Posts Tagged ‘police brutality’

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

We’ve all been there before.

You’re driving along and you see a pair of flashing blue lights in your rearview mirror. Whether or not you’ve done anything wrong, you get a sinking feeling in your stomach.

You’ve read enough news stories, seen enough headlines, and lived in the American police state long enough to be anxious about any encounter with a cop that takes place on the side of the road.

For better or worse, from the moment you’re pulled over, you’re at the mercy of law enforcement officers who have almost absolute discretion to decide who is a threat, what constitutes resistance, and how harshly they can deal with the citizens they were appointed to “serve and protect.”

This is what I call “blank check policing,” in which the police get to call all of the shots.

So if you’re nervous about traffic stops, you have every reason to be.

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

Try to assert your right to merely ask a question during a traffic stop and see how far it gets you.

Zachary Noel was tasered by police and charged with resisting arrest after he questioned why he was being ordered out of his truck during a traffic stop. “Because I’m telling you to,” the officer replied before repeating his order for Noel to get out of the vehicle and then, without warning, shooting him with a taser through the open window.

Unfortunately, as Gregory Tucker learned the hard way, there are no longer any fail-safe rules of engagement for interacting with the police.

It was in the early morning hours of Dec. 1, 2016, when Tucker, a young African-American man, was pulled over by Louisiana police for a broken taillight. Because he did not feel safe stopping immediately, Tucker drove calmly and slowly to a safe, well-lit area a few minutes away before stopping in front of his cousin’s house.

That’s when what should have been a routine traffic stop became yet another example of police brutality in America and another reason why Americans are justified in their fear of cops.

According to the lawsuit that was filed in federal court by The Rutherford Institute, police ordered Tucker out of his vehicle, and after he had stepped out, immediately placed him under arrest for “resisting” (in this case, not immediately stopping) and searched his person and his vehicle. Tucker was then ordered to move to the front of the police vehicle and place his hands on its hood.

Two more police officers arrived on the scene, walked up behind Tucker, and grabbed his arms to restrain and handcuffed him.

Then the fourth police officer arrived on the scene. According to police dash cam footage, Tucker was thrown to the ground and punched numerous times in the head and body. The police also yelled repeatedly at Tucker to “quit resisting.” Tucker, bleeding with injuries to his face, head and arm, was then placed into the back of a police vehicle and EMTs were called to treat him. He was eventually taken to the hospital for severe injuries to his face and arm.

Mind you, this young man complied with police. He just didn’t do it fast enough to suit their purposes.

This young man submitted to police. He didn’t challenge police authority when they frisked him, searched his car, handcuffed him, and beat him to a pulp.

If this young man is “guilty” of anything, he’s guilty of ticking off the cops by being cautious, concerned for his safety, and all too aware of the dangers faced by young black men during encounters with the police.

Frankly, you don’t even have to be young or black or a man to fear for your life during an encounter with the police.

Just consider the growing numbers of unarmed people are who being shot and killed just for 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.

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

Add a traffic stop to the mix, and that disadvantage increases dramatically.

According to the Justice Department, the most common reason for a citizen to come into contact with the police is being a driver in a traffic stop.

On average, one in 10 Americans gets pulled over by police.

Black drivers are 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers, or about 23 percent more likely than Hispanic drivers. As the Washington Post concludes, “‘Driving while black’ is, indeed, a measurable phenomenon.”

Indeed, police officers have been given free range to pull anyone over for a variety of reasons.

This free-handed approach to traffic stops has resulted in drivers being stopped for windows that are too heavily tinted, for driving too fast, driving too slow, failing to maintain speed, following too closely, improper lane changes, distracted driving, screeching a car’s tires, and leaving a parked car door open for too long.

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

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

Equally appalling, in Heien v. North Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court—which has largely paved the way for the police and other government agents to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance—allowed police officers to stop drivers who appear nervous, provided they provide a palatable pretext for doing so.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the lone objector in the case. Dissenting in Heien, Sotomayor warned, “Giving officers license to effect seizures so long as they can attach to their reasonable view of the facts some reasonable legal interpretation (or misinterpretation) that suggests a law has been violated significantly expands this authority… One wonders how a citizen seeking to be law-abiding and to structure his or her behavior to avoid these invasive, frightening, and humiliating encounters could do so.”

In other words, drivers beware.

Traffic stops aren’t just dangerous. They can be downright deadly.

Remember Walter L. Scott? Reportedly pulled over for a broken taillight, Scott—unarmed—ran away from the police officer, who pursued and shot him from behind, first with a Taser, then with a gun. Scott was struck five times, “three times in the back, once in the upper buttocks and once in the ear — with at least one bullet entering his heart.”

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

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

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

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

Sandra Bland, pulled over for allegedly failing to use her turn signal, was arrested after refusing to comply with the police officer’s order to extinguish her cigarette and exit her vehicle. The encounter escalated, with the officer threatening to “light” Bland up with his taser. Three days later, Bland was found dead in her jail cell. “You’re doing all of this for a failure to signal?” Bland asked as she got out of her car, after having been yelled at and threatened repeatedly.

Keep in mind, from the moment those lights start flashing and that siren goes off, we’re all in the same boat. However, it’s what happens after you’ve been pulled over that’s critical.

Survival is key.

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

However, there is a price for asserting one’s rights. That price grows more costly with every passing day.

If you ask cops and their enablers what Americans should do to stay alive during encounters with police, 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.

The problem, of course, is what to do when compliance is not enough.

After all, every day we hear about situations in which unarmed Americans complied and still died during an encounter with police simply because they appeared to be standing in a “shooting stance” or held a cell phone or a garden hose or carried around a baseball bat or answered the front door or held a spoon in a threatening manner or ran in an aggressive manner holding a tree branch or wandered around naked or hunched over in a defensive posture or made the mistake of wearing the same clothes as a carjacking suspect (dark pants and a basketball jersey) or dared to leave an area at the same time that a police officer showed up or had a car break down by the side of the road or were deaf or homeless or old.

Now you can make all kinds of excuses to justify these shootings, and in fact that’s exactly what you’ll hear from politicians, police unions, law enforcement officials and individuals who are more than happy to march in lockstep with the police.

However, to suggest that a good citizen is a compliant citizen and that obedience will save us from the police state is not only recklessly irresponsible, but it is also deluded and out of touch with reality.

To begin with, and most importantly, Americans need to know their rights when it comes to interactions with the police, bearing in mind that many law enforcement officials are largely ignorant of the law themselves.

In a nutshell, the following are your basic rights when it comes to interactions with the police as outlined in the Bill of Rights:

You have the right under the First Amendment to ask questions and express yourself. You have the right under the Fourth Amendment to not have your person or your property searched by police or any government agent unless they have a search warrant authorizing them to do so.  You have the right under the Fifth Amendment to remain silent, to not incriminate yourself and to request an attorney. Depending on which state you live in and whether your encounter with police is consensual as opposed to your being temporarily detained or arrested, you may have the right to refuse to identify yourself. Presently, 26 states do not require citizens to show their ID to an officer (drivers in all states must do so, however).

Knowing your rights is only part of the battle, unfortunately.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the hard part comes in when you have to exercise those rights in order to hold government officials accountable to respecting those rights.

As a rule of thumb, you should always be sure to clarify in any police encounter whether or not you are being detained, i.e., whether you have the right to walk away. That holds true whether it’s a casual “show your ID” request on a boardwalk, a stop-and-frisk search on a city street, or a traffic stop for speeding or just to check your insurance. If you feel like you can’t walk away from a police encounter of your own volition—and more often than not you can’t, especially when you’re being confronted by someone armed to the hilt with all manner of militarized weaponry and gear—then for all intents and purposes, you’re essentially under arrest from the moment a cop stops you. Still, it doesn’t hurt to clarify that distinction.

While technology is always going to be a double-edged sword, with the gadgets that are the most useful to us in our daily lives—GPS devices, cell phones, the internet—being the very tools used by the government to track us, monitor our activities, and generally spy on us, cell phones are particularly useful for recording encounters with the police and have proven to be increasingly powerful reminders to police that they are not all powerful.

A good resource is The Rutherford Institute’s “Constitutional Q&A: Rules of Engagement for Interacting with Police.”

Clearly, in the American police state, compliance is no guarantee that you will survive an encounter with the police with your life and liberties intact.

So if you’re starting to feel somewhat overwhelmed, intimidated and fearful for your life and the lives of your loved ones, you should be.

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

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.

 

Advertisements

Sexual predation by police officers happens far more often than people in the business are willing to admit.”—Former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper

How could this be happening right under our noses?

That’s what readers wanted to know after my column went viral about the extent to which young children are being bought and sold for sex in America.

Where are the police when these children—some as young as 9 years old—are being raped repeatedly?

For that matter, what is the Trump Administration doing about the fact that adults purchase children for sex at least 2.5 million times a year in suburbs, cities and towns across this nation?

I’ll tell you what the government is doing: little to nothing.

While America’s children are being menaced by sexual predators, the Trump Administration and its congressional cohorts continue to wage endless wars, run up the national debt, and distract the populace with vitriol and kabuki political theater.

The police are not much better.

In too many instances, the cops are worse.

Indeed, while there are certainly many good cops in this country—and I’ve had the honor of working with a number of them—the bad cops have become symptomatic of a criminal justice system that is deeply rotten through and through.

We can no longer count on police to save us from the worst in our society.

In many cases, rather than being part of the solution, America’s police forces—riddled with corruption, brutality, sexual misconduct and drug abuse—have largely become part of the problem. As the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, “Hundreds of police officers across the country have turned from protectors to predators, using the power of their badge to extort sex.”

Let’s start with sex trafficking.

In a number of cases, victims of sex trafficking report that police are among those “buying” young girls and women for sex.

In other words, as a recent study by the State Commission on the Status of Women and Arizona State University makes clear, “victims are being exploited by the very people who are supposed to protect them: police officers.”

In New York, seven NYPD cops—three sergeants, two detectives and two officers—were accused of running brothels that sold 15-minute sexual encounters, raking in more than $2 million over the course of 13 months. Two of the cops, brothers, were charged with holding a bachelor party at one of the brothels where “they got the place for nothing and they used the prostitutes.”

In California, a police sergeant—a 16-year veteran of the police force—was arrested for raping a 16-year-old girl who was being held captive and sold for sex in a home in an upscale neighborhood.

A week-long sting in Florida ended with 277 arrests of individuals accused of sex trafficking, including doctors, pharmacists and police officers.

Sex trafficking victims in Hawaii described “cops asking for sexual favors to more coercive situations like I’ll let you go if you do X, Y, or Z for me.”

One study found that “over 14 percent of sex workers said that they had been threatened with arrest unless they had sex with a police officer.” In many states, it’s actually legal for police to have sex with prostitutes during the course of sting operations.

While the problem of cops engaged in sex trafficking is part of the American police state’s seedy underbelly that doesn’t get addressed enough, equally alarming is the number of cops who commit sex crimes against those they encounter as part of their job duties, a largely underreported number given the “blue wall of silence” that shields police misconduct.

Former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper describes cases in which cops fondled prisoners, made false traffic stops of attractive women, traded sexual favors for freedom, had sex with teenagers and raped children.

Young girls are particularly vulnerable to these predators in blue.

Former police officer Phil Stinson estimates that half of the victims of police sex crimes are minors under the age of eighteen.

According to The Washington Post, a national study found that 40 percent of reported cases of police sexual misconduct involved teens. One young woman was assaulted during a “ride along” with an officer, who said in a taped confession: “The badge gets you the p—y and the p—y gets your badge, you know?

For example, a Pennsylvania police chief and his friend were arrested for allegedly raping a young girl hundreds of times—orally, vaginally, and anally several times a week—over the course of seven years, starting when she was 4 years old.

In 2017, two NYPD cops were accused of arresting a teenager, handcuffing her, and driving her in an unmarked van to a nearby parking lot, where they raped her and forced her to perform oral sex on them, then dropped her off on a nearby street corner.

The New York Times reports that “a sheriff’s deputy in San Antonio was charged with sexually assaulting the 4-year-old daughter of an undocumented Guatemalan woman and threatening to have her deported if she reported the abuse.”

One young girl, J.E., was kidnapped by a Border Patrol agent when she was 14 years old, taken to his apartment and raped. “In the apartment, there were two beds on top of the other, children’s bunk beds, and ropes there, too. They were shoelaces. For my wrists and my feet. My mind was blank,” recalls J.E. “I was trying to understand everything. I didn’t know what to do. My feet were tied up. I would look at him and he had a gun. And that frightened me. I asked him why, and he answered me that he was doing this to me because I was the prettiest one of the three.”

Two teenage girls accused a Customs and Border Protection officer of forcing them to strip, fondling them, then trying to get them to stop crying by offering chocolates, potato chips and a blanket. The government settled the case for $125,000.

Mind you, this is the same government that has been separating immigrant children from their parents and locking them up in detention centers, where they are easy prey for sexual predators. So far, the government has received more than 4500 complaints about sexual abuse at those child detention facilities.

This is also the same government that “lost” almost 1500 migrant children. Who knows how many of those children ended up in the hands of traffickers?

The police state’s sexual assaults of children are sickening enough, but when you add sex crimes against grown women into the mix, the picture becomes even more sordid.

According to The Washington Post, “research on ‘police sexual misconduct’—a term used to describe actions from sexual harassment and extortion to forcible rape by officers—overwhelmingly concludes that it is a systemic problem.”

Investigative journalist Andrea Ritchie has tracked national patterns of sexual violence by police officers during traffic stops, in addition to heightened risk from minor offenses, drug arrests and police interactions with teenagers.

Victims of domestic abuse, women of color, transgender women, women who use drugs or alcohol, and women involved in the sex trade are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault by police.

One Oklahoma City police officer allegedly sexually assaulted at least seven women while on duty over the course of four months, including a 57-year-old grandmother who says she was forced to give the cop oral sex after he pulled her over.

A Philadelphia state trooper, eventually convicted of assaulting six women and teenagers, once visited the hospital bedside of a pregnant woman who had attempted suicide, and groped her breasts and masturbated.

These aren’t isolated incidents.

According to research from Bowling Green State University, police officers in the U.S. were charged with more than 400 rapes over a 9-year period. During that same time period, 600 police officers were arrested for forcible fondling; 219 were charged with forcible sodomy; 186 were arrested for statutory rape; 58 for sexual assault with an object; and 98 with indecent exposure.

Sexual assault is believed to be the second-most reported form of misconduct against police officers after the use of excessive force, making up more than 9% of all complaints.

Even so, these crimes are believed to be largely underreported so much so that sex crimes may in fact be the number one form of misconduct among police officers.

So why are the numbers underreported? “The women are terrified. Who are they going to call? It’s the police who are abusing them,” said Penny Harrington, the former police chief of Portland, Ore.

One Philadelphia cop threatened to arrest a teenager for carjacking unless she had sex with him. “He had all the power. I had no choice,” testified the girl. “Who was I? He had his badge.”

This is the danger of a police state that invests its henchmen with so much power that they don’t even need to use handcuffs or a gun to get what they want.

Making matters worse, most police departments do little to identify the offenders, and even less to stop them. “Unlike other types of police misconduct, the abuse of police power to coerce sex is little addressed in training, and rarely tracked by police disciplinary systems,” conclude Nancy Phillips and Craig R. McCoy writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer. “This official neglect makes it easier for predators to escape punishment and find new victims.”

Unfortunately, this is a problem that is hiding in plain sight, covered up by government agencies that are failing in their constitutional duties to serve and protect “we the people.”

That thin blue line of knee-jerk adulation and absolute loyalty to police above and beyond what the law requires—a line frequently pushed by President Trump—is creating a menace to society that cannot be ignored.

An investigative report into police misconduct illustrates the pervasiveness of the problem when police go rogue. According to USA Today:

At least 85,000 law enforcement officers across the USA have been investigated or disciplined for misconduct over the past decade… Officers have beaten members of the public, planted evidence and used their badges to harass women. They have lied, stolen, dealt drugs, driven drunk and abused their spouses. Despite their role as public servants, the men and women who swear an oath to keep communities safe can generally avoid public scrutiny for their misdeeds. The records of their misconduct are filed away, rarely seen by anyone outside their departments. Police unions and their political allies have worked to put special protections in place ensuring some records are shielded from public view, or even destroyed. Obtained from thousands of state agencies, prosecutors, police departments and sheriffs, the records detail at least 200,000 incidents of alleged misconduct, much of it previously unreported… They include 22,924 investigations of officers using excessive force, 3,145 allegations of rape, child molestation and other sexual misconduct and 2,307 cases of domestic violence by officers.

As researcher Jonathan Blanks notes, “The system is rigged to protect police officers from outside accountability. The worst cops are going to get the most protection.

Hyped up on the power of the badge and their weaponry, protected from charges of wrongdoing by police unions and government agencies, and empowered by rapidly advancing tools—technological and otherwise—that make it all too easy to identify, track and take advantage of vulnerable members of society, predators on the nation’s police forces are growing in number.

“It can start with a police officer punching a woman’s license plate into a police computer – not to see whether a car is stolen, but to check out her picture,” warns investigative journalists Nancy Phillips and Craig R. McCoy. “If they are not caught, or left unpunished, the abusers tend to keep going, and get worse, experts say.”

So where does this leave us?

The courts, by allowing the government’s desire for unregulated, unaccountable, expansive power to trump justice and the rule of law, have turned away from this menace. Politicians, eager for the support of the powerful police unions, have turned away from this menace. Religious leaders who should know better but instead have silenced their moral conscience in order to cozy up to political power have turned away from this menace.

Distracted by political theater, divided by politics, disenfranchised by a legislative and judicial system that renders us powerless in the face of the police state’s many abuses, “we the people” have also turned a blind eye to this menace.

We must stop turning away from this menace in our midst.

For starters, police should not be expected—or allowed—to police themselves.

Misconduct by local police has become a national problem. Therefore, the response to this national problem must start at the local level.

This is no longer a matter of a few bad apples.

The entire system has become corrupted and must be reformed.

Greater oversight is needed, yes, but also greater accountability and more significant consequences for assaults.

Andrea Ritchie’s piece in The Washington Post provides some practical suggestions for reform ranging from small steps to structural changes (greater surveillance of police movements, heightened scrutiny of police interactions and traffic stops, and more civilian oversight boards), but as she acknowledges, these efforts still don’t strike at the root of the problem: a criminal justice system that protects abusers and encourages abuse.

It’s difficult to say whether modern-day policing with its deep-seated corruption, immunity from accountability, and authoritarian approach to law enforcement attracts this kind of deviant behavior or cultivates it, but empowering police to view themselves as the best, or even the only, solution to the public’s problems, while failing to hold them accountable for misconduct, will only deepen the policing crisis that grows deadlier and more menacing by the day.

WC: 2286

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

 

 

“It is often the case that police shootings, incidents where law enforcement officers pull the trigger on civilians, are left out of the conversation on gun violence. But a police officer shooting a civilian counts as gun violence. Every time an officer uses a gun against an innocent or an unarmed person contributes to the culture of gun violence in this country.”—Journalist Celisa Calacal

Legally owning a gun in America could get you killed by a government agent.

While it still technically remains legal to own a firearm in America, possessing one can now get you pulled over, searched, arrested, subjected to all manner of surveillance, treated as a suspect without ever having committed a crime, shot at and killed.

This same rule does not apply to government agents, however, who are armed to the hilt and rarely given more than a slap on the wrists for using their weapons to shoot and kill American citizens.

According to the Washington Post, “1 in 13 people killed by guns are killed by police.”

Just recently, for example, a Minnesota jury acquitted a police officer who shot and killed 32-year-old 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. Castile’s girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter witnessed the entire exchange.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that Florida police will not be held accountable for banging on the wrong door at 1:30 am, failing to identify themselves as police, and then repeatedly shooting and killing the innocent homeowner who answered the door while holding a gun in self-defense. Although 26-year-old Andrew Scott had committed no crime and never fired a single bullet or lifted his firearm against police, he was gunned down by police who were investigating a speeding incident by engaging in a middle-of-the-night “knock and talk” in Scott’s apartment complex.

As attorney David French writes for the National Review, “Shooting an innocent man in his own home because he grabs a gun when an unidentified person pounds on his door or barges through it isn’t just an ‘unreasonable search or seizure.’ It’s a direct violation of his clearly established right to keep and bear arms.”

Continuing its own disturbing trend of siding with police in cases of excessive use of force, a unanimous United States Supreme Court recently acquitted police who recklessly fired 15 times into a backyard shack in which a homeless couple—Angel and Jennifer Mendez—was sheltering. Angel Mendez suffered numerous gunshot wounds, one of which required the amputation of his right leg below the knee, and his wife Jennifer was shot in the back. Incredibly, the Court ruled that the Los Angeles County police officers’ use of force against the homeless couple was justified as a defensive action, because Angel was allegedly seen holding a BB gun that he used for shooting rats.

In yet another case, a Texas homeowner was subjected to a no-knock, SWAT-team style forceful entry and raid based solely on the suspicion that there were legally-owned firearms in his household. Making matters worse, police panicked and opened fire through a solid wood door on the homeowner, who had already gone to bed.

In Maryland, a Florida man traveling through the state with his wife and kids was stopped by a police officer and interrogated about the whereabouts of his registered handgun. Despite the man’s insistence that the handgun had been left at home, the officer spent nearly two hours searching through the couple’s car, patting them down along with their children, and having them sit in the back of a patrol car. No weapon was found.

In Philadelphia, a 25-year-old man was confronted by police, verbally threatened and arrested for carrying a gun in public, which is legal within the city. When Mark Fiorino attempted to explain his rights under the law to police, police ordered him to get on his knees or else “I am gonna shoot ya.” Fiorino was later released without charges.

What these cases add up to is a new paradigm in which legally owning a gun turns you into a target for government sharp-shooters.

Ironically, while America continues to debate who or what is responsible for gun violence—the guns, the gun owners, or our violent culture—little has been said about the fact that the greatest perpetrator of violence in American society and around the world is the U.S. government.

Government violence is the missing link in the gun control debate.

Violence has become the government’s calling card, starting at the top and trickling down, from the more than 80,000 SWAT team raids carried out every year on unsuspecting Americans by heavily armed, black-garbed commandos and the increasingly rapid militarization of local police forces across the country to the drone killings used to target insurgents. The government even exports violence worldwide, with one of this country’s most profitable exports being weapons.

Thus, any serious discussion about minimizing the violence in our society needs to address the manner in which the government and its cohorts (the police, the various government agencies that are now armed to the hilt, the military, the defense contractors, etc.) use violence as a means to an end, whether domestically or in matters of foreign policy.

You want to reduce gun violence? Start with the government.

Except that the government has no intention of scaling back on its weapons. To the contrary, the government’s efforts to militarize and weaponize its own agencies and employees is reaching epic proportions, with federal agencies as varied as the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration placing orders for hundreds of millions of rounds of hollow point bullets.

Talk about a double standard.

The government’s arsenal of weapons makes the average American’s handgun look like a Tinker Toy.

Under the auspices of a military “recycling” program, which allows local police agencies to acquire military-grade weaponry and equipment, more than $4.2 billion worth of equipment has been transferred from the Defense Department to domestic police agencies since 1990. Included among these “gifts” are tank-like, 20-ton Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, tactical gear, and assault rifles.

Ironically, while gun critics continue to clamor for bans on military-style assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and armor-piercing bullets, expanded background checks, and tougher gun-trafficking laws, the U.S. military boasts all of these and more, including some weapons the rest of the world doesn’t have.

Included in the government’s arsenal are armed, surveillance Reaper drones capable of reading a license plate from over two miles away; an AA12 Atchisson Assault Shotgun that can shoot five 12-gauge shells per second and “can fire up to 9,000 rounds without being cleaned or jamming”; an ADAPTIV invisibility cloak that can make a tank disappear or seemingly reshape it to look like a car; a PHASR rifle capable of blinding and disorienting anyone caught in its sights; a Taser shockwave that can electrocute a crowd of people at the touch of a button; an XM2010 enhanced sniper rifle with built-in sound and flash suppressors that can hit a man-sized target nine out of ten times from over a third of a mile away; and an XM25 “Punisher” grenade launcher that can be programmed to accurately shoot grenades at a target up to 500 meters away.

In the hands of government agents, whether they are members of the military, law enforcement or some other government agency, these weapons have become accepted instruments of tyranny, routine parts of America’s day-to-day life, a byproduct of the rapid militarization of law enforcement over the past several decades.

This lopsided, top-heavy, authoritarian state of affairs is not the balance of power the founders intended for “we the people.”

The Second Amendment, in conjunction with the multitude of prohibitions on government overreach enshrined in the Bill of Rights, was supposed to serve as a clear shackle on the government’s powers. As 20th century libertarian Edmund A. Opitz observed in 1964, “No one can read our Constitution without concluding that the people who wrote it wanted their government severely limited; the words ‘no’ and ‘not’ employed in restraint of government power occur 24 times in the first seven articles of the Constitution and 22 more times in the Bill of Rights.”

To founders such as Thomas Jefferson, who viewed the government as a powerful entity that must be bound “down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution,” the right to bear arms was no different from any other right enshrined in the Constitution: it was intended to stand as a bulwark against a police state.

Without any one of those freedoms, we are that much more vulnerable to the vagaries of out-of-control policemen, benevolent dictators, genuflecting politicians, and overly ambitious bureaucrats.

Writing for Counterpunch, journalist Kevin Carson suggests that prohibiting Americans from owning weapons would be as dangerously ineffective as Prohibition and the War on the Drugs:

“[W]hat strict gun laws will do is take the level of police statism, lawlessness and general social pathology up a notch in the same way Prohibition and the Drug War have done. I’d expect a War on Guns to expand the volume of organized crime, and to empower criminal gangs fighting over control over the black market, in exactly the same way Prohibition did in the 1920s and strict drug laws have done since the 1980s. I’d expect it to lead to further erosion of Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure, further militarization of local police via SWAT teams, and further expansion of the squalid empire of civil forfeiture, perjured jailhouse snitch testimony, entrapment, planted evidence, and plea deal blackmail.”

This is exactly what those who drafted the U.S. Constitution feared: that laws and law enforcers would be used as tools by a despotic government to wage war against the citizenry.

This phenomenon is what philosopher Abraham Kaplan referred to as the law of the instrument, which essentially says that to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. As I explain in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we the citizenry have become the nails to be hammered by the government’s battalion of laws and law enforcers (its police officers, technicians, bureaucrats, spies, snitches, inspectors, accountants, etc.), and we’re supposed to take the beatings without complaint or reproach.

Now don’t get me wrong.

I do not sanction violence, nor do I believe that violence should ever be the answer to our problems. As John Lennon warned, “When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you—pull your beard, flick your face—to make you fight. Because once they’ve got you violent, then they know how to handle you.”

Still there’s something to be said for George Orwell’s view that “that rifle hanging on the wall of the working-class flat or labourer’s cottage is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there.”

The Second Amendment serves as a check on the political power of the ruling authorities. It represents an implicit warning against governmental encroachments on one’s freedoms, the warning shot over the bow to discourage any unlawful violations of our persons or property.

Certainly, dictators in past regimes have understood this principle only too well.

As Adolf Hitler noted, “The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that starting in December 1935, Jews in Germany were prevented from obtaining shooting licenses, because authorities believed that to allow them to do so would “endanger the German population.”

In late 1938, special orders were delivered barring Jews from owning firearms, with the punishment for arms possession being 20 years in a concentration camp.

The rest, as they say, is history. Yet it is a history that we should be wary of repeating.

WC:  2042

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 (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at http://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.

 

– See more at: http://rutherford.org/publications_resources/john_whiteheads_commentary/execution_by_firing_squad_the_militarized_police_state_opens_fire#sthash.SQPlo1o7.dpuf

 

“No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that’s in the right and keeps on a-comin’.”—Texas Rangers

In one swoop, on June 22, 2015, a divided U.S. Supreme Court handed down three consecutive rulings affirming the right of raisin farmers, hotel owners and prison inmates. However, this push back against government abuse, government snooping and government theft only came about because some determined citizens stood up and took a stand against tyranny.

The three cases respectively deal with the government’s confiscation of agricultural crops without any guarantee or promise of payment (Horne v. U.S. Department of Agriculture); the practice of police gaining unfettered access to motel and hotel guest registries (City of Los Angeles v. Patel); and the use of tasers and excessive force by prison officials (Kingsley v. Hendrickson).

Whether these three rulings will amount to much in the long run remains to be seen. In the meantime, they sound a cautiously optimistic note at a time when police state forces continue to use advancing technologies, surveillance and militarization to weaken, sidestep and flout the Constitution at almost every turn.

In the first case, Horne v. U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 5-4 Supreme Court declared that raisin farmer Marvin Horne deserves to be compensated for the official seizure of one-third of his personal property by the government.

The case arose after independent raisin farmers in California were fined almost $700,000 for refusing to surrender about 40% of the raisins they produced to the government as part of a program purportedly aimed at maintaining a stable market for commodities.

Marvin and Laura Horne are independent farmers in California and have been growing raisins for almost half a century. During that time, the Hornes were subject to a Depression-era law promulgated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that aims to create “orderly” market conditions for raisins by regulating their supply. Supply is regulated by requiring that raisin producers surrender a certain percentage of their raisins (a so-called “reserve tonnage”) each year to an administrative committee.

In 2002-2003, the reserve tonnage was set at 47% of the crop. The reserve tonnage may be sold by the government with the government paying itself first for administrative costs, and then providing pro rata payments to participating farmers. However, in 2002-2003, raisin farmers received payments that did not cover the expenses of production and in 2003-2004, no payments whatsoever were made for reserve tonnage raisins.

Although the Hornes attempted to arrange their operation to avoid having to give up part of their crop, the USDA assessed a monetary penalty of $695,226 against the Hornes for having failed to surrender raisins they produced between 2002 and 2004. The Hornes appealed this order, arguing that the requirement that they surrender, on pain of monetary penalty, a percentage of their property without any guarantee of compensation violated the command of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit determined that the Fifth Amendment affords less protection to personal property than real property (land), and upheld the penalties. The Hornes subsequently appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition on government confiscation of property applies not only to the appropriation of land but with full and equal force to personal property such as agricultural crops.

Battlefield_Cover_300The bigger picture: Whether you’re talking about raisins confiscated by the USDA, homes expropriated by government agencies under the rubric of eminent domain, or cars and cash seized by asset forfeiture-driven highway police, these various takings all add up to the same thing: government theft sanctioned by an endless assortment of arcane laws. Unfortunately, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the lines between private and public property have been so blurred that private property is reduced to little more than something the government can use to control, manipulate and harass the citizenry to suit its own purposes, while ‘we the people’ have been reduced to little more than tenants or serfs in bondage to an overbearing landlord. This is feudalism revisited.

In the second case handed down on June 22 (City of Los Angeles v. Patel), a 5-4 Supreme Court struck down a Los Angeles ordinance that permits the police to check guest registries at motels and hotels at any hour of the day or night without a warrant or other judicial review.

Section 41.49 of the City of Los Angeles Municipal Code requires all hotel owners to maintain a registry that collects information about persons staying at the hotel, including their names, addresses, vehicle information, arrival and departure dates, room prices, and payment methods.

Under this law, it is a crime for a guest to provide false or misleading information in registering at the hotel. The law also requires that hotels make these records available to any officer of the Los Angeles Police Department for inspection on demand, thereby allowing law enforcement officers to inspect this information at any time regardless of whether there is consent to the inspection or a warrant allowing it. Additionally, police need not have any measure of suspicion in order to review hotel registries under the ordinance and there need not be any history of criminal activity at the hotel. A hotel operator is guilty of a crime if he or she refuses to allow inspection.

In 2005, the Los Angeles Lodging Association and various owners and operators of hotels and motels in the city filed a lawsuit challenging the requirement of the ordinance that they grant unfettered access to their guest registries, arguing that the ordinance is a patent violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection of persons’ houses, papers and effects against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

In December 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the hotel owners’ claims, ruling that the inspection of hotel registries by police is clearly a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. The Ninth Circuit also rejected the claim that hotels are a “closely regulated” industry that should expect government inspections, thereby holding that police are not excused from the general search warrant requirement.

Citing a fundamental right to privacy, travel and association, civil liberties advocates argued that the ordinance, which is similar to laws on the books in cities across the nation, flies in the face of historical protections affording hotel guests privacy in regards to their identities and comings-and-goings and burdens the fundamental rights of travel and association. Moreover, police should not be given carte blanche to rummage through records containing highly personal information because this could chill the exercise of other constitutional rights, such as the right to travel and the right of association.

The bigger picture: The practice of giving police officers unfettered, warrantless access to Americans’ hotel records is no different from the government’s use of National Security Letters to force banks, phone companies, casinos and other businesses to secretly provide the FBI with customer information such as telephone records, subscriber information, credit reports, employment information, and email records and not disclose the demands. Both ploys are merely different facets of the government’s campaign to circumvent, by hook or by crook, the clear procedural safeguards of the Fourth Amendment and force business owners to act as extensions of the police state.

In the last case, a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kingsley v. Hendrickson that a lower court used an improper test to determine whether guards used excessive force against a pretrial detainee.

The case involves a Wisconsin man who alleged that he was subjected to unreasonable and excessive force in reckless disregard for his safety when prison guards forcibly removed him from his jail cell and subdued him with a stun gun.

In 2010, Michael Kingsley was arrested and booked into the jail in Sparta, Wisconsin, and detained there pending his court appearances on the charges against him. About a month into his detention, guards noticed that a sheet of yellow paper was covering the light above Kingsley’s bed, which was a common practice among detainees in order to dim the brightness of the facilities lights. The guards ordered Kingsley to remove the paper, but he refused, pointing out that he had not put the paper over the light.

The next morning, Kingsley was again ordered to remove the paper and again he refused. The jail administrator was then called, who told Kingsley he would be transferred to another cell. Five officers then came to the cell and ordered Kingsley to stand up. Kingsley protested that he had done nothing wrong, but was told to follow the order or he would be tasered.

Kingsley continued to lie face down on his bunk but put his hands behind his back and was handcuffed. The officers pulled Kingsley off the bunk, which allegedly caused injuries to his knees and feet and inflicted pain so severe Kingsley could not stand or walk. The officers then carried him to a receiving cell, placed him face down on a bunk and attempted to remove the handcuffs.

Although Kingsley denied that he resisted, the officers allegedly smashed his head into the concrete bunk and placed a knee into his back. When Kingsley told the officer to get off him, one of the officers tasered Kingsley for five seconds. As a result of this incident, Kingsley sued several officers involved, alleging that they used excessive force against him and that this violated his constitutional right to due process. A jury ruled against Kingsley, who subsequently lost his appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Weighing in on the case, civil liberties advocates asked the Supreme Court to remove restrictions some courts have imposed on civil rights lawsuits for excessive force by inmates against jail personnel, thereby discouraging the use of excessive force by prison officials.

The bigger picture: In a police state, there is no need for judges, juries or courts of law, because the police act as judge, jury and law, and their version of justice is one-sided, delivered at the end of a gun, taser or riot stick. Unless the courts and legislatures act soon to change this climate of government-sanctioned police brutality, we may find that there is no real difference between those who are innocent, those accused of committing crimes and those found guilty, because we will all suffer the same at the hands of government agents.

Taken individually, these three cases may appear to be little more than small, procedural slaps on the wrist to government agencies that are so bloated, out-of-control and unaccountable as to scarcely register the slaps. However, taken together they serve as a potent reminder of what happens when a determined citizenry takes a collective stand against government abuse. That said, if “we the people” don’t keep pushing back, standing up, and holding government officials accountable to the rule of law, these victories will do little to keep government bureaucrats off the backs of the American citizenry.

 

scotus

“[I]f the individual is no longer to be sovereign, if the police can pick him up whenever they do not like the cut of his jib, if they can ‘seize’ and ‘search’ him in their discretion, we enter a new regime. The decision to enter it should be made only after a full debate by the people of this country.”—U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas

The U.S. Supreme Court was intended to be an institution established to intervene and protect the people against the government and its agents when they overstep their bounds. Yet as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, Americans can no longer rely on the courts to mete out justice. In the police state being erected around us, the police and other government agents can probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts.

Whether it’s police officers breaking through people’s front doors and shooting them dead in their homes or strip searching innocent motorists on the side of the road, these instances of abuse are continually validated by a judicial system that kowtows to virtually every police demand, no matter how unjust, no matter how in opposition to the Constitution.

These are the hallmarks of the emerging American police state: where police officers, no longer mere servants of the people entrusted with keeping the peace, are part of an elite ruling class dependent on keeping the masses corralled, under control, and treated like suspects and enemies rather than citizens.

A review of the Supreme Court’s rulings over the past 10 years, including some critical ones this term, reveals a startling and steady trend towards pro-police state rulings by an institution concerned more with establishing order and protecting government agents than with upholding the rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Police officers can use lethal force in car chases without fear of lawsuits. In Plumhoff v. Rickard (2014), the Court declared that police officers who used deadly force to terminate a car chase were immune from a lawsuit. The officers were accused of needlessly resorting to deadly force by shooting multiple times at a man and his passenger in a stopped car, killing both individuals.

Police officers can stop cars based only on “anonymous” tips. In a 5-4 ruling in Navarette v. California (2014), the Court declared that police officers can, under the guise of “reasonable suspicion,” stop cars and question drivers based solely on anonymous tips, no matter how dubious, and whether or not they themselves witnessed any troubling behavior. This ruling came on the heels of a ruling by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in U.S. v. Westhoven that driving too carefully, with a rigid posture, taking a scenic route, and having acne are sufficient reasons for a police officer to suspect you of doing something illegal, detain you, search your car, and arrest you—even if you’ve done nothing illegal to warrant the stop in the first place.

Secret Service agents are not accountable for their actions, as long as they’re done in the name of security. In Wood v. Moss (2014), the Court granted “qualified immunity” to Secret Service officials who relocated anti-Bush protesters, despite concerns raised that the protesters’ First Amendment right to freely speak, assemble, and petition their government leaders had been violated. These decisions, part of a recent trend toward granting government officials “qualified immunity”—they are not accountable for their actions—in lawsuits over alleged constitutional violations, merely incentivize government officials to violate constitutional rights without fear of repercussion.

Citizens only have a right to remain silent if they assert it. The Supreme Court ruled in Salinas v. Texas (2013) that persons who are not under arrest must specifically invoke their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in order to avoid having their refusal to answer police questions used against them in a subsequent criminal trial. What this ruling says, essentially, is that citizens had better know what their rights are and understand when those rights are being violated, because the government is no longer going to be held responsible for informing you of those rights before violating them.

Police have free reign to use drug-sniffing dogs as “search warrants on leashes,” justifying any and all police searches of vehicles stopped on the roadside. In Florida v. Harris (2013), a unanimous Court determined that police officers may use highly unreliable drug-sniffing dogs to conduct warrantless searches of cars during routine traffic stops. In doing so, the justices sided with police by claiming that all that the police need to do to prove probable cause for a search is simply assert that a drug detection dog has received proper training. The ruling turns man’s best friend into an extension of the police state.

Police can forcibly take your DNA, whether or not you’ve been convicted of a crime. In Maryland v. King (2013), a divided Court determined that a person arrested for a crime who is supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty must submit to forcible extraction of their DNA. Once again the Court sided with the guardians of the police state over the defenders of individual liberty in determining that DNA samples may be extracted from people arrested for “serious offenses.” While the Court claims to have made its decision based upon concerns of properly identifying criminal suspects upon arrest, what they actually did is open the door for a nationwide dragnet of suspects targeted via DNA sampling.

Police can stop, search, question and profile citizens and non-citizens alike. The Supreme Court declared in Arizona v. United States (2012) that Arizona police officers have broad authority to stop, search and question individuals—citizen and non-citizen alike. While the law prohibits officers from considering race, color, or national origin, it amounts to little more than a perfunctory nod to discrimination laws on the books, while paving the way for outright racial profiling and destroying the Fourth Amendment.

Police can subject Americans to virtual strip searches, no matter the “offense.” A divided Supreme Court actually prioritized making life easier for overworked jail officials over the basic right of Americans to be free from debasing strip searches. In its 5-4 ruling in Florence v. Burlington (2012), the Court declared that any person who is arrested and processed at a jail house, regardless of the severity of his or her offense (i.e., they can be guilty of nothing more than a minor traffic offense), can be subjected to a virtual strip search by police or jail officials, which involves exposing the genitals and the buttocks. This “license to probe” is now being extended to roadside stops, as police officers throughout the country have begun performing roadside strip searches—some involving anal and vaginal probes—without any evidence of wrongdoing and without a warrant.

Immunity protections for Secret Service agents trump the free speech rights of Americans. The court issued a unanimous decision in Reichle v. Howards (2012), siding with two Secret Service agents who arrested a Colorado man simply for daring to voice critical remarks to Vice President Cheney. However, contrast the Court’s affirmation of the “free speech” rights of corporations and wealthy donors in McCutcheon v. FEC (2014), which does away with established limits on the number of candidates an entity can support with campaign contributions, and Citizens United v. FEC (2010) with its tendency to deny those same rights to average Americans when government interests abound, and you’ll find a noticeable disparity.

Police can break into homes without a warrant, even if it’s the wrong home. In an 8-1 ruling in Kentucky v. King (2011), the Supreme Court placed their trust in the discretion of police officers, rather than in the dictates of the Constitution, when they gave police greater leeway to break into homes or apartments without a warrant. Despite the fact that the police in question ended up pursuing the wrong suspect, invaded the wrong apartment and violated just about every tenet that stands between us and a police state, the Court sanctioned the warrantless raid, leaving Americans with little real protection in the face of all manner of abuses by police.

Police can interrogate minors without their parents present. In a devastating ruling that could very well do away with what little Fourth Amendment protections remain to public school students and their families—the Court threw out a lower court ruling in Camreta v. Greene (2011), which required government authorities to secure a warrant, a court order or parental consent before interrogating students at school. The ramifications are far-reaching, rendering public school students as wards of the state. Once again, the courts sided with law enforcement against the rights of the people.

It’s a crime to not identify yourself when a policeman asks your name. In Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of the State of Nevada (2004), a majority of the high court agreed that refusing to answer when a policeman asks “What’s your name?” can rightfully be considered a crime under Nevada’s “stop and identify” statute. No longer will Americans, even those not suspected of or charged with any crime, have the right to remain silent when stopped and questioned by a police officer.

The cases the Supreme Court refuses to hear, allowing lower court judgments to stand, are almost as critical as the ones they rule on. Some of these cases, turned away in recent years alone, have delivered devastating blows to the rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Legally owning a firearm is enough to justify a no-knock raid by police. Justices refused to hear Quinn v. Texas (2014) the case of a Texas man who was shot by police through his closed bedroom door and whose home was subject to a no-knock, SWAT-team style forceful entry and raid based solely on the suspicion that there were legally-owned firearms in his household.

The military can arrest and detain American citizens. In refusing to hear Hedges v. Obama (2014), a legal challenge to the indefinite detention provision of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA), the Supreme Court affirmed that the President and the U.S. military can arrest and indefinitely detain individuals, including American citizens. In so doing, the high court also passed up an opportunity to overturn its 1944 Korematsu v. United States ruling allowing for the internment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps.

Students can be subjected to random lockdowns and mass searches at school. The Court refused to hear Burlison v. Springfield Public Schools (2013), a case involving students at a Missouri public school who were subjected to random lockdowns, mass searches and drug-sniffing dogs by police. In so doing, the Court let stand an appeals court ruling that the searches and lockdowns were reasonable in order to maintain the safety and security of students at the school.

Police officers who don’t know their actions violate the law aren’t guilty of breaking the law. The Supreme Court let stand a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Brooks v. City of Seattle (2012) in which police officers who clearly used excessive force when they repeatedly tasered a pregnant woman during a routine traffic stop were granted immunity from prosecution. The Ninth Circuit actually rationalized its ruling by claiming that the officers couldn’t have known beyond a reasonable doubt that their actions—tasering a pregnant woman who was not a threat in any way until she was unconscious—violated the Fourth Amendment.

When all is said and done, what these assorted court rulings add up to is a disconcerting government mindset that interprets the Constitution one way for the elite—government entities, the police, corporations and the wealthy—and uses a second measure altogether for the underclasses—that is, you and me.

Keep in mind that in former regimes such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, the complicity of the courts was the final piece to fall into place before the totalitarian beast stepped out of the shadows and into the light. If history is a guide, then the future that awaits us is truly frightening.

Time, as they say, grows short.

OWS-Police-Brutality

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

Living in a free society means not having to look over your shoulder to see whether the government is watching or fearing that a government agent might perpetuate violence upon you.

Unfortunately, as I detail in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, subjected as we are to government surveillance, body scanners, militarized police, roadside strip searches, SWAT team raids, drones, and other trappings of a police state, “we the people” do not live in a free society any longer.

Not only are we no longer a free people but we have become a fearful people, as well, helped along in large part by politicians eager to capitalize on our fears. As Julie Hanus writes for Utne: “Since the 1980s, society at large has bolted frantically from one panic to the next. Fear of crime reduced us to wrecks, but before long we were also howling about deadly diseases, drug abusers, online pedophiles, avian flu, teens gone wild, mad cows, anthrax, immigrants, environmental collapse, and–let us not forget–terrorists.”

Now thanks to an increasingly militarized police force and police officers who shoot first and ask questions later, we’ve got one more fear to add to that growing list, and with good reason: fear of the police–local, state and federal agents.

Who wouldn’t be afraid of police officers who go around shooting unarmed citizens, tasering women–young and old alike, and forcing law-abiding Americans to the ground at gunpoint?

Such was the case when a Missouri police officer shot and wounded an unarmed panhandler. Texas police, during a raid on a home where music was reportedly being played too loudly, repeatedly tasered a 54-year-old grandmother, kicking and punching other members of the household. A 20-year-old Florida woman who was tasered by a police officer while she was handcuffed ended up in a permanent vegetative state and eventually died. And then there was the homeless man who was shot and killed by Albuquerque police for squatting on public land.

If it were just a few “bad” cops terrorizing the citizenry, that would be one thing. But what we’re dealing with is a nationwide epidemic of court-sanctioned police violence carried out against individuals posing little or no threat of violence, who are nevertheless subjected to such excessive police force as to end up maimed or killed.

For example, Ron Hillstrom was pacing in the parking lot of his apartment complex asking for help when four officers approached him, unleashed their tasers, and subdued him with electric shocks. When Hillstrom fell to the ground, another officer hit him with a flashlight. Hillstrom died soon thereafter.

Danny Cantu was recently awarded $105,000 after Dallas police rushed into his backyard, threw a flash bang grenade into his window, and broke into his home without warning. Cantu was thrown to the ground and beaten with his hands tied behind his back.

Denise Green is suing San Francisco police after a license plate reader misread her license plate, causing her to be pulled over by five police officers who pointed guns at her under the false belief that she was driving a stolen car. After being held at gunpoint on the ground, Green was handcuffed and her car searched before she was finally released.

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. The message is clear and chilling: any deviation from what is “allowed” will be punished severely.

Thus, when a 9-year-old Portland girl got into a fight at a youth club, instead of the incident being resolved by staff members and reported to her family, police showed up at her home, arrested the young girl, took her down to the station, fingerprinted her, and had her mug shot taken.

Similarly, 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.

In Missouri, a 7-year-old child was handcuffed because he was allegedly upset about being teased by his classmates. The inconsolable child, who was screaming in class because of the taunting, was taken by the school’s security officer to the principal’s office and handcuffed until his father arrived at the school.

There might be some hope of reform if only this problem of police brutality were not so widespread and endemic, if the citizenry actually had some sway with their representatives, if communities actually had some say over how law enforcement agencies “police” their communities, if police unions did not have such a stranglehold over the oversight process, if the courts were more impartial and less inclined to blindly sanction the actions of the police, and if the federal government itself had not already coopted state and local police agencies in order to transform them into extensions of the military.

In the absence of any credible scenarios that would hold the police accountable to abiding by the rule of law–our U.S. Constitution–and respecting the citizenry’s right to be treated with respect and dignity, the police have become a law unto themselves.

Clearly, the master-servant relationship upon which American government was based has now been reversed. Government agents in general, and the police in particular, now seem to believe they are the masters and we are the servants. It’s definitely time to reestablish us, the American citizenry, as the masters of our government–even if it means showing the oppressors that we will no longer wear their chains.

Some Americans have already begun pushing back. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, for example, where police have been involved in 39 shootings since 2010–with the most recent being a police shooting of an unarmed homeless man camped out in a public park–residents have begun engaging in nonviolent acts of civil disobedience to disrupt the normal functioning of the city government until the police department is brought under control. Community activists actually went so far as to storm a city council meeting and announce that they would be performing a citizens’ arrest of the police chief, charging him with “harboring fugitives from justice at the Albuquerque police department” and “crimes against humanity.”

This growing tension, seen in Albuquerque and felt throughout the country, is a tension between those who wield power on behalf of the government–the president, Congress, the courts, the military, the militarized police, the technocrats, the faceless unelected bureaucrats who blindly obey and carry out government directives, no matter how immoral or unjust, and the corporations–and those among the populace who are finally waking up to the mounting injustices, seething corruption and endless tyrannies that are transforming our country into a police state.

Where we go wrong is in painting our oppressors–whether it be the police, the courts, Congress, or the president–as absolutely evil and ourselves as powerless to resist.

Hannah Arendt, a Holocaust survivor who reported on the war crimes trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann, a senior officer who organized Hitler’s death camps, denounced Eichmann not because he was evil per se but because he was a bureaucrat who unquestioningly carried out orders that were immoral, inhumane and evil. This, Arendt concluded, was the banality of evil, the ability to engage in wrongdoing or turn a blind eye to it, without taking any responsibility for your actions or inactions.

Coincidentally, the same year that Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil was published, Martin Luther King Jr. penned his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in which he concludes that “the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.” As King points out, “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.’ It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.”

In other words, there comes a time when law and order are in direct opposition to justice.

This tension is at the heart of the issue over police brutality, carried out by individuals who may not themselves be evil but are merely following orders, marching in lockstep with a government machine that views us as less than human. So how does one achieve justice without resorting to violence, given that violence only leads to more violence? The only recourse left to us, as both King and Arendt recognize, is mass civil disobedience of the nonviolent sort. As King notes:

[T]here is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

After all, as King declared, “Freedom is never voluntarily given up by the oppressor; it must be demanded.”