Posts Tagged ‘surveillance cameras’

“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.”— “‘Comply or Die’ policing must stop,” Daily KOS

Americans as young as 4 years old are being leg shackled, handcuffed, tasered and held at gun point for not being quiet, not being orderly and just being childlike—i.e., not being compliant enough.

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

And Americans of every age and skin color are being taught the painful lesson that the only truly compliant, submissive and obedient citizen in a police state is a dead one.

It doesn’t matter where you live—big city or small town—it’s the same scenario being played out over and over again in which government agents, hyped up on their own authority and the power of their uniform, ride roughshod over the rights of the citizenry. In turn, Americans are being brainwashed into believing that anyone who wears a government uniform—soldier, police officer, prison guard—must be obeyed without question.

Franklin Graham, the heir to Billy Graham’s evangelical empire, offered up this “simple” piece of advice for “Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and everybody else” hoping to survive an encounter with the police:

Most police shootings can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience. If a police officer tells you to stop, you stop. If a police officer tells you to put your hands in the air, you put your hands in the air. If a police officer tells you to lay down face first with your hands behind your back, you lay down face first with your hands behind your back. It’s as simple as that. Even if you think the police officer is wrong—YOU OBEY.

Clearly, Graham’s message resonated with a core group of Americans: almost 200,000 individuals “liked” the message on Facebook, with an astounding 83,000 fans sharing his words of advice with their own friends, none of whom seem to recall that Jesus Christ, whom they claim to follow and model their lives after, not only stood up to the police state of his day but was put to death for it.

It’s not just mainstream evangelicals who have been brainwashed into believing that a good citizen is a compliant citizen and that obedience will save us from the police state. In the wake of a grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer responsible for the choking death of Eric Garner, Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, declared:

“We have to teach our children, our sons and our daughters, no matter what they look like, to respect New York City police officers, teach them to comply with New York City police officers even if they think it’s unjust.”

Similarly, 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.”

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

Battlefield_Cover_300In this way, the old police motto to “protect and serve” has become “comply or die.” As I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State and in my forthcoming book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is the unfortunate, misguided, perverse message being beaten, shot, tasered and slammed into our collective consciousness, and it is regrettably starting to take root.

Despite the growing number of criminal charges (ranging from resisting arrest and interference to disorderly conduct, obstruction, and failure to obey a police order) that get trotted out anytime a citizen voices discontent with the government or challenges or even questions the authority of the powers that be, the problems we’re experiencing in terms of police shootings have little to do with rebellion or belligerence or resistance.

Rather, the problem arises when compliance doesn’t happen fast enough to suit the police.

For instance, 15-year-old Jamar Nicholson was shot in the back by police after they spotted him standing next to a friend holding a toy gun. “Officers ordered the boy to drop the weapon multiple times,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “When he didn’t comply, one of the officers opened fire.”

Martese Johnson, a 20-year-old college student, unarmed and in the process of walking away from a bar where he’d just been denied entry for being underage, was tackled by police and had his head slammed to the ground and bloodied, allegedly for being intoxicated, belligerent and using a fake ID. Johnson, who it turns out was polite, had a legal ID and was not drunk, survived the encounter after 10 stitches to his head.

And then there was Christopher Lollie, who was tasered, arrested and charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstruction of the legal process for refusing to identify himself to police while waiting to pick his children up from their daycare. Footage of the encounter shows Lollie asking, “Why do I have to let you know who I am? I don’t have to let you know who I am if I haven’t broken any laws.” The charges against Lollie were eventually dropped.

Nicholson, Johnson and Lollie aren’t the only Americans being taught a hard lesson about compliance at the end of a government-issued gun.

World War II veteran John Wrana, 95 years old, dependent on a walker to get around, and a resident of an assisted living center, was rushed by five police officers—one with a Taser and riot shield, others with handguns and a 12-gauge Mossberg pump shotgun—after refusing treatment for a urinary tract infection and brandishing a shoehorn. One of the officers, allegedly fearing for his safety, fired multiple beanbag rounds at Wrana at close range, who bled to death from internal injuries.

Martese Johnson, slammed and bloodied by ABC police.

James Howard Allen, 74 years old and recovering at home from a surgery, was shot and killed by police who were asked by family members to do a welfare check on him. When police crashed through the man’s back door, they found Allen, perhaps having just awoken and fearing a burglary, armed with a gun.

These shootings and deaths, and many more like them, constitute a drop in the proverbial bucket when it comes to police killing unarmed American citizens, and yet you’d be hard-pressed to find exact numbers for how many unarmed citizens are killed by police every year. Indeed, while police go to great lengths to document how many police are killed in the line of duty, police agencies aren’t actually required to report the number of times police officers engage in homicide. Suffice it to say, however, that the numbers are significantly underreported.

One website estimates that police kill on average three citizens a day in the United States. In 2014, 1100 individuals were killed by police in the U.S. That’s 70 times more than other first-world nations, and almost 20 times more than the number of U.S. troops killed in the same year in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Rarely are these officers given more than a slap on the wrist. More often than not, they operate with impunity, are shielded from justice by the governmental bureaucracy, and are granted qualified immunity by the courts.

A recent report by the Justice Department on police shootings in Philadelphia, which boasts the fourth largest police department in the country, found that half of the unarmed people shot by police over a seven-year span were “shot because the officer saw something (like a cellphone) or some action (like a person pulling at the waist of their pants) and misidentified it as a threat.”

Now it’s one thing for those who back the police—no matter what the circumstance—to insist that if you just obey a police officer, you’ll be safe. But what happens when compliance isn’t enough?

What happens if you play it safe, comply and do whatever a police officer tells you to do, don’t talk back, don’t threaten, and don’t walk away—in other words, don’t do anything that even hints at resistance—and still, you find yourself staring down the wrong end of a government agent’s gun? After all, the news is riddled with reports of individuals who didn’t resist when confronted by police and still got tasered, tackled or shot simply because they looked at police in a threatening manner or moved in a way that made an officer “fear” for his safety.

For instance, Levar Jones, pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt, was shot after complying with a police officer’s order to retrieve his license. The trooper justified his shooting of the unarmed man by insisting that Jones reached for his license “aggressively.”

What more could Jones or anyone have done to protect himself in that situation? How does a citizen protect himself against a police officer’s tendency to shoot first and ask questions later, oftentimes based only on their highly subjective “feeling” of being threatened?

The short answer is you can’t.

The assurance of safety in exchange for compliance is a false, misguided doctrine that has us headed towards a totalitarian regime the likes of which the world has seen before.

Rest assured, if we just cower before government agents and meekly obey, we’ll find ourselves repeating history. However, history also shows us a different path, one that 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.

The long answer, therefore, is that we must adopt a different mindset and follow a different path if we are to alter the outcome of these interactions with police.

No matter what path you follow, it will be fraught with peril. America is in the midst of a nervous breakdown, brought about by prolonged exposure to the American police state, and there are few places that are safe anymore.

A good test is this: if you live in a community that has welcomed the trappings of the police state with open arms (surveillance cameras, forced DNA extractions, Stingray devices, red light cameras, private prisons, etc.), all the while allowing its police forces to militarize, weaponize and operate beyond the reach of the Constitution, then you don’t live in a democratic republic—you live in a microcosm of the American police state.

If you have no real say in how your local law enforcement operates, if the only oversight of police actions is carried out by fellow officers, if any attempt to criticize the police is edited out or not covered by your local newspaper or TV station, drowned out by your fellow citizens, or intimidated into silence by your local police, then you have no recourse when it comes to police abuses.

Finally, if, despite having done nothing wrong, you feel nervous during a police encounter, you fear doing or saying the wrong thing in front of an officer will get you shot, and your local police dress and act like extensions of the military and treat you like a suspect, then it’s safe to say that you are not the one holding the upper hand in the master-servant relationship anymore.

This is the death rattle of the American dream, which 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.

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“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

None of us are perfect. All of us bend the rules occasionally. Even before the age of overcriminalization, when the most upstanding citizen could be counted on to break at least three laws a day without knowing it, most of us have knowingly flouted the law from time to time.

Indeed, there was a time when most Americans thought nothing of driving a few miles over the speed limit, pausing (rather than coming to a full stop) at a red light when making a right-hand turn if no one was around, jaywalking across the street, and letting their kid play hookie from school once in a while. Of course, that was before the era of speed cameras that ticket you for going even a mile over the posted limit, red light cameras that fine you for making safe “rolling stop” right-hand turns on red, surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition software mounted on street corners, and school truancy laws that fine parents for “unexcused” absences.

My, how times have changed.

Today, there’s little room for indiscretions, imperfections, or acts of independence—especially not when the government can listen in on your phone calls, monitor your driving habits, track your movements, scrutinize your purchases and peer through the walls of your home. That’s because technology—specifically the technology employed by the government against the American citizenry—has upped the stakes dramatically so that there’s little we do that is not known by the government.

In such an environment, you’re either a paragon of virtue, or you’re a criminal.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, we’re all criminals. This is the creepy, calculating yet diabolical genius of the American police state: the very technology we hailed as revolutionary and liberating has become our prison, jailer, probation officer, Big Brother and Father Knows Best all rolled into one.

A Government of Wolves book coverConsider that on any given day, the average American going about his daily business will be monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways, by both government and corporate eyes and ears. A byproduct of this new age in which we live, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior. As I point out in my book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, this doesn’t even begin to touch on the corporate trackers that monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere.

For example, police have been using Stingray devices mounted on their cruisers to intercept cell phone calls and text messages without court-issued search warrants. Thwarting efforts to learn how and when these devices are being used against an unsuspecting populace, the FBI is insisting that any inquiries about the use of the technology be routed to the agency “in order to allow sufficient time for the FBI to intervene to protect the equipment/technology and information from disclosure and potential compromise.”

Doppler radar devices, which can detect human breathing and movement within in a home, are already being employed by the police to deliver arrest warrants and are being challenged in court. One case in particular, United States v Denson, examines how the Fourth Amendment interacts with the government’s use of radar technology to peer inside a suspect’s home. As Judge Neil Gorsuch recognizes in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling in the case, “New technologies bring with them not only new opportunities for law enforcement to catch criminals but also new risks for abuse and new ways to invade constitutional rights.”

License plate readers, yet another law enforcement spying device made possible through funding by the Department of Homeland Security, can record up to 1800 license plates per minute. However, it seems these surveillance cameras can also photograph those inside a moving car. Recent reports indicate that the Drug Enforcement Administration has been using the cameras in conjunction with facial recognition software to build a “vehicle surveillance database” of the nation’s cars, drivers and passengers.

Sidewalk and “public space” cameras, sold to gullible communities as a sure-fire means of fighting crime, is yet another DHS program that is blanketing small and large towns alike with government-funded and monitored surveillance cameras. It’s all part of a public-private partnership that gives government officials access to all manner of surveillance cameras, on sidewalks, on buildings, on buses, even those installed on private property.

Couple these surveillance cameras with facial recognition and behavior-sensing technology and you have the makings of “pre-crime” cameras, which scan your mannerisms, compare you to pre-set parameters for “normal” behavior, and alert the police if you trigger any computerized alarms as being “suspicious.”

Capitalizing on a series of notorious abductions of college-aged students, several states are pushing to expand their biometric and DNA databases by requiring that anyone accused of a misdemeanor have their DNA collected and catalogued. However, technology is already available that allows the government to collect biometrics such as fingerprints from a distance, without a person’s cooperation or knowledge. One system can actually scan and identify a fingerprint from nearly 20 feet away.

Radar guns have long been the speed cop’s best friend, allowing him to hide out by the side of the road, identify speeding cars, and then radio ahead to a police car, which does the dirty work of pulling the driver over and issuing a ticket. Never mind that what this cop is really doing is using an electronic device to search your car without a search warrant, violating the Fourth Amendment and probable cause. Yet because it’s a cash cow for police and the governments they report to, it’s a practice that is not only allowed but encouraged. Indeed, developers are hard at work on a radar gun that can actually show if you or someone in your car is texting. No word yet on whether the technology will also be able to detect the contents of that text message.

It’s a sure bet that anything the government welcomes (and funds) too enthusiastically is bound to be a Trojan horse full of nasty surprises. Case in point: police body cameras. Hailed as the easy fix solution to police abuses, these body cameras—made possible by funding from the Department of Justice—will turn police officers into roving surveillance cameras. Of course, if you try to request access to that footage, you’ll find yourself being led a merry and costly chase through miles of red tape, bureaucratic footmen and unhelpful courts.

The “internet of things” refers to the growing number of “smart” appliances and electronic devices now connected to the internet and capable of interacting with each other and being controlled remotely. These range from thermostats and coffee makers to cars and TVs. Of course, there’s a price to pay for such easy control and access. That price amounts to relinquishing ultimate control of and access to your home to the government and its corporate partners. For example, while Samsung’s Smart TVs are capable of “listening” to what you say, thereby allow users to control the TV using voice commands, it also records everything you say and relays it to a third party.

Then again, the government doesn’t really need to spy on you using your smart TV when the FBI can remotely activate the microphone on your cellphone and record your conversations. The FBI can also do the same thing to laptop computers without the owner knowing any better.

Government surveillance of social media such as Twitter and Facebook is on the rise. Americans have become so accustomed to the government overstepping its limits that most don’t even seem all that bothered anymore about the fact that the government is spying on our emails and listening in on our phone calls.

Drones, which will begin to take to the skies en masse this year, will be the converging point for all of the weapons and technology already available to law enforcement agencies. This means drones that can listen in on your phone calls, see through the walls of your home, scan your biometrics, photograph you and track your movements, and even corral you with sophisticated weaponry.

And then there’s the Internet and cell phone kill switch, which enables the government to shut down Internet and cell phone communications without Americans being given any warning. It’s a practice that has been used before in the U.S., albeit in a limited fashion. In 2005, cell service was disabled in four major New York tunnels (reportedly to avert potential bomb detonations via cell phone). In 2009, those attending President Obama’s inauguration had their cell signals blocked (again, same rationale). And in 2011, San Francisco commuters had their cell phone signals shut down (this time, to thwart any possible protests over a police shooting of a homeless man).

It’s a given that the government’s tactics are always more advanced than we know, so there’s no knowing what new technologies are already being deployed against without our knowledge. Certainly, by the time we learn about a particular method of surveillance or new technological gadget, it’s a sure bet that the government has been using it covertly for years already. And if other governments are using a particular technology, you can bet that our government used it first. For instance, back in 2011, it was reported that the government of Tunisia was not only monitoring the emails of its citizens but was actually altering the contents of those emails in order to thwart dissidents. How much do you want to bet that government agents have already employed such tactics in the U.S.?

Apart from the obvious dangers posed by a government that feels justified and empowered to spy on its people and use its ever-expanding arsenal of weapons and technology to monitor and control them, we’re approaching a time in which we will be forced to choose between obeying the dictates of the government—i.e., the law, or whatever a government officials deems the law to be—and maintaining our individuality, integrity and independence.

When people talk about privacy, they mistakenly assume it protects only that which is hidden behind a wall or under one’s clothing. The courts have fostered this misunderstanding with their constantly shifting delineation of what constitutes an “expectation of privacy.” And technology has furthered muddied the waters.

However, privacy is so much more than what you do or say behind locked doors. It is a way of living one’s life firm in the belief that you are the master of your life, and barring any immediate danger to another person (which is far different from the carefully crafted threats to national security the government uses to justify its actions), it’s no one’s business what you read, what you say, where you go, whom you spend your time with, and how you spend your money.

Unfortunately, privacy as we once knew it is dead.

We now find ourselves in the unenviable position of being monitored, managed and controlled by our technology, which answers not to us but to our government and corporate rulers. This is the fact-is-stranger-than-fiction lesson that is being pounded into us on a daily basis.

Thus, to be an individual today, to not conform, to have even a shred of privacy, and to live beyond the reach of the government’s roaming eyes and technological spies, one must not only be a rebel but rebel.

Even when you rebel and take your stand, there is rarely a happy ending awaiting you. You are rendered an outlaw. This is the message in almost every dystopian work of fiction, from classic writers such as George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Philip K. Dick and Ray Bradbury to more contemporary voices such as Margaret Atwood, Lois Lowry and Suzanne Collins.

How do you survive in the American police state?

We’re running out of options. As Philip K. Dick, the visionary who gave us Minority Report and Blade Runner, advised:

“If, as it seems, we are in the process of becoming a totalitarian society in which the state apparatus is all-powerful, the ethics most important for the survival of the true, free, human individual would be: cheat, lie, evade, fake it, be elsewhere, forge documents, build improved electronic gadgets in your garage that’ll outwit the gadgets used by the authorities.”

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”—C.S. Lewis

Surveillance cameras, government agents listening in on your phone calls, reading your emails and text messages and monitoring your spending, mandatory health care, sugary soda bans, anti-bullying laws, zero tolerance policies, political correctness: these are all outward signs of a government—i.e., a societal elite—that believes it knows what is best for you and can do a better job of managing your life than you can.

This is tyranny disguised as “the better good.” Indeed, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, this is the tyranny of the Nanny State: marketed as benevolence, enforced with armed police, and inflicted on all those who do not belong to the elite ruling class that gets to call the shots. Thus, this explains the recent rash of parents getting charged with negligence and arrested for leaving their kids alone for any amount of time, whether at a park, in a store, in a car, or in their front yard—another sign of what C.S. Lewis referred to as tyranny exercised by “omnipotent moral busybodies.”

For example, working mom Debra Harrell was arrested, spent 17 days in jail, lost custody of her daughter, and if convicted, could spend up to 10 years in jail all because she let her 9-year-old daughter play alone at a nearby park.  Single mother Shanesha Taylor, unemployed and essentially homeless, was arrested for leaving her kids in her car during a 40-minute job interview.

For the so-called “crime” of allowing her 7-year-old son to visit a neighborhood playground located a half mile from their house, Nicole Gainey was interrogated, arrested and handcuffed in front of her son, and transported to the local jail where she was physically searched, fingerprinted, photographed and held for seven hours and then forced to pay almost $4000 in bond in order to return to her family. Gainey now faces a third-degree criminal felony charge that carries with it a fine of up to $5,000 and 5 years in jail.

A Connecticut mother was arrested after her 7-year-old, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, fell off his scooter and allegedly injured himself. Patricia Juarez was arrested after letting her 7-year-old son play at a Legoland store in the mall while she did her shopping. Tammy Cooper was arrested, jailed overnight and charged with child endangerment for letting her kids ride their scooters alone in the cul-de-sac outside her suburban home.

Jeffrey Williamson was arrested after his 8-year-old son skipped church to play with neighborhood children. The experience has left scars on the household. “Every time that we leave in our car or drive down the street or something like that, every time they see a cop in Blanchester, they freak out and say, ‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, are they going to arrest you?’” Williamson said.

Crystal Byers was arrested after refusing to allow a social worker to take her children away, despite the fact that the state services worker was unable to provide any paperwork supporting the removal. Then there was the father arrested, charged with child cruelty, and banished from his family home after he spanked his 3-year-old daughter once for talking back to her mother, pushing the screen out of her window, refusing to pick up her toys and throwing a belt at him. The father was also ordered to undergo 52 weeks of parenting classes and two monitored visits with his daughter each week.

These manifestations of the criminalization of parenthood are worsened by what journalist Josh Harkinson more broadly refers to as the “criminalization of the working poor,” oftentimes targeting parents “struggling to make ends meet with no better child care options.” As Harkinson points out: “Is the seven-year-old son of the janitor in Jacksonville better off now that his dad is in jail? How about the baby left in a car at 8 a.m., shielded from the sun, with the windows cracked and sunroof open, while her mom took a final exam for cosmetology school? Or the mother who left her two kids in the car while she donated blood plasma to get gas money?

Indeed, in the rush to cast judgment on these “negligent” parents, arresting them, jailing them, and sentencing them to outrageous prison terms, there is little concern shown for the hapless kids who in one way or another contribute to their parents’ arrests and are then left to grapple with feelings of guilt, abandonment, etc., not to mention the trauma of foster care. It’s estimated that 2.7 million children in the U.S. have at least one parent in prison, whether it be a local jail or a state or federal penitentiary, due to a wide range of factors ranging from overcriminalization and surprise raids at family homes to roadside traffic stops.

Despite the arrest-driven uproar over what constitutes negligent parenting and the government’s attitude that it—in concert with Social Services—knows what is best for your kids, it turns out that kids aren’t really in any greater danger today than they were 40 years ago, at least not from abductions by strangers. “What has changed over the last 40 years,” note journalists Jessica Grose and Hanna Rosin for Slate, “is our sense of community. Mothers work, neighbors talk less, and the divorce rate began to creep upward in the 1970s and has remained at around 45 percent…. Over the years, parental fears have also translated into the view that children are fragile, too tender to handle tricky emotional or physically risky activities.”

Having allowed our fears to be codified and our actions criminalized, we now find ourselves in a strange new world where just about everything we do is criminalized, not just our parenting decisions. Even so, how did we go from enacting laws to make our worlds safer to being saddled with a government that polices our social decisions?

As with most of the problems plaguing us in the American police state, we are the source of our greatest problems. As journalist Gracy Olmstead recognizes, the problem arose when we looked “first to the State to care for the situation, rather than exercising any sort of personal involvement… These actions reveal a more passive, isolated attitude. But here, again, we see the result of breakdown in modern American community—without a sense of communal closeness or responsibility, we act as bystanders rather than as stewards.”

Olmstead continues:

[Communitarian libertarian Robert] Nisbet predicted that, in a society without strong private associations, the State would take their place — assuming the role of the church, the schoolroom, and the family, asserting a “primacy of claim” upon our children. “It is hard to overlook the fact,” he wrote, “that the State and politics have become suffused by qualities formerly inherent only in the family or the church.” In this world, the term “nanny state” takes on a very literal meaning.

Unfortunately, even in the face of outright corruption and incompetency on the part of our elected officials, Americans in general remain relatively gullible, eager to be persuaded that the government can solve the problems that plague us—whether it be terrorism, an economic depression, an environmental disaster, how or what we eat or even keeping our children safe.

We have relinquished control over the most intimate aspects of our lives to government officials who, while they may occupy seats of authority, are neither wiser, smarter, more in tune with our needs, more knowledgeable about our problems, nor more aware of what is really in our best interests. Yet having bought into the false notion that the government does indeed know what’s best for us and can ensure not only our safety but our happiness and will take care of us from cradle to grave—that is, from daycare centers to nursing homes—we have in actuality allowed ourselves to be bridled and turned into slaves at the bidding of a government that cares little for our freedoms or our happiness.

A Government of Wolves book coverThe lesson is this: once a free people allows the government inroads into their freedoms or uses those same freedoms as bargaining chips for security, it quickly becomes a slippery slope to outright tyranny. Nor does it seem to matter whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican at the helm anymore, because the bureaucratic mindset on both sides of the aisle now seems to embody the same philosophy of authoritarian government, whose priorities are to remain in control and in power.

Modern government in general—ranging from the militarized police in SWAT team gear crashing through our doors to the rash of innocent citizens being gunned down by police to the invasive spying on everything we do—is acting illogically, even psychopathically. (The characteristics of a psychopath include a “lack of remorse and empathy, a sense of grandiosity, superficial charm, conning and manipulative behavior, and refusal to take responsibility for one’s actions, among others.” )

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, and then jails us if we dare step out of line, punishes us unjustly without remorse, and refuses 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.”

So where does that leave us?

Having allowed the government to expand and exceed our reach, we find ourselves on the losing end of a tug-of-war over control of our country and our lives. And for as long as we let them, government officials will continue to trample on our rights, always justifying their actions as being for the good of the people.

Yet the government can only go as far as “we the people” allow. Therein lies the problem.

The problem is that we have suspended our moral consciences in favor of the police state. As Chris Hedges rightly told me years ago, “Not having to make moral choice frees you from a great deal of anxiety. It frees you from responsibility. And it assures that you will always be wrapped in the embrace of the powerful as long as, of course, you will do or dance to the tune the powers play… when you do what is right, you often have to understand that you are not going to be lauded and praised for it. Making a moral decision always entails risks, certainly to one’s career and to one’s standing in the community.”

The choice before us is clear, and it is a moral choice. It is the choice between tyranny and freedom, dictatorship and autonomy, peaceful slavery and dangerous freedom, and manufactured pipedreams of what America used to be versus the gritty reality of what she is today.

Most of all, perhaps, the choice before us is that of being a child or a parent, of obeying blindly, never questioning, and marching in lockstep with the police state or growing up, challenging injustice, standing up to tyranny, and owning up to our responsibilities as citizens, no matter how painful, risky or uncomfortable.

As author Erich Fromm warned in his book Civil Disobedience, “At this point in history, the capacity to doubt, to criticize and to disobey may be all that stands between a future for mankind and the end of civilization.”

“There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.”—Charles de Montesquieu

We labor today under the weight of countless tyrannies, large and small, carried out in the name of the national good by an elite class of government officials who are largely insulated from the ill effects of their actions. We, the middling classes, are not so fortunate. We find ourselves badgered, bullied and browbeaten into bearing the brunt of their arrogance, paying the price for their greed, suffering the backlash for their militarism, agonizing as a result of their inaction, feigning ignorance about their backroom dealings, overlooking their incompetence, turning a blind eye to their misdeeds, cowering from their heavy-handed tactics, and blindly hoping for change that never comes.

As I point out in my book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, the overt signs of the despotism exercised by the increasingly authoritarian regime that passes itself off as the United States government are all around us: warrantless surveillance of Americans’ private phone and email conversations by the NSA; SWAT team raids of Americans’ homes; shootings of unarmed citizens by police; harsh punishments meted out to schoolchildren in the name of zero tolerance; drones taking to the skies domestically; endless wars; out-of-control spending; militarized police; roadside strip searches; roving TSA sweeps; privatized prisons with a profit incentive for jailing Americans; fusion centers that collect and disseminate data on Americans’ private transactions; and militarized agencies with stockpiles of ammunition, to name some of the most appalling.

Yet as egregious as these incursions on our rights may be, it’s the endless, petty tyrannies inflicted on an overtaxed, overregulated, and underrepresented populace that occasionally nudge a weary public out of their numb indifference and into a state of outrage. Consider, for example, that federal and state governments now require on penalty of a fine that individuals apply for permission before they can grow exotic orchids, host elaborate dinner parties, gather friends in one’s home for Bible studies, give coffee to the homeless, or keep chickens as pets.

Consider, too, the red light camera schemes that have been popping up all over the country. These traffic cameras, little more than intrusive, money-making scams for states, have been shown to do little to increase safety while actually contributing to more accidents. Nevertheless, they are being inflicted on unsuspecting drivers by revenue-hungry municipalities, despite revelations of corruption, collusion and fraud.

In most cases, state and local governments arrange to lease the cameras from a corporation such as Redflex, which takes its cut of ticket revenue first, with the excess going to the states and municipalities. The cameras, which are triggered by sensors buried in the road, work by taking photos of drivers who enter intersections after a traffic light turns red. What few realize, however, is that you don’t actually have to run a red light to get “caught.” Many drivers have triggered the cameras simply by making a right turn on red or crossing the sensor but not advancing into the intersection.

Indeed, these intricate red light camera systems—which also function as surveillance cameras—placed in cities and towns throughout America, ostensibly for our own good, are in reality simply another means for government and corporate officials to fleece the American people. Virginia is a perfect example of what happens when politicians sacrifice safety to generate revenue. In March 2010, Governor Bob McDonnell approved legislation that allows private corporations operating the red light camera systems, such as the Australian-based Redflex, to directly access motorists’ confidential information from the Department of Motor Vehicles. What this means is that not only will government agents have one more means of monitoring a person’s whereabouts, but a remote, privately-owned corporation will now have access to drivers’ confidential information.

Another provision signed into law by McDonnell also shortened the amount of time given to alleged traffic law violators to respond to citations resulting from red light camera violations. While prior law allotted 60 days for the response, the amendment cut that time in half to 30 days. This gives the driver scant time to receive and review the information, determine what action is required, inspect the evidence, consider appealing the citation and respond appropriately. In this way, by shortening the appeal time, more drivers are forced to pay the fine or face added penalties.

For red light camera manufacturers such as Redflex, there’s a lot of money to be made from these “traffic safety” fines. Redflex, which has installed and operates over 2,000 red light camera programs in 220 localities across the United States and Canada, made $25 million in 2008. In addition to revenue from fines, Redflex also gets paid for installing the red light cameras, which cost $25,000 a pop, plus $13,800 per year for maintenance.

A map of Chicago’s red light cameras.

Although these cameras are in use all across America, Chicago boasts the “largest enforcement program in the world.” Since installing Chicago’s 384 red light cameras in 2003, Redflex has made $97 million from residents of the Windy City, while the city has profited to the tune of over $300 million. Hoping to pull in an additional $30 million for the year 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel began negotiating a new contract last year with Redflex to install speed cameras. However, contract negotiations for the speed cameras were terminated shortly after it was revealed that Chicago city officials had been on the receiving end of millions of dollars in financial bribes from Redflex. Chicago is now in the process of terminating its contract with Redflex, despite seeming attempts by Mayor Emanuel’s office to delay the process.

Redflex’s use of graft and chicanery in Chicago in order to pull in greater profits seems to be the rule rather than the exception when it comes to the company’s overall business practices. For example, in Center Point, Alabama, a red light camera program (again operated by Redflex) saw motorists being issued fines under the pretext that their tickets could be appealed and their cases heard in court. Unfortunately, since no such court exists, those targeted with citations were compelled to pay the fine. They are now pursuing a class-action lawsuit against the city and Redflex.

One particularly corrupt practice aimed at increasing the incidence of red light violations (and fines) involves the shortening of yellow lights in intersections with red light cameras, despite the fact that reports show that lengthening the yellow lights serves to minimize accidents. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, “a one second increase in yellow time results in 40 percent decrease in severe red light crashes.”

Indeed, those who claim to champion the use of red light cameras in the name of traffic safety are loath to consider reducing the length of yellow lights if it means losing significant citation revenue. An investigative report by a Tampa Bay news station revealed that in 2011, Florida officials conspired to reduce the length of yellow lights at key intersections below minimum federal recommendations in order to issue more citations and collect more fines via red light camera. By reducing the length of yellow lights by a mere half-second, Florida officials doubled the number of citations issued. Contrast that with what happened when the yellow light time was increased from 3 seconds to the minimum requirement of 4.3 seconds at one Florida intersection: traffic citations dropped by 90 percent.

If you want to know the real motives behind any government program, follow the money trail. Florida is a perfect example. In 2012 alone, Florida pulled in about $100 million from red light cameras operating in 70 communities. About half the profits went into state coffers, while the other half was split between counties, cities and the corporation which manufactures the cameras. Officials are anticipating increased profits of $120 million for 2013. Following the trail beyond the local governments working with Redflex to inflict these cameras on drivers, and you’ll find millions of dollars in campaign funds flowing to Florida politicians from lobbyists for the red light camera industry.

Fortunately, the resistance against these programs is gaining traction, with localities across the United States cancelling their red-light camera programs in droves. In early May 2013, officials in Phoenix, Arizona backpedaled on a one-year extension of their contract with Redflex, with the city’s chief financial officer, Jeff Dewitt saying, “We made a mistake.” Voters in League City, Texas became the fifth city in the state to vote to end red light camera enforcement, ending another of Redflex’s contracts in the United States. Cities in Florida, Arizona, and California have terminated contract negotiations with the company, and in March 2013, a parish in Louisiana voted to refund nearly $20 million in revenue from red-light cameras after yet another corruption scandal came to light. Florida state legislators are also considering banning all red light cameras in the state.

What’s the lesson here? Whether you’re talking about combatting red light cameras, banning the use of weaponized surveillance drones domestically, putting an end to warrantless spying, or reining in government overspending, if you really want to enact change, don’t waste your time working at the national level, where graft and corruption are entrenched. The place to foment change, institute true reforms, and resist government overreach is at the local level. That’s what federalism in early America was all about—government from the bottom up—a loose collective of local governments with power invested in the populace, reflecting their will to those operating at the national level. Remarking on the benefits of the American tradition of local self-government in the 1830s, the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville observed:

Local institutions are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they put it within the people’s reach; they teach people to appreciate its peaceful enjoyment and accustom them to make use of it. Without local institutions a nation may give itself a free government, but it has not got the spirit of liberty.

To put it another way, if we are to have any hope of reclaiming our run-away government and restoring our freedoms, change will have to start at the local level and trickle upwards. There is no other way. — John W. Whitehead

What we are witnessing, thanks in large part to zero tolerance policies that were intended to make schools safer by discouraging the use of actual drugs and weapons by students, is the criminalization of childish behavior. Most recently, for example, two 6-year-old students at White Marsh Elementary School in Maryland were suspended for using their fingers as imaginary guns in a schoolyard game of  cops and robbers.

The age-old game of cops and robbers is one I played as a child. “I’m gonna get you, robber,” one kid yells, chasing his friend across the playground. The other boy turns and points his finger before racing away. The cops are in hot pursuit. “Bang, bang, you’re dead,” one shouts. “No! Bang, bang, you’re dead!” the other cries, before both melodramatically fall to the ground. Thus goes a game played by boys from time immemorial.

In a new wrinkle on this old game, however, it’s not the cop who gets the bad guy. Now, the game ends when school officials summon real cops–who arrest the kindergartners for engaging in juvenile crime. That happened at a New Jersey school, from which four little boys were suspended for pretending their fingers were guns. At another school, an 8-year-old boy was arrested and charged with terrorism for pointing a paper gun at classmates and announcing, “I’m going to kill you all.” Officials at a California elementary school called police when a little boy was caught playing cops and robbers at recess. The principal told the child’s parents their child was a terrorist. Unwittingly, the principal was right on target: These are acts of terrorism. The culprits here, though, are not overactive schoolchildren; those guilty of terrorizing young children and parents nationwide are school officials who–in an effort to enforce zero tolerance policies against violence, weapons and drugs–have moved our schools into a lockdown mentality.

Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents, nor are they limited to episodes of cops and robbers.

Nine-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. That particular LEGO, a policeman, was Patrick’s favorite because his father is a retired police officer. 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 7-year-old New Jersey boy, described by school officials as “a nice kid” and “a good student,” was reported to the police and charged with possessing an imitation firearm after he brought a toy Nerf-style gun to school. The gun shoots soft ping pong-type balls.

Things have gotten so bad that it doesn’t even take a toy gun to raise the ire of school officials. 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. A 12-year-old New York student was hauled out of school in handcuffs for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker. 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). Six-year-old Cub Scout Zachary Christie was sentenced to 45 days in reform school after bringing a camping utensil to school that can serve as a fork, knife or spoon. And in Oklahoma, school officials suspended a first grader simply for using his hand to simulate a gun.

What these incidents, all the result of overzealous school officials and inflexible zero tolerance policies, make clear is that we have moved into a new paradigm in America where young people are increasingly viewed as suspects and treated as criminals by school officials and law enforcement alike.

Adopted in the wake of Congress’ passage of the 1994 Gun-Free Schools Act, which required a one-year expulsion for any child bringing a firearm or bomb to school, school zero tolerance policies were initially intended to address and prevent serious problems involving weapons, violence and drug and alcohol use in the schools. However, since the Columbine school shootings, nervous legislators and school boards have tightened their zero tolerance policies to such an extent that school officials are now empowered to punish all offenses severely, no matter how minor. Hence, an elementary school student is punished in the same way that an adult high school senior is punished. And a student who actually intends to harm others is treated the same as one who breaks the rules accidentally–or is perceived as breaking the rules.

For instance, after students at a Texas school were assigned to write a “scary” Halloween story, one 13-year-old chose to write about shooting up a school. Although he received a passing grade on the story, school officials reported him to the police, resulting in his spending six days in jail before it was determined that no crime had been committed. 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.” Indeed, at least 20 children in four states have been suspended from school for possession of the fizzy tablets in violation of zero tolerance drug policies. In some jurisdictions, carrying cough drops, wearing black lipstick or dying your hair blue are actually expellable offenses. 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. Another 12-year-old was handcuffed and jailed after he stomped in a puddle, splashing classmates.

There’s an old axiom that what children learn in school today will be the philosophy of government tomorrow. As surveillance cameras, metal detectors, police patrols, zero tolerance policies, lock downs, drug sniffing dogs and strip searches become the norm in elementary, middle and high schools across the nation, America is on a fast track to raising up an Orwellian generation–one populated by compliant citizens accustomed to living in a police state and who march in lockstep to the dictates of the government. In other words, the schools are teaching our young people how to be obedient subjects in a totalitarian society. — John W. Whitehead