Posts Tagged ‘injustice’

“The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern.”—C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Whether it’s the working mother arrested for letting her 9-year-old play unsupervised at a playground, the teenager forced to have his genitals photographed by police, the underage burglar sentenced to 23 years for shooting a retired police dog, or the 43-year-old man who died of a heart attack after being put in a chokehold by NYPD officers allegedly over the sale of untaxed cigarettes, the theater of the absurd that passes for life in the American police state grows more tragic and incomprehensible by the day.

Debra Harrell, a 46-year-old South Carolina working mother, was arrested, charged with abandonment and had her child placed in state custody after allowing the 9-year-old to spend unsupervised time at a neighborhood playground while the mom worked a shift at McDonald’s. Mind you, the child asked to play outside, was given a cell phone in case she needed to reach someone, and the park—a stone’s throw from the mom’s place of work—was overrun with kids enjoying its swings, splash pad, and shade.

A Connecticut mother was charged with leaving her 11-year-old daughter in the car unsupervised while she ran inside a store—despite the fact that the child asked to stay in the car and was not overheated or in distress. A few states away, a New Jersey man was arrested and charged with endangering the welfare of his children after leaving them in a car parked in a police station parking lot, windows rolled down, while he ran inside to pay a ticket.

A Virginia teenager was charged with violating the state’s sexting law after exchanging sexually provocative videos with his girlfriend. Instead of insisting that the matter be dealt with as a matter of parental concern, police charged the boy with manufacturing and distributing child pornography and issued a search warrant to “medically induce an erection” in the 17-year-old boy in order to photograph his erect penis and compare it to the images sent in the sexting exchange.  The police had already taken an initial photograph of the boy’s penis against his will, upon his arrest.

In Georgia, a toddler had his face severely burned when a flash bang grenade, launched by a SWAT team during the course of a no-knock warrant, landed in his portable crib, detonating on his pillow. Also in Georgia, a police officer shot and killed a 17-year-old boy who answered the door, reportedly with a Nintendo Wii controller in his hands. The cop claimed the teenager pointed a gun at her, thereby justifying the use of deadly force. Then there was the incident wherein a police officer, responding to a complaint that some children were “chopping off tree limbs” creating “tripping hazards,” pulled a gun on a group of 11-year-old boys who were playing in a wooded area, attempting to build a tree fort.

While the growing phenomenon of cops shooting family pets only adds to the insanity (it is estimated that a family pet is killed by law enforcement every 98 minutes in America), it’s worse for those who dare to shoot a police dog. Ivins Rosier was 16 when he broke into the home of a Florida highway patrol officer and shot (although he didn’t kill) the man’s retired police dog. For his crime, the teenager was sentenced to 23 years in prison, all the while police officers who shoot family pets are rarely reprimanded.

Meanwhile if you’re one of those hoping to live off the grid, independent of city resources, you might want to think again. Florida resident Robin Speronis was threatened with eviction for living without utilities. Speronis was accused of violating the International Property Maintenance Code by relying on rain water instead of the city water system and solar panels instead of the electric grid.

Now we can shrug these incidents off as isolated injustices happening to “other” people. We can rationalize them away by suggesting that these people “must” have done something to warrant such treatment. Or we can acknowledge that this slide into totalitarianism—helped along by overcriminalization, government surveillance, militarized police, neighbors turning in neighbors, privatized prisons, and forced labor camps, to name just a few similarities—is tracking very closely with what we saw happening in Germany in the years leading up to Hitler’s rise to power.

When all is said and done, what these incidents reflect is a society that has become so bureaucratic, so legalistic, so politically correct, so militaristic, so locked down, so self righteous, and so willing to march in lockstep with the corporate-minded police state that any deviations from the norm—especially those that offend the sensibilities of the “government-knows-best” nanny state or challenge the powers that be—become grist for prosecution, persecution and endless tribulations for the poor souls who are caught in the crosshairs.

Then there are the incidents, less colorful perhaps but no less offensive to the sensibilities of any freedom-loving individual, which should arouse outrage among the populace but often slip under the radar of a sleeping nation.

For instance, not only is the NSA spying on and collecting the content of your communications, but it’s also going to extreme lengths to label as “extremists” anyone who attempts to protect their emails from the government’s prying eyes. Adding insult to injury, those same government employees and contractors spying on Americans’ private electronic communications are also ogling their private photos. Recent revelations indicate that NSA employees routinely pass around intercepted nude photos, considered a “fringe benefit” of surveillance positions.

A trove of leaked documents reveals the government’s unmitigated gall in labeling Americans as terrorists for little more than being suspected of committing “any act that is ‘dangerous’ to property and intended to influence government policy through intimidation.” As The Intercept reports: “This combination—a broad definition of what constitutes terrorism and a low threshold for designating someone a terrorist—opens the way to ensnaring innocent people in secret government dragnets.” All the while, the TSA, despite the billions of dollars we spend on the agency annually and the liberties to which its agents subject travelers, has yet to catch a single terrorist.

No less disconcerting are the rash of incidents in which undercover government agents encourage individuals to commit crimes they might not have engaged in otherwise. This “make work” entrapment scheme runs the gamut from terrorism to drugs. In fact, a recent report released by Human Rights Watch reveals that “nearly all of the highest-profile domestic terrorism plots in the United States since 9/11 featured the ‘direct involvement’ of government agents or informants.”

Most outrageous of all are the asset forfeiture laws that empower law enforcement to rake in huge sums of money by confiscating cash, cars, and even homes based on little more than a suspicion of wrongdoing. In this way, Americans who haven’t been charged with a crime, let alone convicted of wrongdoing, are literally being subjected to highway robbery by government agents offering profit-driven, cash-for-freedom deals.

So who or what is to blame for this bureaucratic nightmare delivered by way of the police state? Is it the White House? Is it Congress? Is it the Department of Homeland Security, with its mobster mindset? Is it some shadowy, power-hungry entity operating off a nefarious plan?

Or is it, as Holocaust survivor Hannah Arendt suggests, the sheepish masses who mindlessly march in lockstep with the government’s dictates—expressing no outrage, demanding no reform, and issuing no challenge to the status quo—who are to blame for the prison walls being erected around us? The author of The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt warned that “the greatest evil perpetrated is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons.”

This is where democracy falls to ruin, and bureaucracy and tyranny prevail.

 

A Government of Wolves book coverAs I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, we have only ourselves to blame for this bureaucratic hell that has grown up around us. Too many of us willingly, knowingly and deliberately comprise what Arendt refers to as “cogs in the mass-murder machine.”

These cogs are none other than those of us who have turned a blind eye to the government corruption, or shrugged dismissively at the ongoing injustices, or tuned out the mayhem in favor of entertainment distractions. Just as guilty are those who have traded in their freedoms for a phantom promise of security, not to mention those who feed the machine unquestioningly with their tax dollars and partisan politics.

And then there are those who work for the government, federal, state, local or contractor. These government employees—the soldiers, the cops, the technicians, the social workers, etc.—are neither evil nor sadistic. They’re simply minions being paid to do a job, whether that job is to arrest you, spy on you, investigate you, crash through your door, etc. However, we would do well to remember that those who worked at the concentration camps and ferried the victims to the gas chambers were also just “doing their jobs.”

Then again, if we must blame anyone, blame the faceless, nameless, bureaucratic government machine—which having been erected and set into motion is nearly impossible to shut down—for the relentless erosion of our freedoms through a million laws, statutes, and prohibitions.

If there is any glimmer of hope to be found, it will be at the local level, but we cannot wait for things to get completely out of control. If you wait to act until the SWAT team is crashing through your door, until your name is placed on a terror watch list, until you are reported for such outlawed activities as collecting rainwater or letting your children play outside unsupervised, then it will be too late.

Obedience is the precondition to totalitarianism, and the precondition to obedience is fear. Regimes of the past and present understand this. “The very first essential for success,” Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, “is a perpetually constant and regular employment of violence.” Is this not what we are seeing now with the SWAT teams and the security checkpoints and the endless wars?

This much I know: we are not faceless numbers. We are not cogs in the machine. We are not slaves. We are people, and free people at that. As the Founders understood, our freedoms do not flow from the government. They were not given to us, to be taken away at the will of the State; they are inherently ours. In the same way, the government’s appointed purpose is not to threaten or undermine our freedoms, but to safeguard them.

Until we can get back to this way of thinking, until we can remind Americans what it really means to be a free American, and learn to stand our ground in the face of threats to those freedoms, and encourage our fellow citizens to stop being cogs in the machine, we will continue as slaves in thrall to the bureaucratic police state.

What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It’s not good at much else.” —Author Tom Clancy

Call it what you will—taxes, penalties, fees, fines, regulations, tariffs, tickets, permits, surcharges, tolls, asset forfeitures, foreclosures, etc.—but the only word that truly describes the constant bilking of the American taxpayer by the government and its corporate partners is theft.

We’re operating in a topsy-turvy Sherwood Forest where instead of Robin Hood and his merry band of thieves stealing from the rich to feed the poor, you’ve got the government and its merry band of corporate thieves stealing from the poor to fatten the wallets of the rich. In this way, the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. All the while, the American Dream of peace, prosperity, and liberty has turned into a nightmare of endless wars, debilitating debt, and outright tyranny.

What Americans don’t seem to comprehend is that if the government can arbitrarily take away your property, without your having much say about it, you have no true rights. You’re nothing more than a serf or a slave.

In this way, the police state with all of its trappings—from surveillance cameras, militarized police, SWAT team raids, truancy and zero tolerance policies, asset forfeiture laws, privatized prisons and red light cameras to Sting Ray guns, fusion centers, drones, black boxes, hollow-point bullets, detention centers, speed traps and abundance of laws criminalizing otherwise legitimate conduct—is little more than a front for a high-dollar covert operation aimed at laundering as much money as possible through government agencies and into the bank accounts of corporations.

The rationalizations for the American police state are many. There’s the so-called threat of terrorism, the ongoing Drug War, the influx of illegal immigrants, the threat of civil unrest in the face of economic collapse, etc. However, these rationalizations are merely excuses for the growth of a government behemoth, one which works hand in hand with corporations to profit from a society kept under lockdown and in fear at all times.

Indeed, as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, the real motivating factor behind erecting a police state is not to protect the people, but to further enrich the powerful. Consider the following costly line items, all part of the government’s so-called quest to keep us safe and fight terrorism while entrenching the police state, enriching the elite, and further shredding our constitutional rights:

$4.2 billion for militarized police. Almost 13,000 agencies in all 50 states and four U.S. territories participate in a military “recycling” program which allows the Defense Department to transfer surplus military hardware to local and state police. In 2012 alone, $546 million worth of military equipment was distributed to law enforcement agencies throughout the country.

$34 billion for police departments to add to their arsenals of weapons and equipment. Since President Obama took office, police departments across the country “have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.”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.

$6 billion in assets seized by the federal government in one year alone. Relying on the topsy-turvy legal theory that one’s property can not only be guilty of a crime but is also guilty until proven innocent, government agencies have eagerly cashed in on the civil asset forfeiture revenue scheme, which allows police to seize private property they “suspect” may be connected to criminal activity. Then whether or not any crime is actually proven to have taken place, the cops keeps the citizen’s property. Eighty percent of these asset forfeiture cases result in no charge against the property owner. Some states are actually considering expanding the use of asset forfeiture laws to include petty misdemeanors. This would mean that property could be seized in cases of minor crimes such as harassment, possession of small amounts of marijuana, and trespassing in a public park after dark.

$11,000 per hour for a SWAT team raid on a government dissident. The raid was carried out against Terry Porter, a Maryland resident who runs a welding business, is married with three kids, is outspoken about his views of the government, and has been labeled a prepper because he has an underground bunker and food supplies in case things turn apocalyptic. The raiding team included “150 Maryland State Police, FBI, State Fire Marshal’s bomb squad and County SWAT teams, complete with two police helicopters, two Bearcat ‘special response’ vehicles, mobile command posts, snipers, police dogs, bomb disposal truck, bomb sniffing robots and a huge excavator. They even brought in food trucks.”

$3.8 billion requested by the Obama administration to send more immigration judges to the southern border, build additional detention camps and add border patrol agents. Border Patrol agents are already allowed to search people’s homes, intimately probe their bodies, and rifle through their belongings, all without a warrant. As one journalist put it, “The surveillance apparatus is in your face. The high-powered cameras are pointed at you; the drones are above you; you’re stopped regularly at checkpoints and interrogated.” For example, an American citizen entering the U.S. from Mexico was subjected to a full-body cavity search in which she was subjected to a variety of invasive procedures, including an observed bowel movement and a CT scan, all because a drug dog jumped on her when she was going through border security. Physicians found no drugs hidden in her body.

$61 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, one of the most notoriously bloated government agencies ever created. The third largest federal agency behind the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense, the DHS—with its 240,000 full-time workers and sub-agencies—has been aptly dubbed a “runaway train.”

$80 billion spent on incarceration by the states and the federal government in 2010. While providing security, housing, food, medical care, etc., for six million Americans is a hardship for cash-strapped states, it’s a gold mine to profit-hungry corporations such as Corrections Corp of America and GEO Group, the leaders in the partnership corrections industry. Thus, with an eye toward increasing its bottom line, CCA has floated a proposal to prison officials in 48 states offering to buy and manage public prisons at a substantial cost savings to the states. In exchange, the prisons would have to contain at least 1,000 beds and states would have to maintain a 90% occupancy rate for at least 20 years. This has led to the phenomenon of overcriminalization of everyday activities, in which mundane activities such as growing vegetables in your yard or collecting rainwater on your property are criminalized, resulting in jail sentences for individuals who might otherwise have never seen the inside of a jail cell.

$6.4 billion a year for the Bureau of Prisons and $30,000 a year to house an inmate. There are over 3,000 people in America serving life sentences for non-violent crimes. These include theft of a jacket, siphoning gasoline from a truck, stealing tools, and attempting to cash a stolen check. Most of the non-violent offenses which triggered life sentences were drug crimes involving trace amounts of heroin and cocaine. One person imprisoned for life was merely a go-between for an undercover officer buying ten dollars’ worth of marijuana. California has more money devoted to its prison system than its system of education. State spending on incarceration is the fastest growing budget item besides Medicaid.

93 cents an hour for forced, prison labor in service to for-profit corporations such as Starbucks, Microsoft, Walmart, and Victoria’s Secret. What this forced labor scheme has created, indirectly or not, is a financial incentive for both the corporations and government agencies to keep the prisons full to capacity. A good portion of the 2 million prisoners in public facilities are forced to work for corporations, making products on the cheap, undermining free laborers, and increasing the bottom line for many of America’s most popular brands. “Prison labor reportedly produces 100 percent of military helmets, shirts, pants, tents, bags, canteens, and a variety of other equipment. Prison labor makes circuit boards for IBM, Texas Instruments, and Dell. Many McDonald’s uniforms are sewn by inmates. Other corporations—Microsoft, Victoria’s Secret, Boeing, Motorola, Compaq, Revlon, and Kmart—also benefit from prison labor.”

$2.6 million pocketed by Pennsylvania judges who were paid to jail youths and send them to private prison facilities. The judges, paid off by the Mid Atlantic Youth Service Corporation, which specializes in private prisons for juvenile offenders, had more than 5,000 kids come through their courtrooms and sent many of them to prison for petty crimes such as stealing DVDs from Wal-Mart and trespassing in vacant buildings.

$1.4 billion per year reportedly lost to truancy by California school districts, which receive government funding based on student attendance. The so-called “solution” to student absences from school, has proven to be a financial windfall for cash-strapped schools, enabling them to rake in millions, fine parents up to $500 for each unexcused absence, with the potential for jail time, and has given rise to a whole new track in the criminal justice system devoted to creating new revenue streams for communities. For example, Eileen DiNino, a woman serving a two-day jail sentence for her children’s truancy violations, died while in custody. She is one of hundreds of people jailed in Pennsylvania over their inability to pay fines related to truancy, which include a variety of arbitrary fees meant to rack up money for the courts. For example, “[DiNino’s] bill included a laundry list of routine fees: $8 for a “judicial computer project”; $60 for Berks constables; $40 for “summary costs” for several court offices; and $10 for postage.” So even if one is charged with a $20 fine, they may end up finding themselves on the hook for $150 in court fees.

$84.9 million collected in one year by the District of Columbia as a result of tickets issued by speeding and traffic light cameras stationed around the city. Multiply that income hundreds of times over to account for the growing number of localities latching onto these revenue-generating, photo-enforced camera schemes, and you’ll understand why community governments and police agencies are lining up in droves to install them, despite reports of wide scale corruption by the companies operating the cameras. Although nine states have banned the cameras, they’re in 24 states already and rising.

$1.4 billion for fusion centers. These fusion centers, which represent the combined surveillance and intelligence efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement, have proven to be exercises in incompetence, often producing irrelevant, useless or inappropriate intelligence, while spending millions of dollars on “flat-screen televisions, sport utility vehicles, hidden cameras and other gadgets.”

In sum, the American police state is a multi-billion dollar boondoggle, meant to keep the property and the resources of the American people flowing into corrupt government agencies and their corporate partners. For those with any accounting ability, it’s clear that the total sum of the expenses being charged to the American taxpayer’s account by the government add up to only one thing: the loss of our freedoms. It’s time to seriously consider a plan to begin de-funding this beast and keeping our resources where they belong: in our communities, working for us.

WASHINGTON, DC — Ruling in two separate cases in Plumhoff v. Rickard and Wood v. Moss, the U.S. Supreme Court has once again refused to hold law enforcement officials accountable for allegedly violating citizens’ constitutional rights. In the first case, the Court dismissed complaints against police officers who were involved in a fatal shooting, despite Fourth Amendment concerns that the officers needlessly resorted to a deadly use of force, and in the second, the Court granted “qualified immunity” to Secret Service officials who relocated anti-Bush protesters, despite concerns raised that the protesters’ First Amendment right to freely speak, assemble, and petition their government leaders had been violated. Noting that these decisions are part of a recent trend toward granting government officials “qualified immunity” in lawsuits over alleged constitutional violations, John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, warned that such rulings incentivize government officials to violate constitutional rights without fear of repercussion.

“Not a day goes by without reports of police officers overstepping the bounds of the Constitution and brutalizing, terrorizing and killing the citizenry. Indeed, the list of incidents in which unaccountable police abuse their power, betray their oath of office and leave taxpayers bruised, broken and/or killed grows longer and more tragic by the day to such an extent that Americans are now eight times more likely to die in a police confrontation than they are to be killed by a terrorist,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “This lawlessness on the part of government officials, an unmistakable characteristic of a police state, is made possible in large part by the courts, which increasingly defer to law enforcement and prioritize security over civil liberties. In so doing, the government gives itself free rein to abuse the law, immune from reproach, and we are all the worse off for it.”

In Wood v. Moss, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that Secret Service agents who removed only anti-Bush protesters (while allowing pro-Bush supporters standing on an adjacent street to remain) were not immune from lawsuit on First Amendment grounds, and had to make a showing that their actions were not unlawfully motivated by the viewpoint of the protesters. In reversing the Ninth Circuit, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the protesters’ rights to “equal access to the President” were not clearly established under the law, and that the agents’ actions were not motivated by the viewpoint of the protesters.

In Plumhoff v. Rickard, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that police officers who used lethal force against a man fleeing police in a high speed car chase were not immune from a wrongful death suit, and that the case should continue to trial. In Plumhoff, the deceased plaintiff led police officers on a high-speed car chase, which came to a halt after his car was spun out in a parking lot.  Officers proceeded to fire three shots at the stopped vehicle, then fired an additional 12 shots as the vehicle backed away, eventually killing both the driver and passenger of the vehicle.  The Sixth Circuit held that it could not conclude that the officers’ conduct was reasonable as a matter of law, and instead should proceed to a fact finder. In reversing the Sixth Circuit’s decision, the Supreme Court held that the officers’ use of deadly force to terminate the car chase did not violate the Fourth Amendment and the officers were immune from suit.

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”—John F. Kennedy

Those tempted to write off the standoff at the Bundy Ranch as little more than a show of force by militia-minded citizens would do well to reconsider their easy dismissal of this brewing rebellion. This goes far beyond concerns about grazing rights or the tension between the state and the federal government.

Few conflicts are ever black and white, and the Bundy situation, with its abundance of gray areas, is no exception. Yet the question is not whether Cliven Bundy and his supporters are domestic terrorists, as Harry Reid claims, or patriots, or something in between. Nor is it a question of whether the Nevada rancher is illegally grazing his cattle on federal land or whether that land should rightfully belong to the government. Nor is it even a question of who’s winning the showdown— the government with its arsenal of SWAT teams, firepower and assault vehicles, or Bundy’s militia supporters with their assortment of weapons—because if such altercations end in bloodshed, everyone loses.

What we’re really faced with, and what we’ll see more of before long, is a growing dissatisfaction with the government and its heavy-handed tactics by people who are tired of being used and abused and are ready to say “enough is enough.” And it won’t matter what the issue is—whether it’s a rancher standing his ground over grazing rights, a minister jailed for holding a Bible study in his own home, or a community outraged over police shootings of unarmed citizens—these are the building blocks of a political powder keg. Now all that remains is a spark, and it need not be a very big one, to set the whole powder keg aflame.

As I show in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, there’s a subtext to this incident that must not be ignored, and it is simply this: America is a pressure cooker with no steam valve, and things are about to blow. This is what happens when a parasitical government muzzles the citizenry, fences them in, herds them, brands them, whips them into submission, forces them to ante up the sweat of their brows while giving them little in return, and then provides them with little to no outlet for voicing their discontent.

The government has been anticipating and preparing for such an uprising for years. For example, in 2008, a U.S. Army War College report warned that the military must be prepared for a “violent, strategic dislocation inside the United States,” which could be provoked by “unforeseen economic collapse,” “purposeful domestic resistance,” “pervasive public health emergencies” or “loss of functioning political and legal order”—all related to dissent and protests over America’s economic and political disarray. Consequently, predicted the report, the “widespread civil violence would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security.”

One year later, in 2009, the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama issued its infamous reports on Rightwing and Leftwing “Extremism.” According to these reports, an extremist is defined as anyone who subscribes to a particular political viewpoint. Rightwing extremists, for example, are broadly defined in the report as individuals and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely.”

Despite “no specific information that domestic rightwing terrorists are currently planning acts of violence,” the DHS listed a number of scenarios that could arise as a result of so-called rightwing extremists playing on the public’s fears and discontent over various issues, including the economic downturn, real estate foreclosures and unemployment.

Equally disconcerting, the reports use the words “terrorist” and “extremist” interchangeably. In other words, voicing what the government would consider to be extremist viewpoints is tantamount to being a terrorist. Under such a definition, I could very well be considered a terrorist. So too could John Lennon, Martin Luther King Jr., Roger Baldwin (founder of the ACLU), Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and Samuel Adams—all of these men protested and passionately spoke out against government practices with which they disagreed and would be prime targets under this document.

The document also took pains to describe the political views of those who would qualify as being a rightwing extremist. For example, you are labeled a rightwing extremist if you voice concerns about a myriad of issues including: policy changes under President Obama; the economic downturn and home foreclosures; the loss of U.S. jobs in manufacturing and construction sectors; and social issues such as abortion, interracial crimes and immigration. DHS also issued a red-flag warning against anyone who promotes “conspiracy theories involving declarations of martial law, impending civil strife or racial conflict, suspension of the U.S. Constitution, and the creation of citizen detention camps.”

Fast forward five years, with all that has transpired, from the Occupy Protests and the targeting of military veterans to domestic surveillance, especially of activist-oriented groups and now, most recently, the Bundy Ranch showdown, and it would seem clear that the government has not veered one iota from its original playbook. Indeed, the government’s full-blown campaign of surveillance of Americans’ internet activity, phone calls, etc., makes complete sense in hindsight.

All that we have been subjected to in recent years—living under the shadow of NSA spying; motorists strip searched and anally probed on the side of the road; innocent Americans spied upon while going about their daily business in schools and stores; homeowners having their doors kicked in by militarized SWAT teams serving routine warrants—illustrates how the government deals with people it views as potential “extremists”: with heavy-handed tactics designed to intimidate the populace into submission and discourage anyone from stepping out of line or challenging the status quo.

It’s not just the Cliven Bundys of the world who are being dealt with in this manner. Don Miller, a 91-year-old antiques collector, recently had his Indiana home raided by the FBI, ostensibly because it might be in the nation’s best interest if the rare and valuable antiques and artifacts Miller had collected over the course of 80 years were cared for by the government. Such tactics carried out by anyone other than the government would be considered grand larceny, and yet the government gets a free pass.

In the same way, the government insists it can carry out all manner of surveillance on us—listen in on our phone calls, read our emails and text messages, track our movements, photograph our license plates, even enter our biometric information into DNA databases—but those who dare to return the favor, even a little, by filming potential police misconduct, get roughed up by the police, arrested, charged with violating various and sundry crimes.

When law enforcement officials—not just the police, but every agent of the government entrusted with enforcing laws, from the president on down—are allowed to discard the law when convenient, and the only ones having to obey the law are the citizenry and not the enforcers, then the law becomes only a tool to punish us, rather than binding and controlling the government, as it was intended.

This phenomenon is what philosopher Abraham Kaplan referred to as the law of the instrument, which essentially says that to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In the scenario that has been playing out in recent years, we the citizenry have become the nails to be hammered by the government’s henchmen, a.k.a. its guns for hire, a.k.a. its standing army, a.k.a. the nation’s law enforcement agencies.

Indeed, there can no longer be any doubt that militarized police officers, the end product of the government—federal, local and state—and law enforcement agencies having merged, have become a “standing” or permanent army, composed of full-time professional soldiers who do not disband. Yet these permanent armies are exactly what those who drafted the U.S. Constitution feared as tools used by despotic governments to wage war against its citizens.

That is exactly what we are witnessing today: a war against the American citizenry. Is it any wonder then that Americans are starting to resist?

More and more, Americans are tired, frustrated, anxious, and worried about the state of their country. They are afraid of an increasingly violent and oppressive federal government, and they are worried about the economic insecurity which still grips the nation. And they’re growing increasingly sick of being treated like suspects and criminals. As former law professor John Baker, who has studied the growing problem of overcriminalization, noted, “There is no one in the United States over the age of 18 who cannot be indicted for some federal crime. That is not an exaggeration.”

To make matters worse, a recent scientific study by Princeton researchers confirms that the United States of America is not the democracy that is purports to be, but rather an oligarchy, in which “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy.” As PolicyMic explains, “An oligarchy is a system where power is effectively wielded by a small number of individuals defined by their status called oligarchs. Members of the oligarchy are the rich, the well connected and the politically powerful, as well as particularly well placed individuals in institutions like banking and finance or the military… In other words, their statistics say your opinion literally does not matter.

So if average Americans, having largely lost all of the conventional markers of influencing government, whether through elections, petition, or protest, have no way to impact their government, no way to be heard, no assurance that their concerns are truly being represented and their government is one “by the people, of the people, and for the people,” as opposed to being engineered expressly for the benefit of the wealthy elite, then where does that leave them?

To some, the choice is clear. As psychologist Erich Fromm recognized in his insightful book, On Disobedience: “If a man can only obey and not disobey, he is a slave; if he can only disobey and not obey, he is a rebel (not a revolutionary). He acts out of anger, disappointment, resentment, yet not in the name of a conviction or a principle.”

Unfortunately, the intrepid, revolutionary American spirit that stood up to the British, blazed paths to the western territories, and prevailed despite a civil war, multiple world wars, and various economic depressions has taken quite a beating in recent years. Nevertheless, the time is coming when each American will have to decide: will you be a slave, rebel or revolutionary?

“There is no evidence that Jesus himself openly advocated violent actions. But he was certainly no pacifist. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but the sword” (Matthew 10:34 | Luke 12:51).” ― Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Those living through this present age of SWAT team raids, police shootings of unarmed citizens, roadside strip searches, and invasive surveillance might feel as if these events are unprecedented. Yet while we in the United States may be experiencing a steady slide into a police state, we are neither the first nor the last nation to do so.

Although technology, politics and superpowers have changed over time, the characteristics of a police state and its reasons for being have remained the same: control, power and money. Indeed, as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, a police state extends far beyond the actions of law enforcement.  In fact, a police state “is characterized by bureaucracy, secrecy, perpetual wars, a nation of suspects, militarization, surveillance, widespread police presence, and a citizenry with little recourse against police actions.”

Just as police states have arisen throughout history, there have also been individuals or groups of individuals who have risen up to challenge the injustices of their age. Nazi Germany had its Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The gulags of the Soviet Union were challenged by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. America had its color-coded system of racial segregation and warmongering called out for what it was, blatant discrimination and profiteering, by Martin Luther King Jr.

And then there was Jesus Christ, an itinerant preacher and revolutionary activist, who not only died challenging the police state of his day—namely, the Roman Empire—but provided a blueprint for civil disobedience that would be followed by those, religious and otherwise, who came after him. Yet for all the accolades poured out upon Jesus, little is said about the harsh realities of the police state in which he lived and its similarities to modern-day America, and yet they are striking.

Secrecy, surveillance and rule by the elite. As the chasm between the wealthy and poor grew wider in the Roman Empire, the ruling class and the wealthy class became synonymous, while the lower classes, increasingly deprived of their political freedoms, grew disinterested in the government and easily distracted by “bread and circuses.” Much like America today, with its lack of government transparency, overt domestic surveillance, and rule by the rich, the inner workings of the Roman Empire were shrouded in secrecy, while its leaders were constantly on the watch for any potential threats to its power. The resulting state-wide surveillance was primarily carried out by the military, which acted as investigators, enforcers, torturers, policemen, executioners and jailers. Today that role is fulfilled by increasingly militarized police forces across the country.

Widespread police presence. The Roman Empire used its military forces to maintain the “peace,” thereby establishing a police state that reached into all aspects of a citizen’s life. In this way, these military officers, used to address a broad range of routine problems and conflicts, enforced the will of the state. Today SWAT teams, comprised of local police and federal agents, are employed to carry out routine search warrants for minor crimes such as marijuana possession and credit card fraud.

Citizenry with little recourse against the police state. As the Roman Empire expanded, personal freedom and independence nearly vanished, as did any real sense of local governance and national consciousness. Similarly, in America today, citizens largely feel powerless, voiceless and unrepresented in the face of a power-hungry federal government. As states and localities are brought under direct control by federal agencies and regulations, a sense of learned helplessness grips the nation.

Perpetual wars and a military empire. Much like America today with its practice of policing the world, war and an over-arching militarist ethos provided the framework for the Roman Empire, which extended from the Italian peninsula to all over Southern, Western, and Eastern Europe, extending into North Africa and Western Asia as well. In addition to significant foreign threats, wars were waged against inchoate, unstructured and socially inferior foes.

Martial law. Eventually, Rome established a permanent military dictatorship that left the citizens at the mercy of an unreachable and oppressive totalitarian regime. In the absence of resources to establish civic police forces, the Romans relied increasingly on the military to intervene in all matters of conflict or upheaval in provinces, from small-scale scuffles to large-scale revolts. Not unlike police forces today, with their militarized weapons and “shoot first, ask questions later” mindset, the Roman soldier had “the exercise of lethal force at his fingertips” with the potential of wreaking havoc on normal citizens’ lives.

A nation of suspects. Just as the American Empire looks upon its citizens as suspects to be tracked, surveilled and controlled, the Roman Empire looked upon all potential insubordinates, from the common thief to a full-fledged insurrectionist, as threats to its power. The insurrectionist was seen as directly challenging the Emperor.  A “bandit,” or revolutionist, was seen as capable of overturning the empire, was always considered guilty and deserving of the most savage penalties, including capital punishment. Bandits were usually punished publicly and cruelly as a means of deterring others from challenging the power of the state.  Jesus’ execution was one such public punishment.

Acts of civil disobedience by insurrectionists. Starting with his act of civil disobedience at the Jewish temple, the site of the administrative headquarters of the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish council, Jesus branded himself a political revolutionary. When Jesus “with the help of his disciples, blocks the entrance to the courtyard” and forbids “anyone carrying goods for sale or trade from entering the Temple,” he committed a blatantly criminal and seditious act, an act “that undoubtedly precipitated his arrest and execution.” Because the commercial events were sponsored by the religious hierarchy, which in turn was operated by consent of the Roman government, Jesus’ attack on the money chargers and traders can be seen as an attack on Rome itself, an unmistakable declaration of political and social independence from the Roman oppression.

Detail from Hans Holbein the Younger, The Passion of Christ (1524-25, Kunstmuseum, Basel)

Military-style arrests in the dead of night. Jesus’ arrest account testifies to the fact that the Romans perceived Him as a revolutionary. Eerily similar to today’s SWAT team raids, Jesus was arrested in the middle of the night, in secret, by a large, heavily armed fleet of soldiers.  Rather than merely asking for Jesus when they came to arrest him, his pursuers collaborated beforehand with Judas. Acting as a government informant, Judas concocted a kiss as a secret identification marker, hinting that a level of deception and trickery must be used to obtain this seemingly “dangerous revolutionist’s” cooperation.

Torture and capital punishment. In Jesus’ day, religious preachers, self-proclaimed prophets and nonviolent protesters were not summarily arrested and executed. Indeed, the high priests and Roman governors normally allowed a protest, particularly a small-scale one, to run its course. However, government authorities were quick to dispose of leaders and movements that appeared to threaten the Roman Empire. The charges leveled against Jesus—that he was a threat to the stability of the nation, opposed paying Roman taxes and claimed to be the rightful King—were purely political, not religious. To the Romans, any one of these charges was enough to merit death by crucifixion, which was usually reserved for slaves, non-Romans, radicals, revolutionaries and the worst criminals.

Jesus was presented to Pontius Pilate “as a disturber of the political peace,” a leader of a rebellion, a political threat, and most gravely—a claimant to kingship, a “king of the revolutionary type.” After Jesus is formally condemned by Pilate, he is sentenced to death by crucifixion, “the Roman means of executing criminals convicted of high treason.”  The purpose of crucifixion was not so much to kill the criminal, as it was an immensely public statement intended to visually warn all those who would challenge the power of the Roman Empire. Hence, it was reserved solely for the most extreme political crimes: treason, rebellion, sedition, and banditry. After being ruthlessly whipped and mocked, Jesus was nailed to a cross.

As Professor Mark Lewis Taylor observed:

The cross within Roman politics and culture was a marker of shame, of being a criminal. If you were put to the cross, you were marked as shameful, as criminal, but especially as subversive. And there were thousands of people put to the cross. The cross was actually positioned at many crossroads, and, as New Testament scholar Paula Fredricksen has reminded us, it served as kind of a public service announcement that said, “Act like this person did, and this is how you will end up.”

Jan Provoost, Crucifixion, 1500.

Jesus—the revolutionary, the political dissident, and the nonviolent activist—lived and died in a police state.Any reflection on Jesus’ life and death within a police state must take into account several factors: Jesus spoke out strongly against such things as empires, controlling people, state violence and power politics. Jesus challenged the political and religious belief systems of his day. And worldly powers feared Jesus, not because he challenged them for control of thrones or government but because he undercut their claims of supremacy, and he dared to speak truth to power in a time when doing so could—and often did—cost a person his life.

Unfortunately, the radical Jesus, the political dissident who took aim at injustice and oppression, has been largely forgotten today, replaced by a congenial, smiling Jesus trotted out for religious holidays but otherwise rendered mute when it comes to matters of war, power and politics. Yet for those who truly study the life and teachings of Jesus, the resounding theme is one of outright resistance to war, materialism and empire.

As Professor Taylor notes, “The power of Jesus is one that enables us to critique the nation and the empire. Unfortunately, that gospel is being sacrificed and squandered by Christians who have cozied up to power and wealth.” Ultimately, this is the contradiction that must be resolved if the radical Jesus—the one who stood up to the Roman Empire and was crucified as a warning to others not to challenge the powers-that-be—is to be an example for our modern age. — John W. Whitehead

Outrageous examples of wasteful government spending from Sen. Coburn’s 2013 ‘Wastebook’

“To force a man to pay for the violation of his own liberty is indeed an addition of insult to injury.”—Benjamin Tucker, 19th century advocate of American individualist anarchism

The State Department wants $400,000 to purchase a fiberglass sculpture of a camel looking at a needle for its new embassy in Pakistan. They’ve already spent their allotted $630,000 to increase the number of “likes” and fans on their Facebook and Twitter pages. The NATO ambassador for the U.S. needs $700,000 for landscaping and gardening, the National Science Foundation would like $700,000 to put on a theatrical production about climate change, and the Senate staffers need $1.9 million for lifestyle coaching. Also, Yale University researchers could really use $384,000 so they can study the odd cork-screw shape of a duck’s penis.

I promise this is no belated April Fools’ joke. These are actual line items paid for by American taxpayers, whose tax dollars continue to be wasted on extravagant, unnecessary items that serve no greater purpose than to fatten the wallets of corporations and feed political graft (such as the $1 million bus stop, complete with heated benches and sidewalks which can only shelter 15 people and provides little protection from rain, snow, or the sun).

Case in point: despite the fact that we have 46 million Americans living at or below the poverty line, 16 million children living in households without adequate access to food, and at least 900,000 veterans relying on food stamps, enormous sums continue to be doled out for presidential vacations ($16 million for trips to Africa and Hawaii), overtime fraud at the Department of Homeland Security (nearly $9 million in improper overtime claims, and that’s just in six of the DHS’ many offices), and Hollywood movie productions ($10 million was spent by the Army National Guard on Superman movie tie-ins aimed at increasing awareness about the National Guard).

This doesn’t even touch on the astronomical amounts of money spent on dubious wars abroad.

Consider that since 2001, Americans have spent $10.5 million every hour for numerous foreign military occupations, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s also the $2.2 million spent every hour on maintaining the United States’ nuclear stockpile, and the $35,000 spent every hour to produce and maintain our collection of Tomahawk missiles. And then there’s the money the government exports to other countries to support their arsenals, at the cost of $1.61 million every hour for the American taxpayers.

Then there’s the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, which reinforces a government mindset in which the rights of the wealthy are affirmed by the courts, while the rights of average, working class Americans are routinely dismissed as secondary to corporate and governmental concerns. Under the guise of protecting free speech, a divided 5-4 Court did away with established limits on the number of candidates an individual can support with campaign contributions.

In doing so, the justices expanded on the Court’s landmark 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which not only gave unfettered free speech rights to corporations but paved the way for corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money promoting candidates, especially presidential candidates. What this does, of course, is turn the ballot box into an auction block, wherein those who are “elected” to public office are bought and paid for by those who can afford to support their campaigns—namely, lobbyists, corporations and high-dollar donors. (Then again, perhaps it will remain status quo. According to a 2013 study by Trinity University, U.S. Senators do not take into account the opinions and wishes of their lower class constituents. Rather, their voting was aligned with their upper class constituents. This dismissal of lower class opinion held true for both Republican and Democratic Senators, themselves made up of millionaires.)

When all is said and done, what we are witnessing is the emergence of a disconcerting government mindset that interprets the Constitution one way for corporations, government entities and the wealthy, and uses a second measure altogether for average Americans. For example, contrast the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the “free speech” rights of corporations and wealthy donors in McCutcheon and Citizens United with its tendency to deny those same rights to average Americans when government interests abound, such as in its 2012 decision in Reichle v. Howards, where a unanimous Supreme Court allowed immunity protections for Secret Service agents to trump the free speech rights of Americans, and you’ll find a noticeable disparity.

Unfortunately, as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, this constitutional double standard is coming to bear in all aspects of our lives, not just in the realm of campaign finance law. It allows lobbyists intimate access to our elected officials, while prohibiting Americans from even standing silently in protest near a government building; it grants immunity to police officers who shoot unarmed citizens, while harshly punishing Americans who attempt to defend themselves, mistaking a SWAT team raid for a home invasion; and it gives government agents carte blanche access to Americans’ communications and activities, while allowing the government to operate in secret, with secret hearings, secret budgets and secret agendas.

This is a far cry from how a representative government is supposed to operate. Indeed, it has been a long time since we could claim to be the masters of our own lives. Rather, we are now the subjects of a militarized, corporate empire in which the vast majority of the citizenry work their hands to the bone for the benefit of a privileged few.

Adding injury to the ongoing insult of having our tax dollars misused and our so-called representatives bought and paid for by the moneyed elite, the government then turns around and uses the money we earn with our blood, sweat and tears to target, imprison and entrap us, in the form of militarized police, surveillance cameras, private prisons, license plate readers, drones, and cell phone tracking technology.

All of those nefarious deeds that you read about in the paper every day: those are your tax dollars at work. It’s your money that allows for government agents to spy on your emails, your phone calls, your text messages, and your movements. It’s your money that allows out-of-control police officers to burst into innocent people’s homes, or probe and strip search motorists on the side of the road. And it’s your money that leads to innocent Americans across the country being prosecuted for innocuous activities such as raising chickens at home, growing vegetable gardens, and trying to live off the grid.

Just remember the next time you see a news story that makes your blood boil, whether it’s a police officer arresting someone for filming them in public, or a child being kicked out of school for shooting an imaginary arrow, or a homeowner being threatened with fines for building a pond in his backyard, remember that it is your tax dollars that are paying for these injustices.

So what are you going to do about it?

There was a time in our history when our forebears said “enough is enough” and stopped paying their taxes to what they considered an illegitimate government. They stood their ground and refused to support a system that was slowly choking out any attempts at self-governance, and which refused to be held accountable for its crimes against the people. Their resistance sowed the seeds for the revolution that would follow.

Unfortunately, in the 200-plus years since we established our own government, we’ve let bankers, turncoats and number-crunching bureaucrats muddy the waters and pilfer the accounts to such an extent that we’re back where we started. Once again, we’ve got a despotic regime with an imperial ruler doing as they please. Once again, we’ve got a judicial system insisting we have no rights under a government which demands that the people march in lockstep with its dictates. And once again, we’ve got to decide whether we’ll keep marching or break stride and make a turn toward freedom.

But what if we didn’t just pull out our pocketbooks and pony up to the federal government’s outrageous demands for more money? What if we didn’t just dutifully line up to drop our hard-earned dollars into the collection bucket, no questions asked about how it will be spent? What if, instead of quietly sending in our checks, hoping vainly for some meager return, we did a little calculating of our own and started deducting from our taxes those programs that we refuse to support?

If we don’t have the right to decide what happens to our hard-earned cash, then we don’t have very many rights at all. If they can just take from you what they want, when they want, and then use it however they want, you can’t claim to be anything more than a serf in a land they think of as theirs. This was the case in the colonial era, and it’s the case once again.

“I thought I had freedom of speech here,” the man said to the police officer.
“You don’t. You just lost it,” the officer replied.

Once again, the U.S. government is attempting to police the world when it should be policing its own law enforcement agencies. We’ve got a warship cruising the Black Sea, fighter jets patrolling the Baltic skies, and a guided-missile destroyer searching the South China Sea for the downed Malaysia Airlines flight. All the while, back home in the U.S., our constitutional rights are going to hell in a hand basket, with homeowners being threatened with eviction for attempting to live off the grid, old women jailed for feeding crows, and citizens armed with little more than a cell phone arrested for daring to record police activities.

Robin Speronis now finds herself threatened with eviction from her own Florida home for daring to live off the grid, independent of city utilities such as water and electricity. City officials insist the Cape Coral resident’s chosen way of life violates international property maintenance code and city ordinances. Mary Musselman, also a Florida resident, is being held in jail without bond for “feeding wild animals.” The 81-year-old Musselman, on probation after being charged with feeding bears near her home, was arrested after officers discovered her leaving bread out for crows. Meanwhile, Brandy Berning of Florida was forced to spend a night in jail after recording her conversation with an officer who pulled her over for a routine traffic stop.

Welcome to the farce that passes for law and order in America today, where, as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, crime is low, militarized police activity is on the rise, and Americans are being penalized for living off the grid, feeding wild animals, holding Bible studies in their back yard, growing vegetables in their front yard, collecting rainwater, and filming the police.

This latter point should really stick in your craw. Consider the irony: the government insists it can carry out all manner of surveillance on us—listen in on our phone calls, read our emails and text messages, track our movements, photograph our license plates, even enter our biometric information into DNA databases—but if we dare to return the favor, even a little, we get roughed up by the police, arrested, charged with violating various and sundry crimes (often trumped up), and forced to make restitution.

For example, George Thompson of Boston was arrested after he used his cell phone to record a police officer he describes as being “out of control.” University of Texas college student Abie Kyle Ikhinmwi was arrested after recording a police speed trap with her cell phone. Kansas teen Addison Mikkelson was arrested after filming a patrol car allegedly speeding and failing to use a turn signal.

Leon Rosby was filming a police standoff in June 2013, his cellphone in one hand and his dog’s leash in the other, when three officers approached him. Anticipating a problem, Rosby placed his 2-year-old Rottweiler, Max, in his car. The LA Times reports: “As officers cuffed Rosby, the dog escaped through an open window and began to bark and lunge at officers. One officer tried to grab the dog’s leash, then drew his gun and fired four shots, killing Max. Video of the incident went viral on YouTube, prompting a public outcry and drawing protesters to the Police Department headquarters.” Rosby has now filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city and the three police officers.

And then there is the Baltimore man who was threatened by police after they discovered him filming them during an arrest. The local CBS station ran the footage of the ensuing confrontation, which went something like this:

“I’m allowed to do this,” the man told the officer.

“Get it out of my face,” the officer replied.

“I have my rights,” the man said.

“You have no rights,” the officer said.

But the man didn’t stop rolling and was once again aggressively approached.

“Do you see the police presence here? Do you see us all? We’re not [expletive] around. Do you understand? Do not disrespect us and do not not listen to us,” the officer said. “Now walk away and shut your [expletive] mouth or you’re going to jail, do you understand?”

After backing away, the officer came at the man a third time, appearing to grab him.

“I thought I had freedom of speech here,” the man said.

“You don’t. You just lost it,” the officer replied.

And that, in a nutshell, is what happens when law enforcement officials—not just the police, but every agent of the government entrusted with enforcing laws, from the president on down—are allowed to discard the law when convenient. At the point where there’s a double standard at play, where the only ones having to obey the law are the citizenry and not the enforcers, then that vital “social contract” that John Locke envisioned as the basis for society breaks down. The more we allow government officials to operate outside the law, the more we ensure that the law becomes only a tool to punish us, rather than binding and controlling the government, as it was intended.

This brings me back to the problem of Americans getting arrested for filming the police. Until recently, this has primarily been a problem experienced by journalists and photographers attempting to document political protests and other disturbances involving the police. However, with the preponderance of smart phones capable of recording audio and video, individuals who dare to record police engaged in questionable or abusive activities in public are increasingly finding themselves on the receiving end of the harsh treatment they intended to document. These videos, if widely distributed, can be a powerful method of subjecting police to closer scrutiny and holding them accountable to respecting the rights of those they are supposed to serve.

Naturally, police agencies and unions have sought out legal prohibitions on such videos from being created. Massachusetts police, for instance, have invoked a state surveillance law to charge citizen video-makers criminally for their actions. Because the state surveillance law requires “two-party” consent, most kinds of public filming can be construed as illegal. Similar laws exist in California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. The law was enacted to protect private citizens from invasive surveillance, but the police have exploited it to curtail free speech that tarnishes their public image. Police claim that this regulation gives them legal justification to prohibit filming by citizens such as Jeffrey Manzelli, a journalist who recorded the police intimidating protesters at a rally and was arrested and charged under the law.

Saddled with costly lawsuits brought by individuals allegedly brutalized by police who didn’t appreciate their actions being filmed, a few cities across the country are attempting to adopt policies to protect citizens who film the police. In Troy, N.Y., for example, city police officers would face a fine and jail time if they stop people from legally photographing or filming them. If adopted, the Troy ordinance, which would carry a maximum $5,000 fine and a jail term of up to 15 days for an officer found guilty of violating it, would be the first of its kind in the country.

As part of a $200,000 legal settlement, Indianapolis police will soon be required to remind its officers that citizens have a legal right to videotape on-duty police officers. The case arose after a 66-year-old Indianapolis resident was tackled to the ground, arrested and charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and public intoxication (he was found not guilty of the charges) after he used his cellphone to record police arresting a young man in his neighbor’s driveway. There is also a movement afoot to equip police with on-officer cameras that would provide footage of what an officer sees.

The courts, thus far, have favored the First Amendment rights of eyewitness filmmakers, even in the face of state efforts to outlaw such activities. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of an Illinois eavesdropping law that makes recording law enforcement officers a first-class felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a statement of interest in the case of Mannie Garcia v. Montgomery County, Md., declaring that not only do individuals have a First Amendment right to record officers publicly doing their duties, they also have Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights protecting them from having those recordings seized without a warrant or due process.

The Garcia case involves a journalist who was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for filming police as they detained two men. According to the lawsuit, police “dragged Garcia to the police car, put him in handcuffs, threw him to the ground by kicking his feet out from under him, taunted him, threatened to arrest his wife if she came too close and took his camera, and seized the memory card, which was never returned.”

The problem, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recognized in Payne v. Pauley, is that “[p]olice officers must be more thick skinned than the ordinary citizen and must exercise restraint in dealing with the public” and “must not conceive that every threatening or insulting word, gesture, or motion amounts to disorderly conduct.”

The difficulty we face is that police officers are becoming increasingly thin skinned, less restrained in dealing with the public, and more inclined to conceive every word, gesture, or motion as a threat. In an ideal world, police would recognize that, as public servants, they are rightfully subject to recording and surveillance when carrying out their public duties. Unfortunately, this is far from an ideal world.

So what are we to do?

We must continue to stand up for our rights, record police when the opportunity presents itself, and politely remind any offended officers that they are, in fact, our public servants and, as such, their behavior is subject to public scrutiny. If they disagree and attempt to stop us from recording, we can refer them to the U.S. Constitution, which they have sworn to uphold, which protects our right to record matters of public interest. And if they continue to insist on hauling people to jail because they don’t like the idea of transparency and accountability, they can take it up with the courts. The goal is to eventually arrive at a point where we can keep a watchful eye on our government officials, instead of the other way around. As Justice Louis D. Brandeis once observed, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” — John W. Whitehead