Posts Tagged ‘police’

“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

They shot at him fourteen times.

Walter Wallace Jr.—a troubled 27-year-old black man with a criminal history and mental health issues—was no saint. Still, he didn’t deserve to die in a hail of bullets fired by two police officers who clearly had not been adequately trained in how to de-escalate encounters with special needs individuals.

Wallace wasn’t unarmed—he was reportedly holding a knife when police confronted him—yet neither cop attempted to use non-lethal weapons on Wallace, who appeared to be in the midst of a mental health crisis. In fact, neither cop even possessed a taser. Wallace, fired upon repeatedly by both officers, was hit in the shoulder and chest and pronounced dead at the hospital.

Wallace’s death is yet one more grim statistic to add to that growing list of Americans—unarmed, impaired or experiencing a mental health crisis—who have been killed by police trained to shoot first and ask questions later.

It’s also a powerful reminder to 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.

There are some things that don’t change. Even as the nation grapples with the twin distractions of political theater and a viral pandemic, there are still deadlier forces at play.

This is one of them.

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

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 last year, 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 ongoing 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. (People of color are three times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts.) If you’re black and disabled, you’re even more vulnerable.

A study by the Ruderman Family Foundation 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.”

Increasingly, funds are being directed towards technologies that support predictive policing and behavioral and health surveillance. For instance, HARPA (a healthcare counterpart to the Pentagon’s research and development arm DARPA) would take the lead in identifying and targeting “signs” of mental illness or violent inclinations among the populace by using artificial intelligence to collect data from Apple Watches, Fitbits, Amazon Echo and Google Home. The Trump Administration has already awarded contracts worth $22.8 million to seven major corporations to develop artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning connected to smartphone apps, wearable devices and software that can identify and trace contacts of “infected individuals,” keep track of “verified” COVID-19 test results, and monitor the health states of infected and “potentially” infected individuals.

It wouldn’t take much for these nascent predictive programs to give rise to healthcare versions of red flag gun laws, which allows the government to preemptively take action against individuals who may be perceived as potential threats. Where the problem arises is when you put the power to determine who is a potential danger in the hands of government agencies, the courts and the police.

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/3nthWCf

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.

“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”—George Orwell, 1984

Once upon a time in America, parents breathed a sigh of relief when their kids went back to school after a summer’s hiatus, content in the knowledge that for a good portion of the day, their kids would be gainfully occupied, out of harm’s way, and out of trouble.

Back then, if you talked back to a teacher, or played a prank on a classmate, or just failed to do your homework, you might find yourself in detention or doing an extra writing assignment after school or suffering through a parent-teacher conference about your shortcomings.

Of course, that was before school shootings became a part of our national lexicon.

As a result, over the course of the past 30 years, the need to keep the schools “safe” from drugs and weapons has become a thinly disguised, profit-driven campaign to transform them into quasi-prisons, complete with surveillance cameras, metal detectors, police patrols, zero tolerance policies, lock downs, drug sniffing dogs, school resource officers, strip searches, and active shooter drills.

Suddenly, under school zero tolerance policies, students were being punished with suspension, expulsion, and even arrest for childish behavior and minor transgressions such as playing cops and robbers on the playground, bringing LEGOs to school, or having a food fight.

Things got even worse once schools started to rely on police (school resource officers) to “deal with minor rule breaking: sagging pants, disrespectful comments, brief physical skirmishes.”

As a result, students are being subjected to police tactics such as handcuffs, leg shackles, tasers and excessive force for “acting up,” in addition to being ticketed, fined and sent to court for behavior perceived as defiant, disruptive or disorderly such as spraying perfume and writing on a desk.

This is what constitutes a police state education these days: lessons in compliance meted out with aggressive, totalitarian tactics.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added yet another troubling layer to the ways in which students (and their families) can run afoul of a police state education now that school (virtual or in-person) is back in session.

Significant numbers of schools within the nation’s 13,000 school districts have opted to hold their classes online, in-person or a hybrid of the two, fearing further outbreaks of the virus. Yet this unprecedented foray into the virtual world carries its own unique risks.

Apart from the technological logistics of ensuring that millions of students across the country have adequate computer and internet access, consider the Fourth Amendment ramifications of having students attend school online via video classes from the privacy of their homes.

Suddenly, you’ve got government officials (in this case, teachers or anyone at the school on the other end of that virtual connection) being allowed carte blanche visual access to the inside of one’s private home without a warrant.

Anything those school officials see—anything they hear—anything they photograph or record—during that virtual visit becomes fair game for scrutiny and investigation not just by school officials but by every interconnected government agency to which that information can be relayed: the police, social services, animal control, the Department of Homeland Security, you name it.

After all, this is the age of overcriminalization, when the federal criminal code is so vast that the average American unknowingly commits about three federal felonies per day, a U.S. Attorney can find a way to charge just about anyone with violating federal law.

It’s a train wreck just waiting to happen.

In fact, we’re already seeing this play out across the country. For instance, a 12-year-old Colorado boy was suspended for flashing a toy gun across his computer screen during an online art class. Without bothering to notify or consult with the boy’s parents, police carried out a welfare check on Isaiah Elliott, who suffers from ADHD and learning disabilities.

An 11-year-old Maryland boy had police descend on his home in search of weapons after school officials spied a BB gun on the boy’s bedroom wall during a Google Meet class on his laptop. School officials reported the sighting to the school resource officer, who then called the police.

And in New York and Massachusetts, growing numbers of parents are being visited by social services after being reported to the state child neglect and abuse hotline, all because their kids failed to sign in for some of their online classes. Charges of neglect, in some instances, can lead to children being removed from their homes.

You see what this is, don’t you?

This is how a seemingly well-meaning program (virtual classrooms) becomes another means by which the government can intrude into our private lives, further normalizing the idea of constant surveillance and desensitizing us to the dangers of an existence in which we are never safe from the all-seeing eyes of Big Brother.

This is how the police sidestep the Fourth Amendment’s requirement for probable cause and a court-issued warrant in order to spy us on in the privacy of our homes: by putting school officials in a position to serve as spies and snitches via online portals and virtual classrooms, and by establishing open virtual doorways into our homes through which the police can enter uninvited and poke around.

Welfare checks. Police searches for weapons. Reports to Social Services.

It’s only a matter of time before the self-righteous Nanny State uses this COVID-19 pandemic as yet another means by which it can dictate every aspect of our lives.

At the moment, it’s America’s young people who are the guinea pigs for the police state’s experiment in virtual authoritarianism. Already, school administrators are wrestling with how to handle student discipline for in-person classes and online learning in the midst of COVID-19.

Mark my words, this will take school zero tolerance policies—and their associated harsh disciplinary penalties—to a whole new level once you have teachers empowered to act as the Thought Police.

As Kalyn Belsha reports for Chalkbeat, “In Jacksonville, Florida, students who don’t wear a mask repeatedly could be removed from school and made to learn online. In some Texas districts, intentionally coughing on someone can be classified as assault. In Memphis, minor misbehaviors could land students in an online ‘supervised study.’”

Depending on the state and the school district, failing to wear a face mask could constitute a dress code violation. In Utah, not wearing a face mask at school constitutes a criminal misdemeanor. In Texas, it’s considered an assault to intentionally spit, sneeze, or cough on someone else. Anyone removing their mask before spitting or coughing could be given a suspension from school.

Virtual learning presents its own challenges with educators warning dire consequences for students who violate school standards for dress code and work spaces, even while “learning” at home. According to Chalkbeat, “In Shelby County, Tennessee, which includes Memphis, that means no pajamas, hats, or hoods on screen, and students’ shirts must have sleeves. (The district is providing ‘flexibility’ on clothing bottoms and footwear when a student’s full body won’t be seen on video.) Other rules might be even tougher to follow: The district is also requiring students’ work stations to be clear of ‘foreign objects’ and says students shouldn’t eat or drink during virtual classes.”

See how quickly the Nanny State a.k.a. Police State takes over?

All it takes for you to cease being the master of your own home is to have a child engaged in virtual learning. Suddenly, the government gets to have a say in how you order your space and when those in your home can eat and drink and what clothes they wear.

If you think the schools won’t overreact in a virtual forum, you should think again.

These are the same schools that have been plagued by a lack of common sense when it comes to enforcing zero tolerance policies for weapons, violence and drugs.

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

Zero tolerance policies that were intended to make schools safer by discouraging the use of actual drugs and weapons by students have turned students into suspects to be treated as criminals by school officials and law enforcement alike, while criminalizing childish behavior.

For instance, 9-year-old Patrick Timoney was sent to the principal’s office and threatened with suspension after school officials discovered that one of his LEGOs was holding a 2-inch toy gun. David Morales, an 8-year-old Rhode Island student, ran afoul of his school’s zero tolerance policies after he wore a hat to school decorated with an American flag and tiny plastic Army figures in honor of American troops. School officials declared the hat out of bounds because the toy soldiers were carrying miniature guns.

A high school sophomore was suspended for violating the school’s no-cell-phone policy after he took a call from his father, a master sergeant in the U.S. Army who was serving in Iraq at the time. In Houston, an 8th grader was suspended for wearing rosary beads to school in memory of her grandmother (the school has a zero tolerance policy against the rosary, which the school insists can be interpreted as a sign of gang involvement).

Even imaginary weapons (hand-drawn pictures of guns, pencils twirled in a “threatening” manner, imaginary bows and arrows, even fingers positioned like guns) can also land a student in detention. Equally outrageous was the case in New Jersey where several kindergartners were suspended from school for three days for playing a make-believe game of “cops and robbers” during recess and using their fingers as guns.

With the distinctions between student offenses erased, and all offenses expellable, we now find ourselves in the midst of what Time magazine described as a “national crackdown on Alka-Seltzer.” Students have actually been suspended from school for possession of the fizzy tablets in violation of zero tolerance drug policies. Students have also been penalized for such inane “crimes” as bringing nail clippers to school, using Listerine or Scope, and carrying fold-out combs that resemble switchblades.

A 13-year-old boy in Manassas, Virginia, who accepted a Certs breath mint from a classmate, was actually suspended and required to attend drug-awareness classes, while a 12-year-old boy who said he brought powdered sugar to school for a science project was charged with a felony for possessing a look-alike drug.

Acts of kindness, concern, basic manners or just engaging in childish behavior can also result in suspensions.

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

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

Things get even worse when you add police to the mix.

Thanks to a combination of media hype, political pandering and financial incentives, the use of armed police officers (a.k.a. school resource officers) to patrol school hallways has risen dramatically in the years since the Columbine school shooting (nearly 20,000 by 2003). What this means, notes Mother Jones, is greater police “involvement in routine discipline matters that principals and parents used to address without involvement from law enforcement officers.”

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

The horror stories are legion.

One SRO is accused of punching a 13-year-old student in the face for cutting in the cafeteria line. That same cop put another student in a chokehold a week later, allegedly knocking the student unconscious and causing a brain injury.

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

A 12-year-old New York student was hauled out of school in handcuffs for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker. Another 12-year-old was handcuffed and jailed after he stomped in a puddle, splashing classmates.

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

In almost every case, these undeniably harsh methods are used to punish kids for simply failing to follow directions or throwing tantrums.

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

For example, a 4-year-old Virginia preschooler was handcuffed, leg shackled and transported to the sheriff’s office after reportedly throwing blocks and climbing on top of the furniture. School officials claim the restraints were necessary to protect the adults from injury.

6-year-old kindergarten student in a Georgia public school was handcuffed, transported to the police station, and charged with simple battery of a schoolteacher and criminal damage to property for throwing a temper tantrum at school.

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

Yet these police state tactics did not made the schools any safer.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, police state tactics never make anyone safer so much as they present the illusion of safety and indoctrinate the populace to comply, fear and march in lockstep with the government’s dictates.

Now with virtual learning in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, the stakes are even higher.

It won’t be long before you start to see police carrying out knock-and-talk investigations based on whatever speculative information is gleaned from those daily virtual classroom sessions that allow government officials entry to your homes in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

It won’t take much at all for SWAT teams to start crashing through doors based on erroneous assumptions about whatever mistaken “contraband” someone may have glimpsed in the background of a virtual classroom session: a maple leaf that looks like marijuana, a jar of sugar that looks like cocaine, a toy gun, someone playfully shouting for help in the distance.

This may sound far-fetched now, but it’s only a matter of time before this slippery slope becomes yet another mile marker on the one-way road to tyranny.

Source: https://bit.ly/3klV46g

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.

 

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

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

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

It’s happened before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It happens all the time.

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

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

You’d be wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There have been a few notable exceptions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monetary awards like that are the exception, however.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

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

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission

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

 

I don’t need invitations by the state, state mayors, or state governors, to do our job. We’re going to do that, whether they like us there or not.”—Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf’s defense of the Trump Administration’s deployment of militarized federal police to address civil unrest in the states

This is a wake-up call.

What is unfolding before our very eyes—with police agencies defying local governments in order to tap into the power of federal militarized troops in order to put down domestic unrest—could very quickly snowball into an act of aggression against the states, a coup by armed, militarized agents of the federal government.

At a minimum, this is an attack on the Tenth Amendment, which affirms the sovereignty of the states and the citizenry, and the right of the states to stand as a bulwark against overreach and power grabs by the federal government.

If you’re still deluding yourself into believing that this thinly-veiled exercise in martial law is anything other than an attempt to bulldoze what remains of the Constitution and reinforce the iron-fisted rule of the police state, you need to stop drinking the Kool-Aid.

This is no longer about partisan politics or civil unrest or even authoritarian impulses.

This is a turning point.

Unless we take back the reins—and soon—looking back on this time years from now, historians may well point to the events of 2020 as the death blow to America’s short-lived experiment in self-government.

The government’s recent actions in Portland, Oregon—when unidentified federal agents (believed to be border police, ICE and DHS agents), wearing military fatigues with patches that just say “Police” and sporting all kinds of weapons, descended uninvited on the city in unmarked vehicles, snatching protesters off the streets and detaining them without formally arresting them or offering any explanation of why they’re being held—is just a foretaste of what’s to come.

One of those detainees was a 53-year-old disabled Navy veteran who was in downtown Portland during the protests but not a participant. Concerned about the tactics being used by government agents who had taken an oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution, Christopher David tried to speak the “secret” police. Almost immediately, he was assaulted by federal agents, beaten with batons and pepper sprayed

Another peaceful protester was reportedly shot in the head with an impact weapon by this federal goon squad.

The Trump Administration has already announced its plans to deploy these border patrol agents to other cities across the country (Chicago is supposedly next) in an apparent bid to put down civil unrest. Yet the overriding concerns by state and local government officials to Trump’s plans suggest that weaponizing the DHS as an occupying army will only provoke more violence and unrest.

We’ve been set up.

Under the guise of protecting federal properties against civil unrest, the Trump Administration has formed a task force of secret agents who look, dress and act like military stormtroopers on a raid and have been empowered to roam cities in unmarked vehicles, snatching citizens off the streets, whether or not they’ve been engaged in illegal activities.

As the Guardian reports, “The incidents being described sound eerily reminiscent of the CIA’s post-9/11 rendition program under George W Bush, where intelligence agents would roll up in unmarked vans in foreign countries, blindfold terrorism suspects (many of whom turned to be innocent) and kidnap them without explanation. Only instead of occurring on the streets of Italy or the Middle East, it’s happening in downtown Portland.”

The so-called racial justice activists who have made looting, violence, vandalism and intimidation tactics the hallmarks of their protests have played right into the government’s hands

They have delivered all of us into the police state’s hands.

There’s a reason Trump has tapped the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection for this dirty business: these agencies are notorious for their lawlessness, routinely sidestepping the Constitution and trampling on the rights of anyone who gets in their way, including legal citizens.

Indeed, it was only a matter of time before these roving bands of border patrol agents began flexing their muscles far beyond the nation’s borders and exercising their right to disregard the Constitution at every turn.

Except these border patrol cops aren’t just disregarding the Constitution.

They’re trampling all over the Constitution, especially the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits the government from carrying out egregious warrantless searches and seizures without probable cause.

As part of the government’s so-called crackdown on illegal immigration, drugs and trafficking, its border patrol cops have been expanding their reach, roaming further afield and subjecting greater numbers of Americans to warrantless searches, ID checkpoints, transportation checks, and even surveillance on private property far beyond the boundaries of the borderlands.

That so-called border, once a thin borderline, has become an ever-thickening band spreading deeper and deeper inside the country.

Now, with this latest salvo by the Trump administration in its so-called crackdown on rioting and civil unrest, America itself is about to become a Constitution-free zone where freedom is off-limits and government agents have all the power and “we the people” have none.

The Customs and Border Protection (CBP), with its more than 60,000 employees, supplemented by the National Guard and the U.S. military, is an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, a national police force imbued with all the brutality, ineptitude and corruption such a role implies.

As journalist Todd Miller explains:

In these vast domains, Homeland Security authorities can institute roving patrols with broad, extra-constitutional powers backed by national security, immigration enforcement and drug interdiction mandates. There, the Border Patrol can set up traffic checkpoints and fly surveillance drones overhead with high-powered cameras and radar that can track your movements. Within twenty-five miles of the international boundary, CBP agents can enter a person’s private property without a warrant.

Just about every nefarious deed, tactic or thuggish policy advanced by the government today can be traced back to the DHS, its police state mindset, and the billions of dollars it distributes to local police agencies in the form of grants to transform them into extensions of the military.

As Miller points out, the government has turned the nation’s expanding border regions into “a ripe place to experiment with tearing apart the Constitution, a place where not just undocumented border-crossers, but millions of borderland residents have become the targets of continual surveillance.”

In much the same way that police across the country have been schooled in the art of sidestepping the Constitution, border cops have also been drilled in the art of “anything goes” in the name of national security.

In fact, according to FOIA documents shared with The Interceptborder cops even have a checklist of “possible behaviors” that warrant overriding the Constitution and subjecting individuals—including American citizens—to stops, searches, seizures, interrogations and even arrests.

For instance, if you’re driving a vehicle that to a border cop looks unusual in some way, you can be stopped. If your passengers look dirty or unusual, you can be stopped. If you or your passengers avoid looking at a cop, you can be stopped. If you or your passengers look too long at a cop, you can be stopped.

If you’re anywhere near a border (near being within 100 miles of a border, or in a city, or on a bus, or at an airport), you can be stopped and asked to prove you’re legally allowed to be in the country. If you’re traveling on a public road that smugglers and other criminals may have traveled, you can be stopped.

If you’re not driving in the same direction as other cars, you can be stopped. If you appear to be avoiding a police checkpoint, you can be stopped. If your car appears to be weighed down, you can be stopped. If your vehicle is from out of town, wherever that might be, you can be stopped. If you’re driving a make of car that criminal-types have also driven, you can be stopped.

If your car appears to have been altered or modified, you can be stopped. If the cargo area in your vehicle is covered, you can be stopped.

If you’re driving during a time of day or night that border cops find suspicious, you can be stopped. If you’re driving when border cops are changing shifts, you can be stopped. If you’re driving in a motorcade or with another vehicle, you can be stopped. If your car appears dusty, you can be stopped.

If people with you are trying to avoid being seen, or exhibiting “unusual” behavior, you can be stopped. If you slow down after seeing a cop, you can be stopped.

In Portland, which is 400 miles from the border, protesters didn’t even have to be near federal buildings to be targeted. Some claimed to be targeted for simply wearing black clothing in the area of the demonstration.

Are you starting to get the picture yet?

This was never about illegal aliens and border crossings at all. It’s been a test to see how far “we the people” will allow the government to push the limits of the Constitution.

We’ve been failing this particular test for a long time now.

It was 1798 when Americans, their fears stoked by rumblings of a Quasi-War with France, failed to protest the Alien and Sedition Acts, which criminalized anti-government speech, empowered the government to deport “dangerous” non-citizens and made it harder for immigrants to vote.

During the Civil War, Americans went along when Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus (the right to a speedy trial) and authorized government officials to spy on Americans’ mail.

During World War I, Americans took it in stride when  President Woodrow Wilson and Congress adopted the Espionage and Sedition Acts, which made it a crime to interfere with the war effort and criminalized any speech critical of war.

By World War II, Americans were marching in lockstep with the government’s expanding war powers to imprison Japanese-American citizens in detainment camps, censor mail, and lay the groundwork for the future surveillance state.

Fast-forward to the Cold War’s Red Scares, the McCarthy era’s hearings on un-American activities, and the government’s surveillance of Civil Rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr.—all done in the name of national security.

By the time 9/11 rolled around, all George W. Bush had to do was claim the country was being invaded by terrorists, and the government was given greater powers to spy, search, detain and arrest American citizens in order to keep America safe.

The terrorist invasion never really happened, but the government kept its newly acquired police powers made possible by the nefarious USA Patriot Act.

Barack Obama continued Bush’s trend of undermining the Constitution, going so far as to give the military the power to strip Americans of their constitutional rights, label them extremists, and detain them indefinitely without trialall in the name of keeping America safe.

Despite the fact that the breadth of the military’s power to detain American citizens violates not only U.S. law and the Constitution but also international laws, the government has refused to relinquish its detention powers made possible by the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Then Donald Trump took office, claiming the country was being invaded by dangerous immigrants and insisting that the only way to keep America safe was to build an expensive border wall, expand the reach of border patrol, and empower the military to “assist” with border control.

That so-called immigration crisis has now morphed into multiple crises (domestic extremism, the COVID-19 pandemic, race wars, civil unrest, etc.) that the government is eager to use in order to expand its powers.

Yet as we’ve learned the hard way, once the government acquires—and uses—additional powers (to spy on its citizens, to carry out surveillance, to transform its police forces into extensions of the police, to seize taxpayer funds, to wage endless wars, to censor and silence dissidents, to identify potential troublemakers, to detain citizens without due process), it does not voluntarily relinquish them

This is the slippery slope on which we’ve been traveling for far too long.

As Yale historian Timothy Snyder explains, “This is a classic way that violence happens in authoritarian regimes, whether it’s Franco’s Spain or whether it’s the Russian Empire. The people who are getting used to committing violence on the border are then brought in to commit violence against people in the interior.

Sure, it’s the Trump Administration calling the shots right now, but it’s government agents armed with totalitarian powers and beholden to the bureaucratic Deep State who are carrying out these orders in defiance of the U.S. Constitution and all it represents.

Whether it’s Trump or Biden or someone else altogether, this year or a dozen years from now, the damage has been done: as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we have allowed the president to acquire dictatorial powers that can be unleashed at any moment.

There’s a reason the Trump Administration is consulting with John Yoo, the Bush-era attorney notorious for justifying waterboarding torture tactics against detainees. They’re not looking to understand how to follow the law and abide by the Constitution. Rather, they’re desperately seeking ways to thwart the Constitution.

As Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe recognizes, “The dictatorial hunger for power is insatiable.

This is how it begins.

This is how it always begins.

Don’t be fooled into thinking any of this will change when the next election rolls around.

Source: https://bit.ly/32H5M1C

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.

 

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”— George Santayana

Watch and see: this debate over police brutality and accountability is about to get politicized into an election-year referendum on who should occupy the White House.

Don’t fall for it.

The Deep State, the powers-that-be, want us to turn this into a race war, but this is about so much more than systemic racism. This is the oldest con game in the books, the magician’s sleight of hand that keeps you focused on the shell game in front of you while your wallet is being picked clean by ruffians in your midst.

It’s the Reichstag Fire all over again.

It was February 1933, a month before national elections in Germany, and the Nazis weren’t expected to win. So they engineered a way to win: they began  by infiltrating the police and granting police powers to their allies; then Hitler brought in stormtroopers to act as auxiliary police; by the time an arsonist (who claimed to be working for the Communists in the hopes of starting an armed revolt) set fire to the Reichstag, the German parliamentary building, the people were eager for a return to law and order.

That was all it took: Hitler used the attempted “coup” as an excuse to declare martial law and seize absolute power in Germany, establishing himself as a dictator with the support of the German people.

Fast forward to the present day, and what do we have? The nation in turmoil after months of pandemic fear-mongering and regional lockdowns, a national election looming, a president with falling poll numbers, and a police state that wants to stay in power at all costs.

Note the similarities?

It’s entirely possible that Americans have finally reached a tipping point over police brutality after decades of abuse. After all, until recently, the legislatures and the courts have marched in lockstep with the police state, repeatedly rebuffing efforts to hold police accountable for official misconduct.

Then again, it’s also equally possible that the architects of the police state have every intention of manipulating this outrage for their own purposes.

It works the same in every age.

As author Jim Keith explains, “Create violence through economic pressures, the media, mind control, agent provocateurs: thesis. Counter it with totalitarian measures, more mind control, police crackdowns, surveillance, drugging of the population: antithesis. What ensues is Orwell’s vision of 1984, a society of total control: synthesis.”

Here’s what is going to happen: the police state is going to stand down and allow these protests, riots and looting to devolve into a situation where enough of the voting populace is so desperate for a return to law and order that they will gladly relinquish some of their freedoms to achieve it. And that’s how the police state will win, no matter which candidate gets elected to the White House.

You know who will lose? Every last one of us.

Listen, people should be outraged over what happened to George Floyd, but let’s get one thing straight: Floyd didn’t die merely because he was black and the cop who killed him is white. Floyd died because America is being overrun with warrior cops—vigilantes with a badge—who are part of a government-run standing army that is waging war on the American people in the so-called name of law and order.

Not all cops are warrior cops, trained to act as judge, jury and executioner in their interactions with the populace. Unfortunately, the good cops—the ones who take seriously their oath of office to serve and protect their fellow citizens, uphold the Constitution, and maintain the peace—are increasingly being outnumbered by those who believe the lives—and rights—of police should be valued more than citizens.

These warrior cops may get paid by the citizenry, but they don’t work for us and they certainly aren’t operating within the limits of the U.S. Constitution.

This isn’t about racism in America.

This is about profit-driven militarism packaged in the guise of law and order, waged by greedy profiteers who have transformed the American homeland into a battlefield with militarized police, military weapons and tactics better suited to a war zone. This is systemic corruption predicated on the police state’s insatiable appetite for money, power and control.

This is a military coup waiting to happen.

Why do we have more than a million cops on the taxpayer-funded payroll in this country whose jobs do not entail protecting our safety, maintaining the peace in our communities, and upholding our liberties?

I’ll tell you why.

These warrior cops—fitted out 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—are the police state’s standing army.

This is the new face of war, and America has become the new battlefield.

Militarized police officers, the end product of the government—federal, local and state—and law enforcement agencies having merged, have become a “standing” or permanent army, composed of full-time professional soldiers who do not disband.

Yet these permanent armies are exactly what those who drafted the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights feared as tools used by despotic governments to wage war against its citizens.

American police forces were never supposed to be a branch of the military, nor were they meant to be private security forces for the reigning political faction. Instead, they were intended to be an aggregation of countless local police units, composed of citizens like you and me that exist for a sole purpose: to serve and protect the citizens of each and every American community.

As a result of the increasing militarization of the police in recent years, however, the police now not only look like the military—with their foreboding uniforms and phalanx of lethal weapons—but they function like them, as well.

Thus, no more do we have a civilian force of peace officers entrusted with serving and protecting the American people.  Instead, today’s militarized law enforcement officials have shifted their allegiance from the citizenry to the state, acting preemptively to ward off any possible challenges to the government’s power, unrestrained by the boundaries of the Fourth Amendment.

They don’t work for us. As retired Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis warned, “Corporate America is using police forces as their mercenaries.”

We were sold a bill of goods.

For years now, we’ve been told that cops need military weapons to wage the government’s wars on drugs, crime and terror. We’ve been told that cops need to be able to crash through doors, search vehicles, carry out roadside strip searches, shoot anyone they perceive to be a threat, and generally disregard the law whenever it suits them because they’re doing it to protect their fellow Americans from danger. We’ve been told that cops need extra legal protections because of the risks they take.

None of that is true.

In fact, a study by a political scientist at Princeton University concludes that militarizing police and SWAT teams “provide no detectable benefits in terms of officer safety or violent crime reduction.” According to researcher Jonathan Mummolo, if police in America are feeling less safe, it’s because the process of transforming them into extensions of the military makes them less safe, less popular and less trust-worthy.

The study, the first systematic analysis on the use and consequences of militarized force, reveals that “police militarization neither reduces rates of violent crime nor changes the number of officers assaulted or killed.”

In other words, warrior cops aren’t making us or themselves any safer.

Militarized police armed with weapons of war who are allowed to operate above the law and break the laws with impunity are definitely not making America any safer or freer.

The problem, as one reporter rightly concluded, is “not that life has gotten that much more dangerous, it’s that authorities have chosen to respond to even innocent situations as if they were in a warzone.” Consequently, Americans are now eight times more likely to die in a police confrontation than they are to be killed by a terrorist.

Militarism within the nation’s police forces is proving to be deadlier than any pandemic.

This battlefield mindset has gone hand in hand with the rise of militarized SWAT (“special weapons and tactics”) teams.

Frequently justified as vital tools necessary to combat terrorism and deal with rare but extremely dangerous criminal situations, such as those involving hostages, SWAT teams have become intrinsic parts of local law enforcement operations, thanks in large part to substantial federal assistance and the Pentagon’s military surplus recycling program, which allows the transfer of military equipment, weapons and training to local police for free or at sharp discounts while increasing the profits of its corporate allies.

Where this becomes a problem of life and death for Americans is when these SWAT teams— outfitted, armed and trained in military tactics—are assigned to carry out relatively routine police tasks, such as serving a search warrant. Nationwide, SWAT teams have been employed to address an astonishingly trivial array of criminal activity or mere community nuisances: angry dogs, domestic disputes, improper paperwork filed by an orchid farmer, and misdemeanor marijuana possession, to give a brief sampling.

Remember, SWAT teams originated as specialized units dedicated to defusing extremely sensitive, dangerous situations. They were never meant to be used for routine police work such as serving a warrant. Unfortunately, the mere presence of SWAT units has actually injected a level of danger and violence into police-citizen interactions that was not present as long as these interactions were handled by traditional civilian officers.

There are few communities without a SWAT team today, and there are more than 80,000 SWAT team raids per year.

Yet the tension inherent in most civilian-police encounter these days can’t be blamed exclusively on law enforcement’s growing reliance on SWAT teams and donated military equipment.

It goes far deeper, to a transformation in the way police view themselves and their line of duty.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s happening all across the country.

This is how perverse justice in America has become.

Incredibly, while our own Bill of Rights are torn to shreds, leaving us with few protections against government abuses, a growing number of states are adopting Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBoR), which provide cops accused of a crime with special due process rights and privileges not afforded to the average citizen.

This, right here, epitomizes everything that is wrong with America today.

Even when the system appears to work on the side of justice, it’s the American taxpayer who ends up paying the price.

Literally.

Because police officers are more likely to be struck by lightning than be held financially accountable for their actions. As Human Rights Watch explains, taxpayers actually pay three times for officers who repeatedly commit abuses: “once to cover their salaries while they commit abuses; next to pay settlements or civil jury awards against officers; and a third time through payments into police ‘defense’ funds provided by the cities.”

Deep-seated corruption of this kind doesn’t just go away because politicians and corporations suddenly become conscience-stricken in the face of mass protests and start making promises they don’t intend to keep.

As I explain in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we need civic engagement and citizen activism, especially at the local level. However, if it ends at the ballot box without achieving any real reform that holds government officials at all levels accountable to playing by the rules of the Constitution, then shame on us.

Source: https://bit.ly/2Aa70Xp

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.

 

“You see them on the street. You watch them on TV. You might even vote for one this fall. You think they’re people just like you. You’re wrong. Dead wrong.” — They Live

We’re living in two worlds, you and I.

There’s the world we see (or are made to see) and then there’s the one we sense (and occasionally catch a glimpse of), the latter of which is a far cry from the propaganda-driven reality manufactured by the government and its corporate sponsors, including the media.

Indeed, what most Americans perceive as life in America—privileged, progressive and free—is a far cry from reality, where economic inequality is growing, real agendas and real power are buried beneath layers of Orwellian doublespeak and corporate obfuscation, and “freedom,” such that it is, is meted out in small, legalistic doses by militarized police armed to the teeth.

All is not as it seems.

This is the premise of John Carpenter’s film They Live, which was released more than 30 years ago, and remains unnervingly, chillingly appropriate for our modern age.

Best known for his horror film Halloween, which assumes that there is a form of evil so dark that it can’t be killed, Carpenter’s larger body of work is infused with a strong anti-authoritarian, anti-establishment, laconic bent that speaks to the filmmaker’s concerns about the unraveling of our society, particularly our government.

Time and again, Carpenter portrays the government working against its own citizens, a populace out of touch with reality, technology run amok, and a future more horrific than any horror film.

In Escape from New York, Carpenter presents fascism as the future of America.

In The Thing, a remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic of the same name, Carpenter presupposes that increasingly we are all becoming dehumanized.

In Christine, the film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about a demon-possessed car, technology exhibits a will and consciousness of its own and goes on a murderous rampage.

In In the Mouth of Madness, Carpenter notes that evil grows when people lose “the ability to know the difference between reality and fantasy.”

And then there is Carpenter’s They Live, in which two migrant workers discover that the world is not as it seems. In fact, the population is actually being controlled and exploited by aliens working in partnership with an oligarchic elite. All the while, the populace—blissfully unaware of the real agenda at work in their lives—has been lulled into complacency, indoctrinated into compliance, bombarded with media distractions, and hypnotized by subliminal messages beamed out of television and various electronic devices, billboards and the like.

It is only when homeless drifter John Nada (played to the hilt by the late Roddy Piper) discovers a pair of doctored sunglasses—Hoffman lenses—that Nada sees what lies beneath the elite’s fabricated reality: control and bondage.

When viewed through the lens of truth, the elite, who appear human until stripped of their disguises, are shown to be monsters who have enslaved the citizenry in order to prey on them.

Likewise, billboards blare out hidden, authoritative messages: a bikini-clad woman in one ad is actually ordering viewers to “MARRY AND REPRODUCE.” Magazine racks scream “CONSUME” and “OBEY.” A wad of dollar bills in a vendor’s hand proclaims, “THIS IS YOUR GOD.”

When viewed through Nada’s Hoffman lenses, some of the other hidden messages being drummed into the people’s subconscious include: NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT, CONFORM, SUBMIT, STAY ASLEEP, BUY, WATCH TV, NO IMAGINATION, and DO NOT QUESTION AUTHORITY.

This indoctrination campaign engineered by the elite in They Live is painfully familiar to anyone who has studied the decline of American culture.

A citizenry that does not think for themselves, obeys without question, is submissive, does not challenge authority, does not think outside the box, and is content to sit back and be entertained is a citizenry that can be easily controlled.

In this way, the subtle message of They Live provides an apt analogy of our own distorted vision of life in the American police state, what philosopher Slavoj Žižek refers to as dictatorship in democracy, “the invisible order which sustains your apparent freedom.”

We’re being fed a series of carefully contrived fictions that bear no resemblance to reality.

The powers-that-be want us to feel threatened by forces beyond our control (terrorists, shootersbombers).

They want us afraid and dependent on the government and its militarized armies for our safety and well-being.

They want us distrustful of each other, divided by our prejudices, and at each other’s throats.

Most of all, they want us to continue to march in lockstep with their dictates.

Tune out the government’s attempts to distract, divert and befuddle us and tune into what’s really going on in this country, and you’ll run headlong into an unmistakable, unpalatable truth: the moneyed elite who rule us view us as expendable resources to be used, abused and discarded.

In fact, a study conducted by Princeton and Northwestern University concluded that the U.S. government does not represent the majority of American citizens. Instead, the study found that the government is ruled by the rich and powerful, or the so-called “economic elite.” Moreover, the researchers concluded that policies enacted by this governmental elite nearly always favor special interests and lobbying groups.

In other words, we are being ruled by an oligarchy disguised as a democracy, and arguably on our way towards fascism—a form of government where private corporate interests rule, money calls the shots, and the people are seen as mere subjects to be controlled.

Not only do you have to be rich—or beholden to the rich—to get elected these days, but getting elected is also a surefire way to get rich. As CBS News reports, “Once in office, members of Congress enjoy access to connections and information they can use to increase their wealth, in ways that are unparalleled in the private sector. And once politicians leave office, their connections allow them to profit even further.”

In denouncing this blatant corruption of America’s political system, former president Jimmy Carter blasted the process of getting elected—to the White House, governor’s mansion, Congress or state legislatures—as “unlimited political bribery… a subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect, and sometimes get, favors for themselves after the election is over.”

Rest assured that when and if fascism finally takes hold in America, the basic forms of government will remain: Fascism will appear to be friendly. The legislators will be in session. There will be elections, and the news media will continue to cover the entertainment and political trivia. Consent of the governed, however, will no longer apply. Actual control will have finally passed to the oligarchic elite controlling the government behind the scenes.

Sound familiar?

Clearly, we are now ruled by an oligarchic elite of governmental and corporate interests.

We have moved into “corporatism” (favored by Benito Mussolini), which is a halfway point on the road to full-blown fascism.

Corporatism is where the few moneyed interests—not elected by the citizenry—rule over the many. In this way, it is not a democracy or a republican form of government, which is what the American government was established to be. It is a top-down form of government and one which has a terrifying history typified by the developments that occurred in totalitarian regimes of the past: police states where everyone is watched and spied on, rounded up for minor infractions by government agents, placed under police control, and placed in detention (a.k.a. concentration) camps.

For the final hammer of fascism to fall, it will require the most crucial ingredient: the majority of the people will have to agree that it’s not only expedient but necessary.

But why would a people agree to such an oppressive regime?

The answer is the same in every age: fear.

Fear makes people stupid.

Fear is the method most often used by politicians to increase the power of government. And, as most social commentators recognize, an atmosphere of fear permeates modern America: fear of terrorism, fear of the police, fear of our neighbors and so on.

The propaganda of fear has been used quite effectively by those who want to gain control, and it is working on the American populace.

Despite the fact that we are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack; 11,000 times more likely to die from an airplane accident than from a terrorist plot involving an airplane; 1,048 times more likely to die from a car accident than a terrorist attack, and 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist , we have handed over control of our lives to government officials who treat us as a means to an end—the source of money and power.

As the Bearded Man in They Live warns, “They are dismantling the sleeping middle class. More and more people are becoming poor. We are their cattle. We are being bred for slavery.”

In this regard, we’re not so different from the oppressed citizens in They Live.

From the moment we are born until we die, we are indoctrinated into believing that those who rule us do it for our own good. The truth is far different.

Despite the truth staring us in the face, we have allowed ourselves to become fearful, controlled, pacified zombies.

We live in a perpetual state of denial, insulated from the painful reality of the American police state by wall-to-wall entertainment news and screen devices.

Most everyone keeps their heads down these days while staring zombie-like into an electronic screen, even when they’re crossing the street. Families sit in restaurants with their heads down, separated by their screen devices and unaware of what’s going on around them. Young people especially seem dominated by the devices they hold in their hands, oblivious to the fact that they can simply push a button, turn the thing off and walk away.

Indeed, there is no larger group activity than that connected with those who watch screens—that is, television, lap tops, personal computers, cell phones and so on. In fact, a Nielsen study reports that American screen viewing is at an all-time high. For example, the average American watches approximately 151 hours of television per month.

The question, of course, is what effect does such screen consumption have on one’s mind?

Psychologically it is similar to drug addiction. Researchers found that “almost immediately after turning on the TV, subjects reported feeling more relaxed, and because this occurs so quickly and the tension returns so rapidly after the TV is turned off, people are conditioned to associate TV viewing with a lack of tension.” Research also shows that regardless of the programming, viewers’ brain waves slow down, thus transforming them into a more passive, nonresistant state.

Historically, television has been used by those in authority to quiet discontent and pacify disruptive people. “Faced with severe overcrowding and limited budgets for rehabilitation and counseling, more and more prison officials are using TV to keep inmates quiet,” according to Newsweek.

Given that the majority of what Americans watch on television is provided through channels controlled by six mega corporations, what we watch is now controlled by a corporate elite and, if that elite needs to foster a particular viewpoint or pacify its viewers, it can do so on a large scale.

If we’re watching, we’re not doing.

The powers-that-be understand this. As television journalist Edward R. Murrow warned in a 1958 speech:

We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.

This brings me back to They Live, in which the real zombies are not the aliens calling the shots but the populace who are content to remain controlled.

When all is said and done, the world of They Live is not so different from our own. As one of the characters points out, “The poor and the underclass are growing. Racial justice and human rights are nonexistent. They have created a repressive society and we are their unwitting accomplices. Their intention to rule rests with the annihilation of consciousness. We have been lulled into a trance. They have made us indifferent to ourselves, to others. We are focused only on our own gain.”

We, too, are focused only on our own pleasures, prejudices and gains. Our poor and underclasses are also growing. Racial injustice is growing. Human rights is nearly nonexistent. We too have been lulled into a trance, indifferent to others.

Oblivious to what lies ahead, we’ve been manipulated into believing that if we continue to consume, obey, and have faith, things will work out. But that’s never been true of emerging regimes. And by the time we feel the hammer coming down upon us, it will be too late.

So where does that leave us?

The characters who populate Carpenter’s films provide some insight.

Underneath their machismo, they still believe in the ideals of liberty and equal opportunity. Their beliefs place them in constant opposition with the law and the establishment, but they are nonetheless freedom fighters.

When, for example, John Nada destroys the alien hyno-transmitter in They Live, he restores hope by delivering America a wake-up call for freedom.

That’s the key right there: we need to wake up.

Stop allowing yourselves to be easily distracted by pointless political spectacles and pay attention to what’s really going on in the country.

The real battle for control of this nation is not being waged between Republicans and Democrats in the ballot box.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the real battle for control of this nation is taking place on roadsides, in police cars, on witness stands, over phone lines, in government offices, in corporate offices, in public school hallways and classrooms, in parks and city council meetings, and in towns and cities across this country.

The real battle between freedom and tyranny is taking place right in front of our eyes, if we would only open them.

All the trappings of the American police state are now in plain sight.

Wake up, America.

If they live (the tyrants, the oppressors, the invaders, the overlords), it is only because “we the people” sleep.

Source: https://bit.ly/32ZPSwI

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.

 

Politicians are more likely than people in the general population to be sociopaths. I think you would find no expert in the field of sociopathy/psychopathy/antisocial personality disorder who would dispute this… That a small minority of human beings literally have no conscience was and is a bitter pill for our society to swallow — but it does explain a great many things, shamelessly deceitful political behavior being one.”—Dr. Martha Stout, clinical psychologist and former instructor at Harvard Medical School

Twenty years ago, a newspaper headline asked the question: “What’s the difference between a politician and a psychopath?

The answer, then and now, remains the same: None.

There is no difference between psychopaths and politicians.

Nor is there much of a difference between the havoc wreaked on innocent lives by uncaring, unfeeling, selfish, irresponsible, parasitic criminals and elected officials who lie to their constituents, trade political favors for campaign contributions, turn a blind eye to the wishes of the electorate, cheat taxpayers out of hard-earned dollars, favor the corporate elite, entrench the military industrial complex, and spare little thought for the impact their thoughtless actions and hastily passed legislation might have on defenseless citizens.

Psychopaths and politicians both have a tendency to be selfish, callous, remorseless users of others, irresponsible, pathological liars, glib, con artists, lacking in remorse and shallow.

Charismatic politicians, like criminal psychopaths, exhibit a failure to accept responsibility for their actions, have a high sense of self-worth, are chronically unstable, have socially deviant lifestyles, need constant stimulation, have parasitic lifestyles and possess unrealistic goals.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about Democrats or Republicans.

Political psychopaths are all largely cut from the same pathological cloth, brimming with seemingly easy charm and boasting calculating minds. Such leaders eventually create pathocracies: totalitarian societies bent on power, control, and destruction of both freedom in general and those who exercise their freedoms.

Once psychopaths gain power, the result is usually some form of totalitarian government or a pathocracy. “At that point, the government operates against the interests of its own people except for favoring certain groups,” author James G. Long notes. “We are currently witnessing deliberate polarizations of American citizens, illegal actions, and massive and needless acquisition of debt. This is typical of psychopathic systems, and very similar things happened in the Soviet Union as it overextended and collapsed.”

In other words, electing a psychopath to public office is tantamount to national hara-kiri, the ritualized act of self-annihilation, self-destruction and suicide. It signals the demise of democratic government and lays the groundwork for a totalitarian regime that is legalistic, militaristic, inflexible, intolerant and inhuman.

Incredibly, despite clear evidence of the damage that has already been inflicted on our nation and its citizens by a psychopathic government, voters continue to elect psychopaths to positions of power and influence.

According to investigative journalist Zack Beauchamp, “In 2012, a group of psychologists evaluated every President from Washington to Bush II using ‘psychopathy trait estimates derived from personality data completed by historical experts on each president.’ They found that presidents tended to have the psychopath’s characteristic fearlessness and low anxiety levels — traits that appear to help Presidents, but also might cause them to make reckless decisions that hurt other people’s lives.”

The willingness to prioritize power above all else, including the welfare of their fellow human beings, ruthlessness, callousness and an utter lack of conscience are among the defining traits of the sociopath.

When our own government no longer sees us as human beings with dignity and worth but as things to be manipulated, maneuvered, mined for data, manhandled by police, conned into believing it has our best interests at heart, mistreated, jailed if we dare step out of line, and then punished unjustly without remorse—all the while refusing to own up to its failings—we are no longer operating under a constitutional republic.

Instead, what we are experiencing is a pathocracy: tyranny at the hands of a psychopathic government, which “operates against the interests of its own people except for favoring certain groups.”

Worse, psychopathology is not confined to those in high positions of government. It can spread like a virus among the populace. As an academic study into pathocracy concluded, “[T]yranny does not flourish because perpetuators are helpless and ignorant of their actions. It flourishes because they actively identify with those who promote vicious acts as virtuous.”

People don’t simply line up and salute. It is through one’s own personal identification with a given leader, party or social order that they become agents of good or evil.

Much depends on how leaders “cultivate a sense of identification with their followers,” says Professor Alex Haslam. “I mean one pretty obvious thing is that leaders talk about ‘we’ rather than ‘I,’ and actually what leadership is about is cultivating this sense of shared identity about ‘we-ness’ and then getting people to want to act in terms of that ‘we-ness,’ to promote our collective interests. . . . [We] is the single word that has increased in the inaugural addresses over the last century . . . and the other one is ‘America.’”

The goal of the modern corporate state is obvious: to promote, cultivate, and embed a sense of shared identification among its citizens. To this end, “we the people” have become “we the police state.”

We are fast becoming slaves in thrall to a faceless, nameless, bureaucratic totalitarian government machine that relentlessly erodes our freedoms through countless laws, statutes, and prohibitions.

Any resistance to such regimes depends on the strength of opinions in the minds of those who choose to fight back. What this means is that we the citizenry must be very careful that we are not manipulated into marching in lockstep with an oppressive regime.

Writing for ThinkProgress, Beauchamp suggests that “one of the best cures to bad leaders may very well be political democracy.”

But what does this really mean in practical terms?

It means holding politicians accountable for their actions and the actions of their staff using every available means at our disposal: through investigative journalism (what used to be referred to as the Fourth Estate) that enlightens and informs, through whistleblower complaints that expose corruption, through lawsuits that challenge misconduct, and through protests and mass political action that remind the powers-that-be that “we the people” are the ones that call the shots.

Remember, education precedes action. Citizens need to the do the hard work of educating themselves about what the government is doing and how to hold it accountable. Don’t allow yourselves to exist exclusively in an echo chamber that is restricted to views with which you agree. Expose yourself to multiple media sources, independent and mainstream, and think for yourself.

For that matter, no matter what your political leanings might be, don’t allow your partisan bias to trump the principles that serve as the basis for our constitutional republic. As Beauchamp notes, “A system that actually holds people accountable to the broader conscience of society may be one of the best ways to keep conscienceless people in check.”

That said, if we allow the ballot box to become our only means of pushing back against the police state, the battle is already lost.

Resistance will require a citizenry willing to be active at the local level.

Yet as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, if you wait to act until the SWAT team is crashing through your door, until your name is placed on a terror watch list, until you are reported for such outlawed activities as collecting rainwater or letting your children play outside unsupervised, then it will be too late.

This much I know: we are not faceless numbers. We are not cogs in the machine. We are not slaves.

We are human beings, and for the moment, we have the opportunity to remain free—that is, if we tirelessly advocate for our rights and resist at every turn attempts by the government to place us in chains.

The Founders understood that our freedoms do not flow from the government. They were not given to us only to be taken away by the will of the State. They are inherently ours. In the same way, the government’s appointed purpose is not to threaten or undermine our freedoms, but to safeguard them.

Until we can get back to this way of thinking, until we can remind our fellow Americans what it really means to be free, and until we can stand firm in the face of threats to our freedoms, we will continue to be treated like slaves in thrall to a bureaucratic police state run by political psychopaths.

Source: https://bit.ly/2o97JC7

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.

 

 

 

“Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes… known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.… No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” — James Madison

Eventually, all military empires fall and fail by spreading themselves too thin and spending themselves to death.

It happened in Rome.

It’s happening again.

At the height of its power, even the mighty Roman Empire could not stare down a collapsing economy and a burgeoning military. Prolonged periods of war and false economic prosperity largely led to its demise. As historian Chalmers Johnson predicts:

The fate of previous democratic empires suggests that such a conflict is unsustainable and will be resolved in one of two ways. Rome attempted to keep its empire and lost its democracy. Britain chose to remain democratic and in the process let go its empire. Intentionally or not, the people of the United States already are well embarked upon the course of non-democratic empire.

The American Empire—with its endless wars waged by U.S. military servicepeople who have been reduced to little more than guns for hire: outsourced, stretched too thin, and deployed to far-flung places to police the globe—is approaching a breaking point.

War has become a huge money-making venture, and America, with its vast military empire and its incestuous relationship with a host of international defense contractors, is one of its best buyers and sellers. In fact, as Reuters reports, “[President] Trump has gone further than any of his predecessors to act as a salesman for the U.S. defense industry.”

Under Trump’s leadership, the U.S. military is dropping a bomb every 12 minutes.

This follows on the heels of President Obama, the so-called antiwar candidate and Nobel Peace Prize winner who waged war longer than any American president and whose targeted-drone killings resulted in at least 1.3 million lives lost to the U.S.-led war on terror.

Most recently, the Trump Administration signaled its willingness to put the lives of American troops on the line in order to guard Saudi Arabia’s oil resources. Roughly 200 American troops will join the 500 troops already stationed in Saudi Arabia. That’s in addition to the 60,000 U.S. troops that have been deployed throughout the Middle East for decades.

As The Washington Post points out, “The United States is now the world’s largest producer — and its reliance on Saudi imports has dropped dramatically, including by 50 percent in the past two years alone.”

So if we’re not protecting the oil for ourselves, whose interests are we protecting?

The military industrial complex is calling the shots, of course, and profit is its primary objective.

The military-industrial complex is also the world’s largest employer.

America has long had a penchant for endless wars that empty our national coffers while fattening those of the military industrial complex.

Aided and abetted by the U.S government, the American military-industrial complex has erected an empire unsurpassed in history in its breadth and scope, one dedicated to conducting perpetual warfare throughout the earth.

Although the U.S. constitutes only 5% of the world’s population, America boasts almost 50% of the world’s total military expenditure, spending more on the military than the next 19 biggest spending nations combined. Indeed, the Pentagon spends more on war than all 50 states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety.

Unfortunately, this level of war-mongering doesn’t come cheap to the taxpayers who are forced to foot the bill.

Having been co-opted by greedy defense contractors, corrupt politicians and incompetent government officials, America’s expanding military empire is bleeding the country dry at a rate of more than $32 million per hour.

In fact, the U.S. government has spent more money every five seconds in Iraq than the average American earns in a year.

With more than 800 U.S. military bases in 80 countries, the U.S. is now operating in 40 percent of the world’s nations at a cost of $160 to $200 billion annually.

Despite the fact that Congress has only officially declared war eleven times in the nation’s short history, the last time being during World War II, the United States has been at war for all but 21 of the past 243 years.

It’s cost the American taxpayer more than $4.7 trillion since 2001 to fight the government’s so-called “war on terrorism.” That’s in addition to “$127 billion in the last 17 years to train police, military and border patrol agents in many countries and to develop antiterrorism education programs, among other activities.” That does not include the cost of maintaining and staffing the 800-plus U.S. military bases spread around the globe.

The cost of perpetuating those endless wars and military exercises around the globe is expected to push the total bill upwards of $12 trillion by 2053.

The U.S. government is spending money it doesn’t have on a military empire it can’t afford.

As investigative journalist Uri Friedman puts it, for more than 15 years now, the United States has been fighting terrorism with a credit card, “essentially bankrolling the wars with debt, in the form of purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds by U.S.-based entities like pension funds and state and local governments, and by countries like China and Japan.”

War is not cheap, but it becomes outrageously costly when you factor in government incompetence, fraud, and greedy contractors.

For example, a leading accounting firm concluded that one of the Pentagon’s largest agencies “can’t account for hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of spending.”

Unfortunately, the outlook isn’t much better for the spending that can be tracked.

Consider that the government lost more than $160 billion to waste and fraud by the military and defense contractors. With paid contractors often outnumbering enlisted combat troops, the American war effort dubbed as the “coalition of the willing” has quickly evolved into the “coalition of the billing,” with American taxpayers forced to cough up billions of dollars for cash bribes, luxury bases, a highway to nowhere, faulty equipment, salaries for so-called “ghost soldiers,” and overpriced anything and everything associated with the war effort, including a $640 toilet seat and a $7600 coffee pot.

A government audit found that defense contractor Boeing has been massively overcharging taxpayers for mundane parts, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in overspending. As the report noted, the American taxpayer paid:

$71 for a metal pin that should cost just 4 cents; $644.75 for a small gear smaller than a dime that sells for $12.51: more than a 5,100 percent increase in price. $1,678.61 for another tiny part, also smaller than a dime, that could have been bought within DoD for $7.71: a 21,000 percent increase. $71.01 for a straight, thin metal pin that DoD had on hand, unused by the tens of thousands, for 4 cents: an increase of over 177,000 percent.

That price gouging has become an accepted form of corruption within the American military empire is a sad statement on how little control “we the people” have over our runaway government.

There’s a good reason why “bloated,” “corrupt” and “inefficient” are among the words most commonly applied to the government, especially the Department of Defense and its contractors. Price gouging has become an accepted form of corruption within the American military empire.

It’s not just the American economy that is being gouged, unfortunately.

Driven by a greedy defense sector, the American homeland has been transformed into a battlefield with militarized police and weapons better suited to a war zone. Trump, no different from his predecessors, has continued to expand America’s military empire abroad and domestically, calling on Congress to approve billions more to hire cops, build more prisons and wage more profit-driven war-on-drugs/war-on-terrorism/war-on-crime programs that pander to the powerful money interests (military, corporate and security) that run the Deep State and hold the government in its clutches.

Mind you, this isn’t just corrupt behavior. It’s deadly, downright immoral behavior.

Essentially, in order to fund this burgeoning military empire that polices the globe, the U.S. government is prepared to bankrupt the nation, jeopardize our servicemen and women, increase the chances of terrorism and blowback domestically, and push the nation that much closer to eventual collapse.

Making matters worse, taxpayers are being forced to pay $1.4 million per hour to provide U.S. weapons to countries that can’t afford them. As Mother Jones reports, the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Finance program “opens the way for the US government to pay for weapons for other countries—only to ‘promote world peace,’ of course—using your tax dollars, which are then recycled into the hands of military-industrial-complex corporations.”

Clearly, our national priorities are in desperate need of an overhauling.

As Los Angeles Times reporter Steve Lopez rightly asks:

Why throw money at defense when everything is falling down around us? Do we need to spend more money on our military (about $600 billion this year) than the next seven countries combined? Do we need 1.4 million active military personnel and 850,000 reserves when the enemy at the moment — ISIS — numbers in the low tens of thousands? If so, it seems there’s something radically wrong with our strategy. Should 55% of the federal government’s discretionary spending go to the military and only 3% to transportation when the toll in American lives is far greater from failing infrastructure than from terrorism? Does California need nearly as many active military bases (31, according to militarybases.com) as it has UC and state university campuses (33)? And does the state need more active duty military personnel (168,000, according to Governing magazine) than public elementary school teachers (139,000)?

The illicit merger of the global armaments industry and the Pentagon that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us against more than 50 years ago has come to represent perhaps the greatest threat to the nation’s fragile infrastructure today.

The government is destabilizing the economy, destroying the national infrastructure through neglect and a lack of resources, and turning taxpayer dollars into blood money with its endless wars, drone strikes and mounting death tolls.

This is exactly the scenario Eisenhower warned against when he cautioned the citizenry not to let the profit-driven war machine endanger our liberties or democratic processes:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

We failed to heed Eisenhower’s warning.

The illicit merger of the armaments industry and the government that Eisenhower warned against has come to represent perhaps the greatest threat to the nation today.

What we have is a confluence of factors and influences that go beyond mere comparisons to Rome. It is a union of Orwell’s 1984 with its shadowy, totalitarian government—i.e., fascism, the union of government and corporate powers—and a total surveillance state with a military empire extended throughout the world.

This is how tyranny rises and freedom falls.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the growth of and reliance on militarism as the solution for our problems both domestically and abroad bodes ill for the constitutional principles which form the basis of the American experiment in freedom.

After all, a military empire ruled by martial law does not rely on principles of equality and justice for its authority but on the power of the sword. As author Aldous Huxley warned: “Liberty cannot flourish in a country that is permanently on a war footing, or even a near-war footing. Permanent crisis justifies permanent control of everybody and everything by the agencies of the central government.”

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

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

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

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission

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

 

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

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

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

Particularly if you value that person’s life.

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

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

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

Four seconds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there were also important distinctions, reports the Post.

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

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

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

Where does this leave us?

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

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

As The Washington Post points out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

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

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission

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

 

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

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

It’s all a lie.

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

What is this language of force?

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

This is not the language of freedom.

This is not even the language of law and order.

This is the language of force.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The police state does not discriminate.

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

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

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

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

You want to turn a peaceful protest into a riot?

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

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

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

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

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

They want us silent, servile and compliant.

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

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

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

Unfortunate, indeed.

You know what else is unfortunate?

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

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

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

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

The government’s rationale goes like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There are other, far better models to follow.

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

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

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

It can be done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have rights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compliance is no guarantee of safety.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

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

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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.