Category Archives: Incarceration

NJ Weedman Versus the World

Through the metal detectors, past the indoor basketball court dotted with men in orange, and into a small, whitewashed room with six telephones, New Jersey’s resident marijuana activist sat behind a window. He sat at the fourth phone, his face framed by a thick border of blue paint around the polycarbonate glass, chipped in some areas. His dreadlocks were tied back and his calm, gray-colored eyes were underlined by dark bags. He was tired.

There is an irony unraveling inside this New Jersey jail. With the election of Gov. Phil Murphy, who campaigned on legalizing marijuana, the state is closer than it has ever been to seeing the drug become permitted. But at a time when activists are rejoicing the plant’s acceptance in the Garden State, New Jersey’s most ardent pot advocate is behind bars.

Edward Forchion, known ubiquitously as NJ Weedman, has been locked up at the Mercer County Correctional Center for more than a year with no conviction—and he could be in jail when his decades-long dream of legalization finally becomes a reality.

The man who spent most of his adult life advocating marijuana reform is now fighting bail reform.

In January 2017, New Jersey enacted the Criminal Justice Reform Act, referred to as the bail reform act, after the measure was successfully passed by New Jersey voters by a ballot question three years earlier. The law made the state’s bail system dependent on risk as opposed to money.

The Reform

Since its passage, the courts are now using a computer-based pretrial risk assessment tool, created by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, that considers a defendant’s criminal history to determine the risk of three components: failure to appear in court, new criminal activity and new violent criminal activity. With the bail reform also came a set of new standards. Defendants must have their first court appearance within 48 hours of an arrest, prosecutors have 90 days to indict a defendant, and, if indicted, a trial must be scheduled within 180 days.

The idea behind the state’s bail reform was to help low-risk, nonviolent defendants in jail simply because they could not afford to post bail. In many instances, the concept worked.

The New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which played an important role in creating the bail reform act, said that within nine months of the law being enacted, the state’s pretrial jail population decreased by 15 percent. But changing the bail system created some obvious opposition. In September 2017, an insurance company with ties to the bail bond industry unsuccessfully petitioned a federal court for an injunction to stop the bail reform act.

Alexander Shalom, a staff attorney with the ACLU-NJ who was a member of New Jersey’s Joint Committee on Criminal Justice, the taskforce created to address the state’s bail system, applauded the federal judge’s ruling and said: “No system of pretrial release and detention, including this one, is perfect, but the last thing we need is to heed the bail industry’s desperate call to increase reliance on money bail.”

Despite the risk assessment algorithm, the decision to release a defendant on bail ultimately comes down to the judge.

Previously in New Jersey, bail was typically only denied for those charged with capital offenses. Under the bail reform act, even for crimes considered nonviolent, a judge may still institute a cash bail when no other release conditions could ensure public safety or the defendant’s appearance in court. In the most extreme cases, a judge can order a defendant to be held without bail pending trial, usually if prosecutors argue that the defendant is a danger to the community.

Forchion, who is facing a third-degree witness tampering charge and has never been convicted of a violent crime, is considered by the court to be one of those cases. His charge stems from posting the identity of a police informant online.

The pretrial risk assessment algorithm recommended Forchion’s release with the condition of weekly reporting to the court. Prosecutors, however, argued that if Forchion were released, he would pose a danger to the community and may obstruct the criminal justice process. They argued that despite the risk assessment’s recommendation of release, Forchion should be held in jail without bail awaiting his trial, and the judge agreed. That was March 7, 2017.

“For 230 years, we’ve had the right to bail in this country,” Forchion said in one of many phone interviews from jail. “Now, New Jersey passed this bail reform act and now things like this can happen.”

The Restaurant

Before Forchion ended up in jail, he owned and operated a restaurant and a “cannabis temple” in New Jersey’s capital city, Trenton.

Like many other cities that relied heavily on manufacturing in the 19th and 20th centuries, Trenton saw an economic downturn before the turn of the millennia, financially depressing the city whose slogan is still “Trenton Makes and the World Takes.” The once-thriving city is now littered with boarded-up windows and dilapidated street corners. In a city where news coverage has been dominated by crime and violence, Forchion’s restaurant and sanctuary stood out as a positive addition to the community, and it was less than a mile away from the New Jersey Statehouse.

In 2015, the Wall Street Journal profiled the restaurant and noted that Forchion’s business received an honorary proclamation from the New Jersey Legislature commending the establishment and welcoming it to Trenton’s business community.

The restaurant, NJ Weedman’s Joint, served health-conscious dishes with a soul food twist, and although the food did not contain marijuana, the names of the menu items did. A meatball sandwich was dubbed the “Meatball Joint” and a vegetarian wrap the “Reggie Special.” The eatery garnered a loyal following and, before its untimely closure, boasted 4.8 stars out of 5 on Google reviews.

Attached to the restaurant but operating as a separate entity was Forchion’s cannabis church, the Liberty Bell Temple, which he referred to as a sanctuary and allowed people to come and take part in its sacrament: marijuana. The temple, Forchion said, was a place for the people of Trenton to gather and express themselves through music, dance and art. Some people have referred to the temple as Rastafarian-like, but Forchion, who has identified as a Rastafarian in the past, has never given it a specific label because he wanted it to be inclusive of all backgrounds and beliefs.

“I call it a cannabis temple or a spiritual temple,” Forchion explained. The restaurant and cannabis temple, situated side-by-side, were located directly across from Trenton City Hall. “I was making a statement when I moved there,” Forchion said.

Reality TV

Forchion, who is 53, opened the restaurant and temple in June 2015 with his business partner and girlfriend, Debi Madaio. Shortly after its opening, he retrofitted the buildings with 28 cameras and began filming a reality television show.

According to an article in the Trentonian, Forchion, Madaio and two silent partners created a media company called NJ Joint Ventures with the hopes of producing a television show to pitch to various networks. Their goal was to showcase marijuana activism and the lives of medical marijuana patients.

Before long, though, Trenton police officers began coming to the restaurant and temple claiming that Forchion was unlawfully operating a business past the permitted hours of operation in a residential zone.

“Everything was going fine for about six months,” Forchion said. “Then the police started harassing me for being opened late at night—for being opened past 11 o’clock.”

By the end of December 2015, police were a regular occurrence at NJ Weedman’s Joint and Liberty Bell Temple. Forchion wrote a letter in February 2016 to the mayor of Trenton and the city police informing them that his establishment was in a business zone, not a residential zone. “It was bad for business,” he said. “I had cops who kept showing up at my door.”

Towards the end of February 2016, police came to the restaurant with canines and, according to Forchion, told everyone that they had to leave because it was past 11 p.m. In the beginning of March, Forchion said he was approached by a police officer and again instructed to close his restaurant at 11 p.m. When Forchion didn’t comply, more than a dozen police officers showed up at his establishment a few days later demanding his patrons leave.

The incident, which took place on March 5, 2016, was captured on video and uploaded to the restaurant’s YouTube channel five days later. In the video, there are more than a dozen police officers crowding around the restaurant’s front door. Police lights turned the night-time streets blue and red.

“I didn’t want it to turn into a massive arrest, so I wound up telling everyone to leave,” Forchion said. “And that was the first time I’ve capitulated, telling everyone to leave, and I’ve never capitulated about nothing, but I knew I was right and that I could be open past 11.”

It was at this point that NJ Weedman decided to file a lawsuit against the Trenton Police Department.

On March 8, 2016 Forchion filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against Trenton and its police department, claiming his religious rights were violated when the police shut his business down after 11 p.m. For the next six months from March 2016 to September 2016, Forchion received 22 municipal violations from Trenton police for business-related infractions—more than half of the tickets alleging he was opened too late.

“OK fine, I’m a pain in the butt,” Forchion said. “I’ve made myself an activist, a protester, whatever you want to say, but at what point are the police allowed act like a gang?” The police presence began to scare his customers away. “It was a constant. Every couple of weeks they would do it.”

The Bust

Eventually, in April 2016, Forchion’s restaurant and temple were raided by Trenton police armed with assault rifles and tactical gear. He was one of 10 people arrested from the bust and is facing 11 marijuana-related charges. Since the arrest occurred before the bail reform act was enacted in 2017, he was able to post bail and was released.

“I was not selling weed,” Forchion said, “but OK, I have weed. Who doesn’t know that NJ Weedman has weed?” It’s been two years since his arrest and he has not yet been given a trial date for his marijuana-related charges. Forchion’s third-degree witness tampering charge that he is currently in jail for stemmed from the drug bust.

The police used a confidential informant to build a case against Forchion, and Forchion, mostly through social media, revealed the identity of the informant. He claimed it was within his constitutional right to gather information for his legal defense, and said anything he posted online is protected by the First Amendment. A conviction of third-degree witness tampering carries a penalty of three to five years in prison.

Originally, Forchion was charged with second-degree witness tampering in addition to the third-degree charge, but in November 2017, a jury found him not guilty of the second-degree charge. One juror, however, remained undecided on the third-degree charge. Prosecutors decided to retry him on the third-degree charge, and he has been in the Mercer County Correctional Center since.

According to the affidavit for the search warrant before the raid on NJ Weedman’s Joint, the police “initiated a narcotics investigation” on March 10—two days after Forchion filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and its police department. “Their investigation was retaliation,” he said. “That’s all it was; retaliation for filing a lawsuit.”

The affidavit also showed that the police used a confidential informant in building its case against Forchion.

“The Rat”

After finding out that a confidential informant was used, Forchion immediately had an idea of who the police had sent in. A man that Forchion had never met began to visit his restaurant and temple on a regular basis.

“He kept coming in and asking me for weed,” Forchion said, adding that it is not completely unusual for a random person to try to befriend him. “I’ve had this happen where people want to smoke with me, they want to hang out with me, strangers come and visit me,” he said. “Anywhere I go potheads know me all over the place.”

Each time Forchion declined to sell him marijuana, the informant would persist, Forchion said. That’s when he remembers the situation becoming a little “weird.”

“In fact, I was joking with my staff and I was calling him Barney Rubble because he kind of looked like him,” Forchion recalled. “He was following me around like a puppy dog like Barney Rubble does to Fred Flintstone.”

On one occasion, though, Forchion said he gave the informant some marijuana from his personal stash and “he left with some.” It was after the informant dropped $300 into a donation jar that he left at his temple, Forchion said. “We didn’t think he was undercover or anything like that,” he said. “We just thought he was a weirdo.” It was less than an ounce, according to Forchion. This led to his arrest in the drug bust on April 27, 2016.

It wouldn’t be for another year, however, that Forchion was charged with witness tampering.

“In April 2016, a month after I filed the lawsuit against the police for harassing me, they raided me based on the rat,” he said. “And then a year goes by and in March 2017 I’m arrested for witness tampering.”

Forchion has largely represented himself during much of his history in court. For his drug case, though, he had the help of an attorney. His goal was to get the government’s informant to testify in court in his drug-related case and he believed he could accomplish this by revealing the identity of the “rat,” which is Forchion’s choice noun for confidential informant.

“I started doing research—which is perfectly within my Sixth Amendment right to prepare a defense—to figure out who it was,” Forchion said. “I figured out who it was and I started blasting all of Facebook saying that there was a rat.”

This plan backfired and Forchion found himself charged with the two counts of witness tampering.

The idea of ousting the confidential informant was inspired by a Supreme Court of New Jersey case from 1976, titled State v. Milligan. The case considers the limits of the government’s privilege to protect the identity of police informants.

Milligan’s Case

In November of 1972, an undercover New Jersey State Trooper named Harry Roberson was involved in a Camden County narcotics investigation. Roberson was introduced to the suspected heroin dealer, Preston Milligan, through an informant, according to court documents. Milligan, according to the court’s opinion, informed the undercover cop that he had “good stuff” for sale at $8 per bag, and Roberson agreed to buy $88 worth.

Although the informant was present during the meeting, he did not negotiate the sale and was in the bathroom when the transaction took place. Six months later, Milligan was arrested for selling heroin. Before the case went to trial, Milligan requested through the lower court that the name of the informant be disclosed. Roberson testified during a hearing on the matter and the trial judge subsequently denied Milligan’s motion.

Not long after, Milligan was convicted of possession and distribution of heroin but appealed his case. The appellate court said that since the informant acted as a material of the crime, the state didn’t have much of a case without him. The court reversed Milligan’s convictions, therefore taking the case to the Supreme Court of New Jersey, which weighed the informant’s role in Milligan’s conviction.

“A consideration of the nature of the defense and of the informer’s role in the crime here alleged leads me to believe this is a proper case for either disclosure to the defendant of the informer’s identity or for an in-camera examination of the informer by the judge, alone, to investigate the possible helpfulness of the informer to defendant if called as a witness,” the Supreme Court panel wrote in its opinion.

Regardless of the case’s nature, the Supreme Court recognized the dilemma of setting a precedent where the identities of informants were allowed to be made known during the course of the trial.

“The dilemma is that ordinarily a defendant cannot know unless the informer is made available, while to require him to be made available will end the prosecution and deny society the services of informers,” the court wrote. “The defendant swore, in defense, that he had never encountered Trooper Roberson prior to the trial, or sold narcotics to him or to anyone on the date alleged by the State.”

The informant was Milligan’s “one material witness” and had “helped to set up the criminal occurrence and had played a prominent part in it.” Disclosure of the identity of the informer “is essential to assure a fair determination of the issues,” the court wrote.

“Perhaps a situation may arise in which some such procedure would be feasible and warranted,” the judges wrote. “At the moment a choice seems unavoidable between a disclosure of the witness-informer in all cases or in none at all. A policy-decision must be made and it must rest upon probabilities. In those terms the risk of loss to defendants is pure conjecture, while the loss to society in its efforts to cope with crime would be real and substantial.”

The balance was struck “in favor of law and order.” The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s judgment vacating Milligan’s convictions and agreed with the trial court, which found him guilty of the crime.

The affidavit for the search warrant of NJ Weedman’s Joint alleged that the informant had directly bought marijuana from Forchion. With the 1976 case in mind, Forchion began working to reveal the identity of the police’s informant, but instead of doing so through the courts, he took to the internet.

On his website, Forchion made many postings publishing the informant’s name. He posted photos of the informant, a home address, a phone number, his wife’s name and the number of children he had. Forchion argued that if an informant could make allegations against him, he should be able to use the power of subpoena to get the informant to testify in his drug case.

In August 2016, prosecutors filed a motion for a protective order of the identity of the confidential informant. The motion to keep the informant’s identity private wasn’t approved until February 2017, according to an article on NJ.com. By this time, Forchion had already posted the identity online of who he believed was the informant. He was then charged with witness tampering and was arrested after a SWAT team entered his girlfriend’s home in March 2017.

The court found that Forchion should be detained before his trial on his witness tampering charge because “no amount of monetary bail, non-monetary conditions, or combination of monetary bail and conditions would reasonably assure” the protection of the community. It was also determined, according to court documents, that if he were released, there would be no assurance the “defendant will not obstruct or attempt to obstruct the criminal justice process,” according to court documents. Prosecutors did not comment for this story, but did provide copies of court orders regarding pretrial detention motions.

Although Forchion represents himself for the lion’s share of his legal troubles, he does have a standby counsel for his witness tampering case.

Christopher Campbell, Forchion’s standby, said that he believes the state’s case for the third-degree witness tampering charge isn’t strong since the second-degree charge was already dismissed.

“I really can’t speak for them as to whether they’re trying to punish him or not,” he said of the prosecutor’s office, “but he does make himself a very vocal advocate against the system. Whether that means he’s a target for that reason, who knows.”

The bail reform can complicate pretrial hearings, as Forchion’s standby counsel pointed out. “I have seen some surprising things happen with bail reform since its inception,” Campbell said. “Ed just wants to go to trial, but anytime he tries to do anything he gets excludable time.”

Excludable Time

One of the biggest arguments Forchion has against the bail reform act is the tenet of excludable time. It is what has caused him to remain in jail for more than a year pending his trial. Under the bail reform act, there is a wide variety of reasons a defendant may receive excludable time against his trial clock. The bail reform act makes clear that prosecutors must bring a defendant to trial within 180 days of indictment and within 120 days for a retrial. Certain events, however, can augment these deadlines and put a pause on the trial clock.

There are 13 instances when excludable time can be applied, according to a bail reform factsheet on the New Jersey’s judiciary website, and perhaps the most encompassing of all is the time it takes a judge to decide pretrial motions. For any motion a defendant or prosecutor submits before trial, a judge has up to 60 days to respond, and however many days it takes for a response to be rendered is considered excludable time.

“For filing a motion asking for something, you get punished. To appeal something, you get punished. It’s all a part of the law,” Forchion said. “This is the dungeon system.”

On Nov. 17, 2017, shortly after Forchion’s second-degree witness tampering charge was dismissed, he filed a motion for his release. Prosecutors filed its response to the motion on Dec. 11, 2017. On Jan. 12, 2018, the judge made his decision, denying Forchion’s release and ordering 57 days of excludable time to count against his trial clock.

On March 1, prosecutors asked for more than 20 days of excludable time because Forchion filed an appeal on a judge’s order denying his release, which the judge made on Jan. 12. Jan. 20, Forchion appealed this decision to the appellate court. He also filed an appeal to the Supreme Court on Feb. 26, but the petition was denied.

Forchion was also given 67 days of excludable before he went on trial in November 2017 where he beat the second-degree witness tampering charge.

“It’s like I wasn’t here, like it didn’t count, like it doesn’t count, but I’m locked in a cage,” he said. “It counts to me. Every minute of the day counts for me.”

The bail reform can hold defendants with no bail for months on end, sometimes the cases result in acquittals. In December 2017, the Asbury Park Press reported that two men were detained with no bail under New Jersey’s bail reform act and were eventually acquitted of their charges. Both men were accused of binding, raping and robbing a prostitute at a hotel a year earlier. One of the men, who had claimed he was never at the crime scene, was in jail for almost 11 months before his acquittal, the report said.

In other instances, the bail reform act can release someone that draws the ire of the public. For example, in March a school bus driver who is currently accused of molesting at least nine children over the course of his 40-year career as a bus driver was released under the bail reform act. The story was shared on anti-bail reform websites across the country.

New Jersey’s Public Defender, Joseph Krakora, played a role in shaping bail reform. He, like Alexander Shalom of the ACLU, served on the Joint Committee of Criminal Justice. According to his biography on the state’s website, Krakora “assumed a leadership role in N.J.’s recently enacted criminal justice reform that eliminated its discriminatory money based system of pretrial release.”

Forchion questioned this connection and said that the public defender’s office and the ACLU would have been the two entities most likely to challenge the bail reform and its concept of pretrial detention with no bail, but since the two entities played a role in creating the bail reform, it makes it difficult for them to critique it.

Forchion said that the use of denying bail is essentially punishing people before a crime is even committed. He compares his situation to the “Minority Report,” a film starring Tom Cruise based on the science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick that takes place in Washington D.C. in the year 2054. The police have a “pre-crime” unit that uses a bizarre, anthropomorphic technology to see into the future, and a cop, played by Cruise, winds up being wanted for a murder he has yet to commit.

“They’re punishing me before I do crime,” Forchion said. “They’re punishing me for obstruction of justice saying they’re holding me because I will obstruct justice. Listen, if I obstruct then charge me and that’s a new charge, but how are they going to hold me in jail saying I will? That’s like locking someone up because they will commit murder one day or they will rob somebody someday.”

Forchion often finds himself comparing his trials and tribulations to movies or to his idols, which happen to be mostly Colonial era political dissidents.

“I talk about William Penn a lot,” Forchion said. “Right now, I’m talking about Peter Zenger a lot because he was put in jail for publishing and that’s what I was put in jail for.”

Zenger, who printed The New York Journal, was famously accused of libeling the governor of New York’s son, but when placed before a jury on trial, he was acquitted. Forchion, he’s quick to note while speaking of Zenger, has also been acquitted by a jury in the past. He relates to Penn because Penn, a Quaker, was ostracized and repeatedly jailed for his religious beliefs. Penn, in founding Pennsylvania, later drafted a charter of liberties guaranteeing a right to a fair trial by jury, freedom from unjust imprisonment and free elections.

John Vincent Saykanic, the attorney who has been assisting Forchion with his appeals for more than a decade, said that he “has been trying to get him out for a year from pretrial detention.”

He said that the bail reform act does away with a “defendant’s rights to appeal because by appealing you’re adding more time to your pretrial detention. Saykanic made it clear that Forchion “wants to go to trial ASAP. As soon as possible.”

Saykanic referred to Forchion’s pretrial detention as “punishment” and said that his case is an example of how the bail reform can be a “nightmare.”

“This is an example of a huge flaw in the purpose of the bail reform, which is supposed to help people who don’t have money to post bail, but here it’s punishing an individual,” he said. “He’s been there over a year now.”

He called Forchion’s situation “a grave injustice.”

Wins and Woes

When it came to his restaurant’s hours of operation, Forchion consistently argued that he was allowed to operate after 11 p.m. because his restaurant and temple are located in a business zone that permits being opened until 2 a.m.

He has so far has not been found guilty of any of the city violation tickets for hours of operation, and said that every time the municipal court date approached, the “city always postponed.” He said that he has been taken to Trenton Municipal Court on two occasions from his cell at Mercer County Correctional Center, but both times the city postponed the hearings.

Eventually, in September 2016, the city revoked Forchion’s restaurant license due to the litany of municipal tickets he received, forcing him to shut down. One week later, The Trentonian reported that Forchion’s license was reinstated because his restaurant, after all, was located in a business zone.

Forchion’s fusillade of municipal tickets were dismissed in February 2018. After two years had gone by since he was given his first ticket, a Trenton Municipal Court judge dismissed 13 of 23 tickets. The 13 tickets dismissed were all written for violations of hours of operations; the remaining 10 tickets were for other violations related to his business, Forchion said, such as having a lock on a fence and leaving a fire pit’s cover off.

He said the other 10 tickets would have never been given to him had the police recognized his business was permitted to stay open past 11 p.m. because they only showed up at his restaurant to order him to close shop. The other tickets were only auxiliary to the hours of operation violations, he claimed.

Likewise, Forchion said, he would have never filed his federal civil rights lawsuit if the police had not been coming to his restaurant and temple forcing him to close his businesses early. The federal lawsuit, he claims, led to his drug bust and witness tampering case.

Mario Williams, an Atlanta, Georgia attorney specializing in civil rights issues, police misconduct and business litigation, is representing Forchion in his federal lawsuit against Trenton and its police department.

“This is like the true definition of political prisoner,” Williams said of Forchion. “He just rubbed law enforcement the wrong day and they essentially said we’re going to shut you down, and that’s what they did.” He said Forchion was penalized for exercising his rights.

“They penalized him more so because he’s very active when exercising his First Amendment rights and freedom of speech against law enforcement officers,” Williams said.

As for the bail reform, Williams said that it “needs to be scrapped.”

Eventually, New Jersey’s bail reform act was slightly tweaked. On May 1, 2018, the Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled unanimously that in most instances a judge cannot rule defendants be detained pretrial solely based on the crime they are accused of committing. “A recommendation against a defendant’s pretrial release that is based only on the type of offense charged cannot justify detention by itself,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote in the decision. Charges such as murder, sex trafficking and other crimes that carry a sentence of life imprisonment can be the exception to this.

Third-degree witness tampering, the charge Forchion is facing, is not a crime that carries a sentence of life in prison. When the Supreme Court’s ruling came out, Forchion was detained for 421 days pretrial without bail.

In addition to Forchion, Williams is also representing a woman named June Rodgers who is suing New Jersey and former Gov. Chris Christie in an attack on the bail reform system. Her son, Christian, was killed after a man shot him dead in the streets. The man who allegedly murdered him, Jules Black, was released under the bail reform system just days before her son Christian was killed.

“Between that case and Forchion’s, you can see some serious flaws in the system,” Williams said. He questioned the computer risk algorithm designed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and its effectiveness. Williams isn’t the only one to have raised concerns over algorithms used to predict risk in defendants.

Aaron Clauset, a prominent computer scientist, made remarks in response to a study on machine learning applied in the realm of criminal justice. In 2016, Clauset was awarded the Erdős-Rényi Prize, given by the Network Science Society for achievements and outstanding contributions network science. The study Clauset responded to was published in justice published in Science Advances in January 2018.

“In the United States, algorithms are commonly used to predict the likelihood that a criminal will commit a crime, and these predictions influence pretrial, parole, and sentencing decisions,” he wrote. “Commercial software, such as the widely used COMPAS’s impressive-sounding 137-feature black box is nearly equivalent to a trivial linear classifier using two features, and both approaches are no more accurate or fair than predications made by people with little or no criminal justice expertise.”

Williams said that he is hoping New Jersey’s bail reform is fixed before other states adopt similar measures. According to Williams, other states are looking at New Jersey as a model.

States looking to amend bail systems stretch further across the country than just the east coast.

In January 2018, WNYC aired a program dubbed, “What Can New York Learn from New Jersey’s Bail Reform?” It mentions that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was championing a bail reform for the Empire State.

In 2016, voters in New Mexico chose to change the way bail is used in the state. The new method is similar to New Jersey’s and makes it more difficult for judges to hold a defendant in jail under monetary bail. Utah is also working to implement changes to its bail system.

In late April of 2018, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez recorded a video warning Utah officials that changes to the bail system could result in risk to the public. Courts in New Mexico began using the same risk assessment algorithm utilized in New Jersey designed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Martinez, in the video, said the results of the algorithm have been “devastating” in New Mexico.

“The whole country is looking at New Jersey and seeing how this really works or doesn’t work,” Williams said. “Everyone is looking to pass some type of bail reform on some level.”

Since the hours of operation tickets were dismissed, Forchion said he floated the idea of filing a writ of habeas corpus in his federal case.

“I want the judge to rule that my imprisonment is unconstitutional,” he said.

The Weedman has successfully argued on similar grounds before.

Forchion lived in California from 2007 to 2013, but was still coming back to New Jersey frequently. “I was bi-coastal,” he said. “That’s what I was calling myself back then.”

In California, in a case reminiscent of his current situation, he opened the first Liberty Bell Temple, which, like the one in Trenton, used marijuana as a sacrament with its congregants. It was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) religious organization, and the Trenton temple was incorporated as a subsidiary of the California incorporation. Unlike Trenton, however, Forchion was also growing weed at a warehouse in California. “They said I was violating the city dispensary laws,” he said. “My argument was that I was not a dispensary.”

His temple, located in Hollywood, was raided on a Los Angeles city code violation for failing to cease operations. The police said he was acting as a dispensary, but Forchion maintained it was a religious practice.

“For about a year we fought back and forth,” he said. Eventually, a California Superior Court judge ruled in Forchion’s favor. “He looked at my paperwork, saw that I had registered as a church, that I was incorporated as a church,” Forchion said. “I argued that I should be exempt from these marijuana laws, and I won.”

The Courts

The California case, the current witness tampering case and the restaurant drug bust are far from NJ Weedman’s only legal troubles. This isn’t the first time Forchion has fought the law, and it likely won’t be the last. He has been in court many times and his wrists are no stranger to handcuffs. Nearly every run-in Forchion has had with the legal system involved—as one could imagine—marijuana.

“I’ve only been arrested for marijuana and one time I got charged with receiving stolen property because somebody sold me something and I didn’t know they had reported it stolen as part of an insurance scam,” he said. “It was a gun.”

This was Forchion’s first foray in what would become his long relationship with the criminal justice system. It was in 1996, he had just gotten out of the Army and had no criminal record.

“That was my first charge ever,” he said. “I was three years out of the Army.” He was given pre-trial intervention.

According to an article in Philadelphia Weekly, Forchion was busted for smoking marijuana while in the Army and ran off with $6,000 worth of poker chips from the Trump Taj Mahal after getting drunk and losing $13,000 at the blackjack table. He got away with it, too, according to the article, until he was pulled over by police and was found with an “unregistered double barrel shotgun and a bag of pot.”

“I was down there, I was just drunk gambling,” he said. “At some point, I lost a bunch of money, I was drunk and I reached over and I grabbed a bunch of chips. I turned around and walked out.” Forchion, who said he hardly ever has a drink anymore, had a warrant put out for his arrest.  charged with theft by unlawful taking. He received pretrial intervention for the casino charge, but when he was pulled over for his warrant, police had found a gun in his truck.

“It was a little .410 shotgun,” he said. “It was double barrel, like a little tiny Derringer.”

A year after his gun case, Forchion was busted for acting as a middle man for a shipment of marijuana from Arizona. He, along with two other men, were found with more than 40 pounds of weed in Bellmawr, New Jersey.

“I got caught with 40 pounds, I represented myself,” he said. During the trial, the prosecution offered him a deal he couldn’t resist: 10 years in prison with parole eligibility after less than two years served.

He took the plea bargain and pleaded guilty to manufacturing or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance and conspiracy in Camden County in 2000. He represented himself on the marijuana charge and went from facing 20 years in prison to ultimately serving 18 months from 2001 to 2002.

“That was the only time I’ve ever went to prison. I’ve been on the cause ever since,” he said. “From that moment on, I told myself I would never, ever take a deal again. And I haven’t.”

In 2001, in a separate case that took place while Forchion was imprisoned in New Jersey, he went on trial in Pennsylvania for getting caught with a little more than a pound marijuana in Philadelphia. “I represented myself then, too,” he said. “The case got dismissed.” In 2002, though, Forchion found himself locked up again—this time his punishment stemmed from making videos.

When Forchion was released from prison after taking the plea bargain, he was put into Intensive Supervision Program, or ISP, which is a strict parole program providing alternative forms of community-based correctional supervision that allows some offenders to serve sentences outside the traditional prison settings.

He said his ISP parole officer was a “Bible thumper” and didn’t like that Forchion advocated marijuana legalization. “He really despised me, he didn’t like me. He acted like I was the anti-Christ because I advocated what he called drugs,” he said. “To me, I was talking about changing the law.”

While in ISP, Forchion made three commercials advocating the legalization of marijuana. The videos, still online, show a younger Forchion with shorter dreadlocks standing in front of large American flag.

“Have you heard our government’s claim that marijuana is dangerous, addictive, and has no medical value?” he said in one of the commercials, waving his finger at the camera. “I have! But I also know the scientific facts. Marijuana has never killed anyone, is beneficial to many, and has been used as a medicine for thousands of years.”

The theme for the commercials are all very similar: legalize marijuana and end the War on Drugs. Shortly after making the videos, Forchion was arrested for “advocating criminal activity,” he said. “There’s not even a law that says that, but I got locked up on that,” he said. “Just like I am now, it’s totally a bullshit arrest—but I got locked up.”

He served nearly five months in jail before a federal judge ruled for his release and said the commercials he made were within his First Amendment right. To get the federal judge to look at his case, though, Forchion first had to file a writ of habeas corpus, which ended up in the hands of U.S. District Judge Joseph Irenas.

“Federal Judge Irenas interceded, it was unheard of for a federal judge to intercede into a state case while the state case is still going,” he said. “But the judge, he’d been reading about it in the paper, not only did I file a habeas corpus, but I had my wife at the time mail him a copy of the videos so he could see a copy of the videos I was locked up for making.”

A federal judge must wait until a state inmate has exhausted all state claims before the defendant can move to appeal to federal court, but in Forchion’s case, an exception was made.

“The judge made an extraordinary go-around, and he interceded. It made newspapers, it made articles, it made law journals all across the country,” Forchion said. “He interceded in my case and ordered the court to release me. And I won my writ of habeas corpus.”

Forchion accomplished this all while representing himself, he said, adding that eventually the ACLU offered him assistance. The Irenas case is when John Vincent Saykanic, the attorney assisting Forchion in appeals with his witness tampering case, began helping Forchion.

“My case ended up being used as a prisoners’ rights, free speech case,” Forchion said. “It was a precedent case called Forchion called versus ISP.”

In Burlington County in 2012, Forchion went back on trial stemming from a 2010 marijuana arrest.

“I was living in California then but in 2010 I came home for a visit and flew home with a pound of weed in my luggage,” he said. As he was driving back from visiting his children, he was pulled over by a New Jersey State Trooper.

He was charged with intent to distribute and simple possession. The trial ended with a hung jury on the intent to distribute charge, but he was found guilty of possession. Forchion appealed his possession conviction until an appellate court panel of judges upheld the conviction in 2015, saying his arguments “lack sufficient merit to warrant discussion,” according to a write-up of the case in Politico.

He was retried on the distribution charge months later, but wound up beating it entirely after a jury returned a verdict of not guilty 12-0. This is around the time jury nullification advocates across the country began paying attention to Forchion.

“I made national news,” he said. He never denied to the jury that he had the marijuana; instead, he promoted it. “I consider a hung jury a victory for the defendant.”

He argued to the jury that the law was wrong, not him, and he was found not guilty. “I had the pound of marijuana, I asked the jurors to give it back,” he said. “I told them that I smoke marijuana every day.”

He even went as far as telling the jurors that he smoked marijuana that same morning, according to Forchion, and that he was eating pot brownies throughout the duration of his trial. “I didn’t hide anything,” he said. “I knew they couldn’t get 12.”

Tactics such as these are what he believes are holding him in jail under the bail reform act.

“And this is what the prosecutors in Mercer County know about me,” he said. “They can see my history. Not only have I won all these big cases where they’ve made news and all that, I’ve won a few municipal court cases, I’ve won a few civil cases.”

In 2013, he was sentenced to nine months in jail for the possession charge, but was granted a unique condition to his imprisonment. Forchion has a medical condition called Osteoclastoma in which tumors grow on his bones, and while in jail, he was permitted to serve an intermittent sentence where he could travel to California for 10 days per month to smoke marijuana as part of his treatment, and then return back to his cell in New Jersey.

“I got what they call giant cell tumors, usually on my big bones—my femurs, my shoulder bones, I could get it on my head or my sternum in my chest,” he said. He has gotten the tumors on his femur and on occasions on the inside of his hip. He currently has two tumors on his shoulders, but since they are small in size he decided to not have them removed.

Forchion was first diagnosed in 2001 while serving his prison sentence for possessing more than 40 pounds of weed, but he remembers discovering symptoms a decade before his diagnosis.

In 1991, for instance, his knee began incessantly aching. “I kept thinking it was an athletic injury,” he said. “I was diagnosed in 2001 when I first went to prison.”

Forchion said that just before he was arrested on the witness tampering charges in March 2017, his tumors came back. “It’s in my knee again,” he said. “Just above my knee.” During his pretrial detention under the bail reform act, Forchion has been taken to the hospital on several occasions for treatment.

In addition to the witness tampering charge, Forchion also picked up other charges stemming from his restaurant’s drug bust. He is facing other drug-related charges after police allegedly found him with marijuana when he was arrested for witness tampering charges at his girlfriend’s home. In September 2016 Forchion was indicted on a cyber bullying charge after he called a Trenton police officer a “pedophile” online. He’s also called a prosecutor a slut.

Weedman’s Fame

Forchion has pulled countless other outlandish stunts. He’s smoked pot in the New Jersey Statehouse and in front of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. He’s tried to legally change his name, twice, to NJWeedman.com. But perhaps the penchant that draws him the most criticism is his online behavior.

Forchion does do a lot of smack-talking online; it’s what got him charged with witness tampering in the first place. His Facebook has a photo that reads: “If you are shocked by anything I say, then you obviously haven’t been paying attention to who I am.” Whenever questioned on these tendencies, he’s always fell back on the defense that his speech is protected by the First Amendment, regardless of how inflammatory.

“He’s addicted to Facebook, Twitter and all those things,” Debi Madaio, Forchion’s girlfriend, said. “He got barred from Donald Trump’s because he was tweeting at him too much.” (A federal court ruling in late May of 2018 said it was unconstitutional for the president to block users on Twitter, but it did not force him to unblock critics already banished from his account.) Madaio, who met Forchion nearly five years ago, said that Forchion “calls himself a media whore.”

As a registered nurse, Madaio can’t smoke marijuana because she is drug tested, but she is still a tireless advocate. Working as a nurse manager at one of the state’s largest children’s specialized hospital, Madaio has seen a lot of children in rough shape. One day, she met a baby boy who was born prematurely and was in the state’s care. Not too long later, after raising two daughters of her own, she adopted him. He was three years old and diagnosed with autism, has seizures and spastic quadriplegia.

Her son Aidan, who is now 11, could benefit from medical marijuana, Madaio believes. That’s the reason why she first began advocating for marijuana, which is how she came about meeting Forchion. The two at the first annual cannabis conference in Trenton rallying for the legalization of pot. Flash forward about five years, and Forchion would be proposing to her from the court room.

It was November 2017 and he was in jail pretrial under the bail reform act for his witness tampering charges. He was waiting for the verdict to come back from the jury on his charges when he asked her to marry him.

“Since I’ve been here I did ask her to marry me. She didn’t answer me, she said, ‘Get out faster,’” Forchion said with a chortle. “So, that’s another reason why I’ve got to get out.”

“Ed is an open book,” Madaio said. “I just have to laugh at a lot of the stuff he does.”

Aside from his online persona, there is a lot about NJ Weedman that doesn’t make it into the papers.

For one, Forchion loves talking about the Colonial period and the history of the United States. “I’m kind of a nerd,” he said. “As much as people want to throw me into the realm of being a thug drug dealer—I’m not. I absolutely am not.” Since Forchion has been detained awaiting his trial, he spends nearly every minute in the jail’s library. Like a badger spending a winter deep inside his burrow, Forchion spends his incarceration among the legal texts and law books in the Mercer County Correctional Center.

Forchion for years has enjoyed a minor celebrity status. He has somewhat of a cult following throughout the Garden State, but it all began with a simple decision.

“Calling myself Weedman was a gimmick for publicity,” he said, “and it worked.” Forchion’s marijuana advocacy has landed him in the pages and on the home screens of publications like Vice, the Daily Mail, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Weekly and LA Weekly. His antics have been picked up by the Associated Press and shared with papers throughout the nation. He has been featured for years as a regular caller on the state’s widest-reaching radio station, NJ 101.5. He has spoken for various podcasts and had a column for The Trentonian, one of the most-read papers in New Jersey’s capital.

“Sometimes I say I’m infamous as opposed to famous. Sometimes I say I’m a counterculture celebrity, but,” he said, “all over the country I’ve been written about.”

He has been featured in television programs and documentaries including: “The Emperor Wears No Clothes;” “How Weed Won the West;” “1000 Ways to Die: Fatal Distractions;” and “Million Mask Movement.” Forchion is currently the subject of a documentary by filmmaker Brian Scully examining bail reform and the criminal justice system in New Jersey.

He even has his name listed on the International Movie Database, a fact that he is gleefully proud of.

If you search for Forchion on IMDB.com, you will see his name come up along with two other Forchions. NJ Weedman said he is related to Raymond Forchion who played O.J. Simpson in a dramatization of the football star’s 1995 murder case. Bill Forchion, another cousin of Forchion’s, is a famous circus performer. If you search for Forchion on Google, however, articles about NJ Weedman dominate the search results.

Forchion also has this uncanny ability to recall dates and times of specific events. He can recite full docket numbers of his legal cases, and the exact URLs of pamphlets he has published on his website, even while in a jail cell with no internet access.

“I have a memory like an elephant,” Forchion said. “I don’t know why but I have a very good memory. I may forget people’s names but I remember entire conversations.”

He has written books, too, including “Public Enemy #420” published in 2010, and “Politics of Pot, Jersey Style: The persecution prosecution of NJweedman” published in 2014. He’s also writing another book while in jail and said he is more 2,000 pages in.

Forchion is a frequent candidate for office, as well. He ran for governor of New Jersey and for Congress, both of which earned him mentions in The New York Times. In fact, when he ran for Congressional District 12, Forchion, who campaigned on the self-created Legalize Marijuana Party, received the third most votes at 6,094, which was more than what the Green Party and Libertarian candidates combined.

Whether these political ambitions are genuine or are, like his name, just a gimmick, he doesn’t seem to tire from them. Forchion recently announced a new candidacy and is running for Congress again, this time from behind bars.

What is a lesser known fact about Forchion is that he is a veteran who has served in three separate branches of the U.S. military. He was also a big-rig truck driver.

In 1982, Forchion graduated from high school and joined the New Jersey National Guard. He served in the summer and on weekends for two years while he was in college. After he was in college for two years, he dropped out of school and joined the Marines. While in the Marines, he received a medical discharge because he had pneumonia and asthma, he said. In 1987, Forchion re-enlisted and joined the Army.

In between his time in the Marines and joining the Army, though, Forchion worked in Atlantic City at Donald Trump’s restaurant, he said.

“I waited on Donald Trump for two years,” Forchion said. The eatery he worked at was named Ivana’s Restaurant. He ended up suing Trump, filing a discrimination lawsuit alleging he was wrongfully fired, but the case was dismissed. After that, it was back to the service. “I’ve always wanted to be in the military,” he said.

Forchion was a combat and orthopedic medic and served in Germany when the U.S. invaded Panama. “I worked in the orthopedic ward,” he said. “I was there when Reagan came and said, ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

He loved the army. His family has a long history of serving in the military, and he regrets leaving the service to this day. “To be honest with you, one of my biggest mistakes was getting out of the military,” he said. Forchion left the Army in June 1990, just months before the Gulf War started. When he left the Army, he became an 18-wheeler trucker.  “I traveled this whole country,” he said. “I’ve been to every state but two: Hawaii and Alaska.”

Trucking was Forchion’s way of visiting different parts of the country, a dream that he always had. “I owned my own truck so I could travel the country and get paid,” he said. “If I wanted to watch a Ziggy Marley concert in Seattle, I’d just take a load to Washington state, get there, see the concert, and get back in the truck.” He still owns a truck, it’s sitting at his mother’s house.

Early Life

Although Forchion lived in California and traveled the continental U.S. for years, he has been a Jersey boy since birth. Growing up, Forchion’s mother took in a lot of foster children. He has two siblings, but there “were always like eight kids at the house,” he said. He was raised in Sicklerville, a town located within the boundaries of Winslow Township in Camden County.

“I grew up riding dirt bikes and fishing. It was really rural there.” The dirt trails that Forchion once rode on are now gone and have been replaced by peach farms and sprawling developments. “It’s mostly white with a few black families that have been there forever,” he said. “My family has been around in Winslow Township since the 1800s.”

Years later when Forchion moved to California, he lived an existence vastly different from his humble, rural beginnings.

“When I went to Hollywood, I became this little B-celebrity,” he said. “I was hanging out with celebrities. I was hobknobbing, I was on a couple of TV shows. I was on TMZ three times.”

When he opened up the first Liberty Bell Temple, the one that was closed down after he was raided, celebrities often stopped by.

“Celebrities were coming to my place,” he said. “I can’t even name all of the celebrities I ended up hanging out with just by calling myself Weedman.”

After his Hollywood business was raided, Forchion said he was out of money and had nowhere left to go but back home. “I was out of business, I was struggling for money, and I got sick,” he said. “So, I came home to my mom’s house in Sicklerville.” He stayed at his mother’s house for about a year and half and his bone condition was reemerging, he said. He had surgery, the tumor was removed, but he broke his femur after the surgery because his leg was weak from the tumor. He had a cast put on and by October 2014, the cast was removed.

“By November, I was itching to go do something again,” he explained. “I was going to go back to California, but I re-bonded with my kids and everything, so I didn’t want to go back to California.” He had to come up with another plan, another project for the unwearying Weedman.

“That’s when I decided I was going to go to Trenton,” he said. “I’m going to open up a spot in Trenton.”

April Appearance

On April 16, 2018, Forchion had his first court appearance since the day he beat the second-degree witness tampering charge in November. He entered the brightly lit courtroom wearing an orange jumpsuit with the words “Political Prisoner #420” scrawled on the back. His dreadlocks were pushed back. He still had bags under his eyes, he was still tired.

He asked the judge if his other charges, the cyber bullying charge and the marijuana charges, could be included in the trial for his witness tampering. The request was denied. Instead, Forchion was given another 22 days of excludable time for his appeal, and was given an estimated trial date of May 8. It’s what he’s been waiting to hear for the past year.

“I think I’m going to win,” he said. “I think I’m unconvictable.” He doesn’t plan on taking any sort of plea deal, now or ever again, for that matter. “I go through life never quitting, and taking a plea bargain would be quitting,” he said. “Taking a plea bargain would also be violating my constitutional right to a trial, and I insist that the constitution applies to me.”

He said that when he gets out, whenever that day is, he will be shifting his willpower, which he seems to have an endless supply of, from marijuana to New Jersey’s bail reform act.

“I’ve been calling myself NJ Weedman and advocating for marijuana legalization for years,” he said, “but when this is all said and done, I’m going to be the biggest advocate against bail reform there is. I will become the John Walsh of bail reform repeal.”

After spending 447 days in jail awaiting his trial, Forchion was acquitted of his third-degree witness tampering charge after he was found not guilty of the crime by a jury on May 24. He said he plans on amending his federal lawsuit to include grievances about his pretrial imprisonment.

Forchion also plans on finishing the book that he’s been working on. He said it is nearing completion. He feels compelled to tell his story of how he was affected by the bail reform. He’s hoping he can get a deal for the book, but if it not, it won’t bother him much. He’s writing it for a more crucial reason.

“I don’t even know if people will buy the book,” he said. “I’m writing this for history’s sake.”

Protect Immigrants’ Rights: End The Crises That Drive Migration

Immigrant rights are human rights (Susan Melkisethian from flickr)

The ugliness of US immigration policy is once again evident. There is national outrage that separating children, often infants, from their parents is wrong. There is also national consensus (nine out of ten people in the US) that people brought here by their parents, the Dreamers, should not be forced out of the country as adults. The highly restrictive, dysfunctional immigration system in the United States serves the interests of  big business and US Empire. Investors can cross borders to find workers who will accept slave-labor wages and dangerous environments, but workers cannot cross borders to find better wages and safety.

US-pushed corporate trade agreements serve the interests of transnational corporations, allowing them to legally take advantage of cheap labor and to steal natural resources, but workers cannot cross borders when their economy is destroyed or their communities are poisoned.

US militarism and regime change cross borders to replace governments that are working to improve the lives and autonomy of their people and install authoritarian governments, but people who are facing the terrorism of US-supported security states cannot cross the border to find refuge.

The violence of the drug trade that serves US consumers creates mafia and gang violence in other countries, but people who live with the violence of drug gangsterism cannot cross borders to escape.

Protest against separating parents from children. Photo by Scott Olson for Getty Images.

Separating Children From Their Parents

President Donald Trump claims he hates to have to separate children from their families at the border and that he is merely enforcing a law passed by the Democrats. This is a false description of why children are separated from their parents.

The reason for the separation is that the Trump administration has decided on zero tolerance criminal enforcement of immigration laws.  A 1997 court settlement in Flores barred children from being imprisoned with their parents. In 2014, President Obama put hundreds of families in immigration detention but federal courts stopped them from holding families for months without trial, resulting in the release of families to return for trial. Trump has taken the approach of arresting the parents and holding the children.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for taking care of “unaccompanied alien children,” the label put on these youth, already has 11,000 immigrants under the age of 18 in its custody who haven’t yet been placed with relatives or other sponsors. Under the new Trump policy, 2,000 children have been separated from their parents in just six weeks.  These youth are held in tent cities and warehouse jails, which could fairly be called prison camps.

This is resulting in heartbreaking stories. A man from Honduras, where the US supported a coup, Marco Antonio Muñoz, killed himself in a detention cell after his 3-year-old son was taken. CNN reports agents ripped a Honduran  woman’s infant daughter from her arms while she was breastfeeding. The New York Times reported on one child, referred to only as José, also from Honduras, who refused to take a shower or change his clothes after being separated from his parents as he didn’t want anything else taken away from him.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says separation will cause “irreparable harm” to children. While Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee Sanders have used the bible to justify the policy, there is a revolt among Trump’s religious base.  The Chicago Tribune reports “The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who delivered a prayer at Trump’s inauguration, signed a letter calling the practice ‘horrible.’ Pastor Franklin Graham … a vocal supporter of the president’s who has brushed aside past Trump controversies, called it ‘terrible’ and ‘disgraceful.’”  Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, described “a groundswell of opposition from virtually every corner of the Christian community.” The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention issued statements critical of the practice. Even Evangelical Trump supporters are speaking out against it.

Separating children from their parents is justified as a deterrent to convince people not to attempt to cross the border, but it has not worked. The children are also a bargaining chip. Trump will not change the policy unless Congress agrees to his immigration demands, including the border wall, tightening the rules for border enforcement and curbing legal entry. In turn, the Democrats are using child separation as a tool for the 2018 election. Both parties are holding immigrant children hostage for their agendas.

A group of students lead the larger crowd that turned out and showed up in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) at Acacia Park and ended their rally at the office of Cory Gardner on Tuesday September 5, 2017 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).


Immigrant Youth Brought to the US by their Parents

Trump’s repeal of policies protecting youth brought to the US by their parents has resulted in outrage and national consensus that these youth should not be punished. A CBS News poll found 87 percent believe the Dreamers should be allowed to remain in the US.

Dysfunction in Congress and an obstinate White House have left these youth in limbo-risk. Obama allowed certain immigrant youth brought to the U.S. without documents as children to live and work here without fear of deportation. Trump reversed that, announcing he would rescind the program, and gave Congress six months to find a legislative fix. His rescission has been blocked by a federal court.

President Trump sent mixed signals last week. First he said he would veto a bill that would protect Dreamers from deportation, then the White House reversed that statement saying Trump had misunderstood the question and would sign the legislation passed by Congress. People in both Chambers are trying to find a way forward, but sensible immigration laws have lots of barriers to overcome.

Rallies Call For Immigrant Rights Persist

Across the country there have been rallies for immigrant rights. Groups like Mijente and the Cosecha Movement are doing strong organizing for permanent protection for all immigrants. Last week, actions were focused on the issue of separating parents from their children. See: here; here; here; here; and here.

These types of immigration policies have existed for multiple administrations. Trump has not come close to Obama’s record level of deportations. From 2009 to 2016, Obama oversaw the forcible removal of more than 3 million undocumented immigrants. ICE under Obama averaged 309,887 arrests per year from 2009-2012, while ICE under Trump averaged 139,553 in 2017. Obama set records between 2008 and 2014 for the number of people arrested and placed in deportation proceedings.

Remember that there were multiple mass protests against Obama on immigration throughout the country. Protesters blocked traffic around the White House highlighting how “Obama deports parents.” Obama did not use the harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric of Trump, but he had strong enforcement policies against immigrants.

Immigration, as we noted at the outset, is tied into issues of corporate trade agreements, regime change, US Empire, the drug war and capitalism. These issues are forcing a race to the bottom for worker rights and wages and destruction of the environment. They are driving a growing security state, militarization of law enforcement and mass incarceration. Border patrols lock people into countries where they face poverty, pollution and violence with little chance of escape.

Immigrants are the scapegoats, but it is the systems that are driving migration. Most people would prefer to remain in their home countries where they have roots, family and communities. Extreme conditions drive people to abandon everything and endure harsh and dangerous travel in hope of finding safety and the means of survival.

This is typical divide and conquer – encouraging us to blame each other and fight while the wealth of the elites expands. We are all hurt by the systems and crises that drive mass migration. This includes climate change as well.

While we take immediate action to protect immigrant children and families, let’s also speak out about the connections between migration and the many crises we face. We need to educate those who are being misled into blaming immigrants for the conditions that force them to leave their homes.

We must work in solidarity to create democratized economic systems, demand trade agreements that strengthen worker rights and protection of the environment and transition to a clean energy economy and a foreign policy that respects the autonomy of peoples while we also end racist systems, militarism, imperialism and mass incarceration.

Imprisoned for a Day: A Personal Reflection

In a world defined by social atomization, bureaucratization, and ant-like regimentation along institutionally sanctioned channels that exist but to uphold hierarchies of power, it is practically a moral obligation for anyone who wants to be fully human to break out of his bubble and, if possible, experience the world as “the other” does. In particular, as those without a voice do. If such experience isn’t always literally possible, we ought at least to imaginatively inhabit other perspectives, say by reading primary sources or watching documentaries, or simply by talking to people from a different walk of life than our own. The result might be not only education but even, perhaps, inspiration.

A few months ago I had the opportunity to experience a bit of life from a perspective I’m not accustomed to: the inside of a jail cell. I was left with a kind of insight that an academic like me doesn’t always achieve, an experiential or empathic insight. And I thought it would be worth communicating my impressions, if only to play some tiny part in giving a voice to the “voiceless.” For, as much abstract knowledge as we may have about the evils of the system bearing the Orwellian name “criminal justice,” the matter appears in a different and darker light from within the dungeon cages underground.

The reason for my 24-hour incarceration is too trivial to mention, scarcely more than a petty misunderstanding. And the experience itself was, of course, a mere joke compared to what others experience, just a stroll in a sunlit park compared to what the 23 million or so imprisoned and released felons in this country—in addition to millions of those guilty of misdemeanors (not to mention millions of immigrants detained for weeks and months)—have gone through. But it was memorable enough, and perhaps worth relating.

I was struck, first of all, by the insidious psychological effect of having to place your hands behind your back so they can be handcuffed. This coerced action performed in the presence of onlookers instantly manipulates you into an unwanted self-categorization: you can’t help but see yourself as others now see you, an offender, a criminal, a bad ‘other.’ Or rather, while rejecting the value-judgment, you’re aware that that’s the category into which you’ve been placed, by the officers, the onlookers, and especially the handcuffs. All of a sudden you don’t unproblematically belong to society anymore; your personhood has been qualified and thrown into question. You’re now half-person and half-ominous-question-mark. (“What’s going on? What did he do? What crime did he commit?”)

I was careful to obey every command to the letter, since, as we know, there’s nothing a police officer likes less than being contradicted, so my treatment was far better than it could have been. Still, I was puzzled by the length of time I had to sit in the car while the officers talked outside in what seemed a rather nonchalant way, given my shackled hands. That’s another insidious technique of control for which you have a heightened appreciation when you’re on its receiving end: the power to elongate time. It truly becomes impressive once you’re behind bars.

After making it to the precinct, the trial-by-paperwork begins. More waiting, and more unscratchable itches on your back and face, as initial reports are filed. I came to have a better understanding of the social role of the police as I saw throughout the evening how much “paperwork,” or electronic work, they have to file whenever an arrest is made. I had already understood that the police’s true function isn’t so much to protect people (as is claimed) as to protect “order,” the given system of social relations, which is to say the power of the powerful. The police officer is the “bouncer” for society, whose job it is to keep out the undesirables, those who either refuse to conform or have committed the crime of being poor and dark-skinned.

But now I saw more clearly that, in effect, what the police are is just bureaucrats with guns. Bureaucrats who dress up in blue and walk among us to make sure we’re following the rules, and who take us in to be processed and labeled and categorized if we violate some rule or other (or even if we don’t), and ideally to be frightened into never violating that rule again (if, that is, we’re lucky enough to be released at all). None of this is to say there’s no value in such a role; surely there can be, particularly with regard to addressing violent crime. But, given the amount of paperwork and the continuous human “processing” the job entails, to belong to the “force” is to be a fancy-dressed bureaucrat-in-the-trenches.

At length, after being divested of various items of clothing and whatever is in your pockets, the shackles are taken off and you’re safely behind bars. Your company is your cellmates (if you have any), your worries, and time. Lots of time. I sat there for about eight hours, which seemed even longer, due to the human brain’s self-flagellating tendency to dwell lugubriously on moments of nothingness (while speeding through moments of joy). I was fortunate soon to have a couple of talkative cellmates, both of whom were there for having thrown a punch or two; but even their presence was of limited use in accelerating the ticking of the clock.

We were waiting to be transferred to the Brooklyn Detention Complex, where we would wait till the next day to see the judge. If all went well, we’d be free, at least provisionally, by that evening.

So after a suitably punishing length of time, the handcuffs were snapped back on and we were transported to our luxury accommodations for the rest of the night. Actually, the precinct was a far more agreeable place, as you might expect, being less populated and less redolent of sweaty unwashed bodies crammed together in tiny spaces lacking ventilation and windows. The initial holding pens, in particular, were noisome: it would be cruel and inhumane to pack pigs into those enclosures, much less dozens of humans. At least one’s nose grew numb to the smell.

Finally we were herded into the main area to be processed again (to have the mug shots taken and so on). Though it was around 1:00 in the morning there were serpentine lines, scores of shackled men and women shuffling along—nearly all of them African-American or Hispanic. A dreary semi-silence punctuated by commands from officers. Dull-looking bureaucrats from a Kafka novel sitting at desks, directing us where to go. It was a subterranean world we had entered.

At last the intake process was finished and we were taken down dark corridors to the cellblock area, in the bowels of the earth. You can imagine the conditions in each cell: a vomitous toilet in the corner, a metal sink next to it, benches against the concrete wall…and that’s all. So there we were, about thirteen of us in a cramped cell, as the bars shut behind us. I recalled Malcolm X’s admonition:

Any person who claims to have deep feeling for other human beings should think a long, long time before he votes to have other men kept behind bars—caged. I am not saying there shouldn’t be prisons, but there shouldn’t be bars. Behind bars, a man never reforms. He will never forget. He never will get completely over the memory of the bars.

To be sure, it’s easy to get over the memory when you’re confined for only a day. Still, the contrivance of the steel bars is an effective contribution to the psychological function of jails and prisons, viz. to dehumanize, to animalize, to infantilize. To fill with resentment and impotent outrage, and make hate.

Some of us claimed a bit of space on a bench; the rest sat or lay on the floor, settling in for a long night of sleeplessness. One guy made a pillow out of several inedible cheese sandwiches in little bags he had found strewn around the cell. (That’s the food we’re given, in addition to a small portion of cereal in the morning.) Those of us on the floor spent the night trying to avoid collisions between legs.

Sleep would likely have been impossible for me anyway, but it was made even more so by a few cellmates who had an impressive talent for remaining animated hour after hour, in a most vocal way. The guffaws were frequent. I listened to interesting conversations about, e.g., the relative merits of an astonishing galaxy of hip-hop artists, quite intelligent music criticism being expounded at great length, even to the point of heated debate. Later, conversation extended to those in the cage across the hall, questions being shouted as to where they lived, what acquaintances they all had in common, what they had been talking about over there, etc. “What’s your name, man? Oh, you live on Broadway? Me too! Monroe? I’m a couple blocks away, at Jefferson! You know Malik? He’s on Madison—works at the Subway there.” The irony wasn’t lost on me that this institution, meant to segregate and isolate, could also bring people together.

In fact, throughout the night and the next day I observed how easy it was for a camaraderie to develop among the inmates, the first inklings of a solidarity against the cops. While profanity-laced tirades against guards occurred occasionally—due to ignoring requests for food or for the time, or for being granted a phone call—more often the attitude was informal respect and easygoing familiarity. But that didn’t preclude a definite collective identity, an “us vs. them” mentality, based on a sense of shared injustice and oppression (or, more generally, shared interests). Everyone I talked to took it for granted that the criminal justice system is wildly racist—they were surprised that a “white boy” was in there with them. But the race factor, or any other divisive factor, didn’t really matter: when requests or demands or complaints were made to the guards, it was far more common to hear the words “we” and “us” than “I” or “me.”

Of course, this isn’t to deny that vicious divisions between inmates or groups of inmates can emerge in prisons. It was merely striking to observe the spontaneous appearance of a collective consciousness even despite, and because of, the radically anti-social environment we were trapped in.

What I found even more striking, and more poignant, was the casual familiarity with jail that most of the men displayed. None of them seemed particularly discomfited by it, except the next day when the waiting, prolonged hour after endless hour despite previous assurances of speed and efficiency, grew intolerable. More than a few guys took me under their wing, as it were, and explained how the system worked and why legally I had nothing to fear. “What did you do? Oh, that’s the lowest level of misdemeanor. You’ll be fine—they’ll release you and you’ll be on probation, and then the case will be dismissed. You have nothing to worry about.” Their expertise reminded me of Dave Chappelle’s bit: “Every black dude in this room is a qualified paralegal. If one of us even started to do something wrong, an old black man would pop out of nowhere—‘Nigga don’t do that, that’s five to ten!’”

It was clear that jail, and its ever-present possibility, was just a part of their lives, as, say, being paid very little is a part of the life of an adjunct professor. I tried to imagine what that would be like, how different all my frames of reference would be. I would literally perceive the world differently: my perceptions would incorporate and embody utterly different value-judgments than they do, different expectations from moment to moment, and I’d have to be cognizant of entire dimensions of experience—fears, worries, possibilities, factors to be taken into consideration—that are currently beyond my horizons. The understanding sank in on a visceral level of how incredibly privileged I am.

But more than that: I could see my own views of the world changing somewhat. After all, to sit on a floor against steel bars for twelve hours, and then several hours more when I was moved up to the even more crowded holding pen we wait in until the court is ready to see us, is an experience that encourages introspection. The situation felt both surreal and much more real than my ordinary life. I thought of my daily routines, the mindless reading of news in the morning and evening, the pleasantries exchanged with fellow professors and students, the Youtube-watching at night in between grading and perusals of academic journals. I thought of the throngs that flood the streets of Manhattan every day on their shopping missions or sightseeing missions, and the bar-socializing with acquaintances—the trivialities shouted across the table over the din. It all seemed more hollow than ever.

Millions of us chatting happily outside or going to movies, averting our gaze from every unpleasantness, while other millions rot in steel-enclosed windowless misery—for throwing a few punches or having marijuana on them, or not legally being an American, or being poor and black in a white society. At this point I could say that our usual complacent behavior is contemptible and unconscionable, but what hit me most forcefully was just how false and empty it is. We live in and through illusion; our entire quotidian existence is grounded in denial. We have a pathetically partial view of the world, a parochial little outlook conditioned by frivolity and routine, blind to the very foundation of society underground in these cages that police the “dangerous classes.” I felt that here was the truth, the beating heart of America.

For, as we know, we live in an overwhelmingly bureaucratized society, a world increasingly shorn of human connections—sacrificed on the altar of marketization and privatization—which is precisely why it’s hurtling towards doom. Humanity is simply a non-factor in the political-economic equation. In fact, for a long time I’ve thought that the Holocaust, the apotheosis of bureaucratic inhumanity, is the clue to the moral essence of capitalist modernity, the perfect symbol. But on a less murderous scale, mass confinement in cages is an equally apt emblem. The prisoners are almost totally helpless, totally at the mercy of bureaucratic diktats and the whims of guards and wardens. And we know how helpless we all tend to feel with regard to any bureaucracy—government bureaucracies, insurance bureaucracies, workplace bureaucracies, bank bureaucracies. We’re completely subordinated to power, with hardly any recourses. The arbitrary power over life and death is only more pronounced in the case of the “criminal justice” bureaucracy.

The prison bureaucracy takes the alienating tendencies of capitalist institutions to their logical and literal conclusion, in the separation of people into their own concrete cells and the enforcement of this atomization by armed guards. Actually, in a sense, jail or even prison might, perversely, be less atomizing than the broader capitalist civilization they reflect, given that the basic unit of society is no longer the community or the family but really the lone individual with his computer and his smartphone—and, for his social context, the bureaucracy in which he is embedded (as employee, consumer, and citizen). At least in jail a “collective consciousness” can emerge, together with real sympathy and empathy. And the human interactions tend to have a stripped-down quality, a directness and rawness, very different from the impersonal fakeness outside.

By around 11 a.m. the remaining conversations in the cellblock had died down. By 12:00, and then 1:00, and then 2:00, an absolute listlessness had settled on us, except for periodic ejaculations of disgust at whatever incompetence or malice was keeping us down there. Time had stopped. I began to wonder if I’d ever be released; the thought of freedom seemed too good to be true. Maybe I’d be stuck here another day, or longer. Would I have to miss work on Monday? Some of the guys had missed work that day, putting their jobs in jeopardy. I looked at the bodies sprawled on the floor and thought, This is what matters in the world. The rest is a lie, as long as this exists. The way I’d lived, immersed in thoughts of self, seemed absurd and shameful. All that mattered was to fight against this, and all suffering. I had to make changes, drastic changes in how I lived. That this could exist, or conditions infinitely worse than this, was completely intolerable.

To think that every day in cities and towns across the country tens of thousands of people were streaming, handcuffed, into jails, prisons, and detention centers, there to languish at the mercy of the System, was beyond horrifying. What would people outside think if they could see through the thick walls of the Brooklyn Detention Complex and know what was going on in here! All those free, relatively carefree people right outside, strolling down the streets blissfully unaware of the mass suffering just a couple hundred feet away. The moral imperative was to de-atomize, to bring to light and bring together. Arbitrary power thrives on atomization, and grows to Goliath dimensions as long as it can live in the dark. The necessity is to shine a light on it and kill it.

At long last the moment of deliverance arrived: my name was called. Full of hope, I left the cell…to be transferred to another cell. In which there were perhaps thirty people, though it was scarcely larger than the one I’d spent the night in. But at least I was closer—so I hoped—to freedom. I was also trepidatious, not knowing what to expect when I faced the judge, for instance whether he would set bail, or whether the DA would prosecute despite the pitiful triviality of the incident that had landed me there. Soon after I was in the new cell, a man came in cursing the judge, whom he had just seen. “That motherfucker set bail even higher than they asked for! $2000. As soon as I saw him look down at the sheet, I knew it was over. They said I had an old warrant for littering, so they went after me.” Littering.

To be sure, others had committed more serious crimes. One middle-aged guy, a jovial fellow, had been caught shoplifting at Macy’s (to sell the items later). “I know what I did wrong now,” he said. “I gotta be more careful when there aren’t crowds. In the holiday season it was different—I probably took $20,000 worth. Easy. There are so many people it’s easy.” I noticed that they all drew a distinction between stealing and taking. “You don’t steal,” one guy said. “You take. A woman steals, I take. You gotta take it, just take what you need, it’s yours, and walk out of there.” Earlier I had talked to a pregnant young woman, attractive, confident, and articulate, who said she regularly steals—no, takes—expensive items from Macy’s (again, to sell them on the street). It isn’t really theft because she thinks she’s entitled to it, in light of how much the government takes from her and how cruelly the System treats people like her (i.e., poor African-Americans). She has a job, but the pay isn’t enough for her to provide for her family. It was clear to me that this sort of theft is widespread.

The situation, then, is predictably absurd: people are denied the ability to earn a living, and, in addition, government steals money from them when they can find work—yes, steals, for the logic of government is, arguably, no different from that of a protection racket—so they have to turn to illicit means of surviving; but in that case, if discovered, they’re sent to prison. So it’s Scylla or Charybdis. Deprivation or—deprivation in prison.

Meanwhile, my own brief period of deprivation was about to come to an end. The last couple of hours weren’t particularly eventful, aside from when one of the inmates had a seizure, complete with foaming at the mouth. I can’t say if it was due to negligence by the authorities, but my guess is not, since they acted fairly promptly to get him medical assistance. At any rate, by this point I was more than ready for freedom. Not to mention food. The thought of both was sweeter than I had ever known.

In the early evening my name was called for the last time, and I made my way to the courtroom. Whence to freedom, a half-hour later. Having no criminal record, I was let off easy. What happened to the others, I don’t know. What I do know is that as I walked outside into the drizzling rain, the taste of freedom in the air, people in handcuffs were being ushered into the back entrance of the building, out of the rain-scented air and into the sweat-stinking holding pens. Many of them would be repeat offenders, and this latest arrest might have dire effects on their lives. It would be harder to get a job, which would tempt them to take what they needed, which would raise the possibility of another arrest, and so the cycle would continue. The System would continue to be fed fresh meat, and it would grow bigger in scale, and ever more lives would be ground up in its gears. The System would continue to dominate a diabolically regimented society—unless its victims and their advocates could, somehow, throw a wrench into its gears and grind them to a halt.

I didn’t know how that could be done, but, newly inspired, I knew I had to take part.

The Age of Petty Tyrannies

Whether the mask is labeled fascism, democracy, or dictatorship of the proletariat, our great adversary remains the apparatus—the bureaucracy, the police, the military. Not the one facing us across the frontier of the battle lines, which is not so much our enemy as our brothers’ enemy, but the one that calls itself our protector and makes us its slaves. No matter what the circumstances, the worst betrayal will always be to subordinate ourselves to this apparatus and to trample underfoot, in its service, all human values in ourselves and in others.

— Simone Weil, French philosopher and political activist

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.

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, let their kids manage a lemonade stand, keep chickens as pets, or braid someone’s hair, as ludicrous as that may seem.

A current case before the Supreme Court, Niang v. Tomblinson strikes at the heart of this bureaucratic exercise in absurdity that has pushed over-regulation and over-criminalization to outrageous limits. This particular case is about whether one needs a government license in order to braid hair.

Missouri, like many states across the country, has increasingly adopted as its governing style the authoritarian notion that the government knows best and therefore must control, regulate and dictate almost everything about the citizenry’s public, private and professional lives.

In Missouri, anyone wanting to braid African-style hair and charge for it must first acquire a government license, which at a minimum requires the applicant to undertake at least 1500 hours of cosmetology classes costing tens of thousands of dollars.

Tennessee has fined residents nearly $100,000 just for violating its laws against braiding hair without a government license.

In Oregon, the law is so broad that you need a license even if you’re planning to braid hair for free. The mere act of touching someone’s hair can render you a cosmetologist operating without a license and in violation of the law.

In Iowa, you can be sentenced with up to a year in prison for braiding hair without having attended a year of cosmetology school.

It’s not just hair braiding that has become grist for the over-regulation mill.

Almost every aspect of American life today—especially if it is work-related—is subject to this kind of heightened scrutiny and ham-fisted control, whether you’re talking about aspiring “bakers, braiders, casket makers, florists, veterinary masseuses, tour guides, taxi drivers, eyebrow threaders, teeth whiteners, and more.”

For instance, whereas 70 years ago, one out of every 20 U.S. jobs required a state license, today, almost 1 in 3 American occupations requires a license.

The problem of over-regulation has become so bad that, as one analyst notes, “getting a license to style hair in Washington takes more instructional time than becoming an emergency medical technician or a firefighter.”

This is what happens when bureaucrats run the show, and the rule of law becomes little more than a cattle prod for forcing the citizenry to march in lockstep with the government.

Over-regulation is just the other side of the coin to over-criminalization, that phenomenon in which everything is rendered illegal and everyone becomes a lawbreaker.

This is the mindset that tried to penalize a fisherman with 20 years’ jail time for throwing fish that were too small back into the water.

John Yates, a commercial fisherman, was written up in 2007 by a state fish and wildlife officer who noticed that among Yates’ haul of red grouper, 72 were apparently under the 20-inch legal minimum. Yates, ordered to bring the fish to shore as evidence of his violation of the federal statute on undersized catches, returned to shore with only 69 grouper in the crate designated for evidence.

A crew member later confessed that, on orders from Yates, the crew had thrown the undersized grouper overboard and replaced them with larger fish. Unfortunately, they were three fish short.

Sensing a bait-and-switch, prosecutors refused to let Yates off the hook quite so easily. Unfortunately, in prosecuting him for the undersized fish under a law aimed at financial crimes, government officials opened up a can of worms. Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court in a rare (and narrow) flash of reason, sided with Yates, ruling that the government had overreached.

That same over-criminalization mindset reared its ugly head again when police arrested a 90-year-old man for violating an ordinance that prohibits feeding the homeless in public.

Arnold Abbott, 90 years old and the founder of a nonprofit that feeds the homeless, faced a fine of $1000 and up to four months in jail for violating a city ordinance that makes it a crime to feed the homeless in public.

Under the city’s ordinance, clearly aimed at discouraging the feeding of the homeless in public, organizations seeking to do so must provide portable toilets, be 500 feet away from each other, 500 feet from residential properties, and are limited to having only one group carry out such a function per city block.

Abbott had been feeding the homeless on a public beach in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl., every Wednesday evening for 23 years. On November 2, 2014, moments after handing out his third meal of the day, police reportedly approached the nonagenarian and ordered him to “‘drop that plate right now,’ as if I were carrying a weapon,” recalls Abbott. Abbott was arrested and fined. Three days later, Abbott was at it again, and arrested again.

It’s no coincidence that both of these incidents—the fishing debacle and the homeless feeding arrest—happened in Florida.

This is also the state that arrested Nicole Gainey for free-range parenting when she let her 7-year-old son walk to the park alone, even though it was just a few blocks from their house. If convicted, Gainey could have been made to serve up to five years in jail.

Despite its pristine beaches and balmy temperatures, Florida is no less immune to the problems plaguing the rest of the nation in terms of over-criminalization, incarceration rates, bureaucracy, corruption, and police misconduct.

In fact, the Sunshine State has become a poster child for how a seemingly idyllic place can be transformed into a police state with very little effort. As such, it is representative of what is happening in every state across the nation, where a steady diet of bread and circuses has given rise to an oblivious, inactive citizenry content to be ruled over by an inflexible and highly bureaucratic regime.

Just a few years back, in fact, Florida officials authorized police raids on barber shops in minority communities, resulting in barbers being handcuffed in front of customers, and their shops searched without warrants. All of this was purportedly done in an effort to make sure that the barbers’ licensing paperwork was up to snuff.

As if criminalizing fishing, charity, parenting decisions, and haircuts wasn’t bad enough, you could also find yourself passing time in a Florida slammer for such inane activities as singing in a public place while wearing a swimsuit, breaking more than three dishes per day, farting in a public place after 6 pm on a Thursday, and skateboarding without a license.

This transformation of the United States from being a beacon of freedom to a locked down nation illustrates perfectly what songwriter Joni Mitchell was referring to when she wrote:

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

Only in our case, sold on the idea that safety, security and material comforts are preferable to freedom, we’ve allowed the government to pave over the Constitution in order to erect a concentration camp.

The problem with these devil’s bargains, however, is that there is always a catch, always a price to pay for whatever it is we valued so highly as to barter away our most precious possessions.

We’ve bartered away our right to self-governance, self-defense, privacy, autonomy and that most important right of all—the right to tell the government to “leave me the hell alone.”

In exchange for the promise of safe streets, safe schools, blight-free neighborhoods, lower taxes, lower crime rates, and readily accessible technology, health care, water, food and power, we’ve opened the door to militarized police, government surveillance, asset forfeiture, school zero tolerance policies, license plate readers, red light cameras, SWAT team raids, health care mandates, over-criminalization, over-regulation and government corruption.

In the end, such bargains always turn sour.

We asked our lawmakers to be tough on crime, and we’ve been saddled with an abundance of laws that criminalize almost every aspect of our lives. So far, we’re up to 4500 criminal laws and 300,000 criminal regulations that result in average Americans unknowingly engaging in criminal acts at least three times a day. For instance, the family of an 11-year-old girl was issued a $535 fine for violating the Federal Migratory Bird Act after the young girl rescued a baby woodpecker from predatory cats.

We wanted criminals taken off the streets, and we didn’t want to have to pay for their incarceration. What we’ve gotten is a nation that boasts the highest incarceration rate in the world, with more than 2.3 million people locked up, many of them doing time for relatively minor, nonviolent crimes, and a private prison industry fueling the drive for more inmates, who are forced to provide corporations with cheap labor.

A special report by CNBC breaks down the national numbers:

One out of 100 American adults is behind bars — while a stunning one out of 32 is on probation, parole or in prison. This reliance on mass incarceration has created a thriving prison economy. The states and the federal government spend about $74 billion a year on corrections, and nearly 800,000 people work in the industry.

We wanted law enforcement agencies to have the necessary resources to fight the nation’s wars on terror, crime and drugs. What we got instead were militarized police decked out with M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers, battle tanks and hollow point bullets—gear designed for the battlefield, more than 80,000 SWAT team raids carried out every year (many for routine police tasks, resulting in losses of life and property), and profit-driven schemes that add to the government’s largesse such as asset forfeiture, where police seize property from “suspected criminals.”

Justice Department figures indicate that as much as $4.3 billion was seized in asset forfeiture cases in 2012, with the profits split between federal agencies and local police. According to the Washington Post, these funds have been used to buy guns, armored cars, electronic surveillance gear, “luxury vehicles, travel and a clown named Sparkles.” Police seminars advise officers to use their “department wish list when deciding which assets to seize” and, in particular, go after flat screen TVs, cash and nice cars.

In Florida, where police are no strangers to asset forfeiture, Florida police have been carrying out “reverse” sting operations, where they pose as drug dealers to lure buyers with promises of cheap cocaine, then bust them, and seize their cash and cars. Over the course of a year, police in one small Florida town seized close to $6 million using these entrapment schemes.

We fell for the government’s promise of safer roads, only to find ourselves caught in a tangle of profit-driven red light cameras, which ticket unsuspecting drivers in the so-called name of road safety while ostensibly fattening the coffers of local and state governments.  Despite widespread public opposition, corruption and systemic malfunctions, these cameras—used in 24 states and Washington, DC—are particularly popular with municipalities, which look to them as an easy means of extra cash.

One small Florida town, population 8,000, generates a million dollars a year in fines from these cameras. Building on the profit-incentive schemes, the cameras’ manufacturers are also pushing speed cameras and school bus cameras, both of which result in heft fines for violators who speed or try to go around school buses.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is what happens when the American people get duped, deceived, double-crossed, cheated, lied to, swindled and conned into believing that the government and its army of bureaucrats—the people we appointed to safeguard our freedoms—actually have our best interests at heart.

Yet when all is said and done, who is really to blame when the wool gets pulled over your eyes: you, for believing the con man, or the con man for being true to his nature?

It’s time for a bracing dose of reality, America.

Wake up and take a good, hard look around you, and ask yourself if the gussied-up version of America being sold to you—crime free, worry free and devoid of responsibility—is really worth the ticket price: nothing less than your freedoms.

Dial T for Tyranny: While America Feuds, the Police State Shifts Into High Gear

Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours. There is no need for wardens or gates or Ministries of Truth. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; a culture-death is a clear possibility.

— Professor Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Discourse in the Age of Show Business

What characterizes American government today is not so much dysfunctional politics as it is ruthlessly contrived governance carried out behind the entertaining, distracting and disingenuous curtain of political theater. And what political theater it is, diabolically Shakespearean at times, full of sound and fury, yet in the end, signifying nothing.

Played out on the national stage and eagerly broadcast to a captive audience by media sponsors, this farcical exercise in political theater can, at times, seem riveting, life-changing and suspenseful, even for those who know better.

Week after week, the script changes—Donald Trump’s Tweets, Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, Michael Cohen’s legal troubles, porn star Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit over an alleged past affair with Trump, Michelle Wolf’s tasteless stand-up routine at the White House correspondents’ dinner, North and South Korea’s détente, the ongoing staff shakeups within the Trump administration—with each new script following on the heels of the last, never any let-up, never any relief from the constant melodrama.

The players come and go, the protagonists and antagonists trade places, and the audience members are forgiving to a fault, quick to forget past mistakes and move on to the next spectacle.

All the while, a different kind of drama is unfolding in the dark backstage, hidden from view by the heavy curtain, the elaborate stage sets, colored lights and parading actors.

Such that it is, the realm of political theater with all of its drama, vitriol and scripted theatrics is what passes for “transparent” government today, with elected officials, entrusted to act in the best interests of their constituents, routinely performing for their audiences and playing up to the cameras, while doing very little to move the country forward.

Yet behind the footlights, those who really run the show are putting into place policies which erode our freedoms and undermine our attempts at contributing to the workings of our government, leaving us none the wiser and bereft of any opportunity to voice our discontent or engage in any kind of discourse until it’s too late.

It’s 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.

Indeed, while mainstream America has been fixated on the drama-filled reality show being televised from the White House, the American Police State has moved steadily forward.

Set against a backdrop of government surveillance, militarized police, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, eminent domain, over-criminalization, armed surveillance drones, whole body scanners, stop and frisk searches, roving VIPR raids and the like—all of which have been sanctioned by Congress, the White House and the courts—our constitutional freedoms have been steadily chipped away at, undermined, eroded, whittled down, and generally discarded.

Our losses are mounting with every passing day.

Free speech, the right to protest, the right to challenge government wrongdoing, due process, a presumption of innocence, the right to self-defense, accountability and transparency in government, privacy, press, sovereignty, assembly, bodily integrity, representative government: all of these and more have become casualties in the government’s war on the American people.

All the while, the American people have been treated like enemy combatants, to be spied on, tracked, scanned, frisked, searched, subjected to all manner of intrusions, intimidated, invaded, raided, manhandled, censored, silenced, shot at, locked up, and denied due process.

None of these dangers have dissipated.

They have merely disappeared from our televised news streams.

The new boss has proven to be the same as the old boss, and the American people, the permanent underclass in America, has allowed itself to be so distracted and divided that they have failed to notice the building blocks of tyranny being laid down right under their noses by the architects of the Deep State.

Frankly, it really doesn’t matter what you call the old/new boss—the Deep State, the Controllers, the masterminds, the shadow government, the police state, the surveillance state, the military industrial complex—so long as you understand that no matter who occupies the White House, it is a profit-driven, an unelected bureaucracy that is actually calling the shots.

In the interest of liberty and truth, here’s an A-to-Z primer to spell out the grim realities of life in the American Police State that no one is talking about anymore.

A is for the AMERICAN POLICE STATE. A police state “is characterized by bureaucracy, secrecy, perpetual wars, a nation of suspects, militarization, surveillance, widespread police presence, and a citizenry with little recourse against police actions.”

B is for our battered BILL OF RIGHTS. In the cop culture that is America today, where you can be kicked, punched, tasered, shot, intimidated, harassed, stripped, searched, brutalized, terrorized, wrongfully arrested, and even killed by a police officer, and that officer is rarely held accountable for violating your rights, the Bill of Rights doesn’t amount to much.

C is for CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE. This governmental scheme to deprive Americans of their liberties—namely, the right to property—is being carried out under the guise of civil asset forfeiture, a government practice wherein government agents (usually the police) seize private property they “suspect” may be connected to criminal activity. Then, whether or not any crime is actually proven to have taken place, the government keeps the citizen’s property.

D is for DRONES. It is estimated that at least 30,000 drones will be airborne in American airspace by 2020, part of an $80 billion industry. Although some drones will be used for benevolent purposes, many will also be equipped with lasers, tasers and scanning devices, among other weapons—all aimed at “we the people.”

E is for ELECTRONIC CONCENTRATION CAMP. In the electronic concentration camp, as I have dubbed the surveillance state, all aspects of a person’s life are policed by government agents and all citizens are suspects, their activities monitored and regulated, their movements tracked, their communications spied upon, and their lives, liberties and pursuit of happiness dependent on the government’s say-so.

F is for FUSION CENTERS. Fusion centers, data collecting agencies spread throughout the country and aided by the National Security Agency, serve as a clearinghouse for information shared between state, local and federal agencies. These fusion centers constantly monitor our communications, everything from our internet activity and web searches to text messages, phone calls and emails. This data is then fed to government agencies, which are now interconnected: the CIA to the FBI, the FBI to local police.

G is for GRENADE LAUNCHERS and GLOBAL POLICE. The federal government has distributed more than $18 billion worth of battlefield-appropriate military weapons, vehicles and equipment such as drones, tanks, and grenade launchers to domestic police departments across the country. As a result, most small-town police forces now have enough firepower to render any citizen resistance futile. Now take those small-town police forces, train them to look and act like the military, and then enlist them to be part of the United Nations’ Strong Cities Network program, and you not only have a standing army that operates beyond the reach of the Constitution but one that is part of a global police force.

H is for HOLLOW-POINT BULLETS. The government’s efforts to militarize and weaponize its agencies and employees is reaching epic proportions, with federal agencies as varied as the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration stockpiling millions of lethal hollow-point bullets, which violate international law. Ironically, while the government continues to push for stricter gun laws for the general populace, the U.S. military’s arsenal of weapons makes the average American’s handgun look like a Tinker Toy.

I is for the INTERNET OF THINGS, in which internet-connected “things” will monitor your home, your health and your habits in order to keep your pantry stocked, your utilities regulated and your life under control and relatively worry-free. The key word here, however, is control. This “connected” industry propels us closer to a future where police agencies apprehend virtually anyone if the government “thinks” they may commit a crime, driverless cars populate the highways, and a person’s biometrics are constantly scanned and used to track their movements, target them for advertising, and keep them under perpetual surveillance.

J is for JAILING FOR PROFIT. Having outsourced their inmate population to private prisons run by private corporations, this profit-driven form of mass punishment has given rise to a $70 billion private prison industry that relies on the complicity of state governments to keep their privately run prisons full by jailing large numbers of Americans for inane crimes.

K is for KENTUCKY V. KING. In an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that police officers can break into homes, without a warrant, even if it’s the wrong home as long as they think they have a reason to do so. Despite the fact that the police in question ended up pursuing the wrong suspect, invaded the wrong apartment and violated just about every tenet that stands between us and a police state, the Court sanctioned the warrantless raid, leaving Americans with little real protection in the face of all manner of abuses by law enforcement officials.

L is for LICENSE PLATE READERS, which enable law enforcement and private agencies to track the whereabouts of vehicles, and their occupants, all across the country. This data collected on tens of thousands of innocent people is also being shared between police agencies, as well as with fusion centers and private companies. This puts Big Brother in the driver’s seat.

M is for MAIN CORE. Since the 1980s, the U.S. government has acquired and maintained, without warrant or court order, a database of names and information on Americans considered to be threats to the nation. As Salon reports, this database, reportedly dubbed “Main Core,” is to be used by the Army and FEMA in times of national emergency or under martial law to locate and round up Americans seen as threats to national security. As of 2008, there were some 8 million Americans in the Main Core database.

N is for NO-KNOCK RAIDS. Owing to the militarization of the nation’s police forces, SWAT teams are now increasingly being deployed for routine police matters. In fact, more than 80,000 of these paramilitary raids are carried out every year. That translates to more than 200 SWAT team raids every day in which police crash through doors, damage private property, terrorize adults and children alike, kill family pets, assault or shoot anyone that is perceived as threatening—and all in the pursuit of someone merely suspected of a crime, usually possession of some small amount of drugs.

O is for OVERCRIMINALIZATION and OVERREGULATION.  Thanks to an overabundance of 4,500-plus federal crimes and 400,000 plus rules and regulations, it is estimated that the average American actually commits three felonies a day without knowing it. As a result of this overcriminalization, we’re seeing an uptick in Americans being arrested and jailed for such absurd “violations” as letting their kids play at a park unsupervised, collecting rainwater and snow runoff on their own property, growing vegetables in their yard, and holding Bible studies in their living room.

P is for PATHOCRACY and PRECRIME. When our own government treats us as things to be manipulated, maneuvered, mined for data, manhandled by police, mistreated, and then jailed in profit-driven private prisons if we dare step out of line, 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.” Couple that with the government’s burgeoning pre-crime programs, which will use fusion centers, data collection agencies, behavioral scientists, corporations, social media, and community organizers and by relying on cutting-edge technology for surveillance, facial recognition, predictive policing, biometrics, and behavioral epigenetics in order to identify and deter so-called potential “extremists,” dissidents or rabble-rousers. Bear in mind that anyone seen as opposing the government—whether they’re Left, Right or somewhere in between—is now viewed as an extremist.

Q is for QUALIFIED IMMUNITY. Qualified immunity allows officers to walk away without paying a dime for their wrongdoing. Conveniently, those deciding whether a police officer should be immune from having to personally pay for misbehavior on the job all belong to the same system, all cronies with a vested interest in protecting the police and their infamous code of silence: city and county attorneys, police commissioners, city councils and judges.

R is for ROADSIDE STRIP SEARCHES and BLOOD DRAWS. The courts have increasingly erred on the side of giving government officials—especially the police—vast discretion in carrying out strip searches, blood draws and even anal probes for a broad range of violations, no matter how minor the offense. In the past, strip searches were resorted to only in exceptional circumstances where police were confident that a serious crime was in progress. In recent years, however, strip searches have become routine operating procedures in which everyone is rendered a suspect and, as such, is subjected to treatment once reserved for only the most serious of criminals.

S is for the SURVEILLANCE STATE. 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. 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.

T is for TASERS. Nonlethal weapons such as tasers, stun guns, rubber pellets and the like have been used by police as weapons of compliance more often and with less restraint—even against women and children—and in some instances, even causing death. These “nonlethal” weapons also enable police to aggress with the push of a button, making the potential for overblown confrontations over minor incidents that much more likely. A Taser Shockwave, for instance, can electrocute a crowd of people at the touch of a button.

U is for UNARMED CITIZENS SHOT BY POLICE. No longer is it unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later, often attributed to a fear for their safety. Yet the fatality rate of on-duty patrol officers is reportedly far lower than many other professions, including construction, logging, fishing, truck driving, and even trash collection.

V is for VIPR SQUADS. So-called “soft target” security inspections, carried out by roving VIPR task forces, comprised of federal air marshals, surface transportation security inspectors, transportation security officers, behavior detection officers and explosive detection canine teams, are taking place whenever and wherever the government deems appropriate, at random times and places, and without needing the justification of a particular threat.

W is for WHOLE-BODY SCANNERS. Using either x-ray radiation or radio waves, scanning devices and government mobile units are being used not only to “see” through your clothes but to spy on you within the privacy of your home. While these mobile scanners are being sold to the American public as necessary security and safety measures, we can ill afford to forget that such systems are rife with the potential for abuse, not only by government bureaucrats but by the technicians employed to operate them.

X is for X-KEYSCORE, one of the many spying programs carried out by the National Security Agency that targets every person in the United States who uses a computer or phone. This top-secret program “allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.”

Y is for YOU-NESS. Using your face, mannerisms, social media and “you-ness” against you, you can now be tracked based on what you buy, where you go, what you do in public, and how you do what you do. Facial recognition software promises to create a society in which every individual who steps out into public is tracked and recorded as they go about their daily business. The goal is for government agents to be able to scan a crowd of people and instantaneously identify all of the individuals present. Facial recognition programs are being rolled out in states all across the country.

Z is for ZERO TOLERANCE. We have moved into a new paradigm in which young people are increasingly viewed as suspects and treated as criminals by school officials and law enforcement alike, often for engaging in little more than childish behavior. In some jurisdictions, students have also been penalized under school zero tolerance policies for such inane “crimes” as carrying cough drops, wearing black lipstick, bringing nail clippers to school, using Listerine or Scope, and carrying fold-out combs that resemble switchblades. The lesson being taught to our youngest—and most impressionable—citizens is this: in the American police state, you’re either a prisoner (shackled, controlled, monitored, ordered about, limited in what you can do and say, your life not your own) or a prison bureaucrat (politician, police officer, judge, jailer, spy, profiteer, etc.).

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the reality we must come to terms with is that in the post-9/11 America we live in today, the government does whatever it wants, freedom be damned.

We have moved beyond the era of representative government and entered a new age.

You can call it the age of authoritarianism. Or fascism. Or oligarchy. Or the American police state.

Whatever label you want to put on it, the end result is the same: tyranny.

Heroes and Villains – The Daily Show in a Homeless Shelter

Now, during our catastrophically idiotic war in Vietnam, the music kept getting better and better and better. We lost that war, by the way. Order couldn’t be restored in Indochina until the people kicked us out. That war only made billionaires out of millionaires. Today’s war is making trillionaires out of billionaires. Now I call that progress.
― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

These ain’t popular topics, for sure, brother/sister American. You see, the entire homeless problem in America is a bigger problem of the almost homeless, the disposed, the enslaved youth heading to State U, the Amazing Theft of Wages (Tax Day, Man), Theft of the Commons by Bureaucrats Working the Soft Shoe Corporate Game — kleptocracy (a government ruled by thieves), and representative government has been rejected in favor of a kakistocracy (a government run by the most unprincipled citizens that panders to the worst vices in our nature: greed, violence, hatred, prejudice and war).

There is no skip in the beat with Boss Tweet, fawning over military hardware hustled to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the entire Empire Protecting Planet. This fawning this fourth-grade thinker does is a lot like his days at Studio 51 or the Playboy Mansions or the Pageants where his spittle lubricated his huffing and puffing orgasmic dead space between his ears. He is the leader of the pack, sad-sack of a playboy and land baron, thief, who gets the book deals, TV contracts, cameos in movies, his brand plastered all over Madison Avenue – make no bones about it, Trump is America. He is Dollar Store plastic and Neiman Marcus glitter. He is the freewheeling liberal lover of money and play things and parties, and he is the mean-assed inexperienced one, yellow belly, calling for war, a hater of soldiers, a hater of my people I serve daily – military veterans, not retired NCOs and Officers, but mostly those ending up in the Poverty Drafts and some drafted in Vietnam, Korea. A few years in and bam — total physical and mental calamity!

All PTSD-living, poverty people (most are poor). Trump would lambaste my work serving as social worker and finder of funds, and he’d laugh off PTSD as “nothing but an entitlement dream in your white cracker and people of color case loads’ heads.” Trump or his filthy generals, all of them, even cabinet-level creeps running all systems foul in DC, they hate the poor, the misbegotten, the broken, the addicted, the mentally cracked, the physically cleaved.

Make no bones about it, gents and dames, Trump is Obama is Clinton is Reagan. These people would love to see Soylent Green is People scaled up, now, and they openly love the $5 a day prison labor, and they love the stock maximization of everything private – drugs, prisons, health care, education, water-sewer-lights, and every bureaucratic thing that makes this tax time a time of death and loathing in a time of absolute penury cholera.

There is one hell of a lot of Non-Trumpers — those oh-so racist, rotten to the core Democrats or liberals or whatever creepy foodie-hot sauna-farmers’ market going folk that gentrify, who end up as WASP-Jew heads of every-self-loathing non-profit – absolutely holding onto the glory of the dollar, of the endless jujitsu that is standing for the anthem and going on and on about a few Trump loyalists and Alt-Right scoundrels being bad hombres too. Remember, these whites are voting against the people, the 80 percent, no matter how many pet projects they may undertake or scramble for Sundance documentary glory or big-time book glory, and they can go onto Amy Goodman’s show, talk the talk, but in the end, the people who should be talking or yelling or attacking, the very victims of the theft – grand theft of agency-past-future-progeny – they never get on that “liberal media.”

Make no bones about it, Democrats, with or without life coaches, all solar-powered up, bamboo floors and kids doing secular missions in third world depravity before going onto college and those non-profits, they are voting for war, voting for more jobs in the death industries, more and more work holding up the death machine of capitalism that eats at the very soul of their own, yet, for the time being, these 5 and 15-percenters, they sigh and get all Rachel Maddow like when they think they are caring about another black woman in jail, shackled during labor, or when some deranged (mentally challenged) black youth jaywalking gets mowed down by the police. The police – ahh, the variations on a theme when we say police, as in the HR departments, the school boards, the city and country code enforcers, the law firms, the forced arbiters, the endless thuggery of tax-levy-fee-fine-GAT-toll-penalty-surcharge makers and collectors, the endless Little Eichmann lever pullers and auditors, all those regulators and deregulators, all those heads of the departments and sub-agencies of all those alphabet soup Government Agencies – the grim reaper of compliant consumers, the toasty 15 and 20 percenters who make either a killing or a cool million from the depravity of these systems of usury and penury and PayDay loan-sharking.

Okay-okay – heroes and villains, part one:

Hero in Merced, California, way past mid-sixties, Joe, who has worked the land as an agricultural purveyor, and he’s seen water rights go the wrong way, seen the endless corporate theft in his neck of the Northern California woods ramp up yearly. He knows the crimes of school boards, the crimes of the big businesses, big ag, big energy, big everything.

I’ve been in communication with him for several months, and his wisdom and ire, his history, and his perspective over time, and his heart and soul, and his humor, man, well, this is a hero. He just sent me some links to Counterpunch and Global Research and came up with this quick reaction, triggered by Tax Day, and comments on a great writer’s works, stuff that has been published at Counterpunch and Dissident Voice to name just two – John W. Whitehead. Here’s Joe’s take on Whitehead’s most recent:

An electorate as indoctrinated as the American people are by corporate media would have a hard time distinguishing between shit and a poor grade of mush. This country’s citizens have never experienced war except for the fantasy war that Hooligan-wood and the latest X-box crap-app subjects them to 24/7. The public’s minds have been Disney-fied and fried by corporate media. The sad thing is that even Europe has few citizens left that remember the horrors of war. I’m afraid we are going to have to relive that lesson all over again. Maybe after the idiot populace of this country experiences the ravages of war right here in the land of easy credit, fantasy and denial, they won’t be so stupid as to support idiots that lead them into this misery. I don’t hold out much hope though. This country has been electing these corrupt war mongering bastards from both parties as long as I can remember. I don’t think it will change until the American public is walking around with their flesh dripping off their bones. Even then the public is so indoctrinated with this endless military crap brought to them as patriotism they will still be clamoring for revenge and more war. Stupid, ignorant and arrogant rules in this country, whether it be from Democrats or Republicans.

I hope some of the wildlife I hold so dear makes it out alive.

Hero, versus villain – I’d say anyone looking to bullseye Joe for being cantankerous, for being old and critical, for pointing out the futility of a country prostituted by both parties and ravaged by the stupidity of its populace, for having a keen sense of humor (not this one blurb, but he has some hilarity in this series he’s been writing – Letters to Cousin Linda) that person is the villain.

Hero – Three strikes and you are out. Now, out at age 64, African American, in prison for using drugs, and, whoops, when you use drugs, well, the excess is sometimes bartered off, traded and sold. Black man with cocaine equals the villains’ mark – criminal courts, public defenders, bail bondsmen, lawyers, municipal departments, prison systems, PayDay crap, probation officers.

This man is working at my shelter, a veteran, though he doesn’t pull that card much, and he is doing some amazing work making music, electronic stuff, sampled and using his own keyboard. There is no way in hell this fellow isn’t a hero: he is looking to reconnect with his sons and daughters in California. He ran the streets of Portland, and the villains – cops, judges, prosecutors, the entire carnival that is the criminal injustice system and its auxiliaries, including some social service non-profits – are a constant reminder to me that the white class – whatever that is – has ensconced itself into this people-killing, African-American defiling, people-of-color-community-imploding monster.

My hero and I talk about the way of the black man, the way of the white racists, this supremacist shit-hole that is America, and he calls me his advocate, his rare white man on the side of real justice friend.

Hero, 78, calling himself the gravedigger’s son, grew up in Massachusetts, near Boston, and he’s been a vagabond, man, and I am helping him get his studio apartment, getting him some free furniture, helping him think outside the meth-amphetamine box. Fucking 78, and he relapsed, recently, one day bender, and, he’s got COPD and hallucinates – talks about the people around me he sees and I do not.

He’s well-read, not college educated, and grew up in an Irish Catholic family, and he’s been to Ireland and parts of Europe. He hates the military, and talks about being in Korea, and seeing the shit hole America created in both zones. He is Irish and socialist, but he has been wandering the world, cook here and dishwasher there. Imagine, he’s been wandering the country and the world for more than 40 years, and, alas, Portland is his home.

He’s been throughout the Pacific Northwest, to encampments of hard-living people in the  Cascades, living hard and off the grid. Story teller, gift of gab, and he’s the typical detritus of America – whether Trump or Hillary, whether young or old. People do not listen to him.

Villains? Think of the thousands of people who have shut off when he’s been around. Think of the hundreds of people lording over him in the social services and government agencies. Think of the hundreds that look right through him on public transportation or when he’s at the side of the road.

A dignity in drifting, and he’s kipped in more than just a few cemeteries around the country and the world. He attended a poetry workshop I was holding, and his memory is amazing, and his son of the gravedigger narratives are more amazing. Pure poetry!

Villains – not one soul would want his stories published. The American attention span is all hooked into Zombie-Land, faux memoir writing, Marvel Comics thinking, absolute shit-hole narratives and fiction.

Hero – Irish American socialist who questions every step of the military might of this messed up country.

Villains are the takers, the judgers, the ticket givers, the processors, the CPAs, the balance sheet coveters, the liberal social services folk who talk like HR people and who know shit what it’s like being old or imprisoned or full of meth nightmares. It’s the villains who soft-shoe through the DSM-V and saunter through workshop after conference on what it is to be trauma-informed social workers, or what harm reduction principles are, or what it is to be middling people and middling social workers.

Heroes are the ones that live it out in tents, on the road, under overpasses, who crunch down in old cars and pick-up trucks, who cardboard surf in warehouses and in friends’ garages. These people are heroes in the sense that my social services non-profit believes everyone who served their country in the armed forces is a hero.

Heroes know that’s bullshit. Golden ticket for what? So, that family of four, mother with children, mother who works two jobs and has friends watch the kids, whose husband booked – yes, military veteran dude – so she’s not worthy of the golden ticket because she sweated over hamburgers and cleaned up feces of the rich and decaying, or she turned beds and sheets at the multi-billionaire’s chain of hotels?

Heroes and villains. Not difficult to spot the true hero, the survivor, the ones with a sense of dignity or perspective or time on the road, versus the ones who cut homeless programs, who vote against more food stamps, who demand drug testing for the shit pittance one might get in benefits.

Villains who gutted social security and gutted the post office and who closed the libraries and who Dread Scott-ed the world, who attack the good schooling public schools used to give. Villains are the militarists, Lords of War, the heathens and devil worshipers in the military industrial complex.

I am working with veterans who have been shot up with bullets, shrapnel, chemicals, toxins, propaganda, debasement, demands. Soldiers who were put on military bases/forts where the water is so bad, so polluted by solvents from military machinery and laundry (dry cleaning) that the Veterans Administration even has a name for the Parkinson’s — Camp Lejeune  Parkinson’s: various chemicals, including the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) known as PCE (Tetrachloroethylene aka Perchloroethylene), TCE (Trichloroethylene), DCE (Dichloroethylene), Vinyl Chloride and BTEX (Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylene). These chemicals are either known or suspected human carcinogens. Many Marines, Sailors, their families and loyal civilian employees have been affected by the contamination in various ways including, but not limited to: liver cancer, kidney cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer, leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, liver disease, miscarriages, birth defects (cleft palate, heart defects, Choanal atresia, neural tube defects, low birth weight, and small for gestational age),etc.

Heroes are the one’s shaking so hard at 65 they can’t even sign their names on forms that will get them subsidized housing. Heroes who are homeless, misbegotten, broken, incapable of navigating systems and job markets and economic hoops with Parkinson’s and the other effects associated with the decay caused by the military pollutants.

Villains? Just imagine the cadre of corporatists, the protectionists, the Little Eichmann’s, anti-whistle blowers, the lock-step ones fighting the science behind the disease and destruction and decay and denuding of humanity and ecologies because of that profit margin, and that grim reaper’s scythe chopping off the heads of us, the 80 percent. How difficult is it to see those lip-less white men and women, hear their ameliorating, their HR bullshit, listen to their shallow and pedestrian articulation?

Facts – the systematic lack of affordable housing and the Draconian limited scale of housing assistance programs all contribute to the current housing crisis and to homelessness. Foreclosures? In the hundreds of thousands each year! Result? Homeless.

The 2008 recession forced two million more people into homelessness over the following two years, according to estimates by The National Alliance to End Homelessness.

One or two out of 50—or about 2.5 million—American children are homeless each year, according to a 2009 study by the National Center on Family Homelessness. These are nine year old stats.

Here are some of the causes of homelessness:

For persons in families, the three most commonly cited causes, according to a 2008 U.S. Conference of Mayors study are:

• Lack of affordable housing
• Poverty
• Unemployment

For singles, the three most commonly cited causes of homelessness are:

• Substance abuse
• Lack of affordable housing
• Mental illness

Veterans are more likely than other populations to be homeless.

We are talking around 40% of homeless men being veterans, although veterans comprise only 34 percent of the general adult male population, according to research on veterans by the National Coalition for Homeless. On any given night, 200,000 veterans are homeless.

Do wages count? The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that the 2017 Housing Wage is $21.21 per hour, exceeding the $16.38 hourly wage earned by the average renter by almost $5.00 an hour. This $16.38 an hour exceeds wages earned by low income renter households. In fact, the hourly wage needed for renters hoping to afford a two-bedroom rental home is almost twice ($13.96) higher than the national minimum wage of $7.25.

What about the food insecure. It’s 51 million people in the United States living in food insecure households, 15 million of whom are children. While the magnitude of the problem is clear, national and even state estimates of food insecurity can mask the nuances that exist at the local level.

Here: Feeding America; Foreclosures; Minimum Wage; Wage state-by-state; True Minimum Wage.

What is the real unemployment figure for US of A?

The U-3 unemployment rate is the monthly headline number. The U-6 unemployment rate is the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) broadest unemployment measure, including short-term discouraged and other marginally-attached workers as well as those forced to work part-time because they cannot find full-time employment.

The ShadowStats Alternate Unemployment Rate for March 2018 is 21.7%.

Heroes and Villains? Rage and reckless indignation. Anger and attack, those are the hero’s tools, and the villain’s tools are based on hierarchy of consumption, the power of the people who have and the impotence of those who do not have.

What is it to have anything, that’s what many of my heroes ask, those who are homeless, on $1,200.00 a month for Social Security? Imagine this world with heroes. One hero, oddly, is the lady doing my taxes. She despised what has happened to this country, and she knows the true figures for saving and investing in a social security system – average person would come out at age 65 with $250,000 or $500,000 in his or her retirement account based on social security deductions. If this fact came out, parsed and discussed daily at the water cooler and forklift bay, we’d be pounding constantly how this country is one giant theft-creating/theft-inducing continuing criminal organization . . . then would more people revolt?

Heroes are guys like Whitehead or Nasser!!!

Whitehead: All of those nefarious government deeds that you read about in the paper every day: those are your tax dollars at work. It’s your money that allows for government agents to spy on your emails, your phone calls, your text messages, and your movements. It’s your money that allows out-of-control police officers to burst into innocent people’s homes, or probe and strip search motorists on the side of the road, or shoot an unarmed person. And it’s your money that leads to innocent Americans across the country being prosecuted for innocuous activities such as raising chickens at home, growing vegetable gardens, and trying to live off the grid.

Just remember the next time you see a news story that makes your blood boil, whether it’s a child being kicked out of school for shooting an imaginary arrow, or a homeowner being threatened with fines for building a pond in his backyard, remember that it is your tax dollars that are paying for these injustices.

So what are you going to do about it?

There was a time in our history when our forebears said “enough is enough” and stopped paying their taxes to what they considered an illegitimate government. They stood their ground and refused to support a system that was slowly choking out any attempts at self-governance, and which refused to be held accountable for its crimes against the people. Their resistance sowed the seeds for the revolution that would follow.

Unfortunately, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, in the 200-plus years since we established our own government, we’ve let bankers, turncoats and number-crunching bureaucrats muddy the waters and pilfer the accounts to such an extent that we’re back where we started.

Once again, we’ve got a despotic regime with an imperial ruler doing as they please.

Heroes are students trying to solve this shit-hole’s problems, hitting the books, and attempting to coalesce around strong thinking, critical solutions-generating thinking, and holism. Villains are the ledger counters, the money changers, the actualizers of debt.

Nasser: The burden weighing like a nightmare, to coin a phrase, on 44 million indebted current and former students will haunt these people for a good portion of their lives. The average student debtor graduates owing close to $34,000 and is projected to spend 21 years paying it off. At present, the average monthly payment for those between 30 and 40 years old is $351.00. It is not uncommon for repayment obligations to be borne by underwriters of these loans, typically the primary borrower’s parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Taking these co-signers into consideration, we have about 100 million people adversely affected, directly or indirectly, by the difficulty very many have repaying these loans.

Because the serving of warrants and jailing of debtors has begun picking up steam in recent years, and the financial situation of these potential prisoners has been gradually deteriorating, we have reason to expect that student-loan debtors could come to make up a significant portion of the growing ranks of those threatened with debt prison. Arrest warrants have been issued in California, Florida, Minnesota, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts and Texas. Arrests have been heaviest in California, Texas and Minnesota. In many cases there was no announcement of court orders or that the debtor was being sued. U.S. marshals in Minnesota conducted “Operation Anaconda Squeeze” to arrest student-loan debtors who had failed to appear in court for a “debtor’s examination.” Whether they had received prior notice was often thought by the court to be beside the point. As with the cases described earlier, often defendants are ordered to pay much more than the amount of the original loan. A Texas man, who received no prior notice about the debt or the court case brought by a private collection agency on behalf of Uncle Sam, was arrested by seven armed U.S. marshals for an unpaid $1,500 student loan he had borrowed 29 years earlier. He was ordered to pay, after interest and court fees, more than twice the amount of the original loan. $1,258.60 was added to reimburse the marshals for his arrest.

Is the U.S. Government Evil? You Tell Me

The greatest evil is not now done … in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern.

― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, February 1942

Is the U.S. government evil?

You tell me.

This is a government that treats its citizens like faceless statistics and economic units to be bought, sold, bartered, traded, tracked, tortured, and eventually eliminated once they’ve outgrown their usefulness.

This is a government that treats human beings like lab rats to be caged, branded, experimented upon, and then discarded and left to suffer from the after-effects.

This is a government that repeatedly lies, cheats, steals, spies, kills, maims, enslaves, breaks the laws, overreaches its authority, and abuses its power at almost every turn.

This is a government that wages wars for profit, jails its own people for profit, and then turns a blind eye and a deaf ear while its henchmen rape and kill and pillage.

No, this is not a government that can be trusted to do what is right or moral or humane or honorable but instead seems to gravitate towards corruption, malevolence, misconduct, greed, cruelty, brutality and injustice.

This is not a government you should trust with your life, your loved ones, your livelihood or your freedoms.

This is the face of evil, disguised as a democracy, sold to the people as an institution that has their best interests at heart.

Don’t fall for the lie.

The government has never had our best interests at heart.

Endless wars. The government didn’t have our best interests at heart when it propelled us into endless oil-fueled wars and military occupations in the Middle East that wreaked havoc on our economy, stretched thin our military resources and subjected us to horrific blowback.

A police state. There is no way the government had our best interests at heart when it passed laws subjecting us to all manner of invasive searches and surveillance, censoring our speech and stifling our expression, rendering us anti-government extremists for daring to disagree with its dictates, locking us up for criticizing government policies on social media, encouraging Americans to spy and snitch on their fellow citizens, and allowing government agents to grope, strip, search, taser, shoot and kill us.

Battlefield America. Certainly the government did not have our best interests at heart when it turned America into a battlefield, transforming law enforcement agencies into extensions of the military, conducting military drills on domestic soil, distributing “free” military equipment and weaponry to local police, and desensitizing Americans to the menace of the police state with active shooter drills, color-coded terror alerts, and randomly conducted security checkpoints at “soft” targets such as shopping malls and sports arenas.

School-to-prison pipeline. It would be a reach to suggest that the government had our best interests at heart when it locked down the schools, installing metal detectors and surveillance cameras, adopting zero tolerance policies that punish childish behavior as harshly as criminal actions, and teaching our young people that they have no rights, that being force-fed facts is education rather than indoctrination, that they are not to question governmental authority, that they must meekly accept a life of censorship, round-the-clock surveillance, roadside blood draws, SWAT team raids and other indignities.

Secret human experimentation. One would also be hard-pressed to suggest that the American government had our best interests at heart when it conducted secret experiments on an unsuspecting populace—citizens and noncitizens alike—making healthy people sick by spraying them with chemicals, injecting them with infectious diseases and exposing them to airborne toxins. The government reasoned that it was legitimate (and cheaper) to experiment on people who did not have full rights in society such as prisoners, mental patients, and poor blacks.

As the Associated Press reports, “The late 1940s and 1950s saw huge growth in the U.S. pharmaceutical and health care industries, accompanied by a boom in prisoner experiments funded by both the government and corporations. By the 1960s, at least half the states allowed prisoners to be used as medical guinea pigs … because they were cheaper than chimpanzees.”

In Alabama, for example, 600 black men with syphilis were allowed to suffer without proper medical treatment so that the government could study the natural progression of untreated syphilis. In California, older prisoners were implanted with testicles from livestock and executed convicts so the government could test their virility.

In Connecticut, mental patients were injected with hepatitis so the government could study the disease. In Maryland, sleeping prisoners had a pandemic flu virus sprayed up their noses so the government could monitor their symptoms. In Georgia, two dozen “volunteering” prison inmates had gonorrhea bacteria pumped directly into their urinary tracts through the penis so the government could work on a cure.

In Michigan, male patients at an insane asylum were exposed to the flu so the government could experiment with a flu vaccine. In Minnesota, 11 public service employee “volunteers” were injected with malaria, then starved for five days, so the government could study the impact.

In New York, prisoners at a reformatory prison were split into two groups to determine how a deadly stomach virus was spread: the first group was made to swallow an unfiltered stool suspension, while the second group merely breathed in germs sprayed into the air. In Staten Island, children with mental retardation were given hepatitis orally and by injection to see if they could then be cured.

Unfortunately, these incidents are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the atrocities the government has inflicted on an unsuspecting populace in the name of secret experimentation.

For instance, there was the U.S. military’s secret race-based testing of mustard gas on more than 60,000 enlisted men (African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Hispanics, etc.). As NPR reports:

All of the World War II experiments with mustard gas were done in secret and weren’t recorded on the subjects’ official military records. Most do not have proof of what they went through. They received no follow-up health care or monitoring of any kind. And they were sworn to secrecy about the tests under threat of dishonorable discharge and military prison time, leaving some unable to receive adequate medical treatment for their injuries, because they couldn’t tell doctors what happened to them.

And then there was the CIA’s Cold War-era program, MKULTRA, in which the government began secretly experimenting on hundreds of unsuspecting American civilians and military personnel by dosing them with LSD, some having the hallucinogenic drug secretly slipped into their drinks, so that the government could explore its uses in brainwashing and controlling targets. The CIA spent nearly $20 million on its MKULTRA program, reportedly as a means of programming people to carry out assassinations and, to a lesser degree, inducing anxieties and erasing memories, before it was supposedly shut down.

Similarly, the top-secret Montauk Project, the inspiration for the hit Netflix series Stranger Things, allegedly was working to develop mind-control techniques that would then be tested out on locals in a nearby village, triggering crime waves or causing teenagers to congregate.

Sounds like the stuff of conspiracy theorists, I know, but the government’s track record of treating Americans like lab rats has been well-documented, including its attempts to expose whole communities to various toxins as part of its efforts to develop lethal biological weapons and study their impact and delivery methods on unsuspecting populations.

In 1949, for instance, the government sprayed bacteria into the Pentagon’s air handling system, then the world’s largest office building. In 1950, special ops forces sprayed bacteria from Navy ships off the coast of Norfolk and San Francisco, in the latter case exposing all of the city’s 800,000 residents.

In 1953, government operatives staged “mock” anthrax attacks on St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Winnipeg  using generators placed on top of cars. Local governments were reportedly told that “‘invisible smokescreen[s]’ were being deployed to mask the city on enemy radar.” Later experiments covered territory as wide-ranging as Ohio to Texas and Michigan to Kansas.

In 1965, the government’s experiments in bioterror took aim at Washington’s National Airport, followed by a 1966 experiment in which army scientists exposed a million subway NYC passengers to airborne bacteria that causes food poisoning.

Now one might argue that this is all ancient history and that the government today is different from the government of yesteryear, but has the U.S. government really changed?

Ask yourself: Has the government become any more humane, any more respectful of the rights of the citizenry? Has it become any more transparent or willing to abide by the rule of law? Has it become any more truthful about its activities? Has it become any more cognizant of its appointed role as a guardian of our rights?

Or, having mastered the Orwellian art of Doublespeak and followed the Huxleyan blueprint for distraction and diversion, has the government simply gotten craftier and more conniving, better able to hide its nefarious acts and dastardly experiments under layers of secrecy, legalism and obfuscations?

Consider this: after revelations about the government’s experiments spanning the 20th century spawned outrage, the government began looking for  human guinea pigs in other countries, where “clinical trials could be done more cheaply and with fewer rules.”

In Guatemala, prisoners and patients at a mental hospital were infected with syphilis, “apparently to test whether penicillin could prevent some sexually transmitted disease.” More recently, U.S.-funded doctors “failed to give the AIDS drug AZT to all the HIV-infected pregnant women in a study in Uganda even though it would have protected their newborns.” Meanwhile, in Nigeria, children with meningitis were used to test an antibiotic named Trovan. Eleven children died and many others were left disabled.

What kind of government perpetrates such horrific acts on human beings, whether or not they are American citizens?

Is there any difference between a government mindset that justifies experimenting on prisoners because they’re “cheaper than chimpanzees” and a government that sanctions jailhouse strip searches of individuals charged with minor infractions simply because it’s easier on a jail warden’s workload?

John Lennon was right: “We’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends.”

Unfortunately, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Just recently, for example, a Fusion Center in Washington State (a Dept. of Homeland Security-linked data collection clearinghouse that shares information between state, local and federal agencies) inadvertently released records on remote mind control tactics (the use of “psycho-electronic” weapons to control people from a distance or subject them to varying degrees of pain).

Mind you, there is no clear evidence to suggest that these particular documents were created by a government agency. Then again, the government—no stranger to diabolical deeds or shady experiments carried out an unsuspecting populace—has done it before.

After all, this is a government that has become almost indistinguishable from the evil it claims to be fighting, whether that evil takes the form of terrorism, torture, drug trafficking, sex trafficking, murder, violence, theft, pornography, scientific experimentations or some other diabolical means of inflicting pain, suffering and servitude on humanity.

For too long now, the American people have been persuaded to barter their freedoms for phantom promises of security and, in the process, have rationalized turning a blind eye to all manner of government wrongdoing—asset forfeiture schemes, corruption, surveillance, endless wars, SWAT team raids, militarized police, profit-driven private prisons, and so on—because they were the so-called lesser of two evils.

No matter how you rationalize it, the lesser of two evils is still evil.

There’s a scene in The Third Man, Carol Reed’s influential 1949 film starring Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles in which a rogue war profiteer (Harry Lime) views human carnage with a callous indifference, unconcerned that the diluted penicillin he’s been trafficking underground has resulted in the tortured deaths of young children.

Challenged by his old friend Holly Martins to consider the consequences of his actions, Lime responds, “In these days, old man, nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t, so why should we?”

“Have you ever seen any of your victims?” asks Martins.

“Victims?” responds Lime, as he looks down from the top of a Ferris wheel onto a populace reduced to mere dots on the ground. “Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?”

Lime’s callous indifference is no different from the U.S. government’s calculating cost-benefit analyses.

In the eyes of the government, “we the people” are chump change.

So why do Americans keep believing the government has their best interests at heart?

Why do Americans keep trusting the government?

Why do Americans pretend not to know what is so obvious to anyone with eyes and ears and a conscience?

As Carl Sagan recognized, “If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”

We should never have trusted the government in the first place.

That’s why the Founders came up with a Bill of Rights. They recognized that without binding legal protections affirming the rights of the people, the newly instituted American government would be no better than the old British despot.

It was Thomas Jefferson who warned, “In questions of power then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

Unfortunately, we didn’t heed the warning.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the government has ripped the Constitution to shreds and left us powerless in the face of its power grabs, greed and brutality.

So how do you fight back?

How do you fight injustice? How do you push back against tyranny? How do you vanquish evil?

You don’t fight it by hiding your head in the sand.

Stop being apathetic. Stop being neutral. Stop being accomplices.

Start recognizing evil and injustice and tyranny for what they are. Demand government transparency. Vote with your feet (i.e., engage in activism, not just politics). Refuse to play politics with your principles. Don’t settle for the lesser of two evils.

As British statesman Edmund Burke warned, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing.”

It’s time for good men and women to do something. And soon.

Fourteen-year-old Ghada was the Latest Victim of Israel’s Dehumanising Machine

How did a 14-year-old Palestinian girl who has never set foot in the open-air prison of Gaza find herself being dumped there by Israeli officials – alone, at night and without her parents being informed?

The terrifying ordeal – a child realising she had not been taken home but discarded in a place where she knew no one – is hard to contemplate for any parent.

And yet for Israel’s gargantuan bureaucratic structure that has ruled over Palestinians for five decades, this was just another routine error. One mishap among many that day.

A single, abstract noun – “occupation” – obscures a multitude of crimes.

What crushes Palestinian spirits is not just the calculated malevolence of Israel’s occupation authorities as they kill and imprison Palestinians, seal them in ghettos, steal land and demolish homes. It is also the system’s casual indifference to their fate.

This is a bureaucracy – of respectable men and women – that controls the smallest details of Palestinians’ lives. With the flick of a pen, everything can be turned upside down. Palestinians are viewed as numbers and bodies rather than human beings.

The story of Ghada – as she has been identified – illustrates many features of this system of control.

She was arrested last month as an “illegal alien” in her own homeland, for visiting her aunt. The two live a short distance apart but while Israel considers Ghada a resident of the West Bank, her aunt is classified a resident of Jerusalem. They might as well be on different planets.

Ghada, we should note, suffers from epilepsy. After two days in detention and overriding opposition from Israeli police, a judge ordered her release on bail. All this happened without her parents present.

Israel controls the Palestinian population register too and had recorded Ghada wrongly as a Gaza resident, even though she was born and raised far away in the West Bank. She is separated from Gaza by Israel, which she cannot enter.

Presumably, no Israeli official wanted to harm Ghada. It was just that none cared enough to notice that she was a frightened child – afraid of being alone, of the dark, of fences and watchtowers. And a child who needs regular medical care.

Instead she was viewed simply as a package, to be delivered to whatever location was on the docket. Despite her anguished protests, she was forced through the electronic fence into the cage of Gaza.

She was finally released by Israel and returned to her parents last Thursday, two weeks after her ordeal began.

Was this not precisely what Hannah Arendt, the Jewish philosopher of totalitarianism, meant when she identified the “banality of evil” while watching the trial of the Holocaust’s architect, Adolph Eichmann, in Jerusalem in 1962?

Arendt wrote that totalitarian systems were designed to turn men into “functionaries and mere cogs in the administrative machinery”, to “dehumanise them”.

Even the worst bureaucracies contain few monsters. Its officials have simply forgotten what it means to be human, losing the capacity for compassion and independent thought.

After five decades of ruling over Palestinians, with no limits or accountability, many Israelis have become cogs.

Most of the Palestinian victims of this “system” remain hidden from view. Only occasionally a Ghada suddenly throws a troubling light on the depths to which Israel has sunk.

Another example is Ahed Tamimi, who spent her 17th birthday in prison last week, charged with slapping a heavily armed soldier during an invasion of her home. Moments earlier, his unit had shot her 15-year-old cousin in the face, nearly killing him. She now risks a 10-year jail sentence for her justified anger.

Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to Washington and now a government minister, was so unwilling to believe Ahed could be blonde-haired and blue-eyed – like him – that he ordered a secret investigation to try to prove her family were actors.

Most Israelis cannot believe that a Palestinian child might fight for her home and for her family’s right to live freely. Palestinians are expected to be passive recipients of Israel’s “civilising”, bureaucratic violence.

Soldiers helping settlers to steal her community’s farmland have scrawled death threats against her on the walls in her village, Nabi Saleh.

Oren Hazan, a parliament member from the ruling Likud party, told the BBC last week that Ahed was not a child, but a “terrorist”. Had he been slapped, he said, “she would finish in the hospital for sure … I would kick, kick her face”.

This dehumanising logic is directed at any non-Jew with a foothold in the enlarged fortress state Israel is creating.

But belatedly, a few Israelis are drawing a line. A backlash has begun as Israel this week starts expelling 40,000 asylum seekers who fled wars in Sudan and Eritrea. In violation of international treaties, Israel wants these refugees returned to Africa, where they risk persecution or death.

Unlike Palestinians, these refugees tug at some liberal Israelis’ heartstrings, reminding them of European Jews who once needed shelter from genocide.

Nonetheless, Israel has incentivised its citizens to become bounty hunters, offering $9,000 bonuses for hunting down African refugees.

Progressive rabbis and social activists have called for Israelis to hide the refugees in attics and cellars, just as Europeans once protected Jews from their persecutors.

It is a battle for Israel’s soul. Can Israelis begin to see non-Jews – whether Africans or Palestinians like Ghada – as fellow human beings, equally deserving of compassion? Or will Israelis sink further into the darkness of a banal evil that threatens to engulf them?

• First published in the National

Israel’s Shin Bet to Face First-Ever Torture Probe

For the first time in its history, an interrogator from Israel’s secret police agency, the Shin Bet, is to face a criminal investigation over allegations of torture.

It will be the first probe of the Shin Bet since Israel’s supreme court issued a landmark ruling nearly two decades ago prohibiting, except in extraordinary circumstances, the use of what it termed “special methods” of interrogation.

Before the ruling, physical abuse of Palestinians had been routine and resulted in several deaths in custody.

According to human rights groups, however, the supreme court ban has had a limited impact. The Shin Bet, formally known as the Israel Security Agency, has simply been more careful about hiding its use of torture, they say.

More than 1,000 complaints from Palestinians have been submitted to a government watchdog body over the past 18 years, but this is the first time one has led to a criminal investigation.

Many Palestinians are jailed based on confessions either they or other Palestinians make during Shin Bet questioning. Israeli military courts almost never examine how such confessions were obtained or whether they are reliable, say lawyers, contributing to a 99.7 percent conviction rate.

Last month, in freeing a Palestinian man who was jailed based on a false confession, an Israeli court accused the Shin Bet of using techniques that were “liable to induce innocent people to admit to acts that they did not commit”.

‘Exception proves the rule’

But rights groups have told Al Jazeera the current investigation of the Shin Bet agent is unlikely to bring an end to the long-standing impunity of interrogators, or a change in its practices.

Instead, they noted, an updated decision last month on torture from the Israeli supreme court, revising the 1999 landmark ruling, had moved the goalposts significantly in the Shin Bet’s favour.

Hassan Jabareen, director of Adalah, a legal rights group representing Israel’s large Palestinian minority, said: “This case is the exception that proves the rule – one investigation after many hundreds of complaints have been ignored.

“It will be promoted to suggest – wrongly – that the system has limits, that it respects the rule of law.”

That view was shared by Rachel Stroumsa, head of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, which has submitted many of the 1,100 complaints of torture filed against the Shin Bet.

She told Al Jazeera that Israel was “highly unusual” in making legal justifications for interrogation practices that clearly violated the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which Israel ratified in 1991.

The convention forbids intentionally inflicting “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental” on those in detention to gain information.

The 1999 ruling by the Israeli supreme court banned torture except in extremely rare cases of “necessity”, or what it termed “ticking bombs” – suspects from whom it was essential to gain information quickly.

But Stroumsa said the large number of complaints from Palestinians submitted to Mivtan, a watchdog body in the justice ministry, indicated that the Shin Bet had never stopped using torture.

Mivtan’s consistent failure

The justice ministry has refused to divulge details of the criminal investigation, apart from saying it refers to “a field interrogation” in 2015. Field interrogations are usually conducted moments after a Palestinian has been seized by security forces.

Speaking of the case at the weekend, Emi Palmor, director general of the justice ministry, said that this was “the first case that will be translated, presumably, into an indictment”.

Stroumsa said the investigation was not in response to a complaint her committee had filed. Israeli media have speculated that the case may have progressed only because it was supported by testimony from another Israeli intelligence agent.

Rights groups have been harshly critical of Mivtan over its consistent failure to investigate Palestinian complaints of torture.

For most of its history, the unit was part of the Shin Bet and employed only one investigator.

But following criticism in 2013 from a state inquiry, the Turkel Commission, Mivtan was transferred to the justice ministry. Last year it recruited a second investigator, who reportedly speaks Arabic.

Prisoners ‘feel buried’

Before the 1999 ruling, the Shin Bet was regularly accused of violently shaking prisoners and beating them, including by banging their heads against a wall.

According to testimonies, the Shin Bet still uses physical violence, though less routinely, including choking, forcing victims into stress positions that cause intense pain, and tightly cuffing their hands to prevent blood flow.

But the Shin Bet is reported now to prioritise mental torture that does not leave tell-tale signs doctors could identify. These include threats of physical and sexual violence, including against family members, interrogation lasting for days, sleep deprivation, and prolonged exposure to loud music.

Palestinians are often denied access to daylight, sometimes for weeks, so they become disoriented. “They are completely isolated – they feel buried. They don’t know when their interrogation will end or how it will end,” Anat Litvin, a researcher for Physicians for Human Rights Israel told Al Jazeera.

She added that it was often hard to prove torture because the Shin Bet denied requests for doctors to inspect prisoners. “That creates a vicious circle – those who are tortured cannot prove they were because there is no documentation.”

Even so, she said, doctors usually only recorded bumps and bruises without noting claims from Palestinians that their injuries were inflicted by their interrogators.

Last year an unnamed senior interrogator confirmed that the agency uses torture to the Haaretz newspaper. He said agents were required to record details of how many blows they inflicted and what painful positions they used on detainees. Interrogators concentrated on sensitive regions such as the nose, ears and lips.

In an indication of high-level support for torture in Israel, he said logs were sent afterwards to the attorney general, Israel’s chief law officer.

“Israel is a torturing society,” said Litvin. “It requires that all levels of the system turn a blind eye – the Shin Bet, investigators, government officials, the courts, and doctors. There has to be a climate that allows this to happen.”

Interrogations not recorded

A global survey by the International Red Cross in 2016 found more support for torture in Israel than any other country apart from Nigeria. Half of Israelis backed its use, with only a quarter opposed.

Stroumsa said: “The fact is many Israelis can live with these things as long as they are being done in the dark, out of view, without any documentation. They assume all cases of torture are ‘ticking bombs’.”

Efforts to prove torture have also been hampered by an emergency order passed in 2002, in the wake of the supreme court ruling, that exempts Shin Bet interrogations from being recorded on video.

In 2015 the cabinet justified the exemption on the grounds that video recording “could cause real damage to the quality of the interrogation and the ability to investigate security offenses”.

Stroumsa noted that, aside from the moral problem, research has shown that torture is ineffective. A US Senate report, published in 2014, concluded that it was “not an effective means of obtaining accurate information”.

Ticking bomb ‘loophole’

Nonetheless, the signs are that the Israeli courts are rolling back the restrictions on torture they put in place at the end of the 1990s.

Last month the supreme court issued a ruling in the case of Assad Abu Ghosh, a Hamas activist who, the Israeli state admits, was subjected to “special methods” of interrogation in 2007.

According to a petition to the court from the Public Committee, he was beaten and repeatedly slammed against a wall, and forced into the “banana position”, putting extreme pressure on his back. Abu Ghosh was left with neurological damage as a result.

Human rights groups had hoped the court would close the ticking bomb “loophole”, which has allowed the Shin Bet to carry on torturing prisoners, or at least more tightly control the kinds of methods they use.

Instead, said Jabareen, of Adalah, the ruling appeared to give greater licence to the Shin Bet to use torture.

“It is now enough that the [Shin Bet] agent believes subjectively that the prisoner is a ‘ticking bomb’, even in the absence of objective facts to support that belief,” he said. “His actions will not be treated as criminal in nature because they are assumed to be done in good faith.”

Stroumsa said she found the judges’ ruling in the Abu Ghosh case “astonishing”, given the injunction in international law against torture.

“The court ruled that, even if technically in international law interrogation methods were considered torture, in Israel they were not regarded as such. The judges effectively gave the Shin Bet a green light to continue with torture.”

• First published in Al Jazeera

“Soledad Brother” John Clutchette Granted Parole: Will CA Governor Jerry Brown Reverse the Decision?

John Clutchette

On January 12, 2018, the California Board of Parole Hearings granted parole to an elderly inmate named John Clutchette. However, supporters of parole for Clutchette are concerned that California Governor Jerry Brown will reverse the Board’s decision, and Clutchette will not be released.

Supporters have a reason to be concerned. After all, this is exactly what happened in 2016 when Clutchette was similarly granted parole by the Board but Governor Brown chose to reverse the Board’s ruling.

Legal scholar Angela A. Allen-Bell, a professor at Southern University Law Center and students in her “Law and Minorities” class began researching Clutchette’s legal battle over a year ago. Following extensive research they have concluded that “the law has been used to perpetuate an injustice in Mr. Clutchette’s case.”

Why did Governor Brown deny parole to 74-year-old John Clutchette?  In our interview with Professor Bell, she refers to Brown’s written explanation for his 2016 parole reversal, where Brown cites the fact that in the early 1970s, Clutchette was one of a trio of inmates at California’s Soledad Prison, who became high profile co-defendants known as the “Soledad Brothers.”

The Soledad Brothers, with John Clutchette on the left, reprinted for a 1970 poster

Since Clutchette was ultimately acquitted of all charges in the Soledad Brothers case, Professor Bell argues that it is problematic for Governor Brown to use this as his reason for reversing the parole board. In our interview, Bell further contextualizes Brown’s reference to the Soledad Brothers, and identifies other troubling aspects of the case.

Professor Bell concludes with a call to action, urging readers to contact California Governor Jerry Brown and express their support for the California Board of Parole Hearings January 12, 2018 decision granting parole to John Clutchette.

Angola 3 News: Can you tell us about the work you and your students have done researching the case of “Soledad Brother” John Clutchette?

Angela A. Allen-Bell: In my “Law & Minorities” class, the law students explore the use of law both to perpetuate and eradicate racial injustice in the United States by exploring past and current legal, racial and social justice challenges involving minorities, indigenous peoples and others in vulnerable situations. Once such a challenge is identified, the students conduct investigative research. Restorative justice principles are then employed.

A year ago, when we began our work on the case of Soledad Brother John Cluchette, we knew only that he was in custody and that he had some historical connection to the late George Jackson. The four law students who worked on this case sifted through volumes of dated Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) documents, numerous era-related court cases, news stories, books and interviews. They also conducted their own interviews.

These collective efforts led us to conclude that the law has been used to perpetuate an injustice in Mr. Clutchette’s case. In conjunction with this conclusion and, as a restorative justice measure, we filed a complaint to the United Nations through its Special Procedures Division.

A3N: Last week, on January 12, 2018, the California Board of Parole Hearings granted parole to Mr. Clutchette, but before he is actually released on parole, this ruling will now have to be affirmed by CA Governor Jerry Brown. In the past, Governor Brown has rejected parole for Mr. Clutchette. On what grounds did he make this decision?

AB:  On November 4, 2016, California Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. reversed the 2016 California Board of Parole Hearings decision that had granted parole to John Clutchette. Governor Brown reasoned:

He has told the Board many times that he was not and had never been a member of the Black Guerilla Family….Mr. Clutchette has been identified as a high-ranking and revered member of the gang since the 1970s  and as recently as 2008.  Although he was acquitted of the murder of a correctional officer in 1970, he later admitted to fellow inmates that he had knocked the officer unconscious before George Jackson killed him.  The pair, along with Fleeta Drumgo, became known as the “Soledad Brothers,” and made national news when Mr. Jackson’s brother made a failed attempt to take the judge, a deputy district attorney, and jurors hostage….While Mr. Clutchette acknowledged that he knew all of the individuals involved at the time and shared the same ‘political ideology,’ he steadfastly denies that he was ever in the [BGF] gang or that he was ever involved in ‘any violence or anything since I’ve been in prison.’ These statements are contradicted by ample evidence in the record . . . While I appreciate that Mr. Clutchette has completed the stepdown program and has now been deemed an inactive gang member, I remain troubled by his version of events. His statements, and the evidence to the contrary, demonstrate that Mr. Clutchette has not acknowledged or come to terms with his key role in these historical events or the magnitude of his actions.

I have considered the evidence in the record that is relevant to whether Mr. Clutchette is currently dangerous. When considered as a whole, I find the evidence shows that he currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison.

To appreciate our conclusions about this being an injustice and a human rights violation, Governor Brown’s decision must be viewed within the larger context of this case.

From all indicators, John Clutchette was a politically inactive citizen in 1966 when he was convicted of burglary. For that charge, he was supposed to have been released from prison in April 1970. However, instead of seeing freedom, he became a character entangled in a web of racial politics and social struggle on a forgotten page in a discarded history book.

In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, the civil rights era was underway in the United States. Free citizens and inmates alike were demanding civil and human rights. At this moment in time, J. Edgar Hoover was leading the FBI. Through COINTELPRO, a clandestine intelligence program, Mr. Hoover sought to neutralize many activists, advocacy groups, dissident voices, artists and innocent citizens. His tactics were often unconstitutional and largely illegal. For over forty-seven long years, Mr. Hoover declared war on free expression, chilled speech, intimidated and bullied dissenters, meted out private punishments, invaded privacy rights and engaged in discriminatory law enforcement practices. The Black Panther Party (BPP) and the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) were two groups that Mr. Hoover had a particular disdain for. Mr. Hoover’s practices were successfully suppressed from the American public until 1975. The full extent of COINTELPRO harms have yet to be realized all these years removed.


The late George Jackson is another prominent figure in Mr. Clutchette’s story. He was a successful organizer, an activist, the founder of the BGF, a member of the BPP and a respected prison intellectual. In 1970, he released Soledad Brother, a book that exposed prison conditions to a captive world audience. While this endeared legions of inmates and free people to him, this cemented his adversarial relationship with the prison staff and administration. His opposition extended beyond the prison gates. He was a target of Mr. Hoover’s COINTELPRO program.

In the early 1970s, John Clutchette was incarcerated at California Correctional Training Facility at Soledad. He was housed in the “Y” wing on the tier with George Jackson. At the time, there were documented racial problems inside the facility, as well as allegations of excessive force and other abuses on the part of correctional officers. In this climate, three African American inmates were murdered by a white guard, African American inmate witnesses were not allowed to testify at trial and the officer was not prosecuted. Shortly thereafter, in January 1970, John Mills, a white prison guard was murdered in what some describe as an act of retaliation. George Jackson, John Clutchette and Fleeta Drumgo were accused of Officer Mills’ murder and, subsequently, indicted in February 1970. The trio became known as the “Soledad Brothers.” Mr. Clutchette was less than three months away from parole.

Months later, in August 1970, heavily armed, seventeen-year-old Jonathan Jackson joined this cast of characters. Jonathan, George’s youngest brother, entered the Marin County Courthouse during a trial. Jonathan armed three prisoners before the group left with five hostages, which included the judge and district attorney. In an effort to stop the escape, officers killed Jonathan, the judge and two of the prisoners. A year later, in August 1971, George was killed by San Quentin prison guards, leaving his associates, however distant, to pay for his sins, both real and imagined.

From all appearances, officials deemed the Soledad Brothers guilty on the day they were arrested and viewed the surrounding legal process as a mere formality—something akin to a pit stop on the way to their final destination toward literal or figurative death in prison. Fate would write another ending for John Clutchette. In February 1972, John Clutchette was acquitted by the all-white jury that presided over his case. He further defied odds when he was granted parole on November 13, 1972.

Photo of the Soledad Brothers, Clutchette on right

Significantly, none of the “Soledad Brothers” were found guilty of the murder of Officer Mills.  Also noteworthy is the fact that John Clutchette was not charged or convicted in the 1970 Marin County Courthouse matter that was onset by Jonathan Jackson nor was he charged or convicted in the 1971 Adjustment Center incident that resulted in the death of George Jackson.

John Clutchette remained a free man from 1972 until 1980 when he was placed in custody to stand trial for the murder of Robert Bowles. Mr. Bowles’ lifeless body was found in a parked car with two gunshot wounds to the head. Mr. Clutchette, then a substance abuser and a party to illicit drug operations, testified only to participating in the cover up of the murder. Despite his testimony, he was convicted of first degree murder. An indeterminate sentence of seven years to life was imposed. Two additional years were added for use of a weapon.

Mr. Clutchette presently speaks of this crime with great remorse and sorrow. His moral convictions led him to pen a heartfelt letter to the Bowles family. In that letter, he expressed:

I…extend[] my deepest apologies and sincere regrets to the entire Bowles family for the devastating and irreparable harm that I have caused with my callous disregard for Robert’s life…I’ll forever live with the shame of my actions…It did not happen overnight…I am taking full advantage of the rehabilitative process; in my long journey of self-discovery, I have matured and learned to use my care and concern when I know that my actions have the potential to affect the lives of my fellow man/woman and community…I am on my perpetual road of atonement….

A3N: Do you know how Gov. Brown arrived at the conclusions that led him to reject the Parole Board’s decision granting Mr. Clutchette parole in 2016?

AB: His written reasons suggest he used subjective, unvetted, unreliable information and inaccuracies from John Clutchette’s prison file. This includes statements from prison snitches, memoranda from confidential sources, statements from prison staff and the like.  Many of the documents are self-serving.  Others are little more than speculation.  They are not the product of any vetting, or credible or fact-finding process; yet they have been given the veracity of such.

This is more than speculation.  In 1997, the appellate court made such a fact-finding: “We agree that Clutchette’s file contains false information. He produced uncontroverted declarations which provide that he was neither involved in nor prosecuted in connection with [the 1971] San Quentin Adjustment Center takeover attempt.”

This same court urged California officials to correct Mr. Clutchette’s records, stating that:

[T]his false information suggests that Clutchette was involved in a serious breach of institutional security and implicates him in the death of inmates and correctional officers. Because of the seriousness of this implication, the Department voluntarily should expunge the false information from Clutchette’s file. Removing the false information from Clutchette’s file might avoid litigation each time Clutchette is considered for parole in the future.

Unfortunately, California officials undertook no such action, leaving the inaccuracies in place to fulfill the court’s prophecy about the potential for harm this false information could cause.

California’s standards governing eligibility of parole board commissioners are high. The individuals who make parole decisions must have a broad background in criminal justice and experience or education in the fields of corrections, sociology, law, law enforcement, medicine, mental health, or education. Additionally, they must fulfill rigorous, annual training requirements. Such a highly distinguished Board thoroughly reviewed Mr. Clutchette’s prison record and determined some of the salacious contents not worthy of their use.

Moreover, a 2007 appellate court deemed much of the content “historically interesting but otherwise irrelevant” for purposes of parole eligibility. In his 2016 reversal of parole, the Governor imprudently relied upon these contested contents in Mr. Clutchette’s prison file. In so doing, he completely ignored the wisdom of the board that he appointed, a Board that spent considerable time examining the records in this case, and the guidance of the judicial system and rendered a decision that defies logic.

Mr. Cluchette has paid for his past crimes.  He is not a public threat. This is evidenced by the California Board of Parole Hearings granting him parole in 2003, 2015, 2016 and again on January 12, 2018. Because of pending, parole-related litigation, Mr. Clutchette postponed at least seven parole suitability hearings, resulting in even more time in custody. He has been eligible for parole since 1988.

The Governor is wrong for his: (1) reliance on the false and unreliable information in Mr. Clutchette’s prison records; and, (2) display of an animus to, through the parole process, “sentence” or punish Mr. Clutchette for the 1970s Soledad murder that he was acquitted of, the 1970 Marin County Incident with which he was never charged and the 1971 Adjustment Center Incident with which he was never charged.

Tragically, the Governor’s decision to disregard the legal dictate that his actions be guided by some evidence of current dangerousness has come at the expense of an elderly man who is afflicted with a host of health problems. Worse, without intervention, Mr. Clutchette will never be able to establish his suitability for parole because these flawed records will always serve as a bar to his freedom (or can be used as such). Such decision-making is in conflict with California law, as well as human rights tenants.

A3N: What’s the official status of John Clutchette’s case at this moment?

AB: In addition to the pending human rights complaint, Mr. Clutchette has formally brought his challenges to the court (in the form of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by his incredibly talented attorney Keith Wattley).

In December 2017, the Attorney General (AG), in defense of the governor, filed a request to keep the records the governor used under seal. In support of this request, the AG argued:

Disclosure [of the documents the Governor used to support his decision that John Clutchette is unsuitable for parole] would reveal the identity of the confidential informants from whom the confidential information was obtained and would release information that poses a threat to institutional security.

These records have been openly considered and discussed by the various parole boards over the years. In each of those instances, the respective boards deemed many of these records unreliable and consistently felt they did not amount to a showing of present dangerousness.

In concert with all of this, Mr. Clutchette appeared before the parole board again on January 12, 2018.  He was once again granted parole. However, Mr. Clutchette will not actually be released on parole without Governor Brown’s formal approval.

Photo of John Cluchette in the 1990s with his late wife

A3N: How can our readers best help his effort to finally be paroled?

AB: Brother Clutchette is approaching seventy-five years of age. He has lost too many years to this injustice. Readers have to become his voice at this critical time. They must create a theatre of agitation that makes elected officials uncomfortable abusing power and partaking in racial or social injustices. Officials need to know that political accountability will await them for doing so.

Readers must make John Clutchette’s story a topic of robust discussion. Most importantly, they must speak their immediate opposition to Governor Brown. Supporters can mail a written letter, send a fax, make a phone call, and/or send an email to his office.

Contact Information for Governor Brown, Suggested Talking Points and Sample Letter:

Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr.
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, California 95814
Phone: (916) 445-2841
Fax: (916) 558-3160
Office email (click here)
Link to email submission page:  https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov39mail/

Governor Brown,

Elderly inmate John Clutchette was again granted parole on January 12, 2018. I urge you not to oppose his release.

In February 1972, John Clutchette was acquitted by the jury who heard and evaluated the evidence against him for the murder of Officer John Mills. In November 1972, he was granted parole. I remind you that none of the “Soledad Brothers” were found guilty of the murder of Officer Mills.

Also noteworthy is the fact that John Clutchette was not charged or convicted in the 1970 Marin County Courthouse matter that was onset by Jonathan Jackson, nor was he charged or convicted in the 1971 Adjustment Center incident that resulted in the death of George Jackson.

Despite this, your reasons for opposing his release appear to involve your desires to punish Mr. Clutchette for these things, extrajudicially. If so, this is an abuse of your powers and it is a violation of California law and of human rights principles.

Mr. Clutchette has fulfilled the 1980 sentence that was imposed in conjunction with the Robert Bowles case. The judicial system did not impose any other sentences upon him.  Please respect that.

As determined by your very capable parole board on multiple occasions, he is not a present danger and the record, when contextually considered, does not hold “some evidence” of current dangerousness. Please respect this too. I thank you for your attention to this request.