Perfection of the American Police State

The United States has never been the benign utopia that some people think it is. We have a long history of overthrowing democratically elected governments, in Chile, Iraq, Iran, Haiti, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and elsewhere. We regularly invade small sovereign nations and cause immense damage. We launch numerous horrible wars under false pretenses.

But the most alarming trend of the moment is the militarization of our entire country. Police departments have SWAT teams that would be at home on any battlefield in their Star Wars costumes. Military assault weapons are normal gear found in every patrol car. Armored vehicles are being bought by police everywhere. Military drones are already on the job tracking down desperately poor people wanting a job in the US.

We have a long history of overthrowing
democratically elected governments.

Much of this trend is driven by the usual American uber-motive: money. Vast sums are being spent to “defend” our southern border against itinerant workers. “Defense” contractors are salivating over the profit to be reaped from hundreds of miles of impenetrable wall to keep the poor out, each mile the equivalent of constructing a large office building—all of it pointless because drug runners will simply use other means and there is no security threat from the south. Official and unofficial patrols and vigilante groups drive up and down in their new vehicles, consulting their radar and night-seeing military devices to keep us safe from brown workers. Now and then they shoot and kill someone, for example a teenager on the other side of the border who is throwing rocks at them. No one is ever prosecuted for these blatant murders.

Money that was budgeted for national security is routinely used for pursuit of drug smugglers. The military developed a weapon that disables people from a distance by making them feel unbearably hot, kind of like being in a microwave oven. Its purpose: to harass protestors, since it is useless on the battlefield.

Vast sums are being spent
to “defend” our southern border
against itinerant workers.

Republicans are keeping us safe stateside, by enacting Koch-approved ALEC laws similar to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which comes down to a license to kill African-Americans. It doesn’t apply, for example if you are a black woman who fires a shot into the wall to warn her abusive husband to stay away, in which case you will be sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Stories of midnight raids by swarms of stormtroopers in full military regalia who break down the doors of ordinary people, yank them out of bed, handcuff and shout threats at them, terrifying their children, meantime trashing their home, have become almost routine. As often as not, it seems, they are at the wrong address, not to mention that there is never a good excuse for such a circus act. One such battalion raided an organic produce grower, presumably in hot pursuit of the deadly cannabis, but forced to satisfy themselves by shouting threats, ripping up vegetables and fruits, and generally making a mess. In virtually all of these raids, the subjects of the raids are threatened and abused, sometimes beaten. Beloved family dogs are routinely shot and killed. Apologies are rare, and restitution rarer still.

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law
is a license to kill African-Americans.

Once a week an unarmed black man who was no threat to anyone is killed by the police or some white guy with a gun. Off-duty cops beat one man who was having a non-violent argument with his girlfriend so badly he nearly lost his life, in spite of her repeated protests. Cops routinely beat up completely innocent people, particularly if they are not white. Cops assault people such as shoplifters who are already apprehended. White cops shot an off-duty black cop numerous times, obviously because he was black. A simple online search reveals dozens of such cases of police brutality.

“Stop and frisk” laws have resulted in confrontations with black men many times more often than with whites, but the results, in the number of guns or drugs seized, is equivalent for both groups, and not very high for either. In other words, the whole campaign is race driven, and results have not been worth the cost.

We have a constitutional right to protest, a right that has been abused from at least the time of J. Edgar Hoover. Federal agencies have made it their business to spy on any and every person who disagrees with the powers that be. Hoover had dossiers on all sorts of people, including distinguished scholars and scientists, as well as Democratic lawmakers. One black rights advocate was followed by teams of FBI agents for decades. He eventually obtained his FBI records under the Freedom of Information Act. The papers filled his living room. The FBI didn’t even have a parking ticket to show for their decades of spying and millions of dollars wasted.

One black rights advocate’s FBI papers
took up his whole living room.

It has become standard practice for the FBI to infiltrate all protest groups and groups that advocate for our constitutional rights. It’s also routine to photograph or video public appearances of these constitutionally protected groups. During the Occupy movement’s actions last year, virtually everyone at all involved became part of their records, and dozens, including children, were pepper-sprayed for no apparent reason. The MIT dissident Noam Chomsky has been the subject of FBI spying for decades. In some cases, being a Democrat has been enough reason for spying.

Since 9/11, the government has maintained lists of people who they think might have some connection to terrorism, however vague, and people who might not think that American political institutions are blameless. So for example, a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, was returning to his family when he was detained in New York and secretly shipped to the Middle East, where he was imprisoned in solitary confinement and tortured for months. Numerous people were seized under similar circumstances and shipped clandestinely through some 50 cooperating nations to “black sites”, secret American prisons, where they were tortured. Nearly a million others are on secret lists that prevent them from traveling, or subject them to routine harassment at airports. For example, the documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras was pulled aside and questioned at length in every airport in her frequent travels for six years, her records, videos, and equipment seized, and that was before her involvement with Edward Snowden. Anyone who is in any way connected to exposures of wrongdoing can be expected to be followed and harassed by federal agencies for years.

Filmmaker Laura Poitras was harassed
in every airport for six years.

Exposures by Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden have brought our attention to government wrongdoing on a massive scale. What they have exposed are numerous major crimes. As is often the case with people who show the corruption of the powerful, they are pursued by the full powers of the agencies they have exposed, with the goal of silencing them forever. Manning, having been tortured daily by the US Army for several months, was sentenced to 35 years for his WikiLeaks revelations of government crimes. (He’s eligible for parole in 7 years. Any bets?) But people responsible for the design of American torture have never been charged with a crime. Abu Ghraib officials paid a modest fine and were absolved of all responsibility for the abhorrent treatment of prisoners in Iraq that damaged our national moral standing for many years to come.

The FBI and CIA regularly commit violations of basic constitutional rights and international law in pursuit of their targets. A clear example was the recent illegal forced landing of the plane carrying the president of Bolivia, whereon the plane was searched, both actions being blatantly illegal and diplomatically unacceptable. The goal was the illegal capture of Edward Snowden. He was not on the plane, but President Morales was. The US would not accept such actions by, say, North Korea, but the CIA is not swayed by mere diplomacy and international law. Nor did we have any compunction about kidnapping the democratically elected president of Haiti and flying him against his will to an unsafe African exile.

The CIA attempt to capture Edward Snowden
by forcing down the plane carrying
the president of Ecuador
was a clear violation of international law.

Snowden showed us that the government has made it their business to spy on literally every citizen. Some 250 agents spend their days sifting through all our phone and email records, and the records of the drug agents are said to be many times larger. The government has seized months of the records of communications companies such as Verizon, and, during years of cooperation, AT&T has even implanted agents in their offices. I haven’t the slightest doubt that this blog is being closely watched by the virtuous protectors of our liberties, hoping to find some evidence of a connection to nefarious forces.

During all of this, the establishment media have become less than useless, easily threatened if they attempt to report on something “sensitive”, say, exposure of any of the 1.8-million government papers that are stamped “secret” every week, when the real need for secrets is not even 1/10,000 of that. Aside from brave in-depth reports from the New York Times, Mother Jones, The New Yorker, The Nation, and some others, the media have become so thoroughly cowed by threatening political powers and their corporate masters that, as a whole, they have largely failed to perform their duties as protectors of liberty.

Whistleblowers in and out of government should be protected—in fact honored with ticker-tape parades—but instead are hounded for the rest of their days by a vengeful government. Those who point out grievous corporate violations can expect to lose their livelihood and to be pursued by the courts and blacklisted the rest of their lives. How long will it be before ordinary citizens are afraid to express their opinions at all, lest they be seized and sent to a “re-education” facility?

Two prominent and respected voices have in recent days told us in no uncertain terms that our democracy is not just threatened, but has already been seriously, perhaps fatally, damaged. Those voices were Professor Noam Chomsky and President Jimmy Carter. There will be more.

So. Do we have a police state yet?


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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’ve always thought that any nation that succumbs to fear stands a good chance of becoming a police state. And the police? Many of them act as they do, aggressive to their own fellow citizens, because they have been given pep-talks IN fear.

    Sad to say, the bullying nation we are fast becoming is not the result of big balls at all….but of being scared silly, like the nervous dog that bites anyone at all.


    • Well said.


  2. The sign of an empire in decline is that the government is all-powerful when it comes to waging war or suppressing opposition, but paralyzed when it comes to reform or taking constructive action.


    • It’s dismaying.


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