested, shot, or killed, don’t say, do or even suggest anything that even hints of noncompliance. This is the new “thin blue line” over which you must not cross in interactions with police if you want to walk away with your life and freedoms intact.

"Stand on Guard" - via Jason Hargrove / Flickr

“Stand on Guard” – via Jason Hargrove / Flickr

The following incidents and many more like them serve as chilling reminders that in the American police state, “we the people” are at the mercy of law enforcement officers who have almost absolute discretion to decide who is a threat, what constitutes resistance, and how harshly they can deal with the citizens they were appointed to “serve and protect.”

For example, police arrested Chaumtoli Huq because she failed to promptly comply when ordered to “move along” while waiting outside a Ruby Tuesday’s restaurant for her children, who were inside with their father, using the bathroom. NYPD officers grabbed Huq, a lawyer with the New York City Public Advocate’s office, flipped her around, pressed her against a wall, handcuffed her, searched her purse, arrested her, and told her to “shut up” when she cried out for help, before detaining her for nine hours. Huq was charged with obstructing governmental administration, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

Oregon resident Fred Marlow was jailed and charged with interfering and resisting arrest after he filmed a SWAT team raid that took place across the street from his apartment and uploaded the footage to the internet. The footage shows police officers threatening Marlow, who was awoken by the sounds of “multiple bombs blasting and glass breaking” and ran outside to investigate only to be threatened with arrest if he didn’t follow orders and return inside.

Eric Garner, 43 years old, asthmatic and unarmed, died after being put in a chokehold by NYPD police, allegedly for resisting arrest over his selling untaxed, loose cigarettes, although video footage of the incident shows little resistance on Garner’s part. Indeed, the man was screaming, begging and insisting he couldn’t breathe. And what was New York Mayor Bill De Blasio’s advice to citizens in order to avoid a similar fate? Don’t resist arrest. (Mind you, the NYPD arrests more than 13,000 people every year on charges of resisting arrest, although only a small fraction of those charged ever get prosecuted.)

Then there was Marine Brandon Raub, who was questioned at his home by a swarm of DHS, FBI, Secret Service agents and local police, tackled to the ground, handcuffed, and forcibly transported to a police station. Raub was then detained against his will in a psychiatric ward, without being provided any explanation, having any charges levied against him or being read his rights—all allegedly because of controversial song lyrics and political views posted on his Facebook page.

Incredibly, police insisted that Raub was not in fact under arrest. Of course, Raub was under arrest. When your hands are handcuffed behind you, when armed policemen are tackling you to the ground and transporting you across town in the back of a police car, and then forcibly detaining you against your will, you’re not free to walk away.

If you do attempt to walk away, be warned that the consequences will likely be even worse, as Tremaine McMillian learned the hard way. Miami-Dade police slammed the 14-year-old boy to the ground, putting him in a chokehold and handcuffing him after he allegedly gave them “dehumanizing stares” and walked away from them, which the officers found unacceptable. According to Miami-Dade Police Detective Alvaro Zabaleta, “His body language was that he was stiffening up and pulling away… When you have somebody resistant to them and pulling away and somebody clenching their fists and flailing their arms, that’s a threat. Of course we have to neutralize the threat.”

A Government of Wolves book coverAs I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, this mindset that any challenge to police authority is a threat that needs to be “neutralized” is a dangerous one that is part of a greater nationwide trend that sets the police beyond the reach of the Fourth Amendment. Moreover, when police officers are allowed to operate under the assumption that their word is law and that there is no room for any form of disagreement or even question, that serves to chill the First Amendment’s assurances of free speech, free assembly and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a casual “show your ID” request on a boardwalk, a stop-and-frisk search on a city street, or a traffic stop for speeding or just to check your insurance: if you feel like you can’t walk away from a police encounter of your own volition—and more often than not you can’t, especially when you’re being confronted by someone armed to the hilt with all manner of militarized weaponry and gear—then for all intents and purposes, you’re under arrest from the moment a cop stops you.

That raises the question, what exactly constitutes resisting an arrest? What about those other trumped up “contempt of cop” charges such as interference, disorderly conduct, obstruction, and failure to obey a police order that get trotted out anytime a citizen engages in behavior the police perceive as disrespectful or “insufficiently deferential to their authority”? Do Americans really have any recourse at all when it comes to obeying an order from a police officer, even if it’s just to ask a question or assert one’s rights, or should we just “surrender quietly”?

The short answer is that anything short of compliance will get you arrested and jailed. The long answer is a little more complicated, convoluted and full of legal jargon and dissonance among the courts, but the conclusion is still the same: anything short of compliance is being perceived as “threatening” behavior or resistance to be met by police with extreme force resulting in injury, arrest or death for the resistor.

The key word, of course, is comply meaning to obey, submit or conform. This is what author Kristian Williams describes as the dual myths of heroism and danger: “The overblown image of police heroism, and the ‘obsession’ with officer safety, do not only serve to justify police violence after the fact; by providing such justification, they legitimize violence, and thus make it more likely.”

How else can we explain why police shot a schizophrenic 30-year-old man holding a pellet gun over 80 times before his corpse was handcuffed? Mind you, witnesses reportedly informed the police that it was not a real gun, but the officers nonetheless opened fire about five minutes after arriving on the scene.

John Crawford was shot by police in an Ohio Wal-Mart for holding an air rifle sold in the store that he may have intended to buy. Oscar Grant, age 23, unarmed and lying face-down on the ground, was shot in the back by a transit officer in Oakland, Calif., who mistakenly used a gun instead of a taser to further restrain him. Ordered to show his hands after “anti-crime” police officers noticed him adjusting “his waistband in a manner the officers deemed suspicious,” 16-year old Kimani Grey was fired at 11 times, and shot seven times, including three times in the back. Reportedly, the teenager was unarmed and unthreatening.

Even dogs aren’t spared if they are perceived as “threatening.” Family dogs are routinely shot and killed during SWAT team raids, even if the SWAT team is at the wrong address or the dog is in the next yard over. One six-year-old girl witnessed her dog Apollo shot dead by an Illinois police officer.

Clearly, when police officers cease to look and act like civil servants or peace officers but instead look and act like soldiers occupying a hostile territory, it alters their perception of “we the people.” Those who founded this country believed that we were the masters and that those whose salaries we pay with our hard-earned tax dollars are our servants.

If daring to question, challenge or even hesitate when a cop issues an order can get you charged with resisting arrest or disorderly conduct, you’re not the master in a master-servant relationship. In fact, you’re not even the servant—you’re the slave.

This is not freedom. This is not even a life.

This is a battlefield, a war zone—if you will—governed by martial law and disguised as a democracy. No matter how many ways you fancy it up with shopping malls, populist elections, and Monday night football, the fact remains that “we the people” are little more than prisoners in the American police state, and the police are our jailers and wardens.

“In the age of advanced technology, spiritual devastation is more likely to come from an enemy with a smiling face than from one whose countenance exudes suspicion and hate. In the Huxleyan prophecy, Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours. There is no need for wardens or gates or Ministries of Truth. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk: culture-death is a clear possibility.”—Author Neil Postman

 

Caught up in the uproar over this year’s latest hullabaloo—militarized police in Ferguson, tanks on Main Street and ISIS—Americans (never very good when it comes to long-term memory, anyhow) have not only largely forgotten last year’s hullabaloo over the NSA and government surveillance but are generally foggy about everything that has happened in between.

Then again, so much has happened in the year since Edward Snowden first appeared on the national scene that it’s understandable if the average American has a hard time keeping up with and remembering all of the “events,” manufactured or otherwise, which occur like clockwork and keep us distracted, deluded, amused, and insulated from the reality of the American police state.

This is not to say that many of these events are not critical or important. However, when we’re being bombarded with wall-to-wall news coverage and news cycles that change every few days, it’s difficult to stay focused on one thing—namely, holding the government accountable to abiding by the rule of law—and the powers-that-be understand this.

In fact, Professor Jacques Ellul studied this phenomenon of overwhelming news, short memories and the use of propaganda to advance hidden agendas. “One thought drives away another; old facts are chased by new ones,” wrote Ellul.

“Under these conditions there can be no thought. And, in fact, modern man does not think about current problems; he feels them. He reacts, but he does not understand them any more than he takes responsibility for them. He is even less capable of spotting any inconsistency between successive facts; man’s capacity to forget is unlimited. This is one of the most important and useful points for the propagandists, who can always be sure that a particular propaganda theme, statement, or event will be forgotten within a few weeks.”

Consider if you will the regularly scheduled trivia and/or distractions that have kept us tuned into the various breaking news headlines and entertainment spectacles and tuned out to the government’s steady encroachments on our freedoms:

In late August / early September, we were treated to Justin Bieber’s run-in with police after a bout of reckless driving, the FBI’s investigation into the leaking of celebrities’ nude photos, Brad and Angelina’s wedding, James Foley’s carefully staged beheading, Robin Williams’ unfortunate suicide, the riots in Ferguson over the police shooting of an unarmed black man, growing threats from ISIS, and the ALS ice bucket challenge sensation.

That was preceded by reports of immigrant children flooding over the border, Israel and Hamas’ on-again, off-again fighting, Germany’s victory in the World Cup, Ebola breakouts in West Africa, the Malaysian Airlines passenger jet crash in Ukraine, the exchange by the U.S. of five Taliban prisoners for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the growing legalization of same-sex marriage by the states, and the kidnapping of 280 Nigerian girls for use as sex slaves.

Before that, there was the shooting rampage by an Iraq war veteran at the Fort Hood Army base, the uproar over LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist remarks, the Veterans Administration’s failure to provide timely care to vets, Russia and the U.S. in a tug of war over control of Crimea, the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines flight—this one en route to China, the 2014 Winter Olympics hosted by Russia, the Seattle Seahawks’ first ever win at the Super Bowl, Gov. Chris Christie’s role in the George Washington Bridge lane closings scandal, and the outpouring of tributes over the death of Nelson Mandela.

No less traumatic and distracting were the preceding months’ newsworthy events, which included a devastating typhoon in the Philippines, France and Germany’s displeasure over the NSA spying on its people and leaders, the U.S. government’s 16-day shutdown over Obamacare, public opposition to President Obama’s plans to take military action against Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons, another shooting rampage—this time at the Washington Navy Yard, Russia’s granting of asylum to Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning’s announcement that he is in fact Chelsea Manning, which came a day after he was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified documents, the birth of a new prince to British royals William and Kate, George Zimmerman’s acquittal of murdering Trayvon Martin, the Supreme Court’s striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, and Edward Snowden’s leaking the first of what would turn into a more-than-yearlong series of revelations about the government’s illegal surveillance programs.

A Government of Wolves book coverAs I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, these sleight-of-hand distractions and diversions are how you control a population, either inadvertently or intentionally, advancing your agenda without much opposition from the citizenry. But what exactly has the government been doing while we’ve been so cooperatively fixated on whatever current sensation happens to be monopolizing the mainstream “news” shows?

If properly disclosed and consistently reported on, the sheer volume of the government’s activities, which undermine the Constitution and dance close to the edge of outright illegality, would inevitably give rise to a sea change in how business is conducted in our seats of power.

Surely Americans would be outraged over the government’s plan to turn our most casual statements into hate crimes using Truthy, a $1 million online database being created to track “misinformation” and hate speech on Twitter, as well as “detect political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution.” Or that the Pentagon is spending millions to find ways to put down social unrest, starting with lawful First Amendment free speech protests.

There would be no end to the uproar if Americans understood the origins of ISIS, the latest hobgoblin in the government’s war on terror, whose funding appears to track back to the CIA, which helped fund its guerilla tactics in Syria.

Parents would be livid if they had any inkling about the school-to-prison pipeline, namely, how the public schools are being transformed from institutions of learning to prison-like factories, complete with armed police and surveillance cameras, aimed at churning out compliant test-takers rather than independent-minded citizens.

Taxpayers would be up in arms over the government’s end-run tactics to avoid abiding by the rule of law, whether by outsourcing illegal surveillance activities to defense contractors or outsourcing inhumane torture to foreign countries.

And one would hope American citizens would be incensed about being treated like prisoners in an electronic concentration camp, their every movement monitored, tracked and recorded by a growing government surveillance network that runs the gamut from traffic cameras and police body cameras to facial recognition software and the armed surveillance drones that will soon blanket American skies.

Unfortunately, while much of this information can be discovered through a focused study of alternative media reports, it does require quite a bit of digging and even more determination on the part of the citizenry to take an active role in their governance—which, of course, is the key to maintaining freedom.

Professor Morris Berman suggests that the problems plaguing us as a nation—particularly as they relate to the government—have less to do with our inattention to corruption than our sanctioning, tacit or not, of such activities. “It seems to me,” writes Berman, “that the people do get the government they deserve, and even beyond that, the government who they are, so to speak. In that regard, we might consider, as an extreme version of this… that Hitler was as much an expression of the German people at that point in time as he was a departure from them.”

So where does that leave us?

As legendary television journalist Edward R. Murrow warned, “Unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.”

Filmmaker John Carpenter delivers this same warning in his film They Live, in which a deluded, blinded, indoctrinated, enslaved populace finds that the only way to break free of their oppressors is by donning a pair of special Hoffman sunglasses. Only then are they able to see clearly and distinguish between what is real and what is a carefully fabricated and expansive lie designed to keep them sated, satisfied, distracted and in the dark.

If we do not awaken to the truth and open our eyes soon, then we may well find ourselves staring at a far different, far less pleasant picture before long, and by then, it will be too late to alter our reality.

Time to don a pair of Hoffman sunglasses?