Posts Tagged ‘civil liberties’

“Our carceral state banishes American citizens to a gray wasteland far beyond the promises and protections the government grants its other citizens… When the doors finally close and one finds oneself facing banishment to the carceral state—the years, the walls, the rules, the guards, the inmates—reactions vary. Some experience an intense sickening feeling. Others, a strong desire to sleep. Visions of suicide. A deep shame. A rage directed toward guards and other inmates. Utter disbelief. The incarcerated attempt to hold on to family and old social ties through phone calls and visitations. At first, friends and family do their best to keep up. But phone calls to prison are expensive, and many prisons are located far from one’s hometown… As the visits and phone calls diminish, the incarcerated begins to adjust to the fact that he or she is, indeed, a prisoner. New social ties are cultivated. New rules must be understood.”—Ta-Nehisi Coates, TheAtlantic

In a carceral state—a.k.a. a prison state or a police state—there is no Fourth Amendment to protect you from the overreaches, abuses, searches and probing eyes of government overlords.

In a carceral state, there is no difference between the treatment meted out to a law-abiding citizen and a convicted felon: both are equally suspect and treated as criminals, without any of the special rights and privileges reserved for the governing elite.

In a carceral state, there are only two kinds of people: the prisoners and the prison guards.

With every new law enacted by federal and state legislatures, every new ruling handed down by government courts, and every new military weapon, invasive tactic and egregious protocol employed by government agents, “we the people”—the prisoners of the American police state—are being pushed that much further into a corner, our backs against the prison wall.

This concept of a carceral state in which we possess no rights except for that which the government grants on an as-needed basis is the only way I can begin to comprehend, let alone articulate, the irrational, surreal, topsy-turvy, through-the-looking-glass state of affairs that is being imposed upon us in America today.

Battlefield_Cover_300As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we who pretend we are free are no different from those who spend their lives behind bars.

Indeed, we are experiencing much the same phenomenon that journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates ascribes to those who are banished to a “gray wasteland far beyond the promises and protections the government grants its other citizens” : a sickening feeling, a desire to sleep, hopelessness, shame, rage, disbelief, clinginess to the past and that which is familiar, and then eventually resignation and acceptance of our new “normal.”

All that we are experiencing—the sense of dread at what is coming down the pike, the desperation, the apathy about government corruption, the deeply divided partisanship, the carnivalesque political spectacles, the public displays of violence, the nostalgia for the past—are part of the dying refrain of an America that is fading fast.

No longer must the government obey the law.

Likewise, “we the people” are no longer shielded by the rule of law.

While the First Amendment—which gives us a voice—is being muzzled, the Fourth Amendment—which protects us from being bullied, badgered, beaten, broken and spied on by government agents—is being disemboweled.

For instance, in a recent 5-3 ruling in Utah v. Strieff, the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door for police to stop, arrest and search citizens without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, effectively giving police a green light to embark on a fishing expedition of one’s person and property, rendering Americans completely vulnerable to the whims of any cop on the beat.

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In a blistering dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor blasted the court for holding “that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.” Sotomayor continued:

This Court has allowed an officer to stop you for whatever reason he wants—so long as he can point to a pretextual justification after the fact. That justification must provide specific reasons why the officer suspected you were breaking the law, but it may factor in your ethnicity, where you live, what you were wearing, and how you behaved. The officer does not even need to know which law you might have brokenso long as he can later point to any possible infraction—even one that is minor, unrelated, or ambiguous.

The indignity of the stop is not limited to an officer telling you that you look like a criminal. The officer may next ask for your “consent” to inspect your bag or purse without telling you that you can decline. Regardless of your answer, he may order you to stand “helpless, perhaps facing a wall with [your] hands raised.” If the officer thinks you might be dangerous, he may then “frisk” you for weapons. This involves more than just a pat down. As onlookers pass by, the officer may “‘feel with sensitive fingers every portion of [your] body. A thorough search [may] be made of [your] arms and armpits, waistline and back, the groin and area about the testicles, and entire surface of the legs down to the feet.’”

If you still can’t read the writing on the wall, Sotomayor breaks it down further: “This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants—even if you are doing nothing wrong… So long as the target is one of the many millions of people in this country with an outstanding arrest warrant, anything the officer finds in a search is fair game for use in a criminal prosecution. The officer’s incentive to violate the Constitution thus increases…”

Just consider some of the many other ways in which the Fourth Amendment—which ensures that the government can’t harass you, let alone even investigate you, without probable cause—has been weakened and undermined by the courts, the legislatures and various government agencies and operatives.

Breath tests, blood draws: Americans have no protection against mandatory breathalyzer tests at a police checkpoint, although mandatory blood draws violate the Fourth Amendment (Birchfield v. North Dakota).

Ignorance of the law is defensible if you work for the government: Police officers who violate the law can be granted qualified immunity if they claim ignorance of the law (Heien v. North Carolina). That rationale was also applied to police who clearly used excessive force when they repeatedly tasered a pregnant woman during a routine traffic stop and were granted immunity from prosecution (Brooks v. City of Seattle).

Highspeed car chases: Police officers can use lethal force in car chases without fear of lawsuits (Plumhoff v. Rickard).

Noknock raids: Police can perform a “no-knock” as long as they have a reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing their presence, under the particular circumstances, would be dangerous or futile or give occupants a chance to destroy evidence of a crime (Richards v. Wisconsin). Legal ownership of a firearm is also enough to justify a no-knock raid by police (Quinn v. Texas).

Warrantless searches by police: Police can carry out warrantless searches on our homes based on a “reasonable” concern by police that a suspect (or occupant) might be attempting to destroy evidence, fleeing or hurt, even if it’s the wrong house (Kentucky v. King). Police can also, without a warrant, search anyone who has been lawfully arrested (United States v. Robinson) as well as their property post-arrest (Colorado v. Bertine) and their vehicle (New York v.Belton), search a car they suspect might contain evidence of a crime (Chambers v. Maroney), and search a home when the arrest is made on its premises (Maryland v. Buie).

Forced DNA extractions: Police can forcibly take your DNA, whether or not you’ve been convicted of a crime. Innocent or not, your DNA will then be stored in the national FBI database (Maryland v. King).

Strip searches: Police can subject Americans to virtual strip searches, no matter the “offense” (Florence v. Board ofChosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington). This “license to probe” is now being extended to roadside stops, as police officers throughout the country have begun performing roadside strip searches—some involving anal and vaginal probes—without any evidence of wrongdoing and without a warrant.

Seizures: For all intents and purposes, you’re “seized” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment from the moment an officer stops you (Brendlin v. California).

Search warrants on a leash: Police have free reign to use drug-sniffing dogs as “search warrants on leashes,” justifying any and all police searches of vehicles stopped on the roadside (Florida v. Harris), but the use of a K-9 unit after a reasonable amount of time has passed during a stop does violate the Fourth Amendment (Rodriguez v. United States).

Police and DUI Checkpoints: Police can conduct sobriety and “information-seeking” checkpoints (Illinois v. Lidster andMich. Dept of State Police v. Sitz).

Interrogating public transit passengers: Police officers are free to board a bus, question passengers, and ask for consent to search without notifying them of their right to refuse (U.S v. Drayton).

Warrantless arrests for minor criminal offenses: Police can arrest you for minor criminal offenses, such as a misdemeanor seatbelt violation, punishable only by a fine (Atwater v. City of Lago Vista).

Stop and identify: Refusing to answer when a policeman asks “What’s your name?” can rightfully be considered a crime. No longer do Americans, even those not charged with any crime, have the right to remain altogether silent when stopped and questioned by a police officer (Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of the State of Nevada).

Traffic stops: As long as police have reasonable cause to believe that a traffic violation occurred, they may stop any vehicle (Whren v. U.S.). If probable cause justifies a vehicle search, then every part of the vehicle can be searched (U.S. v. Ross). A vehicle can be stopped even if the driver has not committed a traffic offense (U.S. v. Cortez).

Anonymous tips, careful driving, rigid posture and acne: Police officers can stop cars based only on “anonymous” tips (Navarette v. California). Police can also pull you over if you are driving too carefully, with a rigid posture, taking a scenic route, and have acne (U.S. v. Westhoven).

What many Americans fail to understand is the devastating amount of damage that can be done to one’s freedoms long before a case ever makes its way to court by government agents who are violating the Fourth Amendment at every turn. This is how freedoms, long undermined, can give way to tyranny through constant erosion and become part of the fabric of the police state through constant use.

Phone and email surveillance, databases for dissidents, threat assessments, terror watch lists, militarized police, SWAT team raids, security checkpoints, lockdowns, roadside strip searches: there was a time when any one of these encroachments on our Fourth Amendment rights would have roused the public to outrage. Today, such violations are shrugged off matter-of-factly by Americans who have been assiduously groomed to accept the intrusions of the police state into their private lives.

So when you hear about the FBI hacking into Americans’ computers without a warrant with the blessing of the courts, or states assembling and making public terror watch lists containing the names of those who are merely deemed suspicious, or the police knocking on the doors of activists in advance of political gatherings to ascertain their plans for future protests, or administrative government agencies (such as the FDA, Small Business Administration, Smithsonian, Social Security, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Mint, and Department of Education) spending millions on guns and ammunition, don’t just matter-of-factly file it away in that part of your brain reserved for things you may not like but over which you have no control.

It’s true that there may be little the average person can do to push back against the police state on a national level, but there remains some hope at the local level as long as we retain a speck of our independence and individuality—as long as we can resist the defeatist sense of double-consciousness (a phrase coined by W. E. B. Du Bois in which we view ourselves as inferior through the prism of our oppressors)—as long as we continue to cry out for justice for ourselves and those around us—as long as we refuse to be shackled and made prisoners—and as long as we continue to recognize that the only way the police state can truly acquire and retain power is if we relinquish it through our negligence, complacence and ignorance.

Unfortunately, we have been utterly brainwashed into believing the government’s propaganda and lies. Americans actually celebrate with perfect sincerity the anniversary of our independence from Great Britain without ever owning up to the fact that we are as oppressed now—more so, perhaps, thanks to advances in technology—than we ever were when Redcoats stormed through doorways and subjected colonists to the vagaries of a police state.

You see, by gradually whittling away at our freedoms—free speech, assembly, due process, privacy, etc.—the government has, in effect, liberated itself from its contractual agreement to respect our constitutional rights while resetting the calendar back to a time when we had no Bill of Rights to protect us from the long arm of the government.

Aided and abetted by the legislatures, the courts and Corporate America, the government has been busily rewriting the contract (a.k.a. the Constitution) that establishes the citizenry as the masters and agents of the government as the servants. We are now only as good as we are useful, and our usefulness is calculated on an economic scale by how much we are worth—in terms of profit and resale value—to our “owners.”

Under the new terms of this one-sided agreement, the government and its many operatives have all the privileges and rights and “we the prisoners” have none.

As Sotomayor concluded in her ringing dissent in Utah v. Strieff:

By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged. We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.


The original post can be found here.

“The Fourth Amendment was designed to stand between us and arbitrary governmental authority. For all practical purposes, that shield has been shattered, leaving our liberty and personal integrity subject to the whim of every cop on the beat, trooper on the highway and jail official. The framers would be appalled.”—Herman Schwartz, The Nation

Trying to predict the outcome of any encounter with the police is a bit like playing Russian roulette: most of the time you will emerge relatively unscathed, although decidedly poorer and less secure about your rights, but there’s always the chance that an encounter will turn deadly.

The odds weren’t in Walter L. Scott’s favor. Reportedly pulled over for a broken taillight, Scott—unarmed—ran away from the police officer, who pursued and shot him from behind, first with a Taser, then with a gun. Scott was struck five times, “three times in the back, once in the upper buttocks and once in the ear — with at least one bullet entering his heart.”

Samuel Dubose, also unarmed, was pulled over for a missing front license plate. He was reportedly shot in the head after a brief struggle in which his car began rolling forward.

Levar Jones was stopped for a seatbelt offense, just as he was getting out of his car to enter a convenience store. Directed to show his license, Jones leaned into his car to get his wallet, only to be shot four times by the “fearful” officer. Jones was also unarmed.

Bobby Canipe was pulled over for having an expired registration. When the 70-year-old reached into the back of his truck for his walking cane, the officer fired several shots at him, hitting him once in the abdomen.

Dontrell Stevens was stopped “for not bicycling properly.” The officer pursuing him “thought the way Stephens rode his bike was suspicious. He thought the way Stephens got off his bike was suspicious.” Four seconds later, sheriff’s deputy Adams Lin shot Stephens four times as he pulled out a black object from his waistband. The object was his cell phone. Stephens was unarmed.

If there is any lesson to be learned from these “routine” traffic stops, it is that drivers should beware.

At a time when police can do no wrong—at least in the eyes of the courts, police unions and politicians dependent on their votes—and a “fear” for officer safety is used to justify all manner of police misconduct, “we the people” are at a severe disadvantage.

According to the Justice Department, the most common reason for a citizen to come into contact with the police is being a driver in a traffic stop. On average, one in 10 Americans gets pulled over by police. Black drivers are 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers, or about 23 percent more likely than Hispanic drivers. As the Washington Post concludes, “‘Driving while black’ is, indeed, a measurable phenomenon.”

As Sandra Bland learned the hard way, the reason for a traffic stop no longer matters. Bland, who was pulled over for allegedly failing to use her turn signal, was arrested after refusing to comply with the police officer’s order to extinguish her cigarette and exit her vehicle. The encounter escalated, with the officer threatening to “light” Bland up with his taser. Three days later, Bland was found dead in her jail cell.

You’re doing all of this for a failure to signal?” Bland asked as she got out of her car, after having been yelled at and threatened repeatedly. Had she only known, drivers have been pulled over for far less. Indeed, police officers have been given free range to pull anyone over for a variety of reasons.

This approach to traffic stops (what I would call “blank check policing,” in which the police get to call all of the shots) has resulted in drivers being stopped for windows that are too heavily tinted, for driving too fast, driving too slow, failing to maintain speed, following too closely, improper lane changes, distracted driving, screeching a car’s tires, and leaving a parked car door open for too long.

Motorists can also be stopped by police for driving near a bar or on a road that has large amounts of drunk driving, driving a certain make of car (Mercedes, Grand Prix and Hummers are among the most ticketed vehicles), having anything dangling from the rearview mirror (air fresheners, handicap parking permits, troll transponders or rosaries), and displaying pro-police bumper stickers.

Incredibly, a federal appeals court actually ruled unanimously in 2014 that acne scars and driving with a stiff upright posture are reasonable grounds for being pulled over. More recently, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that driving a vehicle that has a couple air fresheners, rosaries and pro-police bumper stickers at 2 MPH over the speed limit is suspicious, meriting a traffic stop.

Unfortunately for drivers, not only have traffic stops become potentially deadly encounters, they have also turned into a profitable form of highway robbery for the police departments involved.

As The Washington Post reports, “traffic stops for minor infractions such as speeding or equipment violations are increasingly used as a pretext for officers to seize cash from drivers.” Relying on federal and state asset forfeiture laws, police set up “stings” on public roads that enable them to stop drivers for a variety of so-called “suspicious” behavior, search their vehicles and seize anything of value that could be suspected of being connected to criminal activity. Since 2001, police have seized $2.5 billion from people who were not charged with a crime and without a warrant being issued.

“In case after case,” notes The Washington Post, “highway interdictors appeared to follow a similar script. Police set up what amounted to rolling checkpoints on busy highways and pulled over motorists for minor violations, such as following too closely or improper signaling. They quickly issued warnings or tickets. They studied drivers for signs of nervousness, including pulsing carotid arteries, clenched jaws and perspiration. They also looked for supposed ‘indicators’ of criminal activity, which can include such things as trash on the floor of a vehicle, abundant energy drinks or air fresheners hanging from rearview mirrors.”

If you’re starting to feel somewhat overwhelmed, intimidated and fearful for your life and your property, you should be. Never before have “we the people” been so seemingly defenseless in the face of police misconduct, lacking advocates in the courts and in the legislatures.

So how do you survive a police encounter with your life and wallet intact?

The courts have already given police the green light to pull anyone over for a variety of reasons. In an 8-1 ruling in Heien v. North Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that police officers can pull someone over based on a “reasonable” but mistaken belief about the law.

Of course, what’s reasonable to agents of the police state may be completely unreasonable to the populace. Nevertheless, the moment those lights start flashing and that siren goes off, we’re all in the same boat: we must pull over.

However, it’s what happens after you’ve been pulled over that’s critical. Survival is the key.

Technically, you have the right to remain silent (beyond the basic requirement to identify yourself and show your registration). You have the right to refuse to have your vehicle searched. You have the right to film your interaction with police. You have the right to ask to leave. You also have the right to resist an unlawful order such as a police officer directing you to extinguish your cigarette, put away your phone or stop recording them.

However, as Bland learned the hard way, there is a price for asserting one’s rights. “Faced with an authority figure unwilling to de-escalate the situation, Bland refused to be bullied or intimidated,” writes Boston Globe contributor Renee Graham. “She understood her rights, but for African-Americans in encounters with police, the appalling price for asserting even the most basic rights can be their lives.”

So 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 when it comes to interactions with police.

One police officer advised that if you feel as if you’re being treated unfairly, comply anyhow and contest it in court later. Similarly, black parents, advising their kids on how to deal with police, tell them to just obey the officer’s orders. “The goal,” as one parent pointed out, “is to stay alive.”

It seems that “comply or die” has become the new maxim for the American police state.

Then again, not even compliance is a guarantee of safety anymore. “Police are specialists in violence,” warns Kristian Williams, who has written extensively on the phenomenon of police militarization and brutality. “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.”

In other words, 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.”

Battlefield_Cover_300As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, 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.

Sad, isn’t it, how quickly we have gone from a nation of laws—where the least among us had just as much right to be treated with dignity and respect as the next person (in principle, at least)—to a nation of law enforcers (revenue collectors with weapons) who treat us all like suspects and criminals?

Clearly, the language of freedom is no longer the common tongue spoken by the citizenry and their government. With the government having shifted into a language of force, “we the people” have been reduced to suspects in a surveillance state, criminals in a police state, and enemy combatants in a military empire.

The U.S. Supreme Court was intended to be an institution established to intervene and protect the people against the government and its agents when they overstep their bounds. Yet, as John W. Whitehead points out in this week’s vodcast, Americans can no longer rely on the courts to mete out justice. In the police state being erected around us, the police and other government agents can probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts.

“There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me.’” ― Philip K. Dick

If ever Americans sell their birthright, it will be for the promise of expediency and comfort delivered by way of blazingly fast Internet, cell phone signals that never drop a call, thermostats that keep us at the perfect temperature without our having to raise a finger, and entertainment that can be simultaneously streamed to our TVs, tablets and cell phones.

Likewise, if ever we find ourselves in bondage, we will have only ourselves to blame for having forged the chains through our own lassitude, laziness and abject reliance on internet-connected gadgets and gizmos that render us wholly irrelevant.

Indeed, while most of us are consumed with our selfies and trying to keep up with what our so-called friends are posting on Facebook, the megacorporation Google has been busily partnering with the National Security Agency (NSA), the Pentagon, and other governmental agencies to develop a new “human” species, so to speak.

In other words, Google—a neural network that approximates a global brain—is fusing with the human mind in a phenomenon that is called “singularity,” and they’ve hired transhumanist scientist Ray Kurzweil to do just that. Google will know the answer to your question before you have asked it, Kurzweil said. “It will have read every email you will ever have written, every document, every idle thought you’ve ever tapped into a search-engine box. It will know you better than your intimate partner does. Better, perhaps, than even yourself.”

But here’s the catch: the NSA and all other government agencies will also know you better than yourself. As William Binney, one of the highest-level whistleblowers to ever emerge from the NSA said, “The ultimate goal of the NSA is total population control.”

Science fiction, thus, has become fact.

We’re fast approaching Philip K. Dick’s vision of the future as depicted in the film Minority Report. There, police agencies apprehend criminals before they can commit a crime, driverless cars populate the highways, and a person’s biometrics are constantly scanned and used to track their movements, target them for advertising, and keep them under perpetual surveillance.

Cue the dawning of the Age of the Internet of Things, in which internet-connected “things” will monitor your home, your health and your habits in order to keep your pantry stocked, your utilities regulated and your life under control and relatively worry-free.

The key word here, however, is control.

In the not-too-distant future, “just about every device you have — and even products like chairs, that you don’t normally expect to see technology in — will be connected and talking to each other.”

By 2018, it is estimated there will be 112 million wearable devices such as smartwatches, keeping users connected it real time to their phones, emails, text messages and the Internet. By 2020, there will be 152 million cars connected to the Internet and 100 million Internet-connected bulbs and lamps. By 2022, there will be 1.1 billion smart meters installed in homes, reporting real-time usage to utility companies and other interested parties.

This “connected” industry—estimated to add more than $14 trillion to the economy by 2020—is about to be the next big thing in terms of societal transformations, right up there with the Industrial Revolution, a watershed moment in technology and culture.

Between driverless cars that completely lacking a steering wheel, accelerator, or brake pedal, and smart pills embedded with computer chips, sensors, cameras and robots, we are poised to outpace the imaginations of science fiction writers such as Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov. By the way, there is no such thing as a driverless car. Someone or something will be driving, but it won’t be you.

The 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is a glittering showcase for such Internet-connected techno gadgets as smart light bulbs that discourage burglars by making your house look occupied, smart thermostats that regulate the temperature of your home based on your activities, and smart doorbells that let you see who is at your front door without leaving the comfort of your couch.

Nest, Google’s $3 billion acquisition, has been at the forefront of the “connected” industry, with such technologically savvy conveniences as a smart lock that tells your thermostat who is home, what temperatures they like, and when your home is unoccupied; a home phone service system that interacts with your connected devices to “learn when you come and go” and alert you if your kids don’t come home; and a sleep system that will monitor when you fall asleep, when you wake up, and keep the house noises and temperature in a sleep-conducive state.

The aim of these internet-connected devices, as Nest proclaims, is to make “your house a more thoughtful and conscious home.” For example, your car can signal ahead that you’re on your way home, while Hue lights can flash on and off to get your attention if Nest Protect senses something’s wrong. Your coffeemaker, relying on data from fitness and sleep sensors, will brew a stronger pot of coffee for you if you’ve had a restless night.

It’s not just our homes that are being reordered and reimagined in this connected age: it’s our workplaces, our health systems, our government and our very bodies that are being plugged into a matrix over which we have no real control.

Moreover, given the speed and trajectory at which these technologies are developing, it won’t be long before these devices are operating entirely independent of their human creators, which poses a whole new set of worries. As technology expert Nicholas Carr notes, “As soon as you allow robots, or software programs, to act freely in the world, they’re going to run up against ethically fraught situations and face hard choices that can’t be resolved through statistical models. That will be true of self-driving cars, self-flying drones, and battlefield robots, just as it’s already true, on a lesser scale, with automated vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers.”

For instance, just as the robotic vacuum, Roomba, “makes no distinction between a dust bunny and an insect,” weaponized drones—poised to take to the skies en masse this year—will be incapable of distinguishing between a fleeing criminal and someone merely jogging down a street. For that matter, how do you defend yourself against a robotic cop—such as the Atlas android being developed by the Pentagon—that has been programmed to respond to any perceived threat with violence?

Unfortunately, in our race to the future, we have failed to consider what such dependence on technology might mean for our humanity, not to mention our freedoms.

Ingestible or implantable chips are a good example of how unprepared we are, morally and otherwise, to navigate this uncharted terrain. Hailed as revolutionary for their ability to access, analyze and manipulate your body from the inside, these smart pills can remind you to take your medication, search for cancer, and even send an alert to your doctor warning of an impending heart attack.

Sure, the technology could save lives, but is that all we need to know? Have we done our due diligence in asking all the questions that need to be asked before unleashing such awesome technology on an unsuspecting populace?

For example, asks Washington Post reporter Ariana Eunjung Cha:

What kind of warnings should users receive about the risks of implanting chip technology inside a body, for instance? How will patients be assured that the technology won’t be used to compel them to take medications they don’t really want to take? Could law enforcement obtain data that would reveal which individuals abuse drugs or sell them on the black market? Could what started as a voluntary experiment be turned into a compulsory government identification program that could erode civil liberties?

Let me put it another way. If you were shocked by Edward Snowden’s revelations about how NSA agents have used surveillance to spy on Americans’ phone calls, emails and text messages, can you imagine what unscrupulous government agents could do with access to your internet-connected car, home and medications? Imagine what a SWAT team could do with the ability to access, monitor and control your internet-connected home—locking you in, turning off the lights, activating alarms, etc.

Thus far, the public response to concerns about government surveillance has amounted to a collective shrug. After all, who cares if the government can track your whereabouts on your GPS-enabled device so long as it helps you find the fastest route from Point A to Point B? Who cares if the NSA is listening in on your phone calls and downloading your emails so long as you can get your phone calls and emails on the go and get lightning fast Internet on the fly? Who cares if the government can monitor your activities in your home by tapping into your internet-connected devices—thermostat, water, lights—so long as you can control those things with the flick of a finger, whether you’re across the house or across the country?

As for those still reeling from a year of police shootings of unarmed citizens, SWAT team raids, and community uprisings, the menace of government surveillance can’t begin to compare to bullet-riddled bodies, devastated survivors and traumatized children. However, both approaches are just as lethal to our freedoms if left unchecked.

A Government of Wolves book coverControl is the key here. As I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, total control over every aspect of our lives, right down to our inner thoughts, is the objective of any totalitarian regime.

George Orwell understood this. His masterpiece, 1984, portrays a global society of total control in which people are not allowed to have thoughts that in any way disagree with the corporate state. There is no personal freedom, and advanced technology has become the driving force behind a surveillance-driven society. Snitches and cameras are everywhere. And people are subject to the Thought Police, who deal with anyone guilty of thought crimes. The government, or “Party,” is headed by Big Brother, who appears on posters everywhere with the words: “Big Brother is watching you.”

Make no mistake: the Internet of Things is just Big Brother in a more appealing disguise.

Even so, I’m not suggesting we all become Luddites. However, we need to be aware of how quickly a helpful device that makes our lives easier can become a harmful weapon that enslaves us.

This was the underlying lesson of The Matrix, the Wachowski brothers’ futuristic thriller about human beings enslaved by autonomous technological beings that call the shots. As Morpheus, one of the characters in The Matrix, explains:

The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

“What truth?” asks Neo.

Morpheus leans in closer to Neo: “That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind.”

“You’re either a cop or little people.”—Police captain Harry Bryant in Blade Runner

For those of us who have managed to survive 2014 with our lives intact and our freedoms hanging by a thread, it has been a year of crackdowns, clampdowns, shutdowns, showdowns, shootdowns, standdowns, knockdowns, putdowns, breakdowns, lockdowns, takedowns, slowdowns, meltdowns, and never-ending letdowns.

We’ve been held up, stripped down, faked out, photographed, frisked, fracked, hacked, tracked, cracked, intercepted, accessed, spied on, zapped, mapped, searched, shot at, tasered, tortured, tackled, trussed up, tricked, lied to, labeled, libeled, leered at, shoved aside, saddled with debt not of our own making, sold a bill of goods about national security, tuned out by those representing us, tossed aside, and taken to the cleaners.

A Government of Wolves book coverAs I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, we’ve had our freedoms turned inside out, our democratic structure flipped upside down, and our house of cards left in a shambles.

We’ve had our children burned by flashbang grenades, our dogs shot, and our old folks hospitalized after “accidental” encounters with marauding SWAT teams. We’ve been told that as citizens we have no rights within 100 miles of our own border, now considered “Constitution-free zones.” We’ve had our faces filed in government databases, our biometrics crosschecked against criminal databanks, and our consumerist tendencies catalogued for future marketing overtures.

We’ve been given the runaround on government wrongdoing, starting with President Obama’s claim that the National Security Agency has never abused its power to spy on Americans’ phone calls and emails. All the while, the NSA has been racing to build a supercomputer that could break through “every kind of encryption used to protect banking, medical, business and government records around the world.” Despite the fact that the NSA’s domestic surveillance program has been shown to be ineffective at preventing acts of terrorism, the agency continues to vacuum up almost 200 million text messages a day.

We’ve seen the police transformed from community peacekeepers to point guards for the militarized corporate state. From Boston to Ferguson and every point in between, police have pushed around, prodded, poked, probed, scanned, shot and intimidated the very individuals—we the taxpayers—whose rights they were hired to safeguard. Networked together through fusion centers, police have surreptitiously spied on our activities and snooped on our communications, using hi-tech devices provided by the Department of Homeland Security.

We’ve been deemed suspicious for engaging in such dubious activities as talking too long on a cell phone and stretching too long before jogging, dubbed extremists and terrorists for criticizing the government and suggesting it is tyrannical or oppressive, and subjected to forced colonoscopies and anal probes for allegedly rolling through a stop sign.

We’ve been arrested for all manner of “crimes” that never used to be considered criminal, let alone uncommon or unlawful, behavior: letting our kids walk to the playground alone, giving loose change to a homeless man, feeding the hungry, and living off the grid.

We’ve been sodomized, victimized, jeopardized, demoralized, traumatized, stigmatized, vandalized, demonized, polarized and terrorized, often without having done anything to justify such treatment. Blame it on a government mindset that renders us guilty before we’ve even been charged, let alone convicted, of any wrongdoing. In this way, law-abiding individuals have had their homes mistakenly raided by SWAT teams that got the address wrong. One accountant found himself at the center of a misguided police standoff after surveillance devices confused his license plate with that of a drug felon.

We’ve been railroaded into believing that our votes count, that we live in a democracy, that elections make a difference, that it matters whether we vote Republican or Democrat, and that our elected officials are looking out for our best interests. Truth be told, we live in an oligarchy, politicians represent only the profit motives of the corporate state, whose leaders know all too well that there is no discernible difference between red and blue politics, because there is only one color that matters in politics—green.

We’ve gone from having privacy in our inner sanctums to having nowhere to hide, with smart pills that monitor the conditions of our bodies, homes that spy on us (with smart meters that monitor our electric usage and thermostats and light switches that can be controlled remotely) and cars that listen to our conversations and track our whereabouts. Even our cities have become wall-to-wall electronic concentration camps, with police now able to record hi-def video of everything that takes place within city limits.

We’ve had our schools locked down, our students handcuffed, shackled and arrested for engaging in childish behavior such as food fights, our children’s biometrics stored, their school IDs chipped, their movements tracked, and their data bought, sold and bartered for profit by government contractors, all the while they are treated like criminals and taught to march in lockstep with the police state.

We’ve been rendered enemy combatants in our own country, denied basic due process rights, held against our will without access to an attorney or being charged with a crime, and left to molder in jail until such a time as the government is willing to let us go or allow us to defend ourselves.

We’ve had the very military weapons we funded with our hard-earned tax dollars used against us, from unpiloted, weaponized drones tracking our movements on the nation’s highways and byways and armored vehicles, assault rifles, sound cannons and grenade launchers in towns with little to no crime to an arsenal of military-grade weapons and equipment given free of charge to schools and universities.

We’ve been silenced, censored and forced to conform, shut up in free speech zones, gagged by hate crime laws, stifled by political correctness, muzzled by misguided anti-bullying statutes, and pepper sprayed for taking part in peaceful protests.

We’ve been shot by police for reaching for a license during a traffic stop, reaching for a baby during a drug bust, carrying a toy sword down a public street, and wearing headphones that hamper our ability to hear.

We’ve had our tax dollars spent on $30,000 worth of Starbucks for Dept. of Homeland Security employees, $630,000 in advertising to increase Facebook “likes” for the State Dept., and close to $25 billion to fund projects ranging from the silly to the unnecessary, such as laughing classes for college students and programs teaching monkeys to play video games and gamble.

We’ve been treated like guinea pigs, targeted by the government and social media for psychological experiments on how to manipulate the masses. We’ve been tasered for talking back to police, tackled for taking pictures of police abuses, and threatened with jail time for invoking our rights. We’ve even been arrested by undercover cops stationed in public bathrooms who interpret men’s “shaking off” motions after urinating to be acts of lewdness.

We’ve had our possessions seized and stolen by law enforcement agencies looking to cash in on asset forfeiture schemes, our jails privatized and used as a source of cheap labor for megacorporations, our gardens smashed by police seeking out suspicious-looking marijuana plants, and our buying habits turned into suspicious behavior by a government readily inclined to view its citizens as terrorists.

We’ve had our cities used for military training drills, with Black Hawk helicopters buzzing the skies, Urban Shield exercises overtaking our streets, and active shooter drills wreaking havoc on unsuspecting bystanders in our schools, shopping malls and other “soft target” locations.

We’ve been told that national security is more important than civil liberties, that police dogs’ noses are sufficient cause to carry out warrantless searches, that the best way not to get raped by police is to “follow the law,” that what a police officer says in court will be given preference over what video footage shows, that an upright posture and acne are sufficient reasons for a cop to suspect you of wrongdoing, that police can stop and search a driver based solely on an anonymous tip, and that police officers have every right to shoot first and ask questions later if they feel threatened.

Now there are those who still insist that they are beyond the reach of the police state because they have done nothing wrong and have nothing to fear. To those sanctimonious few, secure in their delusions, let this be a warning: the danger posed by the American police state applies equally to all of us: lawbreaker and law abider alike, black and white, rich and poor, liberal and conservative, blue collar and white collar, and any other distinction you’d care to trot out.

The lesson of 2014 is simply this: in a police state, you’re either a cop or you’re one of the little people. Right now, we are the little people, the servants, the serfs, the grunts who must obey without question or suffer the consequences.

If there is to be any hope in 2015 for restoring our freedoms and reclaiming our runaway government, we will have to start by breathing life into those three powerful words that set the tone for everything that follows in the Constitution: “we the people.”

It’s time to stop waiting patiently for change to happen and, as Gandhi once advised, be the change you want to see in the world.

Get mad, get outraged, get off your duff and get out of your house, get in the streets, get in people’s faces, get down to your local city council, get over to your local school board, get your thoughts down on paper, get your objections plastered on protest signs, get your neighbors, friends and family to join their voices to yours, get your representatives to pay attention to your grievances, get your kids to know their rights, get your local police to march in lockstep with the Constitution, get your media to act as watchdogs for the people and not lapdogs for the corporate state, get your act together, and get your house in order.

In other words, get moving. Time is growing short, and the police state is closing in. Power to the people!

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.

If you dress police officers up as soldiers and you put them in military vehicles and you give them military weapons, they adopt a warrior mentality. We fight wars against enemies, and the enemies are the people who live in our cities—particularly in communities of color.—Thomas Nolan, criminology professor and former police officer

Should police officer Darren Wilson be held accountable for the shooting death of unarmed citizen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014?

That the police officer was white and his victim black should make no difference. In a perfect world, it would not matter. In an imperfect world such as ours, however, racism is an effective propaganda tool used by the government and the media to distract us from the real issues.

As a result, the national dialogue about the dangers of militarized, weaponized police officers being trained to act like soldiers on the battlefield, shooting first and asking questions later, has shifted into a largely unspoken debate over race wars, class perceptions and longstanding, deep-seated notions of who deserves our unquestioning loyalty and who does not.

Putting aside our prejudices, however, let’s not overlook the importance of Ferguson and this grand jury verdict. Tasked with determining whether Wilson should stand trial for Brown’s shooting, the grand jury ruled that the police officer will not face charges for the fatal shooting.

However, the greater question—whether anything will really change to rein in militarized police, police shootings, lack of accountability and oversight, and a military industrial complex with a vested interest in turning America into a war zone—remains unanswered.

Ferguson matters because it provides us with a foretaste of what is to come. It is the shot across the bow, so to speak, a warning that this is how we will all be treated if we do not tread cautiously in challenging the police state, and it won’t matter whether we’re black or white, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat. In the eyes of the corporate state, we are all the enemy.

This is the lesson of Ferguson.

Remember that in the wake of the shooting, Ferguson police officers clad in body armor, their faces covered with masks, equipped with assault rifles and snipers and riding armored vehicles, showed up in force to deal with protesters. Describing that show of force by police in Ferguson, Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, stated, “This was a military force, and they were facing down an enemy.”

A Government of Wolves book coverYes, we are the enemy. As I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, since those first towers fell on 9/11, the American people have been treated like enemy combatants, to be spied on, tracked, scanned, frisked, searched, subjected to all manner of intrusions, intimidated, invaded, raided, manhandled, censored, silenced, shot at, locked up, and denied due process.

There was a moment of hope after Ferguson that perhaps things might change. Perhaps the balance would be restored between the citizenry and their supposed guardians, the police. Perhaps our elected officials would take our side for a change and oppose the militarization of the police. Perhaps warfare would take a backseat to more pressing national concerns.

That hope was short-lived.

It wasn’t long before the media moved on to other, more titillating stories. The disappearance of a University of Virginia college student and the search for her alleged abductor, the weeks-long man-hunt for an accused cop killer, the Republican electoral upset, a Rolling Stone expose on gang rapes at fraternity parties, Obama’s immigration amnesty plan, and the rape charges against Bill Cosby are just a few of the stories that have dominated the news cycle since the Ferguson standoff between police and protesters.

It wasn’t long before the American public, easily acclimated to news of government wrongdoing (case in point: the national yawn over the NSA’s ongoing domestic surveillance), ceased to be shocked, outraged or alarmed by reports of police shootings. In fact, the issue was nowhere to be found in this year’s run-up to Election Day, which was largely devoid of any pressing matters of national concern.

And with nary a hiccup, the police state marched steadily forth. In fact, aided and abetted by the citizenry’s short attention span, its easily distracted nature, and its desensitization to anything that occupies the news cycle for too long, it has been business as usual in terms of police shootings, the amassing of military weapons, and the government’s sanctioning of police misconduct. Most recently, Ohio police shot and killed a 12-year-old boy who was seen waving a toy gun at a playground.

Rubbing salt in our wounds, in the wake of Ferguson, police agencies not only continued to ramp up their military arsenals but have used them whenever possible. In fact, in anticipation of the grand jury’s ruling, St. Louis police actually purchased more equipment for its officers, including “civil disobedience equipment.”

Just a few weeks after the Ferguson showdown, law enforcement agencies took part in an $11 million manhunt in Pennsylvania for alleged cop killer Eric Frein. Without batting an eye, the news media switched from outraged “shock” over the military arsenal employed by police in Ferguson to respectful “awe” of the 48-day operation that cost taxpayers $1.4 million per week in order to carry out a round-the-clock dragnet search of an area with a 5-mile-radius.

The Frein operation brought together 1,000 officers from local, state and federal law enforcement, as well as SWAT teams and cutting edge military equipment (high-powered rifles, body armor, infrared sensors, armored trucks, helicopters and unmanned, silent surveillance blimps)—some of the very same weapons and tactics employed in Ferguson and, a year earlier, in Boston in the wake of the marathon bombing.

The manhunt was a well-timed, perfectly choreographed exercise in why Americans should welcome the police state: for our safety, of course, and to save the lives of police officers.

Opposed to any attempt to demilitarize America’s police forces, the Dept. of Homeland Security has been chanting this safety mantra in testimony before Congress: Remember 9/11. Remember Boston. Remember how unsafe the world was before police were equipped with automatic weapons, heavily armored trucks, night-vision goggles, and aircraft donated by the DHS.

Contrary to DHS rhetoric, however, militarized police—twitchy over perceived dangers, hyped up on their authority, and protected by their agencies, the legislatures and the courts—have actually made communities less safe at a time when violent crime is at an all-time low and lumberjacks, fishermen, airline pilots, roofers, construction workers, trash collectors, electricians and truck drivers all have a higher risk of on-the-job fatalities than police officers.

Moreover, as Senator Tom Coburn points out, the militarization of America’s police forces has actually “created some problems that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.” Among those problems: a rise in the use of SWAT team raids for routine law enforcement activities (averaging 80,000 a year), a rise in the use and abuse of asset forfeiture laws by police agencies, a profit-driven incentive to criminalize lawful activities and treat Americans as suspects, and a transformation of the nation’s citizenry into suspects.

Ferguson provided us with an opportunity to engage in a much-needed national dialogue over how police are trained, what authority they are given, what weaponry they are provided, and how they treat those whom they are entrusted with protecting.

Caught up in our personal politics, prejudices and class warfare, we have failed to answer that call. In so doing, we have played right into the hands of all those corporations who profit from turning America into a battlefield by selling the government mine-resistant vehicles, assault rifles, grenade launchers, and drones.

As long as we remain steeped in ignorance, there will be no reform.

As long as we remain divided by our irrational fear of each other, there will be no overhaul in the nation’s law enforcement system or institution of an oversight process whereby communities can ensure that local police departments are acting in accordance with their wishes and values.

And as long as we remain distracted by misguided loyalties to military operatives who are paid to play the part of the government’s henchmen, there will be no saving us when the events of Ferguson unfold in our own backyards.

When all is said and done, it doesn’t matter whose “side” you’re on as far as what transpired in Ferguson, whether you believe that Michael Brown was a victim or that Darren Wilson was justified in shooting first and asking questions later.

What matters is that we not allow politics and deep-rooted prejudices of any sort to divert our efforts to restore some level of safety, sanity and constitutional balance to the role that police officers play in our communities. If we fail to do so, we will have done a disservice to ourselves and every man, woman and child in this country who have become casualties of the American police state.