We read more and more about severe changes to American local law enforcement. It is as if the world after 9/11 had adapted to a more dangerous mode of living. It is as if we hesitate when turning the key in the door or entering a new building or driving into a strange part of the city.
But it is not terrorists who have sparked the most commentary on danger in the community. It is our own law enforcement, armed like Martians, driving dark-windowed, shiny, opal SUVs, or pushing ahead behind tanks or in formations storming a small bungalow in the suburbs or in some lower-middle class neighborhood in Michigan or Ohio or a group of protesters on Wall Street.
We hear less and less about the heroic effort of our police and more about the bullet riddled bodies of the victims of SWAT teams, less able to defend their actions when dead. History is written by survivors. More often these days the issues relating to law enforcement have to do with abuse of the justice system by law enforcement officials. Our legal system itself is now being challenged as corrupt or coercive.
It may be time to take a long hard look at how we treat matters of crime, law enforcement, imprisonment, fairness, justice itself, and the conduct of our entire judicial system. We incarcerate more of our citizens per capita than any other nation, 550 per 100.000 versus 50-150 per 100.000. That–in the supposedly “exceptional” American system–should be the principal wake-up call. Why are so many in jail and who are they?
You have to face one fact, without taking sides or trying to explain it away. That fact is that much of our crime is race related. When the numbers are laid out for general groups of average citizens, you will hear some saying that they are overly concerned with race and extraneous issues. But they are not “Liberal” issues, nor are they exaggerated issues on race and poverty. They are just facts.
The statistics on race and poverty are well known. The connections are well known. The relationships from one generation to the next are well known. Yet many in society tend to use cultural differences to make the case that things will always be as they have been. We went from slavery to Black Codes to Jim Crow to Northern migration…of whom? Of individuals who were detested and treated like animals and then dumped into ghettos without the barest education or culturalization.
Look, the culture of Southern Whites, though not perfect, has changed dramatically since this time in the 20th Century. People can change. Cultures can be changed. That is the cause for optimism about the future of crime in the country and its relationship to the black population. And why is that important? In some communities we incarcerate so many African-American men that the totals reach one-third of the entire black population. In total numbers, African-American males account for 40% of the prison population but only 13% of the general population. So race is a significant issue.
It is not racist to convict a murderer or a robber of his crime. But when criminals come in such numbers from the same areas, we can almost randomly point in any direction and find huge environmental issues creating the conditions that cause crime. Then, racism…which would be the failure to address those conditions, does become a serious issue.
In the African-American communities the multi-generational factors that lead to crime…denial of education, jobs, acceptance, respect, empathy, and understanding of the huge economic differences between white and black society…must be taken into consideration…not in convicting someone or not in sentencing them….but more importantly in preventing the conditions that cause people to commit crime in the first place. It is not all economic. It is partly cultural and that must be addressed.
But it is not being addressed. What many call the the American imperialist activities—with some justification– have caused us international problems. The problems led to terrorism. And what were they? Well, it is easy to point out even a few from simple memory without looking anything up—first, replacing several Latin American governments with dictators, then replacing the legitimate government of Iran with a dictator, supporting a dictator in Egypt, for which we are now paying a price. We have ignored dictators in places like Libya, Uganda, the Sudan…most of which Middle Eastern problems had to do with our thirst for oil.
So under cover of a real terrorist threat, our national security forces…our military, our national police force (FBI) our anti-terrorist and activist intelligence service (CIA) and our state and local police forces have been organized into one big, strong unit. At the national level, they claim to be securing the Homeland. (Nazis called a similar organization a defense of the Vaterland. Fatherland.)
At the local level, they used to be called and act like the local police. They patrolled the streets, put drunks into holding tanks, showed up at robberies and assaults to arrest the perpetrators, and in general maintained order. More often today, the reports of police behavior sound like reports of storm troopers invading a community, armed, dangerous and often deadly…too often deadly.
This is not what we signed on for with the Patriot Act or with Homeland Security. We have given up too much freedom, too martially equipped local law enforcement, given far too much leeway to cops with guns and other weapons. They don’t work. Almost every other day now in places like Chicago, we hear of an auto chase or a local disturbance where someone may or may not have had a gun. No matter what the circumstances, the person involved is shot dead by the police. We only know the police’s version of what happened, weighed against the testimony of naturally discounted testimony by the victim’s family and neighbors.
Police kick down the wrong doors, shoot the wrong people, shoot people who only may have had a gun, or people who could have been brought under control with lesser violence and often less violence and damage to innocent bystanders. We should no more be harming innocent citizens in the accomplishment of an arrest than we should be killing innocent children with drone attacks in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
We used to call them “peace officers.” What happened to that? The people are not more violent. You do not need a tank and twenty officers with body armor from head to toe and automatic weapons to serve a warrant. If you dress like the military and arm yourself like the military, it is pretty clear that, at some point, you are going to see the person who opposes you as “the enemy.” American citizens are not the enemy. There may be differences in degree between crimes. But that does not mean that we are a country of enemies to our own police. It may be a good idea to point out again that even those who are alleged to have committed the most serious crimes are innocent until proven guilty by a jury of their peers….not by an armed para-military invasion.
Many of our most fervent and dedicated law enforcement officials, jurists and concerned citizens are already determined that we must turn this militarist national police concept around…and quickly. This is no longer the concept of local law enforcement envisioned by the U.S. Constitution. This is a bastardized version of security that has trended and will continue to lead in the direction of a collectivist police state.
Obviously what we need is a social revolution that says that lawful assembly can be called anything from Occupy something to a group of thugs. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that no matter what we call such things as assemblies of large groups, so long as they are peaceful, and legal, they cannot and will not be attacked by national or local police or military so long as we have a Democratic society.
First we lost some of our rights through the war on drugs, the totally unsuccessful (possibly even phony attack on drugs which has not slowed the increase in drugs but has severely curtailed certain of our former rights. For example, many homes have been broken into and damaged, occupants injured and some killed during drug raids on the wrong locations. One such incidence…one…is too many.
Through their negligence in discarding the monumental efforts of Richard Clarke and his anti-terrorist team, Bush and Cheney may have and quite likely did cost this country 3,000 lives on 9/11/2001. Then, to distract us from their incompetence, they set about to start two huge wars that did nothing to make us any safer. Finally, they corralled enough support and scared enough people to forge the overblown and overdone Patriot Act.
And well we should have been scared given their pitiful efforts at national security. What was Cheney’s plan? (Yes, Cheney’s. Bush was merely a puppet.) It was and still is very simple. Smile and ridicule everyone who speaks up sensibly against you, then use your 2000 Right Wing radio stations to sell out the People. Use the Murdoch paid propaganda press and television, its legion of blonde bimbos and studios full of gossip columnists and DJs turned political commentators to read from the talking points issued every morning by former Republican Party Chairman and now the GOP-Goebbels, the obscenely obese Roger Ailes.
And what do the successors to Bush and Cheney have in store for us? In cities all across the country, the 14,000 man private army brought into government by Dick Cheney now located in the back country of North Carolina, the former Blackwater mercenary group, now called Xe, is training local law enforcement in military techniques for “homeland security.”
Do you want a private army, at one time reported to have been authorized by Cheney to go to New Orleans, in full military armor, supposedly deputized by the governor to use lethal force if necessary to..do what? Apparently, they spent their time protecting “key” locations of private firms. One can only speculate if they were large campaign supporters of the GOP…Koch brothers come quickly to mind.
Should a private army even exist in this country, one that has tanks and helicopters and is clearly beholden to political allies in Congress, perhaps in both Parties…which, if it happened could be the end of our society. A nationally sponsored Army to put down the people…to put down Marches and Occupy movements?
What if the government decides, let’s say, with the cancellation of food stamps that it wants to starve the people, keep them in poverty and continue to send jobs abroad while ten million more a year fall into poverty? What happens to those who would protest such a thing if there is a private militia, working for one political Party trained to put down any democratic protest, using the very local law enforcement they trained in military objectives.
Would a governor Walker, Snyder, Scott, Branstad, Brownback, LePage, Brewere, Christie or Kasich let alone any of the confederate states plus Texas and Oklahoma pass up the opportunity to put down the demonstrations of the people for food or humane treatment. Never. These governors would turn on the people in a second to protect the interests of their rich Neo-Fascist corporations. They are already doing as much damage as they can through the legislation they are passing for ALEC.
They have turned down hundreds of millions of dollars in free health care for their poorer citizens in almost every Republican state. And why? Because they are still being paid huge sums of money to continue the fight against the People for the health care industry, which will lose everything…the free market will eventually feed their profits into to lower prices for the people….once Obamacare is fully in operation.
If you don’t believe it, ask yourself if you think people will avoid Walmart to pay higher prices to give higher markups to other retailers. If this theory were wrong there would be no Walmart. Walmart is not popular. It exists only as the place where you can always get the lowest possible price. And that system, which is the premise of Obamacare (and the current highly successful Massachusetts system) is what has made Walmart the largest corporation in the United States.
The free market is all that Walmart has. It simply sells the same products at a lower price point. It drives prices down to get more sales. That same free and open market, which is now in effect, is what will drive private health care out of business. That is why the Tea Party, paid by health care lobbyists, is working frantically to kill it with any sleazy trick it can use, any lie it can tell.
It may turn out that the biggest mistake this country has ever made is initiating the Department of Homeland Security. Or it may be the second worst, after neglecting to educate so many rural hicks who now vote against everything this country has done to make their lives better while turning our natural resources and all financial gains to Right Wing billionaires who want to impoverish the entire Middle Class.
There are 170,000 employees of the Homeland Security Department. It was bad enough when we merely had a dictatorial and racist head of the FBI. We undoubtedly still have many Hoover’s trusted employees in the department, as scary as that seems. But that is just the FBI. And we know what they do. We know how they are selected, trained and deployed. The FBI is not scary if you are legal and white, and probably for the most part, even if you are black.
But when you have military mercenaries working for one political party or one anti-populist point of view, working for a Party aligned with the national military and huge corporations….who already have 30 state governors in their pocket, it is time to worry. Busting unions, firing teachers, cancelling pensions, laying off workers, hiring pals and buddies in the Party as contractors for all kinds of things, who then get rich and give the money back to the Neo-Fascists. That is a sure-fire recipe for the end of democracy as we know it.
Should we be worried? Should you be worried when the Pentagon is giving war weapons, like MRAPS, armored vehicles to communities at bargain basement prices, and outfitting some police departments with AR-17s for each police cruiser? We want our police to be safe, but not the Gestapo. In local police departments from Boise, Idaho to High Springs, Florida more and more hi-tech military weaponry is showing up. There is a saying that if you are a carpenter, every problem looks like a nail. In this case, every problem may begin to look like terrorist activity.
Protective armor and automatic weapons are not the problem. We don’t need free tanks in the hands of some local law enforcement where it can be abused or used to oppress local citizens the way Los Angeles police were routinely accused and proved to have done. All these kinds of organizations need in bigger and more efficient weapons.
There is a simple solution to all this. Stop the Pentagon from issuing cheap or free military weapons to local law enforcement unless they have a unique situation that requires them. Second, remove assault weapons from the public and make it a serious offense to own one or to ever carry one in public except in an approved transfer from one storage location to a range. Finally, break up this ridiculous Homeland Security and go back to a sensible, coordinated effort among all law enforcement agencies.
One final thought before you pooh-pooh this problem. Xe, the old Blackwater, the 14,000-man strong private army, hired Cofer Black to be its CEO. He then went to another private intelligence firm before founding his own private intelligence firm.
Here is one watchdog group, incensed with the disregard of civil rights by government has to say about Cofer Black. “Cofer Black’s role in the United States torture regime was threefold. He ran well-funded secret operations throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan as a CIA warlord. He oversaw our country’s early development and implementation of ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques, renditions, black sites, and disappearances around the world, and he privatized murderous violence with Blackwater U.S.A. and other corporate ventures.”
Unless you think that torture, rendition, and secret interrogations of citizens are good things, it might be time to start asking questions and putting together organizations to stop the militarization of our law enforcement before it is too late. We don’t need it. We have more than adequate security without becoming a police state against our own citizens.
We already have 30 states under very heavy government control, governments that are under Neo-Fascist (heavy industry, military contractors, banks, the NRA, etc) influence. We have governors like Snyder of Michigan who has already thrown out several elected officials and installed own friends..legally…because of the recent ALEC sponsored laws. So if these governors get military style state-wide police forces, we may never get our Democracy back. It is a short step from intimidation to clandestine surveillance, to secret arrest, to torture.
Hitler never told the country about the Gestapo. By the time they found out about the Gestapo, the people were too intimidated, too fearful and too weak politically do fight against it. Many people went to gas chambers who said, to their last breaths, “This can’t be happening here.”
If you don’t read about this and don’t act to de-militarize our law enforcement, you could very well one day be saying….this can’t happen here…as you go through the doors of one of those private prisons now being built all over this country. Yes. That’s right. Private prisons. Oh, sure, there’s a “good reason” for it, a rationale. But you’d be very wise to check out what those reasons really are in your state.