Posts Tagged ‘militarized police’

“Mass shootings have become routine in the United States and speak to a society that relies on violence to feed the coffers of the merchants of death. Given the profits made by arms manufacturers, the defense industry, gun dealers and the lobbyists who represent them in Congress, it comes as no surprise that the culture of violence cannot be abstracted from either the culture of business or the corruption of politics.”—Professor Henry A. Giroux

We are caught in a vicious cycle.

With alarming regularity, the nation is being subjected to a heartbreaking spate of violence that terrorizes the populace, fractures communities, and gives the government greater justifications to crack down, lock down, and institute even more authoritarian policies for the so-called sake of national security without many objections from the citizenry.

Mass shootings have taken place in schools, on college campuses, movie theaters, nightclubs, grocery stores, concert venues, bars, workplaces, churches, on military bases, and in government offices. In almost every instance, the shooters were dressed in military-style gear and armed with military-style weapons.

Take the latest shooting that took place in Uvalde, Texas, when 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, wearing body armor and carrying a rifle, walked into Robb Elementary School and opened fire, leaving at least 19 children and two teachers dead.

This Uvalde shooting took place ten days after another 18-year-old man, heavily armed and wearing tactical gear (including a tactical helmet and plated armor), opened fire in a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y, killing 10 people.

In 2018, a 19-year-old former student armed with a gas mask, smoke grenades, magazines of ammunition, and an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle opened fire on students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., leaving 17 people dead.

Ten years ago, 20-year-old Adam Lanza—wearing body armor and black clothing, and armed with military-style weapons—opened fire on students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., leaving 26 dead. Prior to the shooting, Lanza reportedly spent his days “playing violent video games amid posters showcasing military equipment.”

According to an FBI report issued the day before the Uvalde shooting, these kinds of “active shooter attacks” have doubled in recent years.

As expected in the wake of such tragedies, there has been a vocal outcry for enacting more strident gun control measures, more mental health checks, and heightened security measures.

Yet surely there’s more to these shootings than just easy access to weapons and mental illness.

Ask yourself: Why do these mass shootings keep happening? Who are these shooters modelling themselves after? Where are they finding the inspiration for their weaponry and tactics? Whose stance and techniques are they mirroring?

When you start to connect the dots, they lead right back to the American police state and the war-drenched, violence-imbued, profit-driven military industrial complex, both of which continue to dominate, dictate and shape almost every aspect of our lives.

The United States is the number one consumer, exporter and perpetrator of violence and violent weapons in the world.

Violence has become America’s calling card.

We are a military culture engaged in continuous warfare.

We have been a nation at war for most of our existence.

We are a nation that makes a living from killing through defense contracts, weapons manufacturing and endless wars.

We are being fed a steady diet of violence through our entertainment, news, sports and politics.

All of the military equipment featured in blockbuster movies is provided—at taxpayer expense—in exchange for carefully placed promotional spots aimed at boosting civic pride in the military, recruiting for the military, and churning out profit-driven propaganda for the military industrial complex. Even reality TV shows have gotten in on the gig.

It’s estimated that U.S. military intelligence agencies (including the NSA) have influenced over 1,800 movies and TV shows.

Then there are the growing number of violent video games, a number of which are engineered by or created for the military as recruitment tools, which have accustomed players to interactive war play through military simulations and first-person shooter scenarios. As Esther J. Cepeda writes for The Washington Post, “Violent video games alone do not cause people to go off the rails, arm themselves and open fire on innocent people in public places. But there’s also no question that there is something wrong with a multibillion-dollar video game industry that sells to young men the ability to virtually assassinate a foe as an escape from real life.”

The media, eager to score higher ratings, has been equally complicit in making (real) war more palatable to the public by packaging it as TV friendly. The military has also been firmly entrenched in the nation’s sports spectacles, having co-opted football, basketball, even NASCAR, “tying the symbols of sports with the symbols of war.”

This is how you acclimate a population to war.

This is how you cultivate loyalty to a war machine.

This is how, to borrow from the subtitle to the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, you teach a nation to “stop worrying and love the bomb.”

This is how you sustain the nation’s appetite for war.

As journalist David Sirota writes for Salon, to those who profit from war, it is “a ‘product’ to be sold via pop culture products that sanitize war and, in the process, boost recruitment numbers.”

No wonder entertainment violence is the hottest selling ticket at the box office. As professor Henry Giroux points out, “Popular culture not only trades in violence as entertainment, but also it delivers violence to a society addicted to a pleasure principle steeped in graphic and extreme images of human suffering, mayhem and torture.”

No wonder the government continues to whet the nation’s appetite for violence and war through paid propaganda programs (seeded throughout sports entertainment, Hollywood blockbusters and video games)—what professor Roger Stahl refers to as “militainment“—that glorify the military and serve as recruiting tools for America’s expanding military empire.

No wonder Americans from a very young age are being groomed to enlist as foot soldiers—even virtual ones—in America’s Army (coincidentally, that’s also the name of a first-person shooter video game that was produced by the military and used as a pivotal recruiting tool for 20 years).

Explorer scouts, for example, have been one of the most popular recruiting tools for the military and its civilian counterparts (law enforcement, Border Patrol, and the FBI). Writing for The Atlantic, a former Explorer scout described the highlight of the program: monthly weekend maneuvers with the National Guard where scouts “got to fire live rounds from M16s, M60 machine guns, and M203 grenade launchers… we would have urban firefights (shooting blanks, of course) in Combat Town, a warren of concrete buildings designed for just that purpose. The exercise always devolved into a free-for-all, with all of us weekend warriors emptying clip after clip of blanks until we couldn’t see past the end of our rifles for all the smoke in the air.”

No wonder America spends more money on war than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy and Brazil. America polices the globe, with 800 military bases and troops stationed in 160 countries. Moreover, the war hawks have turned the American homeland into a quasi-battlefield with military gear, weapons and tactics. In turn, domestic police forces have become roving extensions of the military—a standing army.

You want to stop the gun violence?

Stop the worship of violence that permeates our culture.

Stop treating guns and war as entertainment fodder in movies, music, video games, toys, amusement parks, reality TV, sports and more.

Stop distributing weapons of war (weapons that have no business being anywhere but on a battlefield) to the local police and transforming police into extensions of the military.

Stop exposing young people to the military industrial complex’s pervasive propaganda.

Stop falling for the military industrial complex’s psychological war games.

Salvador Ramos may have pulled the trigger that resulted in the mayhem in Uvalde, Tex., but something else is driving the madness.

We’ve got to do more than react in a knee-jerk fashion.

Those who want safety at all costs will clamor for more gun control measures, widespread mental health screening of the general population and greater scrutiny of military veterans, more threat assessments and behavioral sensing warnings, more CCTV cameras with facial recognition capabilities, more “See Something, Say Something” programs aimed at turning Americans into snitches and spies, more metal detectors and whole-body imaging devices at soft targets, more roaming squads of militarized police empowered to do random bag searches, more fusion centers to centralize and disseminate information to law enforcement agencies, and more surveillance of what Americans say and do, where they go, what they buy and how they spend their time.

Yet as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, all of these measures play into the government’s hands by locking down the nation without doing anything to address the underlying causes of this madness.

What we need is a thoughtful, measured, apolitical response to these shootings that takes aim at the violence plaguing our nation by lowering the levels of violence here and abroad, whether it’s violence we export to other countries, violence we glorify in entertainment, or violence we revel in when it’s leveled at our so-called enemies, politically or otherwise.

Our prolonged exposure to the toxic culture of the American police state is deadly.

Source: https://bit.ly/3wSigB3

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His most recent books are the best-selling Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the award-winning A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, and a debut dystopian fiction novel, The Erik Blair Diaries. Whitehead can be contacted at staff@rutherford.org. Nisha Whitehead is the Executive Director of The Rutherford Institute. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission

John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.

“The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem and very often makes the problem worse.”—Milton Friedman

You’ve been flagged as a threat.

Before long, every household in America will be similarly flagged and assigned a threat score.

Without having ever knowingly committed a crime or been convicted of one, you and your fellow citizens have likely been assessed for behaviors the government might consider devious, dangerous or concerning; assigned a threat score based on your associations, activities and viewpoints; and catalogued in a government database according to how you should be approached by police and other government agencies based on your particular threat level.

If you’re not unnerved over the ramifications of how such a program could be used and abused, keep reading.

It’s just a matter of time before you find yourself wrongly accused, investigated and confronted by police based on a data-driven algorithm or risk assessment culled together by a computer program run by artificial intelligence.

Consider the case of Michael Williams, who spent almost a year in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Williams was behind the wheel when a passing car fired at his vehicle, killing his 25-year-old passenger Safarian Herring, who had hitched a ride.

Despite the fact that Williams had no motive, there were no eyewitnesses to the shooting, no gun was found in the car, and Williams himself drove Herring to the hospital, police charged the 65-year-old man with first-degree murder based on ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection program that had picked up a loud bang on its network of surveillance microphones and triangulated the noise to correspond with a noiseless security video showing Williams’ car driving through an intersection. The case was eventually dismissed for lack of evidence.

Although gunshot detection program like ShotSpotter are gaining popularity with law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and courts alike, they are riddled with flaws, mistaking “dumpsters, trucks, motorcycles, helicopters, fireworks, construction, trash pickup and church bells…for gunshots.”

As an Associated Press investigation found, “the system can miss live gunfire right under its microphones, or misclassify the sounds of fireworks or cars backfiring as gunshots.”

In one community, ShotSpotter worked less than 50% of the time.

Then there’s the human element of corruption which invariably gets added to the mix. In some cases, “employees have changed sounds detected by the system to say that they are gunshots.” Forensic reports prepared by ShotSpotter’s employees have also “been used in court to improperly claim that a defendant shot at police, or provide questionable counts of the number of shots allegedly fired by defendants.”

The same company that owns ShotSpotter also owns a predictive policing program that aims to use gunshot detection data to “predict” crime before it happens. Both Presidents Biden and Trump have pushed for greater use of these predictive programs to combat gun violence in communities, despite the fact that found they have not been found to reduce gun violence or increase community safety.

The rationale behind this fusion of widespread surveillance, behavior prediction technologies, data mining, precognitive technology, and neighborhood and family snitch programs is purportedly to enable the government takes preemptive steps to combat crime (or whatever the government has chosen to outlaw at any given time).

This is precrime, straight out of the realm of dystopian science fiction movies such as Minority Report, which aims to prevent crimes before they happen, but in fact, it’s just another means of getting the citizenry in the government’s crosshairs in order to lock down the nation.

Even Social Services is getting in on the action, with computer algorithms attempting to predict which households might be guilty of child abuse and neglect.

All it takes is an AI bot flagging a household for potential neglect for a family to be investigated, found guilty and the children placed in foster care.

Mind you, potential neglect can include everything from inadequate housing to poor hygiene, but is different from physical or sexual abuse.

According to an investigative report by the Associated Press, once incidents of potential neglect are reported to a child protection hotline, the reports are run through a screening process that pulls together “personal data collected from birth, Medicaid, substance abuse, mental health, jail and probation records, among other government data sets.” The algorithm then calculates the child’s potential risk and assigns a score of 1 to 20 to predict the risk that a child will be placed in foster care in the two years after they are investigated. “The higher the number, the greater the risk. Social workers then use their discretion to decide whether to investigate.”

Other predictive models being used across the country strive to “assess a child’s risk for death and severe injury, whether children should be placed in foster care and if so, where.”

Incredibly, there’s no way for a family to know if AI predictive technology was responsible for their being targeted, investigated and separated from their children. As the AP notes, “Families and their attorneys can never be sure of the algorithm’s role in their lives either because they aren’t allowed to know the scores.”

One thing we do know, however, is that the system disproportionately targets poor, black families for intervention, disruption and possibly displacement, because much of the data being used is gleaned from lower income and minority communities.

The technology is also far from infallible. In one county alone, a technical glitch presented social workers with the wrong scores, either underestimating or overestimating a child’s risk.

Yet fallible or not, AI predictive screening program is being used widely across the country by government agencies to surveil and target families for investigation. The fallout of this over surveillance, according to Aysha Schomburg, the associate commissioner of the U.S. Children’s Bureau, is “mass family separation.”

The impact of these kinds of AI predictive tools is being felt in almost every area of life.

Under the pretext of helping overwhelmed government agencies work more efficiently, AI predictive and surveillance technologies are being used to classify, segregate and flag the populace with little concern for privacy rights or due process.

All of this sorting, sifting and calculating is being done swiftly, secretly and incessantly with the help of AI technology and a surveillance state that monitors your every move.

Where this becomes particularly dangerous is when the government takes preemptive steps to combat crime or abuse, or whatever the government has chosen to outlaw at any given time.

In this way, government agents—with the help of automated eyes and ears, a growing arsenal of high-tech software, hardware and techniques, government propaganda urging Americans to turn into spies and snitches, as well as social media and behavior sensing software—are spinning a sticky spider-web of threat assessments, behavioral sensing warnings, flagged “words,” and “suspicious” activity reports aimed at snaring potential enemies of the state.

Are you a military veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder? Have you expressed controversial, despondent or angry views on social media? Do you associate with people who have criminal records or subscribe to conspiracy theories? Were you seen looking angry at the grocery store? Is your appearance unkempt in public? Has your driving been erratic? Did the previous occupants of your home have any run-ins with police?

All of these details and more are being used by AI technology to create a profile of you that will impact your dealings with government.

It’s the American police state rolled up into one oppressive pre-crime and pre-thought crime package, and the end result is the death of due process.

In a nutshell, due process was intended as a bulwark against government abuses. Due process prohibits the government of depriving anyone of “Life, Liberty, and Property” without first ensuring that an individual’s rights have been recognized and respected and that they have been given the opportunity to know the charges against them and defend against those charges.

With the advent of government-funded AI predictive policing programs that surveil and flag someone as a potential threat to be investigated and treated as dangerous, there can be no assurance of due process: you have already been turned into a suspect.

To disentangle yourself from the fallout of such a threat assessment, the burden of proof rests on you to prove your innocence.

You see the problem?

It used to be that every person had the right to be assumed innocent until proven guilty, and the burden of proof rested with one’s accusers. That assumption of innocence has since been turned on its head by a surveillance state that renders us all suspects and overcriminalization which renders us all potentially guilty of some wrongdoing or other.

Combine predictive AI technology with surveillance and overcriminalization, then add militarized police crashing through doors in the middle of the night to serve a routine warrant, and you’ll be lucky to escape with your life.

Yet be warned: once you get snagged by a surveillance camera, flagged by an AI predictive screening program, and placed on a government watch list—whether it’s a watch list for child neglect, a mental health watch list, a dissident watch list, a terrorist watch list, or a red flag gun watch list—there’s no clear-cut way to get off, whether or not you should actually be on there.

You will be tracked wherever you go, flagged as a potential threat and dealt with accordingly.

If you’re not scared yet, you should be.

We’ve made it too easy for the government to identify, label, target, defuse and detain anyone it views as a potential threat for a variety of reasons that run the gamut from mental illness to having a military background to challenging its authority to just being on the government’s list of persona non grata.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, you don’t even have to be a dissident to get flagged by the government for surveillance, censorship and detention.

All you really need to be is a citizen of the American police state.

Source: https://bit.ly/3N6L27u

We’re all potential victims.”—Peter Christ, retired police officer

It’s the middle of the night.

Your neighborhood is in darkness. Your household is asleep.

Suddenly, you’re awakened by a loud noise.

Someone or an army of someones has crashed through your front door.

The intruders are in your home.

Your heart begins racing. Your stomach is tied in knots. The adrenaline is pumping through you.

You’re not just afraid. You’re terrified.

Desperate to protect yourself and your loved ones from whatever threat has invaded your home, you scramble to lay hold of something—anything—that you might use in self-defense. It might be a flashlight, a baseball bat, or that licensed and registered gun you thought you’d never need.

You brace for the confrontation.

Shadowy figures appear at the doorway, screaming orders, threatening violence.

Chaos reigns.

You stand frozen, your hands gripping whatever means of self-defense you could find.

Just that simple act—of standing frozen in fear and self-defense—is enough to spell your doom.

The assailants open fire, sending a hail of bullets in your direction.

You die without ever raising a weapon or firing a gun in self-defense.

In your final moments, you get a good look at your assassins: it’s the police.

Brace yourself, because this hair-raising, heart-pounding, jarring account of a no-knock, no-announce SWAT team raid is what passes for court-sanctioned policing in America today, and it could happen to any one of us.

Nationwide, SWAT teams routinely invade homes, break down doors, kill family pets (they always shoot the dogs first), damage furnishings, terrorize families, and wound or kill those unlucky enough to be present during a raid.

No longer reserved exclusively for deadly situations, SWAT teams are now increasingly being deployed for relatively routine police matters such as serving a search warrant, with some SWAT teams being sent out as much as five times a day.

SWAT teams have been employed to address an astonishingly trivial array of so-called criminal activity or mere community nuisances: angry dogs, domestic disputesimproper paperwork filed by an orchid farmer, and misdemeanor marijuana possession, to give a brief sampling. In some instances, SWAT teams are even employed, in full armament, to perform routine patrols.

These raids, which might be more aptly referred to as “knock-and-shoot” policing, have become a thinly veiled, court-sanctioned means of giving heavily armed police the green light to crash through doors in the middle of the night.

No-knock raids, a subset of the violent, terror-inducing raids carried out by police SWAT teams on unsuspecting households, differ in one significant respect: they are carried out without police having to announce and identify themselves as police.

It’s a chilling difference: to the homeowner targeted for one of these no-knock raids, it appears as if they are being set upon by villains mounting a home invasion.

Never mind that the unsuspecting homeowner, woken from sleep by the sounds of a violent entry, has no way of distinguishing between a home invasion by criminals as opposed to a police mob. In many instances, there is little real difference.

According to an in-depth investigative report by The Washington Post, “police carry out tens of thousands of no-knock raids every year nationwide.”

While the Fourth Amendment requires that police obtain a warrant based on probable cause before they can enter one’s home, search and seize one’s property, or violate one’s privacy, SWAT teams are granted “no-knock” warrants at high rates such that the warrants themselves are rendered practically meaningless.

If these aggressive, excessive police tactics have also become troublingly commonplace, it is in large part due to judges who largely rubberstamp the warrant requests based only on the word of police; police who have been known to lie or fabricate the facts in order to justify their claims of “reasonable suspicion” (as opposed to the higher standard of probable cause, which is required by the Constitution before any government official can search an individual or his property); and software that allows judges to remotely approve requests using computers, cellphones or tablets.

This sorry state of affairs is made even worse by U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have essentially done away with the need for a “no-knock” warrant altogether, giving the police authority to disregard the protections afforded American citizens by the Fourth Amendment.

In addition to the terror brought on by these raids, general incompetence, collateral damage (fatalities, property damage, etc.) and botched raids are also characteristic of these SWAT team raids. In some cases, officers misread the address on the warrant. In others, they simply barge into the wrong house or even the wrong building. In another subset of cases, police conduct a search of a building where the suspect no longer resides.

SWAT teams have even on occasion conducted multiple, sequential raids on wrong addresses or executed search warrants despite the fact that the suspect is already in police custody. Police have also raided homes on the basis of mistaking the presence or scent of legal substances for drugs. Incredibly, these substances have included tomatoes, sunflowers, fish, elderberry bushes, kenaf plants, hibiscus, and ragweed.

All too often, botched SWAT team raids have resulted in one tragedy after another for the residents with little consequences for law enforcement.

The horror stories have become legion in which homeowners are injured or killed simply because they mistook a SWAT team raid by police for a home invasion by criminals. Too often, the destruction of life and property wrought by the police is no less horrifying than that carried out by criminal invaders.

As one might expect, judges tend to afford extreme levels of deference to police officers who have mistakenly killed innocent civilians but do not afford similar leniency to civilians who have injured police officers in acts of self-defense. Indeed, homeowners who mistake officers for robbers can be sentenced for assault or murder if they take defensive actions resulting in harm to police.

Yet the shock-and-awe tactics utilized by many SWAT teams only increases the likelihood that someone will get hurt.

That’s exactly what happened to Jose Guerena, the young ex-Marine who was killed after a SWAT team kicked open the door of his Arizona home during a drug raid and opened fire. According to news reports, Guerena, 26 years old and the father of two young children, grabbed a gun in response to the forced invasion but never fired. In fact, the safety was still on his gun when he was killed. Police officers were not as restrained. The young Iraqi war veteran was allegedly fired upon 71 times. Guerena had no prior criminal record, and the police found nothing illegal in his home.

Aiyana Jones is dead because of a SWAT raid gone awry. The 7-year-old was killed after a Detroit SWAT team—searching for a suspect—launched a flash-bang grenade into her family’s apartment, broke through the door and opened fire, hitting the little girl who was asleep on the living room couch. The cops weren’t even in the right apartment.

Exhibiting a similar lack of basic concern for public safety, a Georgia SWAT team launched a flash-bang grenade into the house in which Baby Bou Bou, his three sisters and his parents were staying. The grenade landed in the 2-year-old’s crib, burning a hole in his chest and leaving him with scarring that a lifetime of surgeries will not be able to easily undo.

Payton, a 7-year-old black Labrador retriever, and 4-year-old Chase, also a black Lab, were shot and killed after a SWAT team mistakenly raided the mayor’s home while searching for drugs. Police shot Payton four times. Chase was shot twice, once from behind as he ran away. “My government blew through my doors and killed my dogs. They thought we were drug dealers, and we were treated as such. I don’t think they really ever considered that we weren’t,” recalls Mayor Cheye Calvo, who described being handcuffed and interrogated for hours—wearing only underwear and socks—surrounded by the dogs’ carcasses and pools of the dogs’ blood.

If these violent SWAT team raids have become tragically widespread, you can chalk it up to the “make-work” principle that has been used to justify the transfer of sophisticated military equipment, weaponry and training to local police departments, which in turn has helped to transform police into extensions of the military—a standing army on American soil.

The problem, as one reporter rightly concluded, is “not that life has gotten that much more dangerous, it’s that authorities have chosen to respond to even innocent situations as if they were in a warzone.”

A study by a political scientist at Princeton University concludes that militarizing police and SWAT teams “provide no detectable benefits in terms of officer safety or violent crime reduction.” The study, the first systematic analysis on the use and consequences of militarized force, reveals that “police militarization neither reduces rates of violent crime nor changes the number of officers assaulted or killed.”

SWAT teams, designed to defuse dangerous situations such as those involving hostages, were never meant to be used for routine police work targeting nonviolent suspects, yet they have become intrinsic parts of federal and local law enforcement operations.

There are few communities without a SWAT team today.

In 1980, there were roughly 3,000 SWAT team-style raids in the US.

Incredibly, that number has since grown to more than 80,000 SWAT team raids per year.

Where this becomes a problem of life and death for Americans is when these militarized SWAT teams are assigned to carry out routine law enforcement tasks.

In the state of Maryland alone, 92 percent of 8200 SWAT missions were used to execute search or arrest warrants.

Police in both Baltimore and Dallas have used SWAT teams to bust up poker games.

A Connecticut SWAT team swarmed a bar suspected of serving alcohol to underage individuals.

In Arizona, a SWAT team was used to break up an alleged cockfighting ring.

An Atlanta SWAT team raided a music studio, allegedly out of a concern that it might have been involved in illegal music piracy.

A Minnesota SWAT team raided the wrong house in the middle of the night, handcuffed the three young children, held the mother on the floor at gunpoint, shot the family dog, and then “forced the handcuffed children to sit next to the carcass of their dead pet and bloody pet for more than an hour” while they searched the home.

A California SWAT team drove an armored Lenco Bearcat into Roger Serrato’s yard, surrounded his home with paramilitary troops wearing face masks, threw a fire-starting flashbang grenade into the house in order, then when Serrato appeared at a window, unarmed and wearing only his shorts, held him at bay with rifles. Serrato died of asphyxiation from being trapped in the flame-filled house. Incredibly, the father of four had done nothing wrong. The SWAT team had misidentified him as someone involved in a shooting.

And then there was the police officer who tripped and “accidentally” shot and killed Eurie Stamps, an unarmed grandfather of 12, who had been forced to lie facedown on the floor of his home at gunpoint while a SWAT team attempted to execute a search warrant against his stepson.

Equally outrageous was the four-hour SWAT team raid on a California high school, where students were locked down in classrooms, forced to urinate in overturned desks and generally terrorized by heavily armed, masked gunmen searching for possible weapons that were never found.

These incidents underscore a dangerous mindset in which the citizenry (often unarmed and defenseless) not only have less rights than militarized police, but also one in which the safety of the citizenry is treated as a lower priority than the safety of their police counterparts (who are armed to the hilt with an array of lethal and nonlethal weapons).

Likewise, our privacy, property and security are no longer safe from government intrusion.

Yet it wasn’t always this way.

There was a time in America when a person’s home was a sanctuary, safe and secure from the threat of invasion by government agents, who were held at bay by the dictates of the Fourth Amendment, which protects American citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Fourth Amendment, in turn, was added to the U.S. Constitution by colonists still smarting from the abuses they had been forced to endure while under British rule, among these home invasions by the military under the guise of “writs of assistance.” These writs gave British soldiers blanket authority to raid homes, damage property and wreak havoc for any reason whatsoever, without any expectation of probable cause.

To our detriment, we have come full circle to a time before the American Revolution when government agents—with the blessing of the courts—could force their way into a citizen’s home, with seemingly little concern for lives lost and property damaged in the process.

Rubber-stamped, court-issued warrants for no-knock SWAT team raids have become the modern-day equivalent of colonial-era writs of assistance.

Then again, we may be worse off today when one considers the extent to which courts have sanctioned the use of no-knock raids by police SWAT teams (occurring at a rate of more than 80,000 a year and growing); the arsenal of lethal weapons available to local police agencies; the ease with which courts now dispense search warrants based often on little more than a suspicion of wrongdoing; and the inability of police to distinguish between reasonable suspicion and the higher standard of probable cause.

This is exactly what we can expect more of as a result of President Biden’s commitment to expand law enforcement and so-called crime prevention at taxpayer expense.

Yet as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, no matter what the politicians insist to the contrary, militarized police armed with weapons of war who are empowered to carry out pre-dawn raids on our homes, shoot our pets, and terrorize our families are not making America any safer or freer.

Source: https://bit.ly/3JUMg3B

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president The Rutherford Institute. His books Battlefield America: The War on the American People and A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State are available at www.amazon.com. He can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org. Nisha Whitehead is the Executive Director of The Rutherford Institute. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission

John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.

If you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you.”—Officer with the Los Angeles Police Department

Police violence has not lessened.

Police shootings have not abated.

Police reforms have largely failed.

In fact, according to the latest research, police violence kills three people a day.

Despite all of this, President Biden wants to throw more money at America’s police forces.

Biden’s $30 billion “Fund the Police” program, a signature part of his administration’s $5.8 trillion budget proposalaims to expand law enforcement and so-called crime prevention at taxpayer expense.

Essentially, Biden wants to fight gun violence with more gun violence.

What Biden is really looking to do is score points with voters and police unions. Hence, Biden’s political push-back against a call by activists to “defund the police,” would pay for state and local governments to hire more cops, double the funding for community policing, bring on 300 new deputy marshals, staff gun-trafficking strike forces and investigations into gun-dealer complianceprosecute hate crimes, and purchase more police body cameras.

The problem, as far as I can tell, is not that police agencies lack money or cops on the beat. Indeed, as Jamelle Bouie writes in the New York Times, “there is no pressing, national need for greater police funding. If anything, police departments and their allies have skillfully used anxiety over ‘defund’ to successfully lobby for even larger budgets, despite the striking inability of many police departments to solve crimes and clear murders.”

As much as Biden and the police unions want us to believe that more police funding will translate to a decrease in violent crime, research shows there is no real correlation between crime rates and police budgets.

While the “Defund the Police” movement was misguided in their messaging (it was never about stripping police of their funding; rather, it was a call for greater accountability, better training, and overall reform), Biden’s push to expand funding for the police without any assurance of significant reforms in place could well encourage further police brutality.

The unfortunate reality we must come to terms with is that America is overrun with militarized cops—vigilantes with a badge—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.”

It doesn’t matter where you live—big city or small town—it’s the same scenario being played out over and over again in which government agents, hyped up on their own authority and the power of their uniform, ride roughshod over the rights of the citizenry.

These warrior cops, who have been trained to act as judge, jury and executioner in their interactions with the public and believe the lives (and rights) of police should be valued more than citizens, are increasingly outnumbering the good cops, who take seriously their oath of office to serve and protect their fellow citizens, uphold the Constitution, and maintain the peace.

Indeed, if you ask police and their enablers what Americans should do to stay alive during encounters with law enforcement, they will tell you to comply, cooperate, obey, not resist, not argue, not make threatening gestures or statements, avoid sudden movements, and submit to a search of their person and belongings during encounters with the police.

In other words, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the right, it doesn’t matter if a cop is in the wrong, it doesn’t matter if you’re being treated with less than the respect you deserve: if you want to emerge from a police encounter with your life and body intact, then you’d better comply, submit, obey orders, respect authority and generally do whatever a cop tells you to do.

In this way, the old police motto to “protect and serve” has become “comply or die.”

This is the unfortunate, misguided, perverse message that has been beaten, shot, tasered and slammed into our collective consciousness over the past few decades, and it has taken root.

This is how 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 “we the people” like suspects and criminals.

As a result, Americans as young as 4 years old are being leg shackledhandcuffedtasered and held at gun point for not being quiet, not being orderly and just being childlike—i.e., not being compliant enough.

Americans as old as 95 are being beaten, shot and killed for questioning an order, hesitating in the face of a directive, and mistaking a policeman crashing through their door for a criminal breaking into their home—i.e., not being submissive enough.

And Americans of every age and skin color are continuing to die at the hands of a government that sees itself as judge, jury and executioner over a populace that have been pre-judged and found guilty, stripped of their rights, and left to suffer at the hands of government agents trained to respond with the utmost degree of violence.

At a time when growing numbers of unarmed people have been shot and killed for just standing a certain way, or moving a certain way, or holding something—anything—that police could misinterpret to be a gun, or igniting some trigger-centric fear in a police officer’s mind that has nothing to do with an actual threat to their safety, even the most benign encounters with police can have fatal consequences.

The problem, as one reporter rightly concluded, is “not that life has gotten that much more dangerous, it’s that authorities have chosen to respond to even innocent situations as if they were in a warzone.”

Warrior cops—trained in the worst-case scenario and thus ready to shoot first and ask questions later—are definitely not making us or themselves any safer.

Worse, militarized police increasingly pose a risk to anyone undergoing a mental health crisis or with special needs whose disabilities may not be immediately apparent or require more finesse than the typical freeze-or-I’ll-shoot tactics employed by America’s police forces. Indeed, disabled individuals make up a third to half of all people killed by law enforcement officers. (People of color are three times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts.)

If you’re black and disabled, you’re even more vulnerable.

Specifically, what we’re dealing with today is a skewed shoot-to-kill mindset in which police, trained to view themselves as warriors or soldiers in a war, whether against drugs, or terror, or crime, must “get” the bad guys—i.e., anyone who is a potential target—before the bad guys get them.

This nationwide epidemic of court-sanctioned police violence carried out with impunity against individuals posing little or no real threat has all but guaranteed that unarmed Americans will keep dying at the hands of militarized police.

Making matters worse, when these officers, who have long since ceased to be peace officers, violate their oaths by bullying, beating, tasering, shooting and killing their employers—the taxpayers to whom they owe their allegiance—they are rarely given more than a slap on the hands before resuming their patrols.

This lawlessness on the part of law enforcement, an unmistakable characteristic of a police state, is made possible in large part by police unions which routinely oppose civilian review boards and resist the placement of names and badge numbers on officer uniforms; police agencies that abide by the Blue Code of Silence, the quiet understanding among police that they should not implicate their colleagues for their crimes and misconduct; prosecutors who treat police offenses with greater leniency than civilian offenses; courts that sanction police wrongdoing in the name of security; and legislatures that enhance the power, reach and arsenal of the police, and a citizenry that fails to hold its government accountable to the rule of law.

Indeed, not only are cops protected from most charges of wrongdoing—whether it’s shooting unarmed citizens (including children and old people), raping and abusing young women, falsifying police reports, trafficking drugs, or soliciting sex with minors—but even on the rare occasions when they are fired for misconduct, it’s only a matter of time before they get re-hired again.

Much of the “credit” for shielding these rogue cops goes to influential police unions and laws providing for qualified immunity, police contracts that “provide a shield of protection to officers accused of misdeeds and erect barriers to residents complaining of abuse,” state and federal laws that allow police to walk away without paying a dime for their wrongdoing, and rampant cronyism among government bureaucrats.

It’s happening all across the country.

This is no longer a debate over good cops and bad cops.

It’s a power struggle between police officers who rank their personal safety above everyone else’s and police officers who understand that their jobs are to serve and protect; between police trained to shoot to kill and police trained to resolve situations peacefully; most of all, it’s between police who believe the law is on their side and police who know that they will be held to account for their actions under the same law as everyone else.

Unfortunately, more and more police are being trained to view themselves as distinct from the citizenry, to view their authority as superior to the citizenry, and to view their lives as more precious than those of their citizen counterparts. Instead of being taught to see themselves as mediators and peacemakers whose lethal weapons are to be used as a last resort, they are being drilled into acting like gunmen with killer instincts who shoot to kill rather than merely incapacitate.

Even so, the answer is not to de-fund the police.

What we really need to do is de-fang the police: de-militarize, de-weaponize, and focus on de-escalation tactics, better training and accountability.

We’ve allowed the government to create an alternate reality in which freedom is secondary to security, and the rights of the citizenry are less important than the authority of the government.

The longer we wait to burst the bubble on this false chimera, the harder it will be to return to a time when police were public servants and freedom actually meant something, and the greater the risks to both police officers and the rest of the citizenry.

The police state wants the us vs. them dichotomy. It wants us to turn each other in, distrust each other and be at each other’s throats, while it continues amassing power. It wants police officers who act like the military, and citizens who cower in fear. It wants a suspect society. It wants us to play by its rules instead of holding it accountable to the rule of law.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, something must be done and soon.

Source: https://bit.ly/3u8E76P

“The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it’s profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and chairs out of the way and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theater.”—Frank Zappa

We are no longer free.

We are living in a world carefully crafted to resemble a representative democracy, but it’s an illusion.

We think we have the freedom to elect our leaders, but we’re only allowed to participate in the reassurance ritual of voting. There can be no true electoral choice or real representation when we’re limited in our options to one of two candidates culled from two parties that both march in lockstep with the Deep State and answer to an oligarchic elite.

We think we have freedom of speech, but we’re only as free to speak as the government and its corporate partners allow.

We think we have the right to freely exercise our religious beliefs, but those rights are quickly overruled if and when they conflict with the government’s priorities, whether it’s COVID-19 mandates or societal values about gender equality, sex and marriage.

We think we have the freedom to go where we want and move about freely, but at every turn, we’re hemmed in by laws, fines and penalties that regulate and restrict our autonomy, and surveillance cameras that monitor our movements. Punitive programs strip citizens of their passports and right to travel over unpaid taxes.

We think we have property interests in our homes and our bodies, but there can be no such freedom when the government can seize your property, raid your home, and dictate what you do with your bodies.

We think we have the freedom to defend ourselves against outside threats, but there is no right to self-defense against militarized police who are authorized to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, and granted immunity from accountability with the general blessing of the courts. Certainly, there can be no right to gun ownership in the face of red flag gun laws which allow the police to remove guns from people merely suspected of being threats.

We think we have the right to an assumption of innocence until we are proven guilty, but that burden of proof has been turned on its head by a surveillance state that renders us all suspects and overcriminalization which renders us all lawbreakers. Police-run facial recognition software that mistakenly labels law-abiding citizens as criminals. A social credit system (similar to China’s) that rewards behavior deemed “acceptable” and punishes behavior the government and its corporate allies find offensive, illegal or inappropriate.

We think we have the right to due process, but that assurance of justice has been stripped of its power by a judicial system hardwired to act as judge, jury and jailer, leaving us with little recourse for appeal. A perfect example of this rush to judgment can be found in the proliferation of profit-driven speed and red light cameras that do little for safety while padding the pockets of government agencies.

We have been saddled with a government that pays lip service to the nation’s freedom principles while working overtime to shred the Constitution.

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 the constitutional rights of the citizenry 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 revised, one-sided agreement, the government and its many operatives have all the privileges and rights and “we the people” have none.

Only in our case, sold on the idea that safety, security and material comforts are preferable to freedom, we’ve allowed the government to pave over the Constitution in order to erect a concentration camp.

The problem with these devil’s bargains, however, is that there is always a catch, always a price to pay for whatever it is we valued so highly as to barter away our most precious possessions.

We’ve bartered away our right to self-governance, self-defense, privacy, autonomy and that most important right of all: the right to tell the government to “leave me the hell alone.” In exchange for the promise of safe streets, safe schools, blight-free neighborhoods, lower taxes, lower crime rates, and readily accessible technology, health care, water, food and power, we’ve opened the door to militarized police, government surveillance, asset forfeiture, school zero tolerance policies, license plate readers, red light cameras, SWAT team raids, health care mandates, overcriminalization and government corruption.

In the end, such bargains always turn sour.

We asked our lawmakers to be tough on crime, and we’ve been saddled with an abundance of laws that criminalize almost every aspect of our lives. So far, we’re up to 4500 criminal laws and 300,000 criminal regulations that result in average Americans unknowingly engaging in criminal acts at least three times a day. For instance, the family of an 11-year-old girl was issued a $535 fine for violating the Federal Migratory Bird Act after the young girl rescued a baby woodpecker from predatory cats.

We wanted criminals taken off the streets, and we didn’t want to have to pay for their incarceration. What we’ve gotten is a nation that boasts the highest incarceration rate in the world, with more than 2.3 million people locked up, many of them doing time for relatively minor, nonviolent crimes, and a private prison industry fueling the drive for more inmates, who are forced to provide corporations with cheap labor.

We wanted law enforcement agencies to have the necessary resources to fight the nation’s wars on terror, crime and drugs. What we got instead were militarized police decked out with M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers, battle tanks and hollow point bullets—gear designed for the battlefield, more than 80,000 SWAT team raids carried out every year (many for routine police tasks, resulting in losses of life and property), and profit-driven schemes that add to the government’s largesse such as asset forfeiture, where police seize property from “suspected criminals.”

We fell for the government’s promise of safer roads, only to find ourselves caught in a tangle of profit-driven red-light cameras, which ticket unsuspecting drivers in the so-called name of road safety while ostensibly fattening the coffers of local and state governments. Despite widespread public opposition, corruption and systemic malfunctions, these cameras are particularly popular with municipalities, which look to them as an easy means of extra cash. Building on the profit-incentive schemes, the cameras’ manufacturers are also pushing speed cameras and school bus cameras, both of which result in hefty fines for violators who speed or try to go around school buses.

We’re being subjected to the oldest con game in the books, the magician’s sleight of hand that keeps you focused on the shell game in front of you while your wallet is being picked clean by ruffians in your midst.

This is how tyranny rises and freedom falls.

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” are being reminded that we possess no rights except for that which the government grants on an as-needed basis.

Indeed, there are chilling parallels between the authoritarian prison that is life in the American police state and The Prisoner, a dystopian television series that first broadcast in Great Britain more than 50 years ago.

The series centers around a British secret agent (played by Patrick McGoohan) who finds himself imprisoned, monitored by militarized drones, and interrogated in a mysterious, self-contained, cosmopolitan, seemingly idyllic retirement community known only as The Village. While luxurious and resort-like, the Village is a virtual prison disguised as a seaside paradise: its inhabitants have no true freedom, they cannot leave the Village, they are under constant surveillance, their movements are tracked by surveillance drones, and they are stripped of their individuality and identified only by numbers.

Much like the American Police State, The Prisoner’s Village gives the illusion of freedom while functioning all the while like a prison: controlled, watchful, inflexible, punitive, deadly and inescapable.

Described as “an allegory of the individual, aiming to find peace and freedom in a dystopia masquerading as a utopia,” The Prisoner is a chilling lesson about how difficult it is to gain one’s freedom in a society in which prison walls are disguised within the trappings of technological and scientific progress, national security and so-called democracy.

Perhaps the best visual debate ever on individuality and freedom, The Prisoner confronted societal themes that are still relevant today: the rise of a police state, the freedom of the individual, round-the-clock surveillance, the corruption of government, totalitarianism, weaponization, group think, mass marketing, and the tendency of mankind to meekly accept his lot in life as a prisoner in a prison of his own making.

The Prisoner is an operations manual for how you condition a populace to life as prisoners in a police state: by brainwashing them into believing they are free so that they will march in lockstep with the state and be incapable of recognizing the prison walls that surround them.

We can no longer maintain the illusion of freedom.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, “we the people” have become “we the prisoners.”

Source: https://bit.ly/3LcKAUS

“They came again this morning at about 8:00 o’clock. A large cargo-type helicopter flew low over the cabin, shaking it on its very foundations. It shook all of us inside, too. I feel frightened … I see how helpless and tormented I am becoming with disgust and disillusionment with the government which has turned this beautiful country into a police state … I feel like I am in the middle of a war zone.”—Journal entry from a California resident describing the government’s aerial searches for marijuana plants

Backyard gardeners, beware: tomato plants have become collateral damage in the government’s war on drugs, especially marijuana.

In fact, merely growing a vegetable garden on your own property, or in a greenhouse on your property, or shopping at a gardening store for gardening supplies—incredibly enough—could set you up for a drug raid sanctioned by the courts.

It’s happened before.

After shopping for hydroponic tomatoes at their local gardening store, a Kansas family found themselves subjected to a SWAT team raid as part of a multi-state, annual campaign dubbed “Operation Constant Gardener,” in which police collected the license plates of hundreds of customers at the gardening store and then investigated them for possible marijuana possession.

By “investigated,” I mean that police searched through the family’s trash. (You can thank the Supreme Court and their 1978 ruling in California v. Greenwood for allowing police to invade your trash can.) Finding “wet glob vegetation” in the garbage, the cops somehow managed to convince themselves—and a judge—that it was marijuana.

In fact, it was loose-leaf tea, but those pesky details don’t usually bother the cops when they’re conducting field tests.

Indeed, field tests routinely read positive for illegal drugs even when no drugs are present. According to investigative journalist Radley Balko, “it’s almost as if these tests come up positive whenever the police need them to. A partial list of substances that the tests have mistaken for illegal drugs would include sage, chocolate chip cookies, motor oil, spearmint, soap, tortilla dough, deodorant, billiard’s chalk, patchouli, flour, eucalyptus, breath mints, Jolly Ranchers and vitamins.”

There’s a long list of innocent ingredients that could be mistaken for drugs and get you subjected to a raid, because that’s all it takes—just the barest whiff of a suspicion by police that you might be engaged in criminal activity—to start the ball rolling.

From there, these so-called “investigations” follow the usual script: judge issues a warrant for a SWAT raid based on botched data, cops raid the home and terrorize the family at gunpoint, cops find no drugs, family sues over a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights, and then the courts protect the cops and their botched raid on the basis of qualified immunity.

It happens all the time.

As Balko reports, “Police have broken down doors, screamed obscenities, and held innocent people at gunpoint only to discover that what they thought were marijuana plants were really sunflowers, hibiscus, ragweed, tomatoes, or elderberry bushes. (It’s happened with all five.)”

Surely, you might think, the government has enough on its hands right now—policing a novel coronavirus pandemic, instituting nationwide lockdowns, quelling civil unrests over police brutality—that it doesn’t need to waste time and resources ferreting out pot farmers.

You’d be wrong.

This is a government that excels at make-work projects in which it assigns at-times unnecessary jobs to government agents to keep them busy or employed.

In this case, however, the make-work principle (translation: making work to keep the police state busy at taxpayer expense) is being used to justify sending police and expensive military helicopters likely equipped with sophisticated surveillance and thermal imaging devices on exploratory sorties every summer—again at taxpayer expense—in order to uncover illegal marijuana growing operations.

Often, however, what these air and ground searches end up targeting are backyard gardeners growing tomato plants.

Just recently, in fact, eyewitnesses in Virginia reported low-flying black helicopters buzzing over rural and suburban neighborhoods as part of a multi-agency operation to search for marijuana growers. Oftentimes these joint operations involve local police, state police and the Army National Guard.

One woman reported having her “tomato plants complimented by the 7 cops that pulled up in my yard in unmarked SUVs, after a helicopter hovered over our house for 20 minutes this morning.” Another man reported a similar experience from a few years ago when police “showed up in unmarked SUV’s with guns pulled. Then the cops on the ground argued with the helicopter because the heat signature in the ‘copter didn’t match what was growing.”

Back in 2013, an aerial surveillance mission spotted what police thought might be marijuana plants. Two days later, dozens of city officials, SWAT team, police officers and code compliance employees, and numerous official vehicles including dozens of police cars and several specialized vehicular equipment, including helicopters and unmanned flying drones, descended on The Garden of Eden, a 3.5-acre farm in Arlington, Texas, for a 10-hour raid in search of marijuana that turned up nothing more than tomato, blackberry and okra plants.

These aerial and ground sweeps have become regular occurrences across the country, part of the government’s multi-million dollar Domestic Cannabis Eradication Program. Local cops refer to the annual military maneuvers as “Eradication Day.”

Started in 1979 as a way to fund local efforts to crack down on marijuana growers in California and Hawaii, the Eradication Program went national in 1985, right around the time the Reagan Administration enabled the armed forces to get more involved in the domestic “war on drugs.”

Writing for The Washington Post, Radley Balko describes how these raids started off, with the National Guard, spy planes and helicopters:

The project was called the Campaign Against Marijuana Production, or CAMP… In all, thirteen California counties were invaded by choppers, some of them blaring Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” as they dropped Guardsmen and law enforcement officers armed with automatic weapons, sandviks, and machetes into the fields of California … In CAMP’s first year, the program conducted 524 raids, arrested 128 people, and seized about 65,000 marijuana plants. Operating costs ran at a little over $1.5 million. The next year, 24 more sheriffs signed up for the program, for a total of 37. CAMP conducted 398 raids, seized nearly 160,000 plants, and made 218 arrests at a cost to taxpayers of $2.3 million.

The area’s larger growers had been put out of business (or, probably more accurately, had set up shop somewhere else), so by the start of the second campaign in 1984, CAMP officials were already targeting increasingly smaller growers. By the end of that 1984 campaign, the helicopters had to fly at lower and lower altitudes to spot smaller batches of plants. The noise, wind, and vibration from the choppers could knock out windows, kick up dust clouds, and scare livestock. The officials running the operation made no bones about the paramilitary tactics they were using. They considered the areas they were raiding to be war zones. In the interest of “officer safety,” they gave themselves permission to search any structures relatively close to a marijuana supply, without a warrant. Anyone coming anywhere near a raid operation was subject to detainment, usually at gunpoint.

Right around the same time, in the mid-1980s, the federal government started handing out grants to local police departments to assist with their local boots-on-the-ground “war on drugs.” These grants (through the Byrne Grant program and COPS program, both of which started to be phased out under George W. Bush, only to be re-upped by Barack Obama) could be used to pay for additional police personnel, equipment, training, technical assistance and information systems. However, studies show that while these federal grants did not improve police effectiveness or drug deterrence, they did incentivize SWAT team raids.

But how do you go from a “war on drugs” to SWAT-style raids on vegetable gardens?

Connect the dots, starting with the government’s war on marijuana, the emergence of SWAT teams, the militarization of local police forces through the federal 1033 Program, which allows the Pentagon to transfer “vast amounts of military equipment—machine guns and ammunition, helicopters, night-vision gear, armored cars—to local police departments,” and the transformation of American communities into battlefields: as always, it comes back to the make work principle, which starts with local police finding ways to justify the use of military equipment and federal funding.

Each year, the government spends between $14 and $18 million funding helicopter sweeps and police overtime to help the states track down illegal marijuana plants. These sweeps are even being carried out in states where it’s now legal to grow marijuana.

The sweeps work like this: Local police, working with multiple state agencies including the National Guard, carry out ground and air searches of different sectors. Air spotters flying overhead in helicopters relay their findings to police on the ground, who then carry out a search-and-destroy mission.

Mark my words: the use of police drones will make these kinds of aerial missions even more common.

For the most part, aerial surveillance is legal. As Arthur Holland Michel writes for The Atlantic: “When it comes to law enforcement, police are likewise free to use aerial surveillance without a warrant or special permission. Under current privacy law, these operations are just as legal as policing practices whereby an officer spots unlawful activity while walking or driving through a neighborhood.”

There have been a few notable exceptions.

In 2015, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that surveillance from a low-flying helicopter conducting an aerial search for marijuana by state police and the national guard was illegal under the U.S. Constitution. The court reasoned that “when low-flying aerial activity leads to more than just observation and actually causes an unreasonable intrusion on the ground—most commonly from an unreasonable amount of wind, dust, broken objects, noise, and sheer panic—then at some point courts are c and require a warrant before law enforcement engages in such activity. The Fourth Amendment and its prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures demands no less.”

In Philip Cobbs’ case, helicopter spotters claimed to have seen two lone marijuana plants growing in the wreckage of a fallen oak tree on the Virginia native’s 39-acre family farm.

Cobbs noticed the black helicopter circling overhead while spraying the blueberry bushes near his house. After watching the helicopter for several moments, Cobbs went inside to check on his blind, deaf 90-year-old mother. By the time he returned outside, several unmarked police SUVs had driven onto his property, and police (ten in all) in flak jackets, carrying semi-automatic weapons and shouting unintelligibly, had exited the vehicles and were moving toward him.

Of course, it was never about the two pot plants.

What the cops were really after was an excuse to search Cobbs’ little greenhouse, which he had used that spring to start tomato plants, cantaloupes, and watermelons, as well as asters and hollyhocks, which he planned to sell at a roadside stand near his home. The search of the greenhouse turned up nothing more than used tomato seedling containers.

Nevertheless, police charged Cobbs with misdemeanor possession of marijuana for the two plants they claimed to have found. Eventually, the charges were dismissed but not before The Rutherford Institute took up Cobbs’ case, which revealed that police hadn’t even bothered to secure a warrant before embarking on their raid of Cobbs’ property—a raid that had to cost taxpayers upwards of $25,000, at the very least—part of their routine sweep of the countryside in search of pot-growing operations.

Two plants or two hundred or no plants at all: it doesn’t matter.

A SWAT team targeted one South Carolina man for selling $50 worth of pot on two different occasions. The Washington Post reports: The SWAT team “broke down Betton’s door with a battering ram, then fired at least 57 bullets at him, hitting him nine times. He lost portions of his gallbladder, colon, bowel and rectum, and is paralyzed from the waist down. He also suffered damage to his liver, lung, small intestine and pancreas. Two of his vertebrae were damaged, and another was partially destroyed. Another bullet shattered his leg.” After security footage showed that most of what police said about the raid was a lie, the cops settled the case for $2.75 million.

Monetary awards like that are the exception, however.

Most of the time, the cops get away with murder and mayhem. Literally.

Bottom line: no amount of marijuana is too insignificant if it allows police to qualify for federal grants and equipment and lay claim to seized assets (there’s the profit motive) under the guise of fighting the War on Drugs.

SWAT teams carry out more than 80,000 no-knock raids every year. The vast majority of these raids are to serve routine drug warrants, many times for crimes no more serious than possession of marijuana.

Although growing numbers of states continue to decriminalize marijuana use and 9 out of 10 Americans favor the legalization of either medical or recreational/adult-use marijuana, the government’s profit-driven “War on Drugs”—waged with state and local police officers dressed in SWAT gear, armed to the hilt, and trained to act like soldiers on a battlefield, all thanks to funding provided by the U.S. government, particularly the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—has not abated.

Since the formation of the DHS post-9/11, hundreds of billions of dollars in grants have flowed to local police departments for SWAT teams, giving rise to a “police industrial complex” that routinely devastates communities, terrorizes families, and destroys innocent lives.

No longer reserved exclusively for deadly situations, SWAT teams are now increasingly being deployed for relatively routine police matters, with some SWAT teams being sent out as much as five times a day. Nationwide, SWAT teams have been employed to address an astonishingly trivial array of criminal activity or mere community nuisances: angry dogs, domestic disputes, improper paperwork filed by an orchid farmer, and misdemeanor marijuana possession, to give a brief sampling.

Unfortunately, general incompetence, collateral damage (fatalities, property damage, etc.) and botched raids tend to go hand in hand with an overuse of paramilitary forces.

In some cases, officers misread the address on the warrant. In others, they simply barge into the wrong house or even the wrong building. In another subset of cases, police conduct a search of a building where the suspect no longer resides.

SWAT teams have even on occasion conducted multiple, sequential raids on wrong addresses or executed search warrants despite the fact that the suspect is already in police custody. Police have also raided homes on the basis of mistaking the presence or scent of legal substances for drugs. Incredibly, these substances have included tomatoes, sunflowers, fish, elderberry bushes, kenaf plants, hibiscus, and ragweed.

All too often, the shock-and-awe tactics utilized by many SWAT teams only increases the likelihood that someone will get hurt with little consequences for law enforcement, even when the raids are botched.

Botched SWAT team raids have resulted in the loss of countless lives, including children and the elderly. Usually, however, the first to be shot are the family dogs.

SWAT raids are usually carried out late at night or shortly before dawn. Unfortunately, to the unsuspecting homeowner—especially in cases involving mistaken identities or wrong addresses—a raid can appear to be nothing less than a violent home invasion, with armed intruders crashing through their door.

That’s exactly what happened to Jose Guerena, the young ex-Marine who was killed after a SWAT team kicked open the door of his Arizona home during a drug raid and opened fire. According to news reports, Guerena, 26 years old and the father of two young children, grabbed a gun in response to the forced invasion but never fired. In fact, the safety was still on his gun when he was killed. Police officers were not as restrained. The young Iraqi war veteran was allegedly fired upon 71 times. Guerena had no prior criminal record, and the police found nothing illegal in his home.

The problems inherent in these situations are further compounded by the fact that SWAT teams are granted “no-knock” warrants at high rates such that the warrants themselves are rendered practically meaningless.

This sorry state of affairs is made even worse by U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have essentially done away with the need for a “no-knock” warrant altogether, giving the police authority to disregard the protections afforded American citizens by the Fourth Amendment.

Clearly, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American Peoplesomething must be done.

When the war on drugs—a.k.a. the war on the American people—becomes little more than a thinly veiled attempt to keep SWAT teams employed and special interests appeased, it’s time to revisit our drug policies and laws.

“You take the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, all the rights you expect to have—when they come in like that, the only right you have is not to get shot if you cooperate. They open that door, your life is on the line,” concluded Bob Harte, whose home was raided by a SWAT team simply because the family was seen shopping at a garden store, cops found loose tea in the family’s trash and mistook it for marijuana.

Our family will never be the same,” said Addie Harte, recalling the two-hour raid that had police invading their suburban home with a battering ram and AR-15 rifles. As The Washington Post reports:

Bob found himself flat on floor, hands behind his head, his eyes locked on the boots of the officer standing over him with an AR-15 assault rifle. “Are there kids?” the officers were yelling. “Where are the kids?” “And I’m laying there staring at this guy’s boots fearing for my kids’ lives, trying to tell them where my children are,” Harte recalled later in a deposition on July 9, 2015. “They are sending these guys with their guns drawn running upstairs to bust into my children’s house, bedroom, wake them out of bed.”

It didn’t matter that no drugs were found—nothing but a hydroponic tomato garden and loose tea leaves. The search and SWAT raid were reasonable, according to the courts.

There’s a lesson here for the rest of us. As Bob Harte concluded: “If this can happen to us, everybody in the country needs to be afraid.”

Source: https://bit.ly/3aSa8oE

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People  is available at www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission

John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.

 

“Every day in communities across the United States, children and adolescents spend the majority of their waking hours in schools that have increasingly come to resemble places of detention more than places of learning.”—Investigative journalist Annette Fuentes

Just when you thought the government couldn’t get any more tone-deaf about civil liberties and the growing need to protect “we the people” against an overreaching, overbearing police state, the Trump Administration ushers in even more strident zero tolerance policies that treat children like suspects and criminals, greater numbers of school cops, and all the trappings of a prison complex (unsurmountable fences, entrapment areas, no windows or trees, etc.).

The fallout has been what you’d expect, with the nation’s young people treated like hardened criminals: handcuffed, arrested, tasered, tackled and taught the painful lesson that the Constitution (especially the Fourth Amendment) doesn’t mean much in the American police state.

For example, in Florida, a cop assigned to River Ridge High School as a school resource officer, threatened to shoot a student attempting to leave school for a morning orthodontist appointment.

In Pennsylvania, school officials called in the cops after a 6-year-old with Down syndrome pointed a finger gun at her teacher.

In Kentucky, a school resource officer with the sheriff’s office handcuffed two elementary school children with disabilities, ages 8 and 9. A federal judge made the sheriff’s office pay more than $300,000 (of taxpayer money) to the families, ruling that the handcuffing of  the students “was an unconstitutional seizure and excessive force.”

Welcome to Compliance 101: the police state’s primer in how to churn out compliant citizens and transform the nation’s school’s into quasi-prisons through the use of surveillance cameras, metal detectors, police patrols, zero tolerance policies, lock downs, drug sniffing dogs, strip searches and active shooter drills.

If you were wondering, these police state tactics have not made the schools any safer.

Rather, they’ve turned the schools into authoritarian microcosms of the police state, containing almost every aspect of the militarized, intolerant, senseless, overcriminalized, legalistic, surveillance-riddled, totalitarian landscape that plagues those of us on the “outside.”

Two years after President Trump announced his intention to “harden” the schools, our nation’s children are reaping the ill effects of gun-toting, taser-wielding cops in government-run schools that bear an uncomfortable resemblance to prisons.

America’s schools are about as authoritarian as they come.

From the moment a child enters one of the nation’s 98,000 public schools to the moment he or she graduates, they will be exposed to a steady diet of:

  • draconian zero tolerance policies that criminalize childish behavior,
  • overreaching anti-bullying statutes that criminalize speech,
  • school resource officers (police) tasked with disciplining and/or arresting so-called “disorderly” students,
  • standardized testing that emphasizes rote answers over critical thinking,
  • politically correct mindsets that teach young people to censor themselves and those around them,
  • and extensive biometric and surveillance systems that, coupled with the rest, acclimate young people to a world in which they have no freedom of thought, speech or movement.

Young people in America are now first in line to be searched, surveilled, spied on, threatened, tied up, locked down, treated like criminals for non-criminal behavior, tasered and in some cases shot.

In my day, if you talked back to a teacher, or played a prank on a classmate, or just failed to do your homework, you might find yourself in detention or doing an extra writing assignment after school.

That is no longer the case.

Nowadays, students are not only punished for minor transgressions such as playing cops and robbers on the playground, bringing LEGOs to school, or having a food fight, but the punishments have become far more severe, shifting from detention and visits to the principal’s office into misdemeanor tickets, juvenile court, handcuffs, tasers and even prison terms.

Students have been suspended under school zero tolerance policies for bringing to school “look alike substances” such as oreganobreath mints, birth control pills and powdered sugar.

Look-alike weapons (toy guns—even Lego-sized ones, hand-drawn pictures of guns, pencils twirled in a “threatening” manner, imaginary bows and arrows, even fingers positioned like guns) can also land a student in hot water.

Even good deeds do not go unpunished.

One 13-year-old was given detention for exposing the school to “liability” by sharing his lunch with a hungry friend. A third grader was suspended for shaving her head in sympathy for a friend who had lost her hair to chemotherapy. And then there was the high school senior who was suspended for saying “bless you” after a fellow classmate sneezed.

In South Carolina, where it’s against the law to disturb a school, more than a thousand students a year—some as young as 7 years old—“face criminal charges for not following directions, loitering, cursing, or the vague allegation of acting ‘obnoxiously.’ If charged as adults, they can be held in jail for up to 90 days.”

These outrageous incidents are exactly what you’ll see more of if the Trump Administration gets its way.

Increasing the number of cops in the schools only adds to the problem.

Thanks to a combination of media hype, political pandering and financial incentives, the use of armed police officers (a.k.a. school resource officers) to patrol school hallways has risen dramatically in the years since the Columbine school shooting.

Indeed, the growing presence of police in the nation’s schools is resulting in greater police “involvement in routine discipline matters that principals and parents used to address without involvement from law enforcement officers.”

Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, these school resource officers (SRO) have become de facto wardens in elementary, middle and high schools, doling out their own brand of justice to the so-called “criminals” in their midst with the help of tasers, pepper spray, batons and brute force.

In the absence of school-appropriate guidelines, police are more and more “stepping in to deal with minor rulebreaking: sagging pants, disrespectful comments, brief physical skirmishes. What previously might have resulted in a detention or a visit to the principal’s office was replaced with excruciating pain and temporary blindness, often followed by a trip to the courthouse.”

The horror stories are legion.

One SRO was accused of punching a 13-year-old student in the face for cutting the cafeteria line.

That same cop put another student in a chokehold a week later, allegedly knocking the student unconscious and causing a brain injury.

In Pennsylvania, a student was tasered after ignoring an order to put his cell phone away.

When 13-year-old Kevens Jean Baptiste failed to follow a school bus driver’s direction to keep the bus windows closed (Kevens, who suffers from asthma, opened the window after a fellow student sprayed perfume, causing him to cough and wheeze), he was handcuffed by police, removed from the bus, and while still handcuffed, had his legs swept out from under him by an officer, causing him to crash to the ground.

Young Alex Stone didn’t even make it past the first week of school before he became a victim of the police state. Directed by his teacher to do a creative writing assignment involving a series of fictional Facebook statuses, Stone wrote, “I killed my neighbor’s pet dinosaur. I bought the gun to take care of the business.” Despite the fact that dinosaurs are extinct, the status fabricated, and the South Carolina student was merely following orders, his teacher reported him to school administrators, who in turn called the police.

What followed is par for the course in schools today: students were locked down in their classrooms while armed police searched the 16-year-old’s locker and bookbag, handcuffed him, charged him with disorderly conduct disturbing the school, arrested him, detained him, and then he was suspended from school.

Not even the younger, elementary school-aged kids are being spared these “hardening” tactics.

On any given day when school is in session, kids who “act up” in class are pinned facedown on the floor, locked in dark closets, tied up with straps, bungee cords and duct tape, handcuffed, leg shackled, tasered or otherwise restrained, immobilized or placed in solitary confinement in order to bring them under “control.”

In almost every case, these undeniably harsh methods are used to punish kids—some as young as 4 and 5 years old—for simply failing to follow directions or throwing tantrums.

Very rarely do the kids pose any credible danger to themselves or others.

Unbelievably, these tactics are all legal, at least when employed by school officials or school resource officers in the nation’s public schools.

This is what happens when you introduce police and police tactics into the schools.

Paradoxically, by the time you add in the lockdowns and active shooter drills, instead of making the schools safer, school officials have succeeded in creating an environment in which children are so traumatized that they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, nightmares, anxiety, mistrust of adults in authority, as well as feelings of anger, depression, humiliation, despair and delusion.

For example, a middle school in Washington State went on lockdown after a student brought a toy gun to class. A Boston high school went into lockdown for four hours after a bullet was discovered in a classroom. A North Carolina elementary school locked down and called in police after a fifth grader reported seeing an unfamiliar man in the school (it turned out to be a parent).

Police officers at a Florida middle school carried out an active shooter drill in an effort to educate students about how to respond in the event of an actual shooting crisis. Two armed officers, guns loaded and drawn, burst into classrooms, terrorizing the students and placing the school into lockdown mode.

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

As journalist Dahlia Lithwick points out: “I don’t recall any serious national public dialogue about lockdown protocols or how they became the norm. It seems simply to have begun, modeling itself on the lockdowns that occur during prison riots, and then spread until school lockdowns and lockdown drills are as common for our children as fire drills, and as routine as duck-and-cover drills were in the 1950s.”

The toll such incidents take on adults can be life-altering, but when such police brutality is perpetrated on young people, the end result is nothing less than complete indoctrination into becoming compliant citizens of a totalitarian state.

Schools acting like prisons.

School officials acting like wardens.

Students treated like inmates and punished like hardened criminals.

This is the end product of all those so-called school “safety” policies, which run the gamut from zero tolerance policies that punish all infractions harshly to surveillance cameras, metal detectors, random searches, drug-sniffing dogs, school-wide lockdowns, active-shooter drills and militarized police officers.

Unfortunately, advocates for such harsh police tactics and weaponry like to trot out the line that school safety should be our first priority lest we find ourselves with another Sandy Hook.

What they will not tell you is that such shootings are rare.

As one congressional report found, the schools are, generally speaking, safe places for children.

In their zeal to crack down on guns and lock down the schools, these cheerleaders for police state tactics in the schools might also fail to mention the lucrative, multi-million dollar deals being cut with military contractors such as Taser International to equip these school cops with tasers, tanks, rifles and $100,000 shooting detection systems.

Indeed, the transformation of hometown police departments into extensions of the military has been mirrored in the public schools, where school police have been gifted with high-powered M16 rifles, MRAP armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and other military gear. One Texas school district even boasts its own 12-member SWAT team.

According to one law review article on the school-to-prison pipeline, “Many school districts have formed their own police departments, some so large they rival the forces of major United States cities in size. For example, the safety division in New York City’s public schools is so large that if it were a local police department, it would be the fifth-largest police force in the country.”

The ramifications are far-reaching.

There can be no avoiding the hands-on lessons being taught in the schools about the role of police in our lives, ranging from active shooter drills and school-wide lockdowns to incidents in which children engaging in typically childlike behavior are suspended (for shooting an imaginary “arrow” at a fellow classmate), handcuffed (for being disruptive at school), arrested (for throwing water balloons as part of a school prank), and even tasered (for not obeying instructions).

Instead of raising up a generation of freedom fighters—which one would hope would be the objective of the schools—government officials seem determined to churn out newly minted citizens of the American police state who are being taught the hard way what it means to comply, fear and march in lockstep with the government’s dictates.

So what’s the answer, not only for the here-and-now—the children growing up in these quasi-prisons—but for the future of this country?

How do you convince a child who has been routinely handcuffed, shackled, tied down, locked up, and immobilized by government officials—all before he reaches the age of adulthood—that he has any rights at all, let alone the right to challenge wrongdoing, resist oppression and defend himself against injustice?

Most of all, how do you persuade a fellow American that the government works for him when, for most of his young life, he has been incarcerated in an institution that teaches young people to be obedient and compliant citizens who don’t talk back, don’t question and don’t challenge authority?

Peter Gray, a professor of psychology at Boston College, believes that school is a prison that is damaging our kids, and it’s hard to disagree, especially with the numbers of police officers being assigned to schools on the rise.

Students, in turn, are not only finding themselves subjected to police tactics such as handcuffs, leg shackles, tasers and excessive force for “acting up” but are also being ticketed, fined and sent to court for behavior perceived as defiant, disruptive or disorderly such as spraying perfume and writing on a desk.

Clearly, the pathology that characterizes the American police state has passed down to the schools.

Now in addition to the government and its agents viewing the citizenry as suspects to be probed, poked, pinched, tasered, searched, seized, stripped and generally manhandled, all with the general blessing of the courts, our children in the public schools are also fair game for school resource officers who taser teenagers and handcuff kindergartners, school officials who have criminalized childhood behavior, school lockdowns and terror drills that teach your children to fear and comply, and a police state mindset that has transformed the schools into quasi-prisons.

Don’t even get me started on the “school-to-prison pipeline,” the phenomenon in which children who are suspended or expelled from school have a greater likelihood of ending up in jail. One study found that “being suspended or expelled made a student nearly three times more likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system within the next year.”

By the time the average young person in America finishes their public school education, nearly one out of every three of them will have been arrested. Nearly 40 percent of those young people who are arrested will serve time in a private prison, where the emphasis is on making profits for large megacorporations above all else.

Indeed, this profit-driven system of incarceration has also given rise to a growth in juvenile prisons and financial incentives for jailing young people. In this way, young people have become easy targets for the private prison industry, which profits from criminalizing childish behavior and jailing young people.

None of these tactics are making our communities or schools any safer, and they’re certainly not contributing to environments in which learning flourishes. Incredibly, despite the fact that the U.S. invests more money in public education (roughly $13,000 per child per year) than many other developed countries, we rank around the middle of the pack in science, math and reading, and behind many other advanced industrial nations.

Without a doubt, change is needed, but that will mean taking on the teachers’ unions, the school unions, the educators’ associations, and the police unions, not to mention the politicians dependent on their votes and all of the corporations that profit mightily from an industrial school complex.

As we’ve seen with other issues, any significant reforms will have to start locally and trickle upwards.

For starters, parents need to be vocal, visible and organized and demand that school officials 1) adopt a policy of positive reinforcement in dealing with behavior issues; 2) minimize the presence in the schools of police officers and cease involving them in student discipline; and 3) insist that all behavioral issues be addressed first and foremost with a child’s parents, before any other disciplinary tactics are attempted.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, if you want a nation of criminals, treat the citizenry like criminals.

If you want young people who grow up seeing themselves as prisoners, run the schools like prisons.

If, on the other hand, you want to raise up a generation of freedom fighters, who will actually operate with justice, fairness, accountability and equality towards each other and their government, then run the schools like freedom forums.

Remove the metal detectors and surveillance cameras, re-assign the cops elsewhere, and start treating our nation’s young people like citizens of a republic and not inmates in a police state penitentiary.

Source: https://www.rutherford.org/publications_resources/john_whiteheads_commentary/compliance_101_gun_toting_cops_endanger_students_and_turn_the_schools_into_prisons

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People  is available at www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission

John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.

 

Mommy, am I gonna die?”— 4-year-old Ava Ellis after being inadvertently shot in the leg by a police officer who was aiming for the girl’s boxer-terrier dog, Patches

“‘Am I going to get shot again.’”—2-year-old survivor of a police shooting that left his three siblings, ages 1, 4 and 5, with a bullet in the brain, a fractured skull and gun wounds to the face

Children learn what they live.

As family counselor Dorothy Law Nolte wisely observed, “If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn. If children live with hostility, they learn to fight. If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.”

And if children live with terror, trauma and violence—forced to watch helplessly as their loved ones are executed by police officers who shoot first and ask questions later—will they in turn learn to terrorize, traumatize and inflict violence on the world around them?

I’m not willing to risk it. Are you?

It’s difficult enough raising a child in a world ravaged by war, disease, poverty and hate, but when you add the toxic stress of the police state into the mix, it becomes near impossible to protect children from the growing unease that some of the monsters of our age come dressed in government uniforms.

Case in point: in Hugo, Oklahoma, plain clothes police officers opened fire on a pickup truck parked in front of a food bank, heedless of the damage such a hail of bullets—26 shots were fired—could have on those in the vicinity. Three of the four children inside the parked vehicle were shot: a 4-year-old girl was shot in the head and ended up with a bullet in the brain; a 5-year-old boy received a skull fracture; and a 1-year-old girl had deep cuts on her face from gunfire or shattered window glass. Only the 2-year-old was spared any physical harm, although the terror will likely linger for a long time. “They are terrified to go anywhere or hear anything,” the family attorney said. “The two-year-old keeps asking about ‘Am I going to get shot again.’”

The reason for the use of such excessive force?

Police were searching for a suspect in a weeks-old robbery of a pizza parlor that netted $400.

While the two officers involved in the shooting are pulling paid leave at taxpayer expense, the children’s mother is struggling to figure out how to care for her wounded family and pay the medical expenses, including the cost to transport each child in a separate medical helicopter to a nearby hospital: $75,000 for one child’s transport alone.

This may be the worst use of excessive force on innocent children to date. Unfortunately, it is one of many in a steady stream of cases that speak to the need for police to de-escalate their tactics and stop resorting to excessive force when less lethal means are available to them.

For instance, in Cleveland, police shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was seen playing on a playground with a pellet gun. Surveillance footage shows police shooting the boy two seconds after getting out of a moving patrol car. Incredibly, the shooting was deemed “reasonable” and “justified” by two law enforcement experts who concluded that the police use of force “did not violate Tamir’s constitutional rights.”

In Detroit, 7-year-old Aiyana Jones was killed after a Detroit SWAT team launched a flash-bang grenade into her family’s apartment, broke through the door and opened fire, hitting the little girl who was asleep on the living room couch. The cops were in the wrong apartment.

In Georgia, a SWAT team launched a flash-bang grenade into the house in which Baby Bou Bou, his three sisters and his parents were staying. The grenade landed in the 2-year-old’s crib, burning a hole in his chest and leaving the child with scarring that a lifetime of surgeries will not be able to easily undo.

Also in Georgia, 10-year-old Dakota Corbitt was shot by a police officer who aimed for an inquisitive dog, missed, and hit the young boy instead.

In Ohio, police shot 4-year-old Ava Ellis in the leg, shattering the bone, after being dispatched to assist the girl’s mother, who had cut her arm and was in need of a paramedic. Cops claimed that the family pet charged the officer who was approaching the house, causing him to fire his gun and accidentally hit the little girl.

In California, 13-year-old Andy Lopez Cruz was shot 7 times in 10 seconds by a police officer who mistook the boy’s toy gun for an assault rifle. Christopher Roupe, 17, was shot and killed after opening the door to a police officer. The officer, mistaking the remote control in Roupe’s hand for a gun, shot him in the chest.

These children are more than grim statistics on a police blotter. They are the heartbreaking casualties of the government’s endless, deadly wars on terror, on drugs, and on the American people themselves.

Then you have the growing number of incidents involving children who are forced to watch helplessly as trigger-happy police open fire on loved ones and community members alike.

In Texas, an 8-year-old boy watched as police—dispatched to do a welfare check on a home with its windows open—shot and killed his aunt through her bedroom window while she was playing video games with him.

In Minnesota, a 4-year-old girl watched from the backseat of a car as cops shot and killed her mother’s boyfriend, Philando Castile, a school cafeteria supervisor, during a routine traffic stop merely because Castile disclosed that he had a gun in his possession, for which he had a lawful conceal-and-carry permit. That’s all it took for police to shoot Castile four times as he was reaching for his license and registration.

In Arizona, a 7-year-old girl watched panic-stricken as a state trooper pointed his gun at her and her father during a traffic stop and reportedly threated to shoot her father in the back (twice) based on the mistaken belief that they were driving a stolen rental car.

In Oklahoma, a 5-year-old boy watched as a police officer used a high-powered rifle to shoot his dog Opie multiple times in his family’s backyard while other children were also present. The police officer was mistakenly attempting to deliver a warrant on a 10-year-old case for someone who hadn’t lived at that address in a decade.

A Minnesota SWAT team actually burst into one family’s house, shot the family’s dog, handcuffed the children and forced them to “sit next to the carcass of their dead and bloody pet for more than an hour.” They later claimed it was the wrong house.

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

A child doesn’t even have to be directly exposed to a police shooting to learn the police state’s lessons in compliance and terror, which are being meted out with every SWAT team raid, roadside strip search, and school drill.

Indeed, there can be no avoiding the hands-on lessons being taught in the schools about the role of police in our lives, ranging from active shooter drills and school-wide lockdowns to incidents in which children engaging in typically childlike behavior are suspended (for shooting an imaginary “arrow” at a fellow classmate), handcuffed (for being disruptive at school), arrested (for throwing water balloons as part of a school prank), and even tasered (for not obeying instructions).

For example, a middle school in Washington State went on lockdown after a student brought a toy gun to class. A Boston high school went into lockdown for four hours after a bullet was discovered in a classroom. A North Carolina elementary school locked down and called in police after a fifth grader reported seeing an unfamiliar man in the school (it turned out to be a parent).

Cops have even gone so far as to fire blanks during school active shooter drills around the country. Teachers at one elementary school in Indiana were actually shot “execution style” with plastic pellets. Students at a high school in Florida were so terrified after administrators tricked them into believing that a shooter drill was, in fact, an actual attack that some of them began texting their parents “goodbye.”

Better safe than sorry is the rationale offered to those who worry that these drills are terrorizing and traumatizing young children. As journalist Dahlia Lithwick points out: “I don’t recall any serious national public dialogue about lockdown protocols or how they became the norm. It seems simply to have begun, modeling itself on the lockdowns that occur during prison riots, and then spread until school lockdowns and lockdown drills are as common for our children as fire drills, and as routine as duck-and-cover drills were in the 1950s.”

These drills have, indeed, become routine.

As the New York Times reports: “Most states have passed laws requiring schools to devise safety plans, and several states, including Michigan, Kentucky and North Dakota, specifically require lockdown drills. Some drills are as simple as a principal making an announcement and students sitting quietly in a darkened classroom. At other schools, police officers and school officials playact a shooting, stalking through the halls like gunmen and testing whether doors have been locked.”

Police officers at a Florida middle school carried out an active shooter drill in an effort to educate students about how to respond in the event of an actual shooting crisis. Two armed officers, guns loaded and drawn, burst into classrooms, terrorizing the students and placing the school into lockdown mode.

What is particularly chilling is how effective these lessons in compliance are in indoctrinating young people to accept their role in the police state, either as criminals or prison guards.

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

As Joe Pinsker writes for The Atlantic:

These lockdowns can be scarring, causing some kids to cry and wet themselves. Others have written letters bidding their family goodbye or drafted wills that specify what to do with their belongings. And 57 percent of teens worry that a shooting will happen at their school, according to a Pew Research Center survey from last year. Though many children are no strangers to violence in their homes and communities, the pervasiveness of lockdowns and school-shooting drills in the U.S. has created a culture of fear that touches nearly every child across the country.

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

As journalist Malcolm Gladwell writing for the New Yorker reports:

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

Clearly, our children are getting the message, but it’s not the message that was intended by those who fomented a revolution and wrote our founding documents. Their philosophy was that the police work for us, and “we the people” are the masters, and they are to be our servants.

Now that philosophy has been turned on its head, fueled by our fears (some legitimate, some hyped along by the government and its media mouthpieces) about the terrors and terrorists that lurk among us.

What are we to tell our nation’s children about the role of police in their lives?

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

Certainly, it’s getting harder by the day to insist that we live in a nation that values freedom and which is governed by the rule of law.

Yet unless something changes and soon, there will soon be nothing left to teach young people about freedom as we have known it beyond remembered stories of the “good old days.”

For starters, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it’s time to take a hard look at the greatest perpetrators of violence in our culture—the U.S. government and its agents—and do something about it: de-militarize the police, prohibit the Pentagon from distributing military weapons to domestic police agencies, train the police in de-escalation techniques, stop insulating police officers from charges of misconduct and wrongdoing, and require police to take precautionary steps before engaging in violence in the presence of young people.

We must stop the carnage.

Source: https://bit.ly/35D0wLl

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People  is available at www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission

John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.

 

“Anyone who cares for someone with a developmental disability, as well as for disabled people themselves [lives] every day in fear that their behavior will be misconstrued as suspicious, intoxicated or hostile by law enforcement.”—Steve Silberman, The New York Times

Think twice before you call the cops to carry out a welfare check on a loved one.

Especially if that person is autistic, hearing impaired, mentally ill, elderly, suffering from dementia, disabled or might have a condition that hinders their ability to understand, communicate or immediately comply with an order.

Particularly if you value that person’s life.

At a time when growing numbers of unarmed people are being shot and killed for just standing a certain way, or moving a certain way, or holding something—anything—that police could misinterpret to be a gun, or igniting some trigger-centric fear in a police officer’s mind that has nothing to do with an actual threat to their safety, even the most benign encounters with police can have fatal consequences.

Unfortunately, police—trained in the worst case scenario and thus ready to shoot first and ask questions later—increasingly pose a risk to anyone undergoing a mental health crisis or with special needs whose disabilities may not be immediately apparent or require more finesse than the typical freeze-or-I’ll-shoot tactics employed by America’s police forces.

Just recently, in fact, Gay Plack, a 57-year-old Virginia woman with bipolar disorder, was killed after two police officers—sent to do a welfare check on her—entered her home uninvited, wandered through the house shouting her name, kicked open her locked bedroom door, discovered the terrified woman hiding in a dark bathroom and wielding a small axe, and four seconds later, shot her in the stomach.

Four seconds.

That’s all the time it took for the two police officers assigned to check on Plack to decide to use lethal force against her (both cops opened fire on the woman), rather than using non-lethal options (one cop had a Taser, which he made no attempt to use) or attempting to de-escalate the situation.

The police chief defended his officers’ actions, claiming they had “no other option” but to shoot the 5 foot 4 inch “woman with carpal tunnel syndrome who had to quit her job at a framing shop because her hand was too weak to use the machine that cut the mats.”

This is what happens when you empower the police to act as judge, jury and executioner.

This is what happens when you indoctrinate the police into believing that their lives and their safety are paramount to anyone else’s.

Suddenly, everyone and everything else is a threat that must be neutralized or eliminated.

In light of the government’s latest efforts to predict who might pose a threat to public safety based on mental health sensor data (tracked by wearable data such as FitBits and Apple Watches and monitored by government agencies such as HARPA, the “Health Advanced Research Projects Agency”), encounters with the police could get even more deadly, especially if those involved have a mental illness or disability.

Indeed, disabled individuals make up a third to half of all people killed by law enforcement officers.

That’s according to a study by the Ruderman Family Foundation,  which reports that “disabled individuals make up the majority of those killed in use-of-force cases that attract widespread attention. This is true both for cases deemed illegal or against policy and for those in which officers are ultimately fully exonerated… Many more disabled civilians experience non-lethal violence and abuse at the hands of law enforcement officers.”

For instance, Nancy Schrock called 911 for help after her husband, Tom, who suffered with mental health issues, started stalking around the backyard, upending chairs and screaming about demons. Several times before, police had transported Tom to the hospital, where he was medicated and sent home after 72 hours. This time, Tom was tasered twice. He collapsed, lost consciousness and died.

In South Carolina, police tasered an 86-year-old grandfather reportedly in the early stages of dementia, while he was jogging backwards away from them. Now this happened after Albert Chatfield led police on a car chase, running red lights and turning randomly. However, at the point that police chose to shock the old man with electric charges, he was out of the car, on his feet, and outnumbered by police officers much younger than him.

In Georgia, campus police shot and killed a 21-year-old student who was suffering a mental health crisis. Scout Schultz was shot through the heart by campus police when he approached four of them late one night while holding a pocketknife, shouting “Shoot me!” Although police may have feared for their lives, the blade was still in its closed position.

In Oklahoma, police shot and killed a 35-year-old deaf man seen holding a two-foot metal pipe on his front porch (he used the pipe to fend off stray dogs while walking). Despite the fact that witnesses warned police that Magdiel Sanchez couldn’t hear—and thus comply—with their shouted orders to drop the pipe and get on the ground, police shot the man when he was about 15 feet away from them.

In Maryland, police (moonlighting as security guards) used extreme force to eject a 26-year-old man with Downs Syndrome and a low IQ from a movie theater after the man insisted on sitting through a second screening of a film. Autopsy results indicate that Ethan Saylor died of complications arising from asphyxiation, likely caused by a chokehold.

In Florida, police armed with assault rifles fired three shots at a 27-year-old nonverbal, autistic man who was sitting on the ground, playing with a toy truck. Police missed the autistic man and instead shot his behavioral therapist, Charles Kinsey, who had been trying to get him back to his group home. The therapist, bleeding from a gunshot wound, was then handcuffed and left lying face down on the ground for 20 minutes.

In Texas, police handcuffed, tasered and then used a baton to subdue a 7-year-old student who has severe ADHD and a mood disorder. With school counselors otherwise occupied, school officials called police and the child’s mother to assist after Yosio Lopez started banging his head on a wall. The police arrived first.

In New Mexico, police tasered, then opened fire on a 38-year-old homeless man who suffered from schizophrenia, all in an attempt to get James Boyd to leave a makeshift campsite. Boyd’s death provoked a wave of protests over heavy-handed law enforcement tactics.

In Ohio, police forcefully subdued a 37-year-old bipolar woman wearing only a nightgown in near-freezing temperatures who was neither armed, violent, intoxicated, nor suspected of criminal activity. After being slammed onto the sidewalk, handcuffed and left unconscious on the street, Tanisha Anderson died as a result of being restrained in a prone position.

And in North Carolina, a state trooper shot and killed a 29-year-old deaf motorist after he failed to pull over during a traffic stop. Daniel K. Harris was shot after exiting his car, allegedly because the trooper feared he might be reaching for a weapon.

These cases, and the hundreds—if not thousands—more that go undocumented every year speak to a crisis in policing when it comes to law enforcement’s failure to adequately assess, de-escalate and manage encounters with special needs or disabled individuals.

While the research is relatively scant, what has been happening is telling.

Over the course of six months, police shot and killed someone who was in mental crisis every 36 hours.

Among 124 police killings analyzed by The Washington Post in which mental illness appeared to be a factor, “They were overwhelmingly men, more than half of them white. Nine in 10 were armed with some kind of weapon, and most died close to home.”

But there were also important distinctions, reports the Post.

This group was more likely to wield a weapon less lethal than a firearm. Six had toy guns; 3 in 10 carried a blade, such as a knife or a machete — weapons that rarely prove deadly to police officers. According to data maintained by the FBI and other organizations, only three officers have been killed with an edged weapon in the past decade. Nearly a dozen of the mentally distraught people killed were military veterans, many of them suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their service, according to police or family members. Another was a former California Highway Patrol officer who had been forced into retirement after enduring a severe beating during a traffic stop that left him suffering from depression and PTSD. And in 45 cases, police were called to help someone get medical treatment, or after the person had tried and failed to get treatment on his own.

The U.S. Supreme Court, as might be expected, has thus far continued to immunize police against charges of wrongdoing when it comes to use of force against those with a mental illness.

In a 2015 ruling, the Court declared that police could not be sued for forcing their way into a mentally ill woman’s room at a group home and shooting her five times when she advanced on them with a knife. The justices did not address whether police must take special precautions when arresting mentally ill individuals. (The Americans with Disabilities Act requires “reasonable accommodations” for people with mental illnesses, which in this case might have been less confrontational tactics.)

Where does this leave us?

For starters, we need better police training across the board, but especially when it comes to de-escalation tactics and crisis intervention.

A study by the National Institute of Mental Health found that CIT (Crisis Intervention Team)-trained officers made fewer arrests, used less force, and connected more people with mental-health services than their non-trained peers.

As The Washington Post points out:

“Although new recruits typically spend nearly 60 hours learning to handle a gun, according to a recent survey by the Police Executive Research Forum, they receive only eight hours of training to de-escalate tense situations and eight hours learning strategies for handling the mentally ill. Otherwise, police are taught to employ tactics that tend to be counterproductive in such encounters, experts said. For example, most officers are trained to seize control when dealing with an armed suspect, often through stern, shouted commands. But yelling and pointing guns is ‘like pouring gasoline on a fire when you do that with the mentally ill,’ said Ron Honberg, policy director with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.”

Second, police need to learn how to slow confrontations down, instead of ramping up the tension (and the noise).

In Maryland, police recruits are now required to take a four-hour course in which they learn “de-escalation tactics” for dealing with disabled individuals: speak calmly, give space, be patient.

One officer in charge of the Los Angeles Police Department’s “mental response teams” suggests that instead of rushing to take someone into custody, police should try to slow things down and persuade the person to come with them.

Third, with all the questionable funds flowing to police departments these days, why not use some of those funds to establish what one disability-rights activist describes as “a 911-type number dedicated to handling mental-health emergencies, with community crisis-response teams at the ready rather than police officers.”

In the end, while we need to make encounters with police officers safer for people with suffering from mental illness or with disabilities, what we really need—as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People—is to make encounters with police safer for all individuals all across the board.

Source: https://bit.ly/2mndta1

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People  is available at www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission

John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.

 

“Since when have we Americans been expected to bow submissively to authority and speak with awe and reverence to those who represent us? The constitutional theory is that we the people are the sovereigns, the state and federal officials only our agents. We who have the final word can speak softly or angrily. We can seek to challenge and annoy, as we need not stay docile and quiet.”—Justice William O. Douglas, dissenting, Colten v. Kentucky, 407 U.S. 104 (1972)

Forget everything you’ve ever been taught about free speech in America.

It’s all a lie.

There can be no free speech for the citizenry when the government speaks in a language of force.

What is this language of force?

Militarized police. Riot squads. Camouflage gear. Black uniforms. Armored vehicles. Mass arrests. Pepper spray. Tear gas. Batons. Strip searches. Surveillance cameras. Kevlar vests. Drones. Lethal weapons. Less-than-lethal weapons unleashed with deadly force. Rubber bullets. Water cannons. Stun grenades. Arrests of journalists. Crowd control tactics. Intimidation tactics. Brutality.

This is not the language of freedom.

This is not even the language of law and order.

This is the language of force.

Unfortunately, this is how the government at all levels—federal, state and local—now responds to those who choose to exercise their First Amendment right to peacefully assemble in public and challenge the status quo.

This police overkill isn’t just happening in troubled hot spots such as Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, Md., where police brutality gave rise to civil unrest, which was met with a militarized show of force that caused the whole stew of discontent to bubble over into violence.

A decade earlier, the NYPD engaged in mass arrests of peaceful protesters, bystanders, legal observers and journalists who had gathered for the 2004 Republican National Convention. The protesters were subjected to blanket fingerprinting and detained for more than 24 hours at a “filthy, toxic pier that had been a bus depot.” That particular exercise in police intimidation tactics cost New York City taxpayers nearly $18 million for what would become the largest protest settlement in history.

Demonstrators, journalists and legal observers who had gathered in North Dakota to peacefully protest the Dakota Access Pipeline reported being pepper sprayed, beaten with batons, and strip searched by police.

In the college town of Charlottesville, Va., protesters who took to the streets to peacefully express their disapproval of a planned KKK rally were held at bay by implacable lines of gun-wielding riot police. Only after a motley crew of Klansmen had been safely escorted to and from the rally by black-garbed police did the assembled army of city, county and state police declare the public gathering unlawful and proceed to unleash canisters of tear gas on the few remaining protesters to force them to disperse.

More recently, this militarized exercise in intimidation—complete with an armored vehicle and an army of police drones—reared its ugly head in the small town of Dahlonega, Ga., where 600 state and local militarized police clad in full riot gear vastly outnumbered the 50 protesters and 150 counterprotesters who had gathered to voice their approval/disapproval of the Trump administration’s policies.

To be clear, this is the treatment being meted out to protesters across the political spectrum.

The police state does not discriminate.

As a USA Today article notes, “Federally arming police with weapons of war silences protesters across all justice movements… People demanding justice, demanding accountability or demanding basic human rights without resorting to violence, should not be greeted with machine guns and tanks. Peaceful protest is democracy in action. It is a forum for those who feel disempowered or disenfranchised. Protesters should not have to face intimidation by weapons of war.”

A militarized police response to protesters poses a danger to all those involved, protesters and police alike. In fact, militarization makes police more likely to turn to violence to solve problems.

As a study by researchers at Stanford University makes clear, “When law enforcement receives more military materials — weapons, vehicles and tools — it becomes … more likely to jump into high-risk situations. Militarization makes every problem — even a car of teenagers driving away from a party — look like a nail that should be hit with an AR-15 hammer.”

Even the color of a police officer’s uniform adds to the tension. As the Department of Justice reports, “Some research has suggested that the uniform color can influence the wearer—with black producing aggressive tendencies, tendencies that may produce unnecessary conflict between police and the very people they serve.”

You want to turn a peaceful protest into a riot?

Bring in the militarized police with their guns and black uniforms and warzone tactics and “comply or die” mindset. Ratchet up the tension across the board. Take what should be a healthy exercise in constitutional principles (free speech, assembly and protest) and turn it into a lesson in authoritarianism.

Mind you, those who respond with violence are playing into the government’s hands perfectly.

The government wants a reason to crack down and lock down and bring in its biggest guns.

They want us divided. They want us to turn on one another.

They want us powerless in the face of their artillery and armed forces.

They want us silent, servile and compliant.

They certainly do not want us to remember that we have rights, let alone attempting to exercise those rights peaceably and lawfully.

And they definitely do not want us to engage in First Amendment activities that challenge the government’s power, reveal the government’s corruption, expose the government’s lies, and encourage the citizenry to push back against the government’s many injustices.

You know how one mayor characterized the tear gassing of protesters by riot police? He called it an “unfortunate event.”

Unfortunate, indeed.

You know what else is unfortunate?

It’s unfortunate that these overreaching, heavy-handed lessons in how to rule by force have become standard operating procedure for a government that communicates with its citizenry primarily through the language of brutality, intimidation and fear.

It’s unfortunate that “we the people” have become the proverbial nails to be hammered into submission by the government and its vast armies.

And it’s particularly unfortunate that government officials—especially police—seem to believe that anyone who wears a government uniform (soldier, police officer, prison guard) must be obeyed without question.

In other words, “we the people” are the servants in the government’s eyes rather than the masters.

The government’s rationale goes like this:

Do exactly what I say, and we’ll get along fine. Do not question me or talk back in any way. You do not have the right to object to anything I may say or ask you to do, or ask for clarification if my demands are unclear or contradictory. You must obey me under all circumstances without hesitation, no matter how arbitrary, unreasonable, discriminatory, or blatantly racist my commands may be. Anything other than immediate perfect servile compliance will be labeled as resisting arrest, and expose you to the possibility of a violent reaction from me. That reaction could cause you severe injury or even death. And I will suffer no consequences. It’s your choice: Comply, or die.

Indeed, as Officer Sunil Dutta of the Los Angeles Police Department advises:

If you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me.

This is not the rhetoric of a government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people.

This is not the attitude of someone who understands, let alone respects, free speech.

And this is certainly not what I would call “community policing,” which is supposed to emphasize the importance of the relationship between the police and the community they serve.

Indeed, this is martial law masquerading as law and order.

Any police officer who tells you that he needs tanks, SWAT teams, and pepper spray to do his job shouldn’t be a police officer in a constitutional republic.

All that stuff in the First Amendment (about freedom of speech, religion, press, peaceful assembly and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances) sounds great in theory. However, it amounts to little more than a hill of beans if you have to exercise those freedoms while facing down an army of police equipped with deadly weapons, surveillance devices, and a slew of laws that empower them to arrest and charge citizens with bogus “contempt of cop” charges (otherwise known as asserting your constitutional rights).

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There are other, far better models to follow.

For instance, back in 2011, the St. Louis police opted to employ a passive response to Occupy St. Louis activists. First, police gave the protesters nearly 36 hours’ notice to clear the area, as opposed to the 20 to 60 minutes’ notice other cities gave. Then, as journalist Brad Hicks reports, when the police finally showed up:

They didn’t show up in riot gear and helmets, they showed up in shirt sleeves with their faces showing. They not only didn’t show up with SWAT gear, they showed up with no unusual weapons at all, and what weapons they had all securely holstered. They politely woke everybody up. They politely helped everybody who was willing to remove their property from the park to do so. They then asked, out of the 75 to 100 people down there, how many people were volunteering for being-arrested duty? Given 33 hours to think about it, and 10 hours to sweat it over, only 27 volunteered. As the police already knew, those people’s legal advisers had advised them not to even passively resist, so those 27 people lined up to be peacefully arrested, and were escorted away by a handful of cops. The rest were advised to please continue to protest, over there on the sidewalk … and what happened next was the most absolutely brilliant piece of crowd control policing I have heard of in my entire lifetime. All of the cops who weren’t busy transporting and processing the voluntary arrestees lined up, blocking the stairs down into the plaza. They stood shoulder to shoulder. They kept calm and silent. They positioned the weapons on their belts out of sight. They crossed their hands low in front of them, in exactly the least provocative posture known to man. And they peacefully, silently, respectfully occupied the plaza, using exactly the same non-violent resistance techniques that the protesters themselves had been trained in.

As Forbes concluded, “This is a more humane, less costly, and ultimately more productive way to handle a protest. This is great proof that police can do it the old fashioned way – using their brains and common sense instead of tanks, SWAT teams, and pepper spray – and have better results.”

It can be done.

Police will not voluntarily give up their gadgets and war toys and combat tactics, however. Their training and inclination towards authoritarianism has become too ingrained.

If we are to have any hope of dismantling the police state, change must start locally, community by community. Citizens will have to demand that police de-escalate and de-militarize. And if the police don’t listen, contact your city councils and put the pressure on them.

Remember, they are supposed to work for us. They might not like hearing it—they certainly won’t like being reminded of it—but we pay their salaries with our hard-earned tax dollars.

“We the people” have got to stop accepting the lame excuses trotted out by police as justifications for their inexcusable behavior.

Either “we the people” believe in free speech or we don’t.

Either we live in a constitutional republic or a police state.

We have rights.

As Justice William O. Douglas advised in his dissent in Colten v. Kentucky, “we need not stay docile and quiet” in the face of authority.

The Constitution does not require Americans to be servile or even civil to government officials.

Neither does the Constitution require obedience (although it does insist on nonviolence).

This emphasis on nonviolence goes both ways. Somehow, the government keeps overlooking this important element in the equation.

There is nothing safe or secure or free about exercising your rights with a rifle pointed at you.

The police officer who has been trained to shoot first and ask questions later, oftentimes based only on their highly subjective “feeling” of being threatened, is just as much of a danger—if not more—as any violence that might erupt from a protest rally.

Compliance is no guarantee of safety.

Then again, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, if we just cower before government agents and meekly obey, we may find ourselves following in the footsteps of those nations that eventually fell to tyranny.

The alternative involves standing up and speaking truth to power. Jesus Christ walked that road. So did Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and countless other freedom fighters whose actions changed the course of history.

Indeed, had Christ merely complied with the Roman police state, there would have been no crucifixion and no Christian religion. Had Gandhi meekly fallen in line with the British Empire’s dictates, the Indian people would never have won their independence.

Had Martin Luther King Jr. obeyed the laws of his day, there would have been no civil rights movement. And if the founding fathers had marched in lockstep with royal decrees, there would have been no American Revolution.

We must adopt a different mindset and follow a different path if we are to alter the outcome of these interactions with police.

The American dream was built on the idea that no one is above the law, that our rights are inalienable and cannot be taken away, and that our government and its appointed agents exist to serve us.

It may be that things are too far gone to save, but still we must try.

Source: https://bit.ly/2lX2CDm

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People  is available at www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission

John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.