Posts Tagged ‘police shootings’

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.

 

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“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.

 

“The warlords of history are still kicking our heads in, and no one, not our fathers, not our Gods, is coming to save us.”— Journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled: it will not hear the case of Young v. Borders.

Despite the fact that a 26-year-old man was gunned down by police who banged on the wrong door at 1:30 am, failed to identify themselves as police, and then repeatedly shot and killed the innocent homeowner who answered the door while holding a gun in self-defense, the justices of the high court refused to intervene to address police misconduct.

Although 26-year-old Andrew Scott committed no crime and never fired a single bullet or lifted his firearm against police, only to be 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, the Supreme Court refused to balance the scales between justice and injustice.

Despite the fact that police shot and killed nearly 1,000 people nationwide for the third year in a row (many of whom were unarmed, mentally ill, minors or were shot merely because militarized police who were armed to the hilt “feared” for their safety), the Supreme Court will not act to right the wrongs being meted out by the American police state.

Although “knock-and-talk” policing has become a thinly veiled, warrantless—lethal—exercise by which citizens are coerced and intimidated into “talking” with heavily armed police who “knock” on their doors in the middle of the night, the Supreme Court will not make the government play by the rules of the Constitution.

The lesson to be learned: the U.S. Supreme Court will not save us.

No one is coming to save us: not the courts, not the legislatures, and not the president.

According to journalist Michael Harriot:

More people died from police violence in 2017 than the total number of U.S. soldiers killed in action around the globe (21). More people died at the hands of police in 2017 than the number of black people who were lynched in the worst year of Jim Crow (161 in 1892). Cops killed more Americans in 2017 than terrorists did (four). They killed more citizens than airplanes (13 deaths worldwide), mass shooters (428 deaths) and Chicago’s “top gang thugs” (675 Chicago homicides).

Americans are dying at the hands of the police, and the U.S. government doesn’t care.

In Kansas, a prank caller placed a fake 911 call (the tactic is referred to as “swatting”) that prompted a SWAT team to open fire on a 28-year-old unarmed man who had been spending a quiet evening at home with his family. The man was shot dead within moments of appearing outside his home, clearly confused to find his home surrounded by police on all sides, guns pointed in his direction, and orders being shouted at him. Thus far, all the blame has rested with the prank caller and little with the cops who shot first and asked questions later.

In New York, a 68-year-old former Marine was shot and killed by police who did a welfare check on him after he accidentally set off his emergency medical alert device. Although Kenneth Chamberlain insisted he was fine, police refused to leave, eventually kicked open the door, zapping Chamberlain with a stun gun, shooting him with beanbag ammunition and then killing him with a pistol shot. The cops were not charged.

In Arizona, a police officer was acquitted after he shot an unarmed man outside his hotel room while the man cried, begged and pleaded for his life. As the Associated Press reports:

“The shooting occurred in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa after officers ordered Shaver to exit his hotel room, lie face-down in a hallway and refrain from making sudden movements — or risk being shot. Shaver, 26, sobbed as he begged police not to shoot and was ordered to crawl toward officers. As he inched forward, he reached toward the waistband of his shorts. Brailsford said he fired his rifle because he believed Shaver was grabbing a handgun in his waistband. While no gun was found on Shaver’s body…the detective investigating the shooting had agreed Shaver’s movement was similar to reaching for a pistol, but has said it also looked as though Shaver was pulling up his loose-fitting basketball shorts that had fallen down as he was ordered to crawl toward officers.”

It gets worse.

You see, it’s not just that the U.S. government appears unconcerned about the fact that Americans are dying at the hands of the police.

Right now, the U.S. government is actively doing everything in its power to ensure that the killing spree continues.

Take Jeff Sessions, for example.

While the president’s conveniently-timed tweets distract the public and dominate the headlines, his attorney general continues to bulldoze over the Constitution, knocking down what scant protections remain between the citizenry and the hydra-headed police state.

Within his first year as attorney general, Jeff Sessions has made a concerted effort to expand the police state’s power to search, strip, seize, raid, steal from, arrest and jail Americans for any infraction, no matter how insignificant.

What this means is more militarized police, more asset forfeiture, more private prisons, more SWAT team raids, more police shootings of unarmed citizens, and more wars waged by the government against the American people.

And while the crime rate may be falling, the death toll—casualties of the government’s war on the American people—is growing.

The body count will continue to mount as long as the courts continue to march in lockstep with the police state, as long as police unions continue to strong-arm politicians into letting police agencies get away with murder, as long as legislators continue to care more about getting re-elected than about protecting the rights of the citizenry, as long as police continue to treat their fellow citizens as enemy combatants on a battlefield, as long as the media continues to focus the spotlight on circus politics, and as long as the citizenry fail to be alarmed and outraged every time the police state shoots another hole in the Constitution.

Even so, it’s not just the police shootings that are cause for concern.

We are inching ever closer to a constitutional crisis the likes of which we have never seen before, and “we the people” are woefully unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with a government that is corrupt, topsy turvy, unjust, immoral, illegal, brutal, violent, war-hungry, greedy, biased, imbalanced, unaccountable, non-transparent, fascist and as illegitimate as they come.

Where do we go from here?

We’ve been through troubled times before.

In fact, it was 50 years ago this year, in 1968, when the country was buffeted by assassinations, riots and protests: “The assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. The riots that shook Washington, Chicago, Baltimore and other U.S. cities. Campus protests. Civil rights protests. Vietnam War protests. The Tet Offensive. The My Lai massacre. The rise of Richard Nixon and the retreat of Lyndon Johnson.”

Fifty years later, we’re no better off.

The nation is still being buffeted by economic instability, racial inequality, injustice, police brutality, government misconduct and a rising discontent on the part of the populace.

I can’t help but wonder what Martin Luther King Jr. would have to say to about his dream today.

Certainly, the reality we must contend with is far different from King’s dream of a world without racism, militarism and materialism: America has become a ticking time bomb of racial unrest and injustice, police militarization, surveillance, government corruption and ineptitude, the blowback from a battlefield mindset and endless wars abroad, and a growing economic inequality between the haves and have nots.

King himself—in life, a hard-talking, charismatic leader, voice of authority, and militant, nonviolent activist minister/peace warrior who staged sit-ins, boycotts and marches and lived through police attack dogs, water cannons and jail cells—has been so watered down in death that younger generations recognize his face but know very little about his message.

Yet King had a lot to say that remains relevant to our day and age.

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

“Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time — the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.”

“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

“We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation.”

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood — it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too late.’”

We cannot afford to wait until it is “too late.”

This is no time to stand silently on the sidelines. It’s a time for anger and reform. Most importantly, it’s a time for making ourselves heard. And there is no better time to act than the present.

As Robert F. Kennedy reminded his listeners in a speech delivered at the University of Cape Town in 1966, “Hand in hand with freedom of speech goes the power to be heard, to share in the decisions of government which shape men’s lives. Everything that makes man’s life worthwhile—family, work, education, a place to rear one’s children and a place to rest one’s head—all this depends on decisions of government; all can be swept away by a government which does not heed the demands of its people.”

What can ordinary citizens do?

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, instead of sitting around and waiting for someone else to change things, take charge. Never discount the part that everyday citizens play in our nation’s future. You can change things, but there can be no action without education. Get educated about your rights and exercise them. Start by reading the Bill of Rights. You can do so online at http://www.rutherford.org. Or, if you want a copy to keep with you, email me at staff@rutherford.org and I’ll send you a free one.

Most important of all, just get out there and do your part to make sure that your government officials hear you. The best way to ensure that happens is by never giving up, never backing down, and never remaining silent. To quote Dr. King, “If you can’t fly, run; if you can’t run, walk; if you can’t walk, crawl, but by all means keep moving.”

It doesn’t matter whether you’re protesting the economy, the war, the environment or something else altogether. What matters is that you do your part. As that great revolutionary firebrand Samuel Adams pointed out, “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brushfires in people’s minds.”

Take some time right now and start your own brushfire for freedom. Learn about the issues and then take a stand: attend local government meetings, contact your representatives, raise awareness within your community, and generally make your voice heard.

It’s midnight in America right now. But the real question is, will there be a dawn?

That’s up to you and me. The future is in our hands.

WC: 1958

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. This commentary originally appeared at https://www.rutherford.org/publications_resources/john_whiteheads_commentary/justice_denied_the_government_is_not_going_to_save_us

 

 

“There is nothing more dangerous than a government of the many controlled by the few.”—Lawrence Lessig, Harvard law professor

The U.S. government remains the greatest threat to our freedoms.

The systemic violence being perpetrated by agents of the government has done more collective harm to the American people and our liberties than any single act of terror.

More than terrorism, more than domestic extremism, more than gun violence and organized crime, the U.S. government has become a greater menace to the life, liberty and property of its citizens than any of the so-called dangers from which the government claims to protect us.

This is how tyranny rises and freedom falls.

Battlefield_Cover_300As I explain in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, when the government views itself as superior to the citizenry, when it no longer operates for the benefit of the people, when the people are no longer able to peacefully reform their government, when government officials cease to act like public servants, when elected officials no longer represent the will of the people, when the government routinely violates the rights of the people and perpetrates more violence against the citizenry than the criminal class, when government spending is unaccountable and unaccounted for, when the judiciary act as courts of order rather than justice, and when the government is no longer bound by the laws of the Constitution, then you no longer have a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

What we have is a government of wolves.

Worse than that, we are now being ruled by a government of scoundrels, spies, thugs, thieves, gangsters, ruffians, rapists, extortionists, bounty hunters, battle-ready warriors and cold-blooded killers who communicate using a language of force and oppression.

Does the government pose a danger to you and your loved ones?

The facts speak for themselves.

We’re being held at gunpoint by a government of soldiers—a standing army. While Americans are being made to jump through an increasing number of hoops in order to exercise their Second Amendment right to own a gun, the government is arming its own civilian employees to the hilt with guns, ammunition and military-style equipment, authorizing them to make arrests, and training them in military tactics. Among the agencies being supplied with night-vision equipment, body armor, hollow-point bullets, shotguns, drones, assault rifles and LP gas cannons are the Smithsonian, U.S. Mint, Health and Human Services, IRS, FDA, Small Business Administration, Social Security Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Education Department, Energy Department, Bureau of Engraving and Printing and an assortment of public universities. There are now reportedly more bureaucratic (non-military) government civilians armed with high-tech, deadly weapons than U.S. Marines. That doesn’t even begin to touch on the government’s arsenal, the transformation of local police into extensions of the military, and the speed with which the nation could be locked down under martial law depending on the circumstances. Clearly, the government is preparing for war—and a civil war, at that—but who is the enemy?

We’re being robbed blind by a government of thieves. Americans no longer have any real protection against government agents empowered to seize private property at will. For instance, police agencies under the guise of asset forfeiture laws are taking property based on little more than a suspicion of criminal activity. In one case, police seized $53,000 from the manager of a Christian rock band that was touring and raising money for an orphanage in Thailand. Despite finding no evidence of wrongdoing, police kept the money. Homeowners are losing their homes over nonpayment of taxes (for as little as $400 owed) and municipal bills such as water or sewer fees that amount to a fraction of what they have invested in their homes. And then there’s the Drug Enforcement Agency, which has been searching train and airline passengers and pocketing their cash, without ever charging them with a crime.

We’re being taken advantage of by a government of scoundrels, idiots and cowards. American satirist H.L. Mencken calculated that “Congress consists of one-third, more or less, scoundrels; two-thirds, more or less, idiots; and three-thirds, more or less, poltroons.” By and large, Americans seem to agree. When you’ve got government representatives who spend a large chunk of their work hours fundraising, being feted by lobbyists, shuffling through a lucrative revolving door between public service and lobbying, and making themselves available to anyone with enough money to secure access to a congressional office, you’re in the clutches of a corrupt oligarchy. Mind you, these same elected officials rarely read the legislation they’re enacting, nor do they seem capable of enacting much legislation that actually helps rather than hinders the plight of the American citizen.

We’re being locked up by a government of greedy jailers. We have become a carceral state, spending three times more on our prisons than on our schools and imprisoning close to a quarter of the world’s prisoners, despite the fact that crime is at an all-time low and the U.S. makes up only 5% of the world’s population. The rise of overcriminalization and profit-driven private prisons provides even greater incentives for locking up American citizens for such non-violent “crimes” as having an overgrown lawn.  As the Boston Review points out, “America’s contemporary system of policing, courts, imprisonment, and parole … makes money through asset forfeiture, lucrative public contracts from private service providers, and by directly extracting revenue and unpaid labor from populations of color and the poor. In states and municipalities throughout the country, the criminal justice system defrays costs by forcing prisoners and their families to pay for punishment. It also allows private service providers to charge outrageous fees for everyday needs such as telephone calls. As a result people facing even minor criminal charges can easily find themselves trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle of debt, criminalization, and incarceration.”

We’re being spied on by a government of Peeping Toms. The government is watching everything you do, reading everything you write, listening to everything you say, and monitoring everything you spend. Omnipresent surveillance is paving the way for government programs that profile citizens, document their behavior and attempt to predict what they might do in the future, whether it’s what they might buy, what politician they might support, or what kinds of crimes they might commit. The impact of this far-reaching surveillance, according to Psychology Today, is “reduced trust, increased conformity, and even diminished civic participation.” As technology analyst Jillian C. York concludes, “Mass surveillance without due process—whether undertaken by the government of Bahrain, Russia, the US, or anywhere in between—threatens to stifle and smother that dissent, leaving in its wake a populace cowed by fear.”

We’re being ravaged by a government of ruffians, rapists and killers. It’s not just the police shootings of unarmed citizens that are worrisome. It’s the SWAT team raids gone wrong that are leaving innocent citizens wounded, children terrorized and family pets killed. It’s the roadside strip searches—in some cases, cavity searches of men and women alike carried out in full view of the public—in pursuit of drugs that are never found. It’s the potentially lethal—and unwarranted—use of so-called “nonlethal” weapons such as tasers on children for “mouthing off to a police officer. For trying to run from the principal’s office. For, at the age of 12, getting into a fight with another girl.”

We’re being forced to surrender our freedoms—and those of our children—to a government of extortionists, money launderers and professional pirates. The American people have been repeatedly sold a bill of goods about how the government needs more money, more expansive powers, and more secrecy (secret courts, secret budgets, secret military campaigns, secret surveillance) in order to keep us safe. Under the guise of fighting its wars on terror, drugs and now domestic extremism, the government has spent billions in taxpayer dollars on endless wars that have notended terrorism but merely sown the seeds of blowback, surveillance programs that have caught few terrorists while subjecting all Americans to a surveillance society, and militarized police that have done little to decrease crime while turning communities into warzones. Not surprisingly, the primary ones to benefit from these government exercises in legal money laundering have been the corporations, lobbyists and politicians who inflict them on a trusting public.

Whatever else it may be—a danger, a menace, a threat—the U.S. government is certainly no friend to freedom.

To our detriment, the criminal class that Mark Twain mockingly referred to as Congress has since expanded to include every government agency that feeds off the carcass of our once-constitutional republic. In fact, there’s a very good reason you don’t hear much in the way of specifics about the government’s tyranny from politicians: it’s because they can’t afford to upset the apple cart (i.e., jeopardize their posh lifestyles).

So no matter which party wins the White House, controls Congress or appoints future Supreme Court justices, rest assured that the menace of the shadow government—the permanent, unelected bureaucracy that operates beyond the reach of the Constitution, the courts and the citizenry—will continue uninterrupted.

Our backs are against the proverbial wall.

The government and its cohorts have conspired to ensure that the only real recourse the American people have to express their displeasure with the government is through voting, which is no real recourse at all. The penalties for civil disobedience, whistleblowing and rebellion are severe. If you refuse to pay taxes for government programs you believe to be immoral or illegal, you will go to jail. If you attempt to overthrow the government—or any agency thereof—because you believe it has overstepped its reach, you will go to jail. If you attempt to blow the whistle on government misconduct, there’s a pretty good chance you will go to jail.

For too long, the American people have been made to act like puppets dancing to a tyrant’s tune.

We have obeyed the government’s dictates, no matter now extreme. We have paid its taxes, penalties and fines, no matter how outrageous. We have tolerated its indignities, insults and abuses, no matter how egregious. We have turned a blind eye to its indiscretions and incompetence, no matter how imprudent. We have held our silence in the face of its lawlessness, licentiousness and corruption, no matter how illicit.

We have suffered.

How long we will continue to suffer depends on how much we’re willing to give up for the sake of freedom.

America’s founders provided us with a very specific explanation about the purpose of government and a roadmap for what to do when the government abuses its authority, ignores our objections, and establishes itself as a tyrant.

We must choose between peaceful slavery (in other words, maintaining the status quo in servitude to the police state) and dangerous freedom. That will mean carving out a path in which we begin to take ownership of our government, starting at the local level, challenging the status quo, and raising hell whenever a government official steps out of line.

Any police officer who shoots to kill is playing with fire.

In that split second of deciding whether to shoot and where to aim, that officer has appointed himself judge, jury and executioner over a fellow citizen. And when an officer fires a killing shot at a fellow citizen not once or twice but three and four and five times, he is no longer a guardian of the people but is acting as a paid assassin. In so doing, he has short-circuited a legal system that was long ago established to protect against such abuses by government agents.

These are hard words, I know, but hard times call for straight talking.

We’ve been dancing around the issue of police shootings for too long now, but we’re about to crash headlong into some harsh realities if we don’t do something to ward off disaster.

You’d better get ready.

It’s easy to get outraged when police wrongfully shoot children, old people and unarmed citizens watering their lawns ortending to autistic patients. It’s harder to rouse the public’s ire when the people getting shot and killed by police are suspected of criminal activities or armed with guns and knives. Yet both scenarios should be equally reprehensible to anyone who values human life, due process and the rule of law.

For instance, Paul O’Neal was shot in the back and killed by police as he fled after allegedly sideswiping a police car during a chase. The 18-year-old was suspected of stealing a car.

Korryn Gaines was shot and killed—and her 5-year-old son was shot—by police after Gaines resisted arrest for a traffic warrant and allegedly threatened to shoot police. Police first shot at Gaines and then opened fire when she reportedly shot back at them.

Loreal Tsingine was shot and killed by a police officer after she approached him holding a small pair of medical scissors. The 27-year-old Native American woman was suspected of shoplifting.

None of these individuals will ever have the chance to stand trial, be found guilty or serve a sentence for their alleged crimes because a police officer—in a split second—had already tried them, found them guilty and sentenced them to death.

In every one of these scenarios, police could have resorted to less lethal tactics.

They could have attempted to de-escalate and defuse the situation.

They could have acted with reason and calculation instead of reacting with a killer instinct.

That police instead chose to fatally resolve these encounters by using their guns on fellow citizens speaks volumes about what is wrong with policing in America today, where police officers are being dressed in the trappings of war, drilled in the deadly art of combat, and trained to look upon “every individual they interact with as an armed threat and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making.”

Contrast those three fatal police shootings with a police intervention that took place in my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia.

On. Aug. 1, 2016, police responded to a call about a possible abduction of a 17-year-old girl. When they confronted the 46-year-old “suspect,” he reportedly “threw a trash can at them and then charged them with a knife.” When he shouted at them to “shoot me,” they evaded him. When they refused to fire their guns, he stabbed himself in the chest. The officers then tasered the man in order to subdue him.

So what’s the difference between the first three scenarios and the last, apart from the lack of overly aggressive policing or trigger-happy officers?

Ultimately, it comes down to training and accountability.

It’s the difference 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. It’s the difference between police trained to shoot to kill and police trained to resolve situations peacefully. Most of all, it’s the difference 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.

Battlefield_Cover_300Unfortunately, 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.

We’re approaching a breaking point.

This policing crisis is far more immediate and concerning than the government’s so-called war on terror or drugs.

So why isn’t more being done to address it?

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, there’s too much money at stake, for one, and too much power.

Those responsible for this policing crisis are none other than the police unions that are helping police officers evade accountability for wrongdoing; the police academies that are teaching police officers that their lives are more valuable than the lives of those they serve; a corporate military sector that is making a killing by selling military-grade weapons, equipment, technology and tactical training to domestic police agencies; a political establishment that is dependent on campaign support and funding from the powerful police unions; and a police state that is transforming police officers into extensions of the military in order to extend its reach and power.

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

It’s a tug-of-war between the constitutional republic America’s founders intended and the police state we are fast becoming.

As former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper recognizes, “Policing is broken. Tragically, it has been broken from the very beginning of the institution. It has evolved as a paramilitary, bureaucratic, organizational arrangement that distances police officers from the communities they’ve been sworn to protect and serve. When we have shooting after shooting after shooting that most people would define as at least questionable, it’s time to look, not just at a few bad apples, but the barrel. And I’m convinced that it is the barrel that is rotted.

So how do we fix what’s broken, stop the senseless shootings and bring about lasting reform?

For starters, stop with the scare tactics. In much the same way that American citizens are being cocooned in a climate of fear—fear of terrorism, fear of extremism, fear of each other—by a government that knows exactly which buttons to push in order to gain the public’s cooperation and compliance, police officers are also being indoctrinated with the psychology of fear.

“That isn’t the word used in law enforcement circles, of course,” explains law professor Seth Stoughton. “Vigilant, attentive, cautious, alert, or observant are the terms that appear most often in police publications. But make no mistake, officers don’t learn to be vigilant, attentive, cautious, alert, and observant just because it’s fun. They do so because they are afraid. Fear is ubiquitous in law enforcement… officers are constantly barraged with the message that that they should be afraid, that their survival depends on it.”

Writing for the Harvard Law Review, Stoughton continues:

From their earliest days in the academy, would-be officers are told that their prime objective, the proverbial “first rule of law enforcement,” is to go home at the end of every shift. But they are taught that they live in an intensely hostile world. A world that is, quite literally, gunning for them. As early as the first day of the police academy, the dangers officers face are depicted in graphic and heart-wrenching recordings that capture a fallen officer’s last moments. Death, they are told, is constantly a single, small misstep away.

Despite the propaganda being peddled by the government and police unions, police today experience less on-the-job fatalities than they ever have historically.

Second, level the playing field. Police are no more or less special than you or me. Their lives are no more valuable than any other citizen’s. Whether or not they wield a gun, police officers are public servants like all other government officials, which means that they work for us. They answer to us. We are their employers. While police are entitled to every protection afforded under the law, the same as any other citizen, they should not be afforded any special privileges. Most Americans, oblivious about their own rights, aren’t even aware that police officers have their own Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, which protects police officers from being subjected to the kinds of debilitating indignities heaped upon the average citizen and grants police officers accused of a crime with special due process rights and privileges not afforded to the average citizen.

Third, require that police officers be trained in non-lethal tactics. According to the New York Times, a survey of 281 police agencies found that the average young officer received 58 hours of firearms training and 49 hours of defensive tactical training, but only eight hours of de-escalation training. In fact, “The training regimens at nearly all of the nation’s police academies continue to emphasize military-style exercises, including significant hours spent practicing drill, formation and saluting.” If police officers are taking classes in how to shoot, maim and kill, shouldn’t they also be required to take part in annual seminars teaching de-escalation techniques and educating them about how to respect their fellow citizens’ constitutional rights, especially under the First and Fourth Amendments?

Congressional legislation has been introduced to require that police officers be trained in non-lethal force, go through crisis intervention training to help them deal with the mentally ill, and use the lowest level of force possible when responding to a threat. Unfortunately, the police unions are powerful and the politicians are greedy, and it remains unlikely that any such legislation will be adopted in a major election year.

Fourth, ditch the quasi-military obsession. Police forces were never intended to be standing armies. Yet with police agencies dressing like the military in camouflage and armor, training with the military, using military weapons, riding around in armored vehicles, recruiting military veterans, and even boasting military titles, one would be hard pressed to distinguish between the two. Still, it’s our job to make sure that we can distinguish between the two, and that means keeping the police in their place as civilians—non-military citizens—who are entrusted with protecting our rights.

Fifth, demilitarize. There are many examples of countries where police are not armed and dangerous, and they are no worse off for it. Indeed, their crime rates are low and their police officers are trained to view every citizen as precious. For all of the talk among politicians about gun violence and the need to enact legislation to make it more difficult for Americans to acquire weapons, little is being done to demilitarize and de-weaponize police. Indeed, President Obama is actually reconsidering his limited ban on the flow of military gear to police. The problem is not that police are in any greater danger than before. Rather, by dressing as warriors, they are acting like warriors and increasing the danger inherent in every police encounter.

Sixth, do away with the police warrior mindset in favor of a guardian approach. As Stoughton explains, “Counterintuitively, the warrior mentality … makes policing less safe for both officers and civilians.” It also creates avoidable violence by insisting on deference and compliance and “increases the risk that other officers face in other encounters.” The guardian approach, however, “prioritizes service over crimefighting… it instructs officers that their interactions with community members must be more than legally justified, they must also be empowering, fair, respectful, and considerate. The guardian mindset emphasizes communication over commands, cooperation over compliance, and legitimacy over authority. And in the use-of-force context, the Guardian emphasizes patience and restraint over control, stability over action.”

Seventh, stop making taxpayers pay for police abuses. Some communities are trying to require police to carry their own professional liability insurance. The logic is that if police had to pay out of pocket for their own wrongdoing, they might be more cautious and less inclined to shoot first and ask questions later.

Eighth, stop relying on technology to fix what’s wrong with the country. The body cameras haven’t stopped the police shootings, and they won’t as long the cameras can be turned on and off at will while the footage remains inaccessible to the public. One North Carolina police department is even testing out a pilot machine learning system that “learns to spot risk factors for unprofessional conduct” and then recommend that officer for early intervention. It sounds a lot like a pre-crime program, only aimed at police officers, which sends up its own warning signals.

Ninth, take a deep breath because change takes time. As Stoughton warns, “Earning public trust will take decades and require rethinking how officers are trained as well as the legal and administrative standards used to review police violence. It will require changing the very culture of policing by reaffirming that policing must be done with a community, not to a community.”

Tenth, stop being busybodies and snitches. Overcriminalization has partially fueled the drive to “police” everything from kids walking to the playground alone and backyard chicken coops to front yard vegetable gardens. But let’s start taking some responsibility for our own communities and stop turning every minor incident into a reason to call the police.

Finally, support due process for everyone, not just the people in your circle. Remember that you no longer have to be poor, black or guilty to be treated like a criminal in America. All that is required is that you belong to the suspect class—a.k.a. the citizenry—of the American police state. As a de facto member of this so-called criminal class, every U.S. citizen is now guilty until proven innocent.

You could be the next person who gets shot by a police officer for moving the wrong way during a traffic stop, running the wrong way in the vicinity of a police officer, or defending yourself against a home invasion when the police show up at the wrong address in the middle of the night. People have been wrongfully shot and killed for these exact reasons.

So stop judging and start holding your government officials accountable to ensuring that every American is granted due process of law, which means that no one can be deprived of “life, liberty or property” by a government official without certain fair and legal procedures being followed.

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There can be no justice in America when Americans are being killed, detained and robbed at gunpoint by government officials on the mere suspicion of wrongdoing.

Unfortunately, Americans have been so propagandized, politicized and polarized that many feel compelled to choose sides between defending the police at all costs or painting them as dangerously out-of-control. Nothing is ever that black and white, but there are a few things that we can be sure of: America is not a battlefield. American citizens are not enemy combatants. And police officers—no matter how courageous—are not soldiers.

Therein lies the problem: 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. This way lies madness.

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.

Something must be done and soon.

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.

The best way to beat the police state: don’t play by their rules.

Make them play by ours instead.

________

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His 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. 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 unborn person doesn’t have constitutional rights.”—Hillary Clinton, Meet the Press (April 3, 2016)

When presidential candidate Hillary Clinton declares that unborn babies do not have constitutional rights, she’s not just spouting partisan rhetoric in the heated national debate over abortion. She’s providing us with a glimpse into an increasingly troubling mindset among government officials who believe that the government not only has the power to determine who is deserving of constitutional rights in the eyes of the law but also has the authority to deny those rights to an American citizen.

The unborn are not the only persons being denied their rights under the Constitution.

American families who have their dogs shot, their homes trashed and their children terrorized or, worse, killed by errant SWAT team raids in the middle of the night are being denied their rights under the Constitution.

Disabled individuals who are being strip searched, handcuffed, arrested and “diagnosed” by police as dangerous or mentally unstable merely because they stutter and walk unevenly are being denied their rights under the Constitution.

School-aged children as young as 4-years-old who are leg shackled, handcuffed and strip searched for violating school zero tolerance policies by chewing a Pop Tart into the shape of a gun and playing an imaginary game of cops and robbers, or engaging in childish behavior such as crying or jumping are being denied their rights under the Constitution.

Unarmed citizens who are tasered or shot by police for daring to hesitate, stutter, move a muscle, flee or disagree in any way with a police order are being denied their rights under the Constitution.

Likewise, Americans—young and old alike—who are shot by police because they pointed a garden hose at a police officer, reached for their registration in their glove box, relied upon a cane to steady themselves, or were seen playing with air rifles or BB guns are being denied their rights under the Constitution.

Female motorists who are unlucky enough to be pulled over for a questionable traffic infraction only to be subjected by police to cavity searches by the side of the road are being denied their rights under the Constitution.

Male pedestrians and motorists alike who are being subjected to roadside strip searches and rectal probes by police based largely on the color of their skin are being denied their rights under the Constitution.

American citizens subjected to government surveillance whereby their phone calls are being listened in on, their mail and text messages read, their movements tracked and their transactions monitored are being denied their rights under the Constitution. The same goes for individuals who are being denied access to body camera footage of their interactions with police, school officials and even medical professionals.

Homeowners who are being fined and arrested for raising chickens in their backyard, allowing the grass in their front yards to grow too long, and holding Bible studies in their homes are being denied their rights under the Constitution.

Decorated military veterans who are being arrested for criticizing the government on social media such as Facebook are being denied their rights under the Constitution.

Homeless individuals who are being harassed, arrested and run out of towns by laws that criminalize homelessness are being denied their rights under the Constitution.

Individuals whose DNA has been forcibly collected and entered into federal and state law enforcement databaseswhether or not they have been convicted of any crime are being denied their rights under the Constitution.

Drivers whose license plates are being scanned, uploaded to a police database and used to map their movements, whether or not they are suspected of any crime, are being denied their rights under the Constitution. The same goes fordrivers who are being ticketed for running afoul of red light cameras without any real opportunity to defend themselves against such a charge are being denied their rights under the Constitution.

Protesters and activists who are being labeled domestic terrorists and extremists and accused of hate crimes for speaking freely are being denied their rights under the Constitution. Likewise, American citizens who being targeted for assassination by drone strikes abroad without having been charged, tried and convicted of treason are being denied their rights under the Constitution.

Hard-working Americans whose bank accounts, homes, cars, electronics and cash are seized by police (operating according to asset forfeiture schemes that provide profit incentives for highway robbery) are being denied their rights under the Constitution.

So what is the common denominator here?

These are all American citizens—endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, rights that no man or government can take away from them, among these the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—and they are all being oppressed in one way or another by a government that has grown drunk on power, money and its own authority.

If the government—be it the President, Congress, the courts or any federal, state or local agent or agency—can decide that any person has no rights, then that person becomes less than a citizen, less than human, less than deserving of respect, dignity, civility and bodily integrity. He or she becomes an it, a faceless number that can be tallied and tracked, a quantifiable mass of cells that can be discarded without conscience, an expendable cost that can be written off without a second thought, or an animal that can be bought, sold, branded, chained, caged, bred, neutered and euthanized at will.

It’s a slippery slope that justifies all manner of violations in the name of national security, the interest of the state and the so-called greater good.

Yet those who founded this country believed that what we conceive of as our rights were given to us by God—we are created equal, according to the nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence—and that government cannot create nor can they extinguish our God-given rights. To do so would be to anoint the government with god-like powers and elevate it above the citizenry.

Battlefield_Cover_300Unfortunately, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we have been dancing with this particular devil for quite some time now, allowing the government to dictate to us, rather than “we the people” giving marching orders to those whose paychecks are funded with taxpayer dollars.

If we continue to wait for the government to restore our freedoms, respect our rights, rein in its abuses and restrain its agents from riding roughshod over our lives, our liberty and our happiness, then we will be waiting forever.

So what is the answer?

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor,” warned Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated 48 years ago on April 4, 1968. “It must be demanded by the oppressed.”

But how do we demand freedom from our oppressor?

Start by studying history. Take note of the movements that succeeded and the ones that failed. Adopt the tactics of those who successfully brought about reform through nonviolent resistance. Think nationally, but act locally. If you’re not prepared to challenge injustice in your own community, when it happens in your own backyard, then there can be no hope for reining in the government’s abuses at the national level.

Most of all, stop giving the government the power to play god—all-knowing, all-seeing and all-powerful—and start putting it in its rightful place as our servant: an institution that derives its powers from the consent of the governed (“we the people”) whose primary purpose is to safeguard our rights.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”—George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Vol. 1

In Harold Ramis’ classic 1993 comedy Groundhog Day, TV weatherman Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) is forced to live the same day over and over again until he not only gains some insight into his life but changes his priorities.

Battlefield_Cover_300Similarly, as I illustrate in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we in the emerging American police state find ourselves reliving the same set of circumstances over and over again—egregious surveillance, strip searches, police shootings of unarmed citizens, government spying, the criminalization of lawful activities, war-mongering, etc.—although with far fewer moments of comic hilarity.

What remains to be seen is whether 2016 will bring more of the same or whether “we the people” will wake up from our somnambulant states. Indeed, when it comes to civil liberties and freedom, 2015 was far from a banner year.

The following is just a sampling of what we can look forward to repeating if we don’t find some way to push back against the menace of an overreaching, aggressive, invasive, militarized surveillance state.

More surveillance. The surveillance state is alive and well and kicking privacy to shreds in America. Whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, will still be listening in and tracking your behavior. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the corporate trackers that monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere. We are now in a state of transition with the police state shifting into high-gear under the auspices of the surveillance state. In such an environment, we are all suspects to be spied on, searched, scanned, frisked, monitored, tracked and treated as if we’re potentially guilty of some wrongdoing or other. Even our homes provide little protection against government intrusions. Police agencies, already empowered to crash through your door if they suspect you’re up to no good, now have radars that allow them to “see” through the walls of your home.

More militarized police. Americans will continue to be rendered powerless in the face of militarized police. In early America, government agents were not permitted to enter one’s home without permission or in a deceitful manner. And citizens could resist arrest when a police officer tried to restrain them without proper justification or a warrant. Daring to dispute a warrant with a police official today who is armed with high-tech military weapons would be nothing short of suicidal. Moreover, as police forces across the country continue to be transformed into extensions of the military, Americans are finding their once-peaceful communities transformed into military outposts, complete with tanks, weaponry, and other equipment designed for the battlefield. Having already transformed local police into extensions of the military, now the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the FBI are preparing to turn the nation’s police officers into techno-warriors, complete with iris scanners, body scanners, thermal imaging Doppler radar devices, facial recognition programs, license plate readers, cell phone Stingray devices and so much more.

More police shootings of unarmed citizens. Owing in large part to the militarization of local law enforcement agencies, not a week goes by without more reports of hair-raising incidents by police imbued with a take-no-prisoners attitude and a battlefield approach to the communities in which they serve.

More so-called “terrorist” attacks. Despite the government’s endless propaganda about the threat of terrorism and even in the wake of the shootings in San Bernardino and Paris, statistics show that you are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack. You are 11,000 times more likely to die from an airplane accident than from a terrorist plot involving an airplane. You are 1,048 times more likely to die from a car accident than a terrorist attack. You are 404 times more likely to die in a fall than from a terrorist attack. And you are 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist.

More costly wars. The military industrial complex that has advocated that the U.S. remain at war, year after year, is the very entity that will continue to profit the most from America’s expanding military empire. The U.S. Department of Defense is the world’s largest employer, with more than 3.2 million employees. Thus far, the U.S. taxpayer has been made to shell out more than $1.6 trillion to wage wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. When you add in our military efforts in Pakistan, as well as the lifetime price of health care for disabled veterans and interest on the national debt, that cost rises to $4.4 trillion.

More attempts by the government to identify, target and punish so-called domestic “extremists.” In much the same way that the USA Patriot Act was used as a front to advance the surveillance state, the government’s anti-extremism program will, in many cases, be utilized to render otherwise lawful, nonviolent activities as potentially extremist. To this end, police will identify, monitor and deter individuals who exhibit, express or engage in anything that could be construed as extremist before they can become actual threats. This is pre-crime on an ideological scale and it’s been a long time coming. Moreover, under the guise of fighting violent extremism “in all of its forms and manifestations” in cities and communities across the world, the Obama administration has agreed to partner with the United Nations to take part in its Strong Cities Network program and hire a domestic extremism czar.

More SWAT team raids. 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, kill citizens, 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.

More erosions of private property. Private property means little at a time when SWAT teams and other government agents can invade your home, break down your doors, kill your dog, wound or kill you, damage your furnishings and terrorize your family. Likewise, if government officials can fine and arrest you for growing vegetables in your front yard, praying with friends in your living room, installing solar panels on your roof, and raising chickens in your backyard, you’re no longer the owner of your property.

More debt. Currently, the national debt is somewhere in the vicinity of a whopping $18.1 trillion and rising that our government owes to foreign countries, private corporations and its retirement programs. Not only is the U.S. the largest debtor nation in the world, but according to Forbes, “the amount of interest on the national debt is estimated to be accumulating at a rate of over one million dollars per minute.”

More government contractors. Despite all the talk about big and small government, what we have been saddled with is a government that is outsourcing much of its work to high-paid contractors at great expense to the taxpayer and with no competition, little transparency and dubious savings. According to the Washington Post, “By some estimates, there aretwice as many people doing government work under contract than there are government workers.” These open-ended contracts, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, “now account for anywhere between one quarter and one half of all federal service contracting.”

More overcriminalization. The government’s tendency towards militarization and overcriminalization, in which routine, everyday behaviors become targets of regulation and prohibition, have resulted in Americans getting arrested for making and selling unpasteurized goat cheese, cultivating certain types of orchids, feeding a whale, holding Bible studies in their homes, and picking their kids up from school.

More strip searches and the denigration of bodily integrity. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was intended to protect the citizenry from being subjected to “unreasonable searches and seizures” by government agents. While the literal purpose of the amendment is to protect our property and our bodies from unwarranted government intrusion, the moral intention behind it is to protect our human dignity. Unfortunately, court rulings undermining the Fourth Amendment and justifying invasive strip searches have left us powerless against police empowered to forcefully draw our blood, forcibly take our DNA, strip search us, and probe us intimately. Accounts are on the rise of individuals—men and women alike—being subjected to what is essentially government-sanctioned rape by police in the course of “routine” traffic stops.

More injustice. Americans can no longer rely on the courts to mete out justice. The courts were established to intervene and protect the people against the government and its agents when they overstep their bounds. Yet the courts increasingly march in lockstep with the police state, while concerned themselves primarily with advancing the government’s agenda, no matter how unjust or illegal. As a result, Americans have no protection against police abuse. It is no longer unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later. What is increasingly common, however, is the news that the officers involved in these incidents get off with little more than a slap on the hands.

More political spectacles. Americans continue to naively buy into the idea that politics matter, as if there really were a difference between the Republicans and Democrats (there’s not). As if Barack Obama proved to be any different from George W. Bush (he has not). As if Hillary Clinton’s values are any different from Donald Trump’s (with both of them, money talks). As if when we elect a president, we’re getting someone who truly represents “we the people” rather than the corporate state (in fact, in the oligarchy that is the American police state, an elite group of wealthy donors is calling the shots). Politics in America is a game, a joke, a hustle, a con, a distraction, a spectacle, a sport, and for many devout Americans, a religion. In other words, it’s a sophisticated ruse aimed at keeping us divided and fighting over two parties whose priorities are exactly the same.

More drones. As corporations and government agencies alike prepare for their part in the coming drone invasion—it is expected that at least 30,000 drones will occupy U.S. airspace by 2020, ushering in a $30 billion per year industry—it won’t be long before American citizens who will be the target of these devices discover first-hand that drones—unmanned aerial vehicles—come in all shapes and sizes, from nano-sized drones as small as a grain of sand that can do everything from conducting surveillance to detonating explosive charges, to middle-sized copter drones that can deliver pizzas to massive “hunter/killer” Predator warships that unleash firepower from on high.

More dumbed down, locked down public schools. Our schools have become training grounds for compliant citizens. Despite the fact that we spend more than most of the world on education ($115,000 per student), we rank 36th in the world when it comes to math, reading and science, far below most of our Asian counterparts. Even so, we continue to insist on standardized programs such as Common Core, which teach students to be test-takers rather than thinkers. Making matters worse is the heavy police presence in schools, which have become little more than quasi-prisons in which classrooms are locked down and kids as young as age 4 are being handcuffed for “acting up,” subjected to body searches, and suspended for childish behavior.

More ignorance about our rights. Americans know little to nothing about their rights or how the government is supposed to operate. This includes educators and politicians. For example, 27 percent of elected officials cannot name even one right or freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment, while 54 percent do not know the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war.

More prisons. Our prisons, housing the largest number of inmates in the world and still growing, have become money-making enterprises for private corporations that manage the prisons in exchange for the states agreeing to maintain a 90% occupancy rate for at least 20 years. And how do you keep the prisons full? By passing laws aimed at increasing the prison population, including the imposition of life sentences on people who commit minor or nonviolent crimes such as siphoning gasoline. Little surprise, then, that the United States has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners.

More corruption. If there is any absolute maxim by which the federal government seems to operate, it is that the American taxpayer always gets ripped off. This is true, whether you’re talking about taxpayers being forced to fund high-priced weaponry that will be used against us, endless wars that do little for our safety or our freedoms, or bloated government agencies such as the National Security Agency with its secret budgets, covert agendas and clandestine activities. Rubbing salt in the wound, even monetary awards in lawsuits against government officials who are found guilty of wrongdoing are paid by the taxpayer.

More censorship. First Amendment activities are being pummeled, punched, kicked, choked, chained and generally gagged all across the country. The reasons for such censorship vary widely from political correctness, safety concerns and bullying to national security and hate crimes but the end result remains the same: the complete eradication of what Benjamin Franklin referred to as the “principal pillar of a free government.” Free speech zones, bubble zones, trespass zones, anti-bullying legislation, zero tolerance policies, hate crime laws and a host of other legalistic maladies dreamed up by politicians and prosecutors have conspired to corrode our core freedoms. As a result, we are no longer a nation of constitutional purists for whom the Bill of Rights serves as the ultimate authority. We have litigated and legislated our way into a new governmental framework where the dictates of petty bureaucrats carry greater weight than the inalienable rights of the citizenry.

More fascism. As a Princeton University survey indicates, our elected officials, especially those in the nation’s capital, represent the interests of the rich and powerful rather than the average citizen. We are no longer a representative republic. With Big Business and Big Government having fused into a corporate state, the president and his state counterparts—the governors, have become little more than CEOs of the Corporate State, which day by day is assuming more government control over our lives. Never before have average Americans had so little say in the workings of their government and even less access to their so-called representatives.

More fear. We’re being fed a constant diet of fear, which has resulted in Americans adopting an “us” against “them” mindset that keeps us divided into factions, unable to reach consensus about anything and too distracted to notice the police state closing in on us.

James Madison, the father of the Constitution, put it best: “Take alarm,” he warned, “at the first experiment with liberties.” Anyone with even a casual knowledge about current events knows that the first experiment on our freedoms happened long ago. Worse, we have not heeded the warnings of Madison and those like him who understood that if you give the government an inch, they will take a mile. Unfortunately, the government has not only taken a mile, they have taken mile after mile after mile after mile with seemingly no end in sight for their power grabs.

If you’re in the business of making New Year’s resolutions, why not resolve that 2016 will be the year we break the cycle of tyranny and get back on the road to freedom? No matter what the politicians say about the dire state of our nation, you can rest assured that none of the problems that continue to plague our lives and undermine our freedoms will be resolved by our so-called elected representatives in any credible, helpful way in the new year.

“We the people”—the citizenry, not the politicians—are the only ones who have ever been able to enact effective change, and there is a lot that needs to change.

All of the signs point to something nasty up ahead.