Category Archives: Police brutality

Black Women Political Prisoners of the Police State

The Rev. Joy Powell says she was “raped, railroaded and bamboozled” by police.  Her crime?  Being a poor black woman who faced off against the police—protesting their violent brutality against black people in Rochester, NY.  Once she defied them, she was warned, then targeted and framed for serious crimes.  A few weeks ago, Australian Julian Assange was forcibly dragged from his political asylum to face the American police state.  His crime?  Like Rev. Powell, he dared to tell the truth about the violence and brutality that defines the American state.  Scottish political analyst Jon Wight, citing the treatment of American political prisoners Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu Jamal, calls the US “justice” system the “most cruel and callous in the world.”  That system does not tolerate the exposure of its war crimes and abuses of its police state quietly—it retaliates against those who expose its injustice by treating them to cruel and callous punishment.

Black women who have confronted the abuses of America’s white authority have suffered its punishment throughout our history.  Anarchist Lucy Parsons, born in 1853, is one of the few black women mentioned in labor histories, usually as the wife of the martyred Albert Parsons, who was executed in the wake of Chicago’s Haymarket Riot of 1886.  Parsons was a dedicated “revolutionist” for labor’s cause, leading rallies and making speeches in 43 states, advocating the use of explosives by tramps and their taking a “few rich people with them.”  She was constantly arrested, roughly handled, and jailed:  in 1913, at age 60, she was stripped and jailed in Chicago for “peddling literature without a license.”  Another labor radical, Claudia Jones, who headed the Women’s Commission for the US Communist Party, was jailed in 1955.  She fought the “madam-maid” relationship of white to black women, and felt socialism was the only hope for American blacks.  Jones was deported to England where she continued to work for socialism.

Women who joined the struggle against American racism in the 1960s and 70s met particularly violent reprisals from their government.  In the early 60s, 17-year-old Ruby Doris Smith, Spelman student and eventual SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) leader, picketed, protested, and did sit-ins, trying to integrate Atlanta.  She suffered “the indignities of southern jails and numerous injuries.” As a freedom rider, she underwent the vicious white punishment at the Montgomery bus station and was arrested and jailed by Sheriff Bull Conner.  SNCC’s Diane Nash was an important member of the first Nashville sit-ins in 1960.  After her arrest, she refused to pay her fine.  Six-months pregnant and facing a Jackson, Mississippi jailing, she vowed to “hasten the day when my child and all children will be free.”  The women of the black liberation movement of the late 60s and 70s faced even harsher reprisals—from the federal government.

Black women liberation women political prisoners, included the Black Panther’s Assata Shakur and MOVE women Janine Phillips Africa, Debbie Sims Africa, Merle Austin Africa and Janet Holloway Africa.  Janine and Janet Africa are still in prison.   In March 2019 Jet Blue was forced to take down a black history month poster which included a tribute to a “convicted murderer,” Assata Shakur.  President Trump railed against the “cop killer” and demanded Cuba return her.  Shakur was able to escape from her jail, to political exile in Cuba, and that is unforgivable to the American police state.  Assata Shakur was a major inspiration for me in writing my book Women Politicals in America:  Jailed Dissenters from Mother Jones to Lynne Stewart, and because of that she appears on the cover of my book, shackled but defiant.  As a member of the BP and Black Liberation Army, Shakur was an FBI target for a long time.  As per usual with the FBI, she had been accused of a number of serious crimes, and convicted in the media of all of them and more, although she had committed none of them—including murdering police officer Werner Foerster.  All the evidence points to the impossibility of her shooting him, after having been grievously shot herself.  She was convicted and treated very harshly in prison, including 20 months in solitary in two men’s prisons under horrible conditions.  Her comrades managed to get her out, after she concluded she would be killed in prison.

Women who joined the MOVE organization in Philadelphia in the early 70s also faced incredibly unfair and violent treatment.  These followers of John Africa lived “naturally” in a community—very like other 70s communes–and believed in fighting the “system.”  The black militancy of fighting the system had them on police radar and resulted in raids that turned violent, with people who ran out to escape fires the authorities set being shot, and in which Officer James Ramp was killed—the evidence indicating probably friendly fire.  Four women were arrested:  Debbie, Janine, Janet and Merle Africa.  Merle died in prison (her family said mysteriously).  Debbie was released in June 2018, but Janine Phillips and Janet Holloway Africa remain in prison, serving their 100-year sentences.  They are periodically denied parole for not “showing remorse,” remorse for being innocent and harshly, unfairly jailed.

Joy Powell is also not remorseful for being “raped, railroaded and bamboozled,” and unfairly jailed, by police/government authorities.  In the present-day police state, African-Americans are first in the line of fire, incarcerated in huge numbers, trapped on the bottom of the economic ladder, and prey to racist civilians and authorities alike.  When black women like Joy Powell speak out against militarized police brutality against blacks—they go right into the belly of the beast.  When in 2014, unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, the black community had had enough of assassinations and stood their ground:  “Hands up, don’t shoot.”  Black activists were energized by Ferguson and interest in the new group Black Lives Matter intensified.  Jasmine Richards was one young woman inspired by Ferguson.  Once she “picked up a bullhorn” to organize in her hometown of Pasadena against police brutality, she became “a target.”  While trying to protect a black woman crime victim in 2016, she was arrested, convicted and jailed.  Richards was kept in solitary and roughly strip-searched.  She said it’s “violent to be a woman in jail.”  But she was undaunted, rallying her followers in court with “We have a duty to fight for freedom!”  Illinois BLM activist Sandra Bland also believed that.  When she was pulled over for a traffic violation in Texas in 2015, she was slammed to the ground and charged—of course—with assaulting the officers who had slammed her down.  Two days later she was found dead in her cell.  Her family suspects foul play.  Ajamu Baraka called her death “political murder” of a “defiant black woman.”  Black women defiant of the police will pay.

Joy Powell has paid dearly for fighting police brutality.  She is in solitary at Bedford Hills, stalked and harassed by guards, and denied medical treatment for her asthma and diabetes.  She wrote:  “I never thought in my wildest dreams after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which supposedly freed slaves, that in 2007 we’re still in chains and shackles.  This is far from the American dream.”  Powell had a rough start in life; she was jailed for drug dealing from 1992 to 1995 at Albion Correctional Facility. She suffered what many women in jail suffer—she was raped by an officer.  When the man continued to stalk her, she was put in “protective custody.”  She says she developed “PTSD, anxiety and bi-polar” because of the attack.  When she got out she said she wanted to “give back to the community” instead of the destruction she felt she did as a drug dealer.  Powell became a Pentecostal pastor and a community organizer against violence, including police violence.  She organized rallies against drugs and violence after a 15-year-old neighbor boy, and then her own 18-year-old son, were killed.  She worked for 12 years, as she said, with only the weapon of “non-violence protest.”  In 2002, six people died in Rochester PD custody.  In 2005, a 13-year-old suicidal girl was shot several times by police.  After Powell led protests about such events, she was charged with abusing her granddaughter (by an officer who had shot the 13-year-old girl).  The police warned her she was a “target” and should be careful.

She was definitely a target. In October 2006 she was a victim of a violent crime—not investigated—instead, after complaining, she was charged with burglary and assault.  Her accusers were the same people who had attacked her!  She was found guilty by an all-white jury and got 16 years.  As she said, “I was like so many activists before me, be killed or definitely set up.”  In May 2011, things got worse.  She was convicted of killing a man in Rochester in 1992.  She was not guilty.  “I am actually and factually innocent!”  Her court-appointed lawyer ignored her pleas for meetings or for interviewing witnesses who could have proved her innocence.  She got 25 years to life.

Rev. Joy Powell has stated:  “The only thing I am guilty of is standing up for Equality and Justice for all. . . I never realized how much of a threat one individual could be unarmed, until I began to speak out against police brutality.”  She also wrote that she is like so many poor black people in prison “rotting in cages with lengthy sentences for crimes they did not commit.”  And that she had four strikes against her:  “1. I am Black; 2. I am poor; 3. I am incarcerated; and 4. I am a woman.”  Black women “politicals,” political prisoners who have stood up against white America’s racist injustice—Lucy Parsons, Claudia Jones, Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, Diane Nash, Assata Shakur, Sandra Bland, Jasmine Richards, the still jailed Janine and Janet Africa, and the woman still in solitary confinement, Rev. Joy Powell—are defiant female rebels against a state which will go to any lengths to punish women exposing its crimes.

Black Women Political Prisoners of the Police State

The Rev. Joy Powell says she was “raped, railroaded and bamboozled” by police.  Her crime?  Being a poor black woman who faced off against the police—protesting their violent brutality against black people in Rochester, NY.  Once she defied them, she was warned, then targeted and framed for serious crimes.  A few weeks ago, Australian Julian Assange was forcibly dragged from his political asylum to face the American police state.  His crime?  Like Rev. Powell, he dared to tell the truth about the violence and brutality that defines the American state.  Scottish political analyst Jon Wight, citing the treatment of American political prisoners Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu Jamal, calls the US “justice” system the “most cruel and callous in the world.”  That system does not tolerate the exposure of its war crimes and abuses of its police state quietly—it retaliates against those who expose its injustice by treating them to cruel and callous punishment.

Black women who have confronted the abuses of America’s white authority have suffered its punishment throughout our history.  Anarchist Lucy Parsons, born in 1853, is one of the few black women mentioned in labor histories, usually as the wife of the martyred Albert Parsons, who was executed in the wake of Chicago’s Haymarket Riot of 1886.  Parsons was a dedicated “revolutionist” for labor’s cause, leading rallies and making speeches in 43 states, advocating the use of explosives by tramps and their taking a “few rich people with them.”  She was constantly arrested, roughly handled, and jailed:  in 1913, at age 60, she was stripped and jailed in Chicago for “peddling literature without a license.”  Another labor radical, Claudia Jones, who headed the Women’s Commission for the US Communist Party, was jailed in 1955.  She fought the “madam-maid” relationship of white to black women, and felt socialism was the only hope for American blacks.  Jones was deported to England where she continued to work for socialism.

Women who joined the struggle against American racism in the 1960s and 70s met particularly violent reprisals from their government.  In the early 60s, 17-year-old Ruby Doris Smith, Spelman student and eventual SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) leader, picketed, protested, and did sit-ins, trying to integrate Atlanta.  She suffered “the indignities of southern jails and numerous injuries.” As a freedom rider, she underwent the vicious white punishment at the Montgomery bus station and was arrested and jailed by Sheriff Bull Conner.  SNCC’s Diane Nash was an important member of the first Nashville sit-ins in 1960.  After her arrest, she refused to pay her fine.  Six-months pregnant and facing a Jackson, Mississippi jailing, she vowed to “hasten the day when my child and all children will be free.”  The women of the black liberation movement of the late 60s and 70s faced even harsher reprisals—from the federal government.

Black women liberation women political prisoners, included the Black Panther’s Assata Shakur and MOVE women Janine Phillips Africa, Debbie Sims Africa, Merle Austin Africa and Janet Holloway Africa.  Janine and Janet Africa are still in prison.   In March 2019 Jet Blue was forced to take down a black history month poster which included a tribute to a “convicted murderer,” Assata Shakur.  President Trump railed against the “cop killer” and demanded Cuba return her.  Shakur was able to escape from her jail, to political exile in Cuba, and that is unforgivable to the American police state.  Assata Shakur was a major inspiration for me in writing my book Women Politicals in America:  Jailed Dissenters from Mother Jones to Lynne Stewart, and because of that she appears on the cover of my book, shackled but defiant.  As a member of the BP and Black Liberation Army, Shakur was an FBI target for a long time.  As per usual with the FBI, she had been accused of a number of serious crimes, and convicted in the media of all of them and more, although she had committed none of them—including murdering police officer Werner Foerster.  All the evidence points to the impossibility of her shooting him, after having been grievously shot herself.  She was convicted and treated very harshly in prison, including 20 months in solitary in two men’s prisons under horrible conditions.  Her comrades managed to get her out, after she concluded she would be killed in prison.

Women who joined the MOVE organization in Philadelphia in the early 70s also faced incredibly unfair and violent treatment.  These followers of John Africa lived “naturally” in a community—very like other 70s communes–and believed in fighting the “system.”  The black militancy of fighting the system had them on police radar and resulted in raids that turned violent, with people who ran out to escape fires the authorities set being shot, and in which Officer James Ramp was killed—the evidence indicating probably friendly fire.  Four women were arrested:  Debbie, Janine, Janet and Merle Africa.  Merle died in prison (her family said mysteriously).  Debbie was released in June 2018, but Janine Phillips and Janet Holloway Africa remain in prison, serving their 100-year sentences.  They are periodically denied parole for not “showing remorse,” remorse for being innocent and harshly, unfairly jailed.

Joy Powell is also not remorseful for being “raped, railroaded and bamboozled,” and unfairly jailed, by police/government authorities.  In the present-day police state, African-Americans are first in the line of fire, incarcerated in huge numbers, trapped on the bottom of the economic ladder, and prey to racist civilians and authorities alike.  When black women like Joy Powell speak out against militarized police brutality against blacks—they go right into the belly of the beast.  When in 2014, unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, the black community had had enough of assassinations and stood their ground:  “Hands up, don’t shoot.”  Black activists were energized by Ferguson and interest in the new group Black Lives Matter intensified.  Jasmine Richards was one young woman inspired by Ferguson.  Once she “picked up a bullhorn” to organize in her hometown of Pasadena against police brutality, she became “a target.”  While trying to protect a black woman crime victim in 2016, she was arrested, convicted and jailed.  Richards was kept in solitary and roughly strip-searched.  She said it’s “violent to be a woman in jail.”  But she was undaunted, rallying her followers in court with “We have a duty to fight for freedom!”  Illinois BLM activist Sandra Bland also believed that.  When she was pulled over for a traffic violation in Texas in 2015, she was slammed to the ground and charged—of course—with assaulting the officers who had slammed her down.  Two days later she was found dead in her cell.  Her family suspects foul play.  Ajamu Baraka called her death “political murder” of a “defiant black woman.”  Black women defiant of the police will pay.

Joy Powell has paid dearly for fighting police brutality.  She is in solitary at Bedford Hills, stalked and harassed by guards, and denied medical treatment for her asthma and diabetes.  She wrote:  “I never thought in my wildest dreams after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which supposedly freed slaves, that in 2007 we’re still in chains and shackles.  This is far from the American dream.”  Powell had a rough start in life; she was jailed for drug dealing from 1992 to 1995 at Albion Correctional Facility. She suffered what many women in jail suffer—she was raped by an officer.  When the man continued to stalk her, she was put in “protective custody.”  She says she developed “PTSD, anxiety and bi-polar” because of the attack.  When she got out she said she wanted to “give back to the community” instead of the destruction she felt she did as a drug dealer.  Powell became a Pentecostal pastor and a community organizer against violence, including police violence.  She organized rallies against drugs and violence after a 15-year-old neighbor boy, and then her own 18-year-old son, were killed.  She worked for 12 years, as she said, with only the weapon of “non-violence protest.”  In 2002, six people died in Rochester PD custody.  In 2005, a 13-year-old suicidal girl was shot several times by police.  After Powell led protests about such events, she was charged with abusing her granddaughter (by an officer who had shot the 13-year-old girl).  The police warned her she was a “target” and should be careful.

She was definitely a target. In October 2006 she was a victim of a violent crime—not investigated—instead, after complaining, she was charged with burglary and assault.  Her accusers were the same people who had attacked her!  She was found guilty by an all-white jury and got 16 years.  As she said, “I was like so many activists before me, be killed or definitely set up.”  In May 2011, things got worse.  She was convicted of killing a man in Rochester in 1992.  She was not guilty.  “I am actually and factually innocent!”  Her court-appointed lawyer ignored her pleas for meetings or for interviewing witnesses who could have proved her innocence.  She got 25 years to life.

Rev. Joy Powell has stated:  “The only thing I am guilty of is standing up for Equality and Justice for all. . . I never realized how much of a threat one individual could be unarmed, until I began to speak out against police brutality.”  She also wrote that she is like so many poor black people in prison “rotting in cages with lengthy sentences for crimes they did not commit.”  And that she had four strikes against her:  “1. I am Black; 2. I am poor; 3. I am incarcerated; and 4. I am a woman.”  Black women “politicals,” political prisoners who have stood up against white America’s racist injustice—Lucy Parsons, Claudia Jones, Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, Diane Nash, Assata Shakur, Sandra Bland, Jasmine Richards, the still jailed Janine and Janet Africa, and the woman still in solitary confinement, Rev. Joy Powell—are defiant female rebels against a state which will go to any lengths to punish women exposing its crimes.

The State of the Union: These Are Dangerous Times, and the Government Is To Blame

As I look at America today, I am not afraid to say that I am afraid.

— Bertram Gross, Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America

These are dangerous times.

Mind you, when I say that these are dangerous times, it is not because of violent crime, which remains at an all-time low, or because of terrorism, which is statistically rare, or because our borders are being invaded by armies, which data reports from the Department of Homeland Security refute.

No, the real danger that we face comes from none other than the U.S. government and the powers it has granted to its standing army to rob, steal, cheat, harass, detain, brutalize, terrorize, torture and kill.

The danger “we the people” face comes from masked invaders on the government payroll who crash through our doors in the dark of night, shoot our dogs, and terrorize our families.

This danger comes from militarized henchmen on the government payroll who demand absolute obedience, instill abject fear, and shoot first and ask questions later.

This danger comes from power-hungry bureaucrats on the government payroll who have little to no understanding of their constitutional limits.

This danger comes from greedy politicians and corporations for whom profit trumps principle.

You want to know about the state of our union? It’s downright scary.

Consider for yourself.

Americans have no protection against police abuse. It is no longer unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later, such as the 16-year-old teenager who skipped school only to be shot by police after they mistook him for a fleeing burglar. Then there was the unarmed black man in Texas “who was pursued and shot in the back of the neck by Austin Police… after failing to properly identify himself and leaving the scene of an unrelated incident.” And who could forget the 19-year-old Seattle woman who was accidentally shot in the leg by police after she refused to show her hands? What is increasingly common, however, is the news that the officers involved in these incidents get off with little more than a slap on the hands.

Americans are little more than pocketbooks to fund the police state. If there is any absolute maxim by which the federal government seems to operate, it is that the American taxpayer always gets ripped off. This is true, whether you’re talking about taxpayers being forced to fund high-priced weaponry that will be used against us, endless wars that do little for our safety or our freedoms, or bloated government agencies such as the National Security Agency with its secret budgets, covert agendas and clandestine activities. Rubbing salt in the wound, even monetary awards in lawsuits against government officials who are found guilty of wrongdoing are paid by the taxpayer.

Americans are no longer innocent until proven guilty. We once operated under the assumption that you were innocent until proven guilty. Due in large part to rapid advances in technology and a heightened surveillance culture, the burden of proof has been shifted so that the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty has been usurped by a new norm in which all citizens are suspects. This is exemplified by police practices of stopping and frisking people who are merely walking down the street and where there is no evidence of wrongdoing. Likewise, by subjecting Americans to full-body scans and license-plate readers without their knowledge or compliance and then storing the scans for later use, the government—in cahoots with the corporate state—has erected the ultimate suspect society. In such an environment, we are all potentially guilty of some wrongdoing or other.

Americans no longer have a right to self-defense. In the wake of various shootings in recent years, “gun control” has become a resounding theme. Those advocating gun reform see the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms as applying only to government officials. As a result, even Americans who legally own firearms are being treated with suspicion and, in some cases, undue violence. In one case, a Texas man had his home subjected to a no-knock raid and was shot in his bed after police, attempting to deliver a routine search warrant, learned that he was in legal possession of a firearm. In another incident, a Florida man who was licensed to carry a concealed firearm found himself detained for two hours during a routine traffic stop in Maryland while the arresting officer searched his vehicle in vain for the man’s gun, which he had left at home. Incidentally, the Trump Administration has done more to crack down on Second Amendment rights than anything the Obama Administration ever managed.

Americans no longer have a right to private property. If government agents can invade your home, break down your doors, kill your dog, damage your furnishings and terrorize your family, your property is no longer private and secure—it belongs to the government. Likewise, if government officials can fine and arrest you for growing vegetables in your front yard, praying with friends in your living room, installing solar panels on your roof, and raising chickens in your backyard, you’re no longer the owner of your property.

Americans no longer have a say about what their children are exposed to in school. Incredibly, the government continues to insist that parents essentially forfeit their rights when they send their children to a public school. This growing tension over whether young people, especially those in the public schools, are essentially wards of the state, to do with as government officials deem appropriate, in defiance of the children’s constitutional rights and those of their parents, is reflected in the debate over sex education programs that expose young people to all manner of sexual practices and terminology, zero tolerance policies that strip students of any due process rights, let alone parental involvement in school discipline, and Common Core programs that teach students to be test-takers rather than critical thinkers.

Americans are powerless in the face of militarized police. In early America, citizens were considered equals with law enforcement officials. Authorities were rarely permitted to enter one’s home without permission or in a deceitful manner. And it was not uncommon for police officers to be held personally liable for trespass when they wrongfully invaded a citizen’s home. Unlike today, early Americans could resist arrest when a police officer tried to restrain them without proper justification or a warrant—which the police had to allow citizens to read before arresting them. (Daring to dispute a warrant with a police official today who is armed with high-tech military weapons and tasers would be nothing short of suicidal.) As police forces across the country continue to be transformed into outposts of the military, with police agencies acquiring military-grade hardware in droves, Americans are finding their once-peaceful communities transformed into military outposts, complete with tanks, weaponry, and other equipment designed for the battlefield.

Americans no longer have a right to bodily integrity. Court rulings undermining the Fourth Amendment and justifying invasive strip searches have left us powerless against police empowered to forcefully draw our blood, strip search us, and probe us intimately. Accounts are on the rise of individuals—men and women—being subjected to what is essentially government-sanctioned rape by police in the course of “routine” traffic stops. Remember the New Mexico man who was subjected to a 12-hour ordeal of anal probes, X-rays, enemas, and finally a colonoscopy—all because he allegedly rolled through a stop sign?

Americans no longer have a right to the expectation of privacy. Despite the staggering number of revelations about government spying on Americans’ phone calls, Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, Google searches, emails, bookstore and grocery purchases, bank statements, commuter toll records, etc., Congress, the president and the courts have done little to nothing to counteract these abuses. Instead, they seem determined to accustom us to life in this electronic concentration camp.

Americans no longer have a representative government. We have moved beyond the era of representative government and entered a new age, let’s call it the age of authoritarianism. History may show that from this point forward, we will have left behind any semblance of constitutional government and entered into a militaristic state where all citizens are suspects and security trumps freedom. Even with its constantly shifting terrain, this topsy-turvy travesty of law and government has become America’s new normal. It is not overstating matters to say that Congress, which has done its best to keep their unhappy constituents at a distance, may well be the most self-serving, semi-corrupt institution in America.

Americans can no longer rely on the courts to mete out justice. The U.S. Supreme Court was intended to be an institution established to intervene and protect the people against the government and its agents when they overstep their bounds. Yet through their deference to police power, preference for security over freedom, and evisceration of our most basic rights for the sake of order and expediency, the justices of the Supreme Court have become the architects of the American police state in which we now live, while the lower courts have appointed themselves courts of order, concerned primarily with advancing the government’s agenda, no matter how unjust or illegal.

I haven’t even touched on the corporate state, the military industrial complex, SWAT team raids, invasive surveillance technology, zero tolerance policies in the schools, overcriminalization, or privatized prisons, to name just a few, but what I have touched on should be enough to show that the landscape of our freedoms has already changed dramatically from what it once was and will no doubt continue to deteriorate unless Americans can find a way to wrest back control of their government and reclaim their freedoms.

There can be no denying that the world is indeed a dangerous place, but what you won’t hear in any State of the Union address—what the president and his cohorts fail to acknowledge—is that it’s the government that poses the gravest threat to our freedoms and way of life, and no amount of politicking, parsing or pandering will change that.

So what do we do about this dangerous state of our union?

How do we go about reclaiming our freedoms and reining in our runaway government?

Essentially, there are four camps of thought among the citizenry when it comes to holding the government accountable. Which camp you fall into says a lot about your view of government—or, at least, your view of whichever administration happens to be in power at the time.

In the first camp are those who trust the government to do the right thing, despite the government’s repeated failures in this department.

In the second camp are those who not only don’t trust the government but think the government is out to get them.

In the third camp are those who see government neither as an angel nor a devil, but merely as an entity that needs to be controlled, or as Thomas Jefferson phrased it, bound “down from mischief with the chains of the Constitution.”

Then there’s the fourth camp, comprised of individuals who pay little to no attention to the workings of government. Easily entertained, easily distracted, easily led, these are the ones who make the government’s job far easier than it should be.

It is easy to be diverted, distracted and amused by the antics of politicians, the pomp and circumstance of awards shows, athletic events, and entertainment news, and the feel-good evangelism that passes for religion today.

What is far more difficult to face up to is the reality of life in America, where unemployment, poverty, inequality, injustice and violence by government agents are increasingly norms.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the powers-that-be want us to remain divided, alienated from each other based on our politics, our bank accounts, our religion, our race and our value systems. Yet as George Orwell observed, “The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians.”

Gilets Jaunes: Catalyst for a Global Movement?

France is at a crossroad. A fairly benign bread-and-butter protest has turned into a major popular dissent putting in question France’s political system. It is new, unheard of, and because we live in the digital age, with immediate communication, the world is not only watching, but there is a contagious factor to it, which in the Anglo-Saxon world is called “Yellow Vests Movement”. In what could be a healthy contagion of a social yellow fever of dissent, this polymorphic movement has already spread to 25 countries and counting. In the immediate vicinity of France, of course, in countries such as Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Spain, but also while not clearly identified as Gilets Jaunes chapters in Hungary, Bulgaria and Serbia. It has reached the Middle East with activities in Israel and Iraq, and the Americas with startup movements, still trying to structure themselves, in the United States and Canada. Is this explosion of dissent merely some short lived copycat effects or is a deeper systemic change in process or, in another word, the catalyst of a historical paradigm shift in real time? France is, for now, the main social battle ground, and critical test of the movement.

The Gilets Jaunes protesters have faced brutal police repression from the Macron administration. The “Macronie”, as some Gilets Jaunes say with humor, has not reacted to what the French mainstream media call “les casseurs” violent actions to diffuse the crisis, but instead has decided to used brutal force which was met by the condemnations of human rights organizations such as Amnesty International. Eleven Gilets Jaunes have died so far, and more than 250 have been seriously injured, often crippled for life from the excessive use of rubber bullets and explosive tear gas grenades. This never seen before level of police brutality, not condemned by France’s mainstream media, is utterly shameful in the country that invented the principle of universal human rights declared in June 1793 regardless of race, religion and gender.

The route of police brutality, specifically ordered by the state, has had a reverse effect, and, in return, has radicalized some Gilets Jaunes elements. An important question must be raised in terms of the fine line that could be further crossed by the French administration: what level of state violence against its own citizens is acceptable before turning a democracy into an authoritarian regime? In other words, at what critical point does a democracy mutate into a dictatorship? Prescient British author Aldous Huxley probably said it better than anyone else in his book Brave New World, published in 1931. “The perfect dictatorship would have the appearance of a democracy, but would be basically a prison without walls……it would essentially be a system of slavery where through consumption and entertainment the slaves would love their servitude”

Nasty “Brave New World”, indeed, with the brutal globalization of governing corporate elites and their respective political servants, media sycophants, other proxies and finally their mercenaries. This cannibalistic global capitalism has failed populations worldwide, and brought a lot of people to the condition of modern day slaves. Slavery or feudalism was always the ideal social structure for capitalists, that is before the so called industrial revolution of the mid 1800s. Exploitative and industrial it was, but certainly not revolutionary in any shape or form. In fact, one can argue that the systematic exploitation of labor, even child labor in coal mines, was one of the worst kind of historical regression in human history, and, in essence, similar to the one of Africans brought to the Americas by Europeans in this despicable crime against humanity.

The perversity of it all is mind boggling. Take the United States, for example, which often describes itself as “leader of the free world” or in the words of Ronald Reagan a “shinning city upon a hill“.  It was, in reality, built on two deadly sins, two horrendous crimes: the genocide of native populations, which is still “celebrated” at Thanksgiving, and, of course, the very peculiar and lucrative institution that was slavery. Nowadays everyone talks about Fake News. What about talking about fake history?

One should be cautiously optimistic, because what has become a stand-off between the power of the French state apparatus, and some of its citizens is very much in flux. But that said, the Gilets Jaunes movement, still in its infancy, has already brought hope worldwide to the poor, the oppressed, the ones that have been forgotten and even discarded by the world ruling elites like insignificant human garbage. Hope for a better tomorrow in a very harsh world, hope for empathy against a system built on selfishness and pure greed. At heart, and let’s hope it stays that way and doesn’t mutate in its spirit, the Gilets Jaunes are the foot soldiers of inclusion, to reclaim for everyone a sense of community and brotherhood, fighting against the perversity of a criminal world order that is taking humanity through immense sufferings towards the final precipice of extinction.

Police State Mindset Sees One-Year-Old and Mother as Threat

The mission of the New York City Police Department is to enhance the quality of life in New York City by working in partnership with the community to enforce the law, preserve peace, reduce fear, and maintain order. The Department is committed to accomplishing its mission of protecting the lives and property of all citizens of New York City by treating every citizen with compassion, courtesy, professionalism, and respect….

— Mission and Values of NYPD, issued April 5, 2016

This mission was spectacularly NOT accomplished on Friday afternoon, December 7, at a Brooklyn office of the city’s HRA – Human Resources Administration (irony presumably unintended). The stunningly abject failure of police to live up to their professed mission featured several police officers violently separating a one-year-old boy from his mother as she lay on the floor crying for help. The end of the event was documented in a video posted on Facebook the same day by a witness who commented:

So I’m At 275 Bergen Street Handling My Business Or Whatever & There Wasn’t Any More Chairs For This Lady To Sit Down So She Sat In The Corner On The Floor. The Security Guard Came Over Said What Ever She Said To Her & She Made The Security Guard Feel Dumb So She Called The Cops On Her & This Was The Outcome SMH Mind You She Had Her Baby In Her Hands The Whole Time🤦🏽‍♀️🤦🏽‍♀️🤦🏽‍♀️ I’m So Fucking Disgusted with The NYPD EVRYBODY PLEASE SHARE!!! I’m a mother myself & I would’ve lost my fucking mind if this was me they would’ve had to kill me🤬🤬🤬🤬

Here’s what apparently happened, starting with the arrival of Jazmine Headley, 23, at the HRA office, carrying her one-year-old son. She was there to get a child care credit so that she could take a cleaning job. One account has her waiting four hours. She had no place to sit but the floor. None of the human resources workers offered her an extra chair. Instead, a security guard told this woman holding an infant that she had to stand. When Jazmine Headley refused to stand, the security guard or someone else called the cops.

That might not have been a bad thing, since New York has recently started training its police officers in de-escalation techniques that presumably help to “preserve peace, reduce fear, and maintain order.” How hard would it have been to sort out a situation where a mother and child are waiting patiently to get served? That really depends on the mindset of the enforcement officers. The security guards had already escalated a non-event into a confrontation. The NYPD officers, mostly (or all) women, turned it into a human rights violation, an unjustified assault on both the mother and the infant. When bystanders objected to the way the cops were acting, one of the cops threatened the bystanders with a taser. A police spokesman later refused to identify any of the cops involved or to say they had followed proper protocols.

This really should have been a no-brainer for every authority figure involved. A woman and her baby sitting in a corner pose what kind of threat to whom? Who is responsible for the way the hired security guards impose “order”? Where is the simple humanity of those who run a crowded “human resources” office? What possible rationale does anyone have for demanding that the woman stand with her child while she waits her turn? Why did the police not de-escalate the non-threatening situation instead of turning it into a violent arrest of the mother and violent detention of the infant? No wonder the video went viral and sparked widespread outrage.

Official response by higher-ups was little better and came days later. Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that the police assault was “a disturbing incident.” The NYPD issued a statement calling the assault “troubling.” The police statement apparently misrepresented the sequence of events, claiming HRA security “made unsuccessful attempts to remove this individual from the facility due to her disorderly conduct towards others and for obstructing the hallway.” The NYPD statement includes this inconsistent passage:

The woman was then informed by police numerous times to leave the location, and she refused. As NYPD officers were attempting to convince the woman to depart the facility, HRA peace officers brought the woman to the floor. NYPD officers then attempted to place her under arrest. She refused to comply with officers’ orders, and was then taken into custody.

She was “informed” to leave? Why? Did she not have every right to be there? What right did any of the authorities have to raise this barrier to her finding work when it was the job of at least some of them to help her? “HRA peace officers brought the woman to the floor.” What? She was standing, then tackled? With a child in her arms? Then she was arrested for what, littering? And why does the NYPD statement omit the child’s existence, as well as the assault on the child? After all, one of the charges against Headley was “acting in a manner injurious to a child.”

The bogus arrest of a young black woman on a Friday in Brooklyn didn’t generate much news coverage until the video went viral and public reaction pushed it into the news on December 9. The next day NY Police Commissioner James O’Neill tweeted:

As we investigate Friday’s arrest in Brooklyn, I’ll tell you the video is very disturbing to me — as PC, & as a dad. Also, #NYPD cops have a very tough job. We were called to a chaotic situation & we’re looking at all available video to determine why certain decisions were made.

The credible accounts available so far all suggest that if there was any chaos, then the private security guards created it, and the NYPD made it worse. Training in de-escalation – bringing a calming effect to an intense situation – began about four years ago, after an NY police officer killed Eric Garner with a stranglehold even though the underlying offense was selling single cigarettes on the street. Eric Garner, 43, was an unarmed black man and father of six when a gang of cops swarmed him. His last words were: “I can’t breathe.” Garner’s killer, Daniel Pantaleo, was not indicted by a grand jury in 2014, but he still faces an internal police disciplinary charge of using excessive force. Pantaleo’s hearing started December 7, the same day NY cops used Jazmine Headley to demonstrate that de-escalation techniques have not yet taken hold, although there was no stranglehold and Headley survived.

Pantaleo is defended by his police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. Union head Patrick Lynch responded to protesters that this trial is a “kangaroo court.” He accused the Civilian Complaint Review prosecuting Pantaleo of rushing the 2014 case. Lynch was also quick to absolve the police of any blame in tearing Jazmine Headley’s baby from her arms. Lynch said: “These police officers were put in an impossible situation. They didn’t create the dispute at the HRA office.” Yes, that’s true as far as it goes. But it ignores the reality that the police made the impossible situation into a disaster. Kind of reminds one of Chicago mayor Richard Daley’s exquisite malapropism during the 1968 police riots: “The police are not here to create disorder, they’re here to preserve disorder.”

Fifty years after the Chicago police riots, police violence remains an American plague. Police executions of innocent, unarmed, usually non-white victims continue to go unpunished. The same day Jazmine Headley became news, The New York Times published a study of excessive police violence in Phoenix. The piece starts with a cop roughing up and arresting a blind man who “came too close” to him in a men’s room. City officials did not dispute the statistics showing Phoenix police were more violent than police in other cities of similar size. Instead, the officials blamed Phoenix citizens, based on no statistics or other evidence. When the Phoenix police chief hired a non-profit research firm to study the violence issue, the Phoenix police union called that “second-guessing police officers who have done nothing wrong.”

That’s a police state mentality, the presumption that the police have done nothing wrong, without evidence or analysis. Patrick Lynch of the NY police union expressed the same poisonous attitude: “The event would have unfolded much differently if those at the scene had simply complied with the officers’ lawful orders.” The idea that we should obey the police whatever they say is raw authoritarianism (in plain view in Poland these days at the climate change conference there, where protest is contained and coal is promoted). In a free country, police need to be as accountable as the rest of us. And in the case of Jazmine Headley, accountability seems to have begun.

On December 11, the Brooklyn district attorney dropped all charges against her, saying:

I was horrified by the violence depicted in the video and immediately opened an investigation into this case…. An HRA officer escalated the situation as Ms Headley was about to leave the premises, creating an awful scenario of a baby being torn from his mother. The consequences this young and desperate mother has already suffered as a result of this arrest far outweigh any conduct that may have led to it. She and her baby have been traumatized, she was jailed on an unrelated warrant and may face additional collateral consequences.

The same day, Headley was released from Rikers Island prison after five days there. Ordering her release, Judge Craig S. Walker called her arrest a “horrific scene that was broadcast all over the United States.” While the viral video and subsequent outcry influenced the judge, Headley had only limited awareness of the media storm until she was released.

Headley was jailed because of a New Jersey warrant relating to credit card fraud charges for which she had missed at least one court appearance. The NY judge released her on her own recognizance, meaning that she did not have to post bail but was expected to appear at a New Jersey hearing next week. Brooklyn Defender Services, which has represented Headley, assured the judge that she would appear as required. The agency has also filed a motion in New Jersey asking for the dismissal of the charges there.

This represents partial justice of a sort for Jazmine Headley, but it’s hardly restorative or compensatory. Meanwhile, the police union’s Patrick Lynch continues to whine for police supremacy: “The immediate rush to condemn these officers leaves their fellow cops wondering – when confronted with a similar impossible scenario, what do you want us to do? The answer cannot be ‘do nothing.’”

What do we want police to do? Have they not been trained in de-escalation? Are they not capable of making sensible, proportionate decisions? How willing are they to live up to their mission of “treating every citizen with compassion, courtesy, professionalism, and respect…”?

Why aren’t more young people involved in the anti-war movement?

CODEPINK protesters at the Women’s March on the Pentagon this October. (Photo courtesy of Jodie Evans)

What comes to mind when you hear the words “anti-war protest”? Most Americans will picture the protests against the Vietnam war in the sixties and early seventies, an era famous for its youth and student-led movements. In the decades since the Vietnam war ended, youth involvement in peace movements has dwindled. Many young people were involved in protests against the Iraq war in 2002 and 2003, but the organizers were mainly older, and a widespread youth movement against the War on Terror never took off.

As a high-school graduate who has recently become involved with the anti-war movement, I can’t help but notice how few peers I have at most of the explicitly anti-war events I attend–despite my generation having a reputation for being especially politically active. Here are some reasons for this disengagement:

It’s all we’ve ever known. The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, meaning any American age 17 or younger has never known a time when their country wasn’t at war. Most young people don’t even remember 9/11. The moment that ignited the years-long “War on Terror” barely weighs on my generation’s collective memory. It’s so easy for Generation Z to ignore war since it has always been a part of our lives.

There are so many problems at home to deal with. Why should we care what’s happening on the other side of the world when the police here at home are shooting unarmed black people, when millions of young people can’t afford a college education or leave college burdened with enormous debts, when millions of Americans can’t afford adequate health care, when immigrants are being deported and locked in cages, when there are mass shootings every few weeks, when the planet is burning? Obviously, we have a lot of other issues on our minds.

We are not at risk. The US hasn’t had a draft since 1973, and there haven’t been war-related deaths on American soil since World War II. It has been decades since Americans were in immediate danger of being killed by war, either as civilians or as draftees. And unless they have a loved one in the military or relatives living in a warring country, the lives of young Americans are not directly impacted by war. And yes, there have been a few terrorist attacks on US soil committed by foreigners since 9/11, but they are few and they are far outnumbered by attacks committed by Americans.

It doesn’t feel worth the effort. Eliminating militarism and ending war is a tedious, long-term endeavor. It would be incredibly difficult to make enough of a change to see direct, tangible results. Many young people might decide it is a better use of their time and energy to direct their efforts toward another cause.

Of course, everyone should care about the brutality of war, even if it has no obvious impact on us or seems daunting. However, few people seem to realize how deeply we all are affected by militarism.The increased militarization of the police is directly related to the rise in police brutality. The military’s incredibly high budget takes away money that could be used for social programs like universal healthcare and free higher education. And war has a tremendous negative impact on the environment. No matter what cause you feel most passionate about, ending America’s culture of militarism would benefit it.

How do we engage young people in anti-war activism? As with nearly every issue, I believe education is the place to start. If more people knew about the effects of militarism and understood the intersections between militarism and other forms of oppression, surely they would be compelled to work toward a peaceful society.

All this is not to say older people shouldn’t be involved in the anti-war movement. On the contrary, I think it is essential for this and all progressive movements to be multi generational. Young activists have so much to learn from those who came before us. Older people provide a unique perspective, can share the wisdom they’ve accumulated over the years, and often have more time to devote to activism than students and young parents. However, if more young people do not get involved with anti-war activism, the movement will die out. Furthermore, young people also bring unique advantages to any movement. We tend to be full of enthusiasm, comfortable with technology, and open to new ideas and methods. Young people have a lot to learn from older people, and vice versa. A productive and robust movement must accommodate and emphasize the talents of all generations.

Unfortunately, the US involvement in war shows no signs of slowing down. As long as war exists, so must an anti-war movement. As we seek new ways to rein in the war machine, let us both embrace the veterans of the movement and encourage young people to join its ranks.

You Want to Make America Great Again? Start by Making America Free Again

If the freedom of speech be taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

— George Washington, Address to the Officers of the Army, Saturday, March 15, 1783

Living in a representative republic means that each person has the right to take a stand for what they think is right, whether that means marching outside the halls of government, wearing clothing with provocative statements, or simply holding up a sign.

That’s what the First Amendment is supposed to be about.

Yet through a series of carefully crafted legislative steps and politically expedient court rulings, government officials have managed to disembowel this fundamental freedom, rendering it with little more meaning than the right to file a lawsuit against government officials.

In the process, government officials have succeeded in insulating themselves from their constituents, making it increasingly difficult for average Americans to make themselves seen or heard by those who most need to hear what “we the people” have to say.

Indeed, President Trump—always keen to exercise his free speech rights to sound off freely on any topic that strikes his fancy—has not been as eager to protect the First Amendment rights of his fellow citizens to speak freely, assemble, protest and petition one’s government officials for a redress of grievances.

Not that long ago, in fact, Trump suggested that the act of protesting should be illegal. The president has also suggested demonstrators should lose their jobs or be met with violence for speaking out.

Mind you, this is the man who took an oath of office to uphold and defend the Constitution.

Perhaps someone should have made sure Trump had actually read the Constitution first.

Most recently, the Trump Administration proposed rules that would crack down on protests in front of the White House and on the National Mall.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The rules would restrict gatherings that now take place on a 25-foot-wide sidewalk in front of the White House to just a 5-foot sliver, severely limiting crowds. The NPS [National Park Service] also threatens to hit political protesters on the National Mall with large security and cleanup fees that historically have been waived for such gatherings, and it wants to make it easier to reject a spontaneous protest of the type that might occur, say, if Trump fires special counsel Robert Mueller.

Imagine if the hundreds of thousands of participants in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which culminated with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, had been forced into free speech zones or required to pay for the “privilege” of protest.

There likely would not have been a 1964 Civil Rights Act.

What is going on here?

Clearly, the government has no interest in hearing what “we the people” have to say.

It’s the message that is feared, especially if that message challenges the status quo.

That’s why so many hurdles are being placed in the path of those attempting to voice sentiments that may be construed as unpopular, offensive, conspiratorial, violent, threatening or anti-government.

Yet the right of political free speech is the basis of all liberty.

It’s the citizen’s right to confront the government and demand that it alter its policies. But first, citizens have to be seen and heard, and only under extraordinary circumstances should free speech ever be restricted.

No government that claims to value freedom would adopt such draconian measures to clamp down on lawful First Amendment activities. These tactics of censorship, suppression and oppression go hand-in-hand with fascism.

Efforts to confine and control dissenters are really efforts to confine and control the effect of their messages, whatever those might be.

That’s the point, isn’t it?

The powers-that-be don’t want us to be seen and heard.

Haven’t you noticed that interactions with elected representatives have become increasingly manufactured and distant over the past 50 years? Press conferences, ticketed luncheons, televised speeches and one-sided town hall meetings held over the phone now largely take the place of face-to-face interaction with constituents.

Additionally, there has been an increased use of so-called “free speech zones,” designated areas for expressive activity used to corral and block protestors at political events from interacting with public officials. Both the Democratic and Republican parties have used these “free speech zones,” some located within chain-link cages, at various conventions to mute any and all criticism of their policies.

This push to insulate government officials from those exercising their First Amendment rights stems from an elitist mindset which views them as different, set apart somehow, from the people they have been appointed to serve and represent.

We have litigated and legislated our way into a new governmental framework where the dictates of petty bureaucrats carry greater weight than the inalienable rights of the citizenry.

With every passing day, we’re being moved further down the road towards a totalitarian society characterized by government censorship, violence, corruption, hypocrisy and intolerance, all packaged for our supposed benefit in the Orwellian doublespeak of national security, tolerance and so-called “government speech.”

Indeed, while lobbyists mill in and out of the homes and offices of Congressmen, the American people are kept at a distance through free speech zones, electronic town hall meetings, and security barriers. And those who dare to breach the gap—even through silent forms of protest—are arrested for making their voices heard.

On paper, we are free to speak.

In reality, however, we are only as free to speak as a government official may allow.

Free speech zones, bubble zones, trespass zones, anti-bullying legislation, zero tolerance policies, hate crime laws and a host of other legalistic maladies dreamed up by politicians and prosecutors have conspired to corrode our core freedoms.

Indeed, the Supreme Court has had the effrontery to suggest that the government can discriminate freely against First Amendment activity that takes place within a government forum, justifying such discrimination as “government speech.”

If it were just the courts suppressing free speech, that would be one thing to worry about, but First Amendment activities are being pummeled, punched, kicked, choked, chained and generally gagged all across the country.

Protest laws are not about protecting the economy or private property or public sidewalks. Rather, they are intended to keep us corralled, muzzle discontent and discourage anyone from challenging government authority.

The reasons for such censorship vary widely, but the end result remains the same: the complete eradication of what Benjamin Franklin referred to as the “principal pillar of a free government.”

If Americans are not able to peacefully assemble for expressive activity outside of the halls of government or on public roads on which government officials must pass, the First Amendment has lost all meaning.

If we cannot stand silently outside of the Supreme Court or the Capitol or the White House, our ability to hold the government accountable for its actions is threatened, and so are the rights and liberties which we cherish as Americans.

Free speech can certainly not be considered “free” when expressive activities across the nation are being increasingly limited, restricted to so-called free speech zones, or altogether blocked.

If citizens cannot stand out in the open on a public sidewalk and voice their disapproval of their government, its representatives and its policies, without fearing prosecution, then the First Amendment with all its robust protections for free speech, assembly and the right to petition one’s government for a redress of grievances is little more than window-dressing on a store window: pretty to look at but serving little real purpose.

What most people fail to understand is that the First Amendment is not only about the citizenry’s right to freely express themselves. Rather, the First Amendment speaks to the citizenry’s right to express their concerns about their government to their government, in a time, place and manner best suited to ensuring that those concerns are heard.

The First Amendment gives every American the right to “petition his government for a redress of grievances.”

This amounts to so much more than filing a lawsuit against the government. It works hand in hand with free speech to ensure, as Adam Newton and Ronald K.L. Collins report for the Five Freedoms Project, “that our leaders hear, even if they don’t listen to, the electorate. Though public officials may be indifferent, contrary, or silent participants in democratic discourse, at least the First Amendment commands their audience.”

As Newton and Collins elaborate:

“Petitioning” has come to signify any nonviolent, legal means of encouraging or disapproving government action, whether directed to the judicial, executive or legislative branch. Lobbying, letter-writing, e-mail campaigns, testifying before tribunals, filing lawsuits, supporting referenda, collecting signatures for ballot initiatives, peaceful protests and picketing: all public articulation of issues, complaints and interests designed to spur government action qualifies under the petition clause, even if the activities partake of other First Amendment freedoms.

There’s more.

Even more critical than the right to speak freely, or pray freely, or assemble freely, or petition the government for a redress of grievances, or have a free press is the unspoken freedom enshrined in the First Amendment that assures us of the right to think freely and openly debate issues without being muzzled or treated like a criminal.

Just as surveillance has been shown to “stifle and smother dissent, keeping a populace cowed by fear,” government censorship gives rise to self-censorship, breeds compliance and makes independent thought all but impossible.

In the end, censorship and political correctness not only produce people that cannot speak for themselves but also people who cannot think for themselves. And a citizenry that can’t think for itself is a citizenry that will neither rebel against the government’s dictates nor revolt against the government’s tyranny.

The end result: a nation of sheep who willingly line up for the slaughterhouse.

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

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

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

If we just cower before government agents and meekly obey, we may find ourselves following in the footsteps of those nations that eventually fell to tyranny.

The alternative involves standing up and speaking truth to power.

Jesus Christ walked that road.

So did Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and countless other freedom fighters whose actions changed the course of history.

Indeed, had Christ merely complied with the Roman police state, there would have been no crucifixion and no Christian religion.

Had Gandhi meekly fallen in line with the British Empire’s dictates, the Indian people would never have won their independence.

Had Martin Luther King Jr. obeyed the laws of his day, there would have been no civil rights movement.

And if the founding fathers had marched in lockstep with royal decrees, there would have been no American Revolution.

In other words, if freedom means anything, it means that those exercising their right to protest are showing the greatest respect for the principles on which this nation was founded: the right to free speech and the right to dissent.

Clearly, the First Amendment to the Constitution assures Americans of the right to speak freely, assemble freely and protest (petition the government for a redress of grievances).

Whether those First Amendment activities take place in a courtroom or a classroom, on a football field or in front of the White House is not the issue. What matters is that Americans have a right—according to the spirit, if not always the letter, of the law—to voice their concerns without being penalized for it.

Frankly, the First Amendment does more than give us a right to criticize our country: it makes it a civic duty.

Let’s not confuse patriotism (love for or devotion to one’s country) with blind obedience to the government’s dictates. That is the first step towards creating an authoritarian regime.

One can be patriotic and love one’s country while at the same time disagreeing with the government or protesting government misconduct. As journalist Barbara Ehrenreich recognizes, “Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.”

Indeed, I would venture to say that if you’re not speaking out or taking a stand against government wrongdoing—if you’re marching in lockstep with everything the government and its agents dole out—and if you’re prioritizing partisan politics over the principles enshrined in the Constitution, then you’re not a true patriot.

Real patriots care enough to take a stand, speak out, protest and challenge the government whenever it steps out of line. There is nothing patriotic about the lengths to which Americans have allowed the government to go in its efforts to dismantle our constitutional republic and shift the country into a police state.

It’s not anti-American to be anti-war or anti-police misconduct or anti-racial discrimination, but it is anti-American to be anti-freedom.

Listen: I served in the Army.

I lived through the Civil Rights era.

I came of age during the Sixties, when activists took to the streets to protest war and economic and racial injustice.

As a constitutional lawyer, I defend people daily whose civil liberties are being violated, including high school students prohibited from wearing American flag t-shirts to school, allegedly out of a fear that it might be disruptive.

I understand the price that must be paid for freedom.

Responsible citizenship means being outraged at the loss of others’ freedoms, even when our own are not directly threatened.

The Framers of the Constitution knew very well that whenever and wherever democratic governments had failed, it was because the people had abdicated their responsibility as guardians of freedom. They also knew that whenever in history the people denied this responsibility, an authoritarian regime arose which eventually denied the people the right to govern themselves.

Citizens must be willing to stand and fight to protect their freedoms. And if need be, it will entail publicly criticizing the government.

This is true patriotism in action.

Never in American history has there been a more pressing need to maintain the barriers in the Constitution erected by our Founders to check governmental power and abuse.

Not only do we no longer have dominion over our bodies, our families, our property and our lives, but the government continues to chip away at what few rights we still have to speak freely and think for ourselves.

 If the government can control speech, it can control thought and, in turn, it can control the minds of the citizenry.

My friends, let us not be played for fools.

The government’s ongoing attempts to suppress lawful protest activities are intended to send a strong message that in the American police state, you’re either a patriot who marches in lockstep with the government’s dictates or you’re a pariah, a suspect, a criminal, a troublemaker, a terrorist, a radical, a revolutionary.

Yet by muzzling the citizenry, by removing the constitutional steam valves that allow people to speak their minds, air their grievances and contribute to a larger dialogue that hopefully results in a more just world, the government is deliberately stirring the pot, creating a climate in which violence becomes inevitable.

When there is no steam valve—when there is no one to hear what the people have to say, because government representatives have removed themselves so far from their constituents—then frustration builds, anger grows and people become more volatile and desperate to force a conversation.

Then again, perhaps that was the government’s plan all along.

As John F. Kennedy warned in March 1962, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

The government is making violent revolution inevitable.

How do you lock down a nation?

You sow discontent and fear among the populace.

You teach them to be non-thinkers who passively accept whatever is told them, whether it’s delivered by way of the corporate media or a government handler.

You brainwash them into believing that everything the government does is for their good and anyone who opposes the government is an enemy.

You acclimate them to a state of martial law, carried out by soldiers disguised as police officers but bearing the weapons of war.

You polarize them so that they can never unite and stand united against the government.

You create a climate in which silence is golden and those who speak up are shouted down.

You spread propaganda and lies.

You package the police state in the rhetoric of politicians.

And then, when and if the people finally wake up to the fact that the government is not and has never been their friend, when it’s too late for peaceful protests and violence is all that remains to them as a recourse against tyranny, you use all of the tools you’ve been so carefully amassing—the militarized police, the criminal databases and surveillance and identification systems and private prisons and protest laws—and you shut them down for good.

Divide and conquer.

It’s one of the oldest military strategies in the books, and it’s proven to be the police state’s most effective weapon for maintaining the status quo.

How do you conquer a nation?

Distract the populace with screen devices, with sports, entertainment spectacles, political circuses and materialism.

Keep them focused on their differences—economic, religious, environmental, political, racial—so they can never agree on anything.

And then, when they’re so divided that they are incapable of joining forces against a common threat, start picking them off one by one.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, what we’re witnessing is just the latest incarnation of the government’s battle plan for stamping out any sparks of resistance and keeping the populace under control: censorship, surveillance, battlefield tactics, military weaponry, and a complete suspension of the Constitution.

Vigilantes with a Badge: Warrior Cops Endanger Our Lives and Freedoms

There are always risks in challenging excessive police power, but the risks of not challenging it are more dangerous, even fatal.

— Hunter S. Thompson, Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century

I have known a lot of good cops, I have defended a lot of good cops, and I have been fortunate to call a number of good cops friends.

So when I say that warrior cops—hyped up on their own authority and the power of the badge—have not made America any safer or freer, I am not disrespecting any of the fine, decent, lawful police officers who take seriously their oath of office to serve and protect their fellow citizens, uphold the Constitution, and maintain the peace.

My beef is with the growing squads of warrior cops who have been given the green light to kill, shoot, taser, abuse and steal from American citizens in the so-called name of law and order.

These cops are little more than vigilantes with a badge.

Indeed, it is increasingly evident that militarized police armed with weapons of war who are allowed to operate above the law and break the laws with impunity have not made America any safer or freer.

Don’t take my word for it.

A new study by a political scientist at Princeton University concludes that militarizing police and SWAT teams “provide no detectable benefits in terms of officer safety or violent crime reduction.”

In fact, according to researcher Jonathan Mummolo, if police in America are feeling less safe, it’s because the process of transforming them into extensions of the military makes them less safe, less popular and less trust-worthy.

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

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

Consider that not a day goes by without reports of police officers overstepping the bounds of the Constitution and brutalizing, terrorizing and killing the citizenry. Indeed, the list of incidents in which unaccountable police abuse their power, betray their oath of office and leave taxpayers bruised, broken and/or killed grows longer and more tragic by the day.

Americans are now eight times more likely to die in a police confrontation than they are to be killed by a terrorist.

The problem, as one reporter rightly concluded, is “not that life has gotten that much more dangerous, it’s that authorities have chosen to respond to even innocent situations as if they were in a warzone.”

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

Frequently justified as vital tools necessary to combat terrorism and deal with rare but extremely dangerous criminal situations, such as those involving hostages, SWAT teams—which first appeared on the scene in California in the 1960s—have now become intrinsic parts of local law enforcement operations, thanks in large part to substantial federal assistance and the Pentagon’s military surplus recycling program, which allows the transfer of military equipment, weapons and training to local police for free or at sharp discounts.

Ponder this: In 1980, there were roughly 3,000 SWAT team-style raids in the US.

Incredibly, that number has since grown to more than 80,000 SWAT team raids per year.

There are few communities without a SWAT team today.

Where this becomes a problem of life and death for Americans is when these SWAT teams dressed, armed and trained in military tactics are assigned to carry out routine law enforcement tasks, such as serving a search warrant.

No longer reserved exclusively for deadly situations, SWAT teams are now increasingly being deployed for relatively routine police matters, with some SWAT teams being sent out as much as five times a day. In the state of Maryland alone, 92 percent of 8200 SWAT missions were used to execute search or arrest warrants.

For example, police in both Baltimore and Dallas have used SWAT teams to bust up poker games.

A Connecticut SWAT team swarmed a bar suspected of serving alcohol to underage individuals.

In Arizona, a SWAT team was used to break up an alleged cockfighting ring.

An Atlanta SWAT team raided a music studio, allegedly out of a concern that it might have been involved in illegal music piracy.

A Minnesota SWAT team raided the wrong house in the middle of the night, handcuffed the three young children, held the mother on the floor at gunpoint, shot the family dog, and then “forced the handcuffed children to sit next to the carcass of their dead pet and bloody pet for more than an hour” while they searched the home.

A California SWAT team drove an armored Lenco Bearcat into Roger Serrato’s yard, surrounded his home with paramilitary troops wearing face masks, threw a fire-starting flash-bang grenade into the house in order, then when Serrato appeared at a window, unarmed and wearing only his shorts, held him at bay with rifles. Serrato died of asphyxiation from being trapped in the flame-filled house. Incredibly, the father of four had done nothing wrong. The SWAT team had misidentified him as someone involved in a shooting.

And then there was the police officer who tripped and “accidentally” shot and killed Eurie Stamps, an unarmed grandfather of 12, who had been forced to lie facedown on the floor of his home at gunpoint while a SWAT team attempted to execute a search warrant against his stepson.

Equally outrageous was the four-hour SWAT team raid on a California high school, where students were locked down in classrooms, forced to urinate in overturned desks and generally terrorized by heavily armed, masked gunmen searching for possible weapons that were never found.

These incidents are just the tip of the iceberg.

Nationwide, SWAT teams have been employed to address an astonishingly trivial array of criminal activity or mere community nuisances: angry dogs, domestic disputes, improper paperwork filed by an orchid farmer, and misdemeanor marijuana possession, to give a brief sampling.

If these raids are becoming increasingly common and widespread, you can chalk it up to the “make-work” philosophy, in which you assign at-times unnecessary jobs to individuals to keep them busy or employed. In this case, however, the make-work principle is being used to justify the use of sophisticated military equipment and, in the process, qualify for federal funding.

Remember, SWAT teams originated as specialized units dedicated to defusing extremely sensitive, dangerous situations. They were never meant to be used for routine police work such as serving a warrant.

As the role of paramilitary forces has expanded, however, to include involvement in nondescript police work targeting nonviolent suspects, the mere presence of SWAT units has actually injected a level of danger and violence into police-citizen interactions that was not present as long as these interactions were handled by traditional civilian officers.

What we are witnessing is an inversion of the police-civilian relationship.

Rather than compelling police officers to remain within constitutional bounds as servants of the people, ordinary Americans are being placed at the mercy of militarized police units.

This is what happens when paramilitary forces are used to conduct ordinary policing operations, such as executing warrants on nonviolent defendants.

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

In some cases, officers misread the address on the warrant.

In others, they simply barge into the wrong house or even the wrong building.

In another subset of cases (such as the Department of Education raid on Anthony Wright’s home), police conduct a search of a building where the suspect no longer resides.

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

As you can see, all too often, botched SWAT team raids have resulted in one tragedy after another for the residents with little consequences for law enforcement.

Unfortunately, judges tend to afford extreme levels of deference to police officers who have mistakenly killed innocent civilians but do not afford similar leniency to civilians who have injured police officers in acts of self-defense.

Even homeowners who mistake officers for robbers can be sentenced for assault or murder if they take defensive actions resulting in harm to police.

And as journalist Radley Balko shows in his in-depth study of police militarization, the shock-and-awe tactics utilized by many SWAT teams only increases the likelihood that someone will get hurt.

Drug warrants, for instance, are typically served by paramilitary units late at night or shortly before dawn. Unfortunately, to the unsuspecting homeowner—especially in cases involving mistaken identities or wrong addresses—a raid can appear to be nothing less than a violent home invasion, with armed intruders crashing through their door. The natural reaction would be to engage in self-defense. Yet such a defensive reaction on the part of a homeowner, particularly a gun owner, will spur officers to employ lethal force.

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

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

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

In the process, Americans are rendered altogether helpless and terror-stricken as a result of these confrontations with the police.

Indeed, “terrorizing” is a mild term to describe the effect on those who survive such vigilante tactics. “It was terrible. It was the most frightening experience of my life. I thought it was a terrorist attack,” said 84-year-old Leona Goldberg, a victim of such a raid.

Yet this type of “terrorizing” activity is characteristic of the culture that we have created.

If ever there were a time to de-militarize and de-weaponize local police forces, it’s now.

While we are now grappling with a power-hungry police state at the federal level, the militarization of domestic American law enforcement is largely the result of the militarization of local police forces, which are increasingly militaristic in their uniforms, weaponry, language, training, and tactics and have come to rely on SWAT teams in matters that once could have been satisfactorily performed by traditional civilian officers.

Yet American police forces were never supposed to be a branch of the military, nor were they meant to be private security forces for the reigning political faction.

Instead, they were intended to be an aggregation of countless local police units, composed of citizens like you and me that exist for a sole purpose: to serve and protect the citizens of each and every American community.

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

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

As journalist Herman Schwartz observed, “The Fourth Amendment was designed to stand between us and arbitrary governmental authority. For all practical purposes, that shield has been shattered, leaving our liberty and personal integrity subject to the whim of every cop on the beat, trooper on the highway and jail official.”

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

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

This phenomenon we are experiencing with the police is what philosopher Abraham Kaplan referred to as the law of the instrument, which essentially says that to a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

In the scenario that has been playing out in recent years, we the citizenry have become the nails to be hammered by the government’s henchmen, a.k.a. its guns for hire, a.k.a. its standing army, a.k.a. the nation’s law enforcement agencies.

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

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

Specifically, what we’re dealing with today is a skewed shoot-to-kill mindset in which police, trained to view themselves as warriors or soldiers in a war, whether against drugs, or terror, or crime, must “get” the bad guys; i.e., anyone who is a potential target, before the bad guys get them.

The result is a spike in the number of incidents in which police shoot first, and ask questions later.

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

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

Clearly, it’s time for a reality check, for both the police and the citizens of this nation.

Vigilantes with a Badge: Warrior Cops Endanger Our Lives and Freedoms

There are always risks in challenging excessive police power, but the risks of not challenging it are more dangerous, even fatal.

— Hunter S. Thompson, Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century

I have known a lot of good cops, I have defended a lot of good cops, and I have been fortunate to call a number of good cops friends.

So when I say that warrior cops—hyped up on their own authority and the power of the badge—have not made America any safer or freer, I am not disrespecting any of the fine, decent, lawful police officers who take seriously their oath of office to serve and protect their fellow citizens, uphold the Constitution, and maintain the peace.

My beef is with the growing squads of warrior cops who have been given the green light to kill, shoot, taser, abuse and steal from American citizens in the so-called name of law and order.

These cops are little more than vigilantes with a badge.

Indeed, it is increasingly evident that militarized police armed with weapons of war who are allowed to operate above the law and break the laws with impunity have not made America any safer or freer.

Don’t take my word for it.

A new study by a political scientist at Princeton University concludes that militarizing police and SWAT teams “provide no detectable benefits in terms of officer safety or violent crime reduction.”

In fact, according to researcher Jonathan Mummolo, if police in America are feeling less safe, it’s because the process of transforming them into extensions of the military makes them less safe, less popular and less trust-worthy.

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

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

Consider that not a day goes by without reports of police officers overstepping the bounds of the Constitution and brutalizing, terrorizing and killing the citizenry. Indeed, the list of incidents in which unaccountable police abuse their power, betray their oath of office and leave taxpayers bruised, broken and/or killed grows longer and more tragic by the day.

Americans are now eight times more likely to die in a police confrontation than they are to be killed by a terrorist.

The problem, as one reporter rightly concluded, is “not that life has gotten that much more dangerous, it’s that authorities have chosen to respond to even innocent situations as if they were in a warzone.”

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

Frequently justified as vital tools necessary to combat terrorism and deal with rare but extremely dangerous criminal situations, such as those involving hostages, SWAT teams—which first appeared on the scene in California in the 1960s—have now become intrinsic parts of local law enforcement operations, thanks in large part to substantial federal assistance and the Pentagon’s military surplus recycling program, which allows the transfer of military equipment, weapons and training to local police for free or at sharp discounts.

Ponder this: In 1980, there were roughly 3,000 SWAT team-style raids in the US.

Incredibly, that number has since grown to more than 80,000 SWAT team raids per year.

There are few communities without a SWAT team today.

Where this becomes a problem of life and death for Americans is when these SWAT teams dressed, armed and trained in military tactics are assigned to carry out routine law enforcement tasks, such as serving a search warrant.

No longer reserved exclusively for deadly situations, SWAT teams are now increasingly being deployed for relatively routine police matters, with some SWAT teams being sent out as much as five times a day. In the state of Maryland alone, 92 percent of 8200 SWAT missions were used to execute search or arrest warrants.

For example, police in both Baltimore and Dallas have used SWAT teams to bust up poker games.

A Connecticut SWAT team swarmed a bar suspected of serving alcohol to underage individuals.

In Arizona, a SWAT team was used to break up an alleged cockfighting ring.

An Atlanta SWAT team raided a music studio, allegedly out of a concern that it might have been involved in illegal music piracy.

A Minnesota SWAT team raided the wrong house in the middle of the night, handcuffed the three young children, held the mother on the floor at gunpoint, shot the family dog, and then “forced the handcuffed children to sit next to the carcass of their dead pet and bloody pet for more than an hour” while they searched the home.

A California SWAT team drove an armored Lenco Bearcat into Roger Serrato’s yard, surrounded his home with paramilitary troops wearing face masks, threw a fire-starting flash-bang grenade into the house in order, then when Serrato appeared at a window, unarmed and wearing only his shorts, held him at bay with rifles. Serrato died of asphyxiation from being trapped in the flame-filled house. Incredibly, the father of four had done nothing wrong. The SWAT team had misidentified him as someone involved in a shooting.

And then there was the police officer who tripped and “accidentally” shot and killed Eurie Stamps, an unarmed grandfather of 12, who had been forced to lie facedown on the floor of his home at gunpoint while a SWAT team attempted to execute a search warrant against his stepson.

Equally outrageous was the four-hour SWAT team raid on a California high school, where students were locked down in classrooms, forced to urinate in overturned desks and generally terrorized by heavily armed, masked gunmen searching for possible weapons that were never found.

These incidents are just the tip of the iceberg.

Nationwide, SWAT teams have been employed to address an astonishingly trivial array of criminal activity or mere community nuisances: angry dogs, domestic disputes, improper paperwork filed by an orchid farmer, and misdemeanor marijuana possession, to give a brief sampling.

If these raids are becoming increasingly common and widespread, you can chalk it up to the “make-work” philosophy, in which you assign at-times unnecessary jobs to individuals to keep them busy or employed. In this case, however, the make-work principle is being used to justify the use of sophisticated military equipment and, in the process, qualify for federal funding.

Remember, SWAT teams originated as specialized units dedicated to defusing extremely sensitive, dangerous situations. They were never meant to be used for routine police work such as serving a warrant.

As the role of paramilitary forces has expanded, however, to include involvement in nondescript police work targeting nonviolent suspects, the mere presence of SWAT units has actually injected a level of danger and violence into police-citizen interactions that was not present as long as these interactions were handled by traditional civilian officers.

What we are witnessing is an inversion of the police-civilian relationship.

Rather than compelling police officers to remain within constitutional bounds as servants of the people, ordinary Americans are being placed at the mercy of militarized police units.

This is what happens when paramilitary forces are used to conduct ordinary policing operations, such as executing warrants on nonviolent defendants.

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

In some cases, officers misread the address on the warrant.

In others, they simply barge into the wrong house or even the wrong building.

In another subset of cases (such as the Department of Education raid on Anthony Wright’s home), police conduct a search of a building where the suspect no longer resides.

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

As you can see, all too often, botched SWAT team raids have resulted in one tragedy after another for the residents with little consequences for law enforcement.

Unfortunately, judges tend to afford extreme levels of deference to police officers who have mistakenly killed innocent civilians but do not afford similar leniency to civilians who have injured police officers in acts of self-defense.

Even homeowners who mistake officers for robbers can be sentenced for assault or murder if they take defensive actions resulting in harm to police.

And as journalist Radley Balko shows in his in-depth study of police militarization, the shock-and-awe tactics utilized by many SWAT teams only increases the likelihood that someone will get hurt.

Drug warrants, for instance, are typically served by paramilitary units late at night or shortly before dawn. Unfortunately, to the unsuspecting homeowner—especially in cases involving mistaken identities or wrong addresses—a raid can appear to be nothing less than a violent home invasion, with armed intruders crashing through their door. The natural reaction would be to engage in self-defense. Yet such a defensive reaction on the part of a homeowner, particularly a gun owner, will spur officers to employ lethal force.

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

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

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

In the process, Americans are rendered altogether helpless and terror-stricken as a result of these confrontations with the police.

Indeed, “terrorizing” is a mild term to describe the effect on those who survive such vigilante tactics. “It was terrible. It was the most frightening experience of my life. I thought it was a terrorist attack,” said 84-year-old Leona Goldberg, a victim of such a raid.

Yet this type of “terrorizing” activity is characteristic of the culture that we have created.

If ever there were a time to de-militarize and de-weaponize local police forces, it’s now.

While we are now grappling with a power-hungry police state at the federal level, the militarization of domestic American law enforcement is largely the result of the militarization of local police forces, which are increasingly militaristic in their uniforms, weaponry, language, training, and tactics and have come to rely on SWAT teams in matters that once could have been satisfactorily performed by traditional civilian officers.

Yet American police forces were never supposed to be a branch of the military, nor were they meant to be private security forces for the reigning political faction.

Instead, they were intended to be an aggregation of countless local police units, composed of citizens like you and me that exist for a sole purpose: to serve and protect the citizens of each and every American community.

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

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

As journalist Herman Schwartz observed, “The Fourth Amendment was designed to stand between us and arbitrary governmental authority. For all practical purposes, that shield has been shattered, leaving our liberty and personal integrity subject to the whim of every cop on the beat, trooper on the highway and jail official.”

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

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

This phenomenon we are experiencing with the police is what philosopher Abraham Kaplan referred to as the law of the instrument, which essentially says that to a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

In the scenario that has been playing out in recent years, we the citizenry have become the nails to be hammered by the government’s henchmen, a.k.a. its guns for hire, a.k.a. its standing army, a.k.a. the nation’s law enforcement agencies.

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

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

Specifically, what we’re dealing with today is a skewed shoot-to-kill mindset in which police, trained to view themselves as warriors or soldiers in a war, whether against drugs, or terror, or crime, must “get” the bad guys; i.e., anyone who is a potential target, before the bad guys get them.

The result is a spike in the number of incidents in which police shoot first, and ask questions later.

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

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

Clearly, it’s time for a reality check, for both the police and the citizens of this nation.

From Boston to Ferguson to Charlottesville: The Evolution of a Police State Lockdown

It takes a remarkable force to keep nearly a million people quietly indoors for an entire day, home from work and school, from neighborhood errands and out-of-town travel. It takes a remarkable force to keep businesses closed and cars off the road, to keep playgrounds empty and porches unused across a densely populated place 125 square miles in size. This happened … not because armed officers went door-to-door, or imposed a curfew, or threatened martial law. All around the region, for 13 hours, people locked up their businesses and ‘sheltered in place’ out of a kind of collective will. The force that kept them there wasn’t external – there was virtually no active enforcement across the city of the governor’s plea that people stay indoors. Rather, the pressure was an internal one – expressed as concern, or helpfulness, or in some cases, fear – felt in thousands of individual homes.

— Journalist Emily Badger, “The Psychology of a Citywide Lockdown”, April 22, 2013

It has become way too easy to lockdown this nation.

Five years ago, the city of Boston was locked down while police carried out a military-style manhunt for suspects in the 2013 Boston Marathon explosion.

Four years ago, the city of Ferguson, Missouri, was locked down, with government officials deploying a massive SWAT team, an armored personnel carrier, men in camouflage pointing heavy artillery at the crowd, smoke bombs and tear gas to quell citizen unrest over a police shooting of a young, unarmed black man.

Three years ago, the city of Baltimore was put under a military-enforced lockdown after civil unrest over police brutality erupted into rioting. More than 1,500 national guard troops were deployed while residents were ordered to stay inside their homes and put under a 10 pm curfew.

This year, it was my hometown of Charlottesville, Va., population 50,000, that was locked down while government officials declared a state of emergency and enacted heightened security measures tantamount to martial law, despite the absence of any publicized information about credible threats to public safety.

As Tess Owen reports for Vice:

One year after white supremacists paraded through the streets, the face of downtown Charlottesville was transformed once again – this time with checkpoints, military-style camps for National Guard, and state police on every corner. When residents woke up Saturday, all entrances to the downtown mall were blocked off, apart from two checkpoints, where police looked through people’s bags for lighters, knives or any other weapons. Up above, standing atop a building site, two national guard members photographed the individuals coming in and out… A National Guard encampment was set up in McGuffey Park, between the children’s playground and the basketball court, where about 20 military police officers in camouflage were snoozing in the shade of some trees. A similar encampment was set up a few blocks away.

More details from journalist Ned Oliver:

Downtown Charlottesville felt like the green zone of a war-torn city Saturday. More than a thousand local and state police officers barricaded 10 blocks of the city’s popular pedestrian district, the Downtown Mall, to prepare for the one-year anniversary of the white supremacist rally last year that left dozens injured and one dead. To enter, people had to submit to bag checks and searches at one of two checkpoints… Preparations aside, unlike last year, no white supremacist groups had said they were going to visit the city, and, by week’s end, none had. Instead, it was a normal day on the mall except for the heavy security, a military helicopter constantly circling overhead, and hundreds of police officers milling around.

Make no mistake, this was a militarized exercise in intimidation, and it worked only too well.

For the most part, the residents of this city—once home to Thomas Jefferson, the nation’s third president, author of the Declaration of Independence, and champion of the Bill of Rights—welcomed the city-wide lockdown, the invasion of their privacy, and the dismantling of every constitutional right intended to serve as a bulwark against government abuses.

Yet for those like myself who have studied emerging police states, the sight of any American city placed under martial law—its citizens essentially under house arrest (officials used the Orwellian phrase “shelter in place” in Boston to describe the mandatory lockdown), military-style helicopters equipped with thermal imaging devices buzzing the skies, tanks and armored vehicles on the streets, and snipers perched on rooftops, while thousands of black-garbed police swarmed the streets and SWAT teams carried out house-to-house searches—leaves us in a growing state of unease.

Watching the events of the lockdown unfold, I couldn’t help but think of Nazi Field Marshal Hermann Goering’s remarks during the Nuremberg trials. As Goering noted:

It is always a simple matter to drag people along whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.

As the events in Charlottesville have made clear, it does indeed work the same in every country.

Whatever the threat to so-called security—whether it’s civil unrest, school shootings, or alleged acts of terrorism—government officials will capitalize on the nation’s heightened emotions, confusion and fear as a means of extending the reach of the police state.

These troubling developments are the outward manifestations of an inner, philosophical shift underway in how the government views not only the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but “we the people,” as well.

What this reflects is a move away from a government bound by the rule of law to one that seeks total control through the imposition of its own self-serving laws on the populace.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much for the American people to march in lockstep with the government’s dictates, even if it means submitting to martial law, having their homes searched, and being stripped of one’s constitutional rights at a moment’s notice.

In Charlottesville, most of the community fell in line, except for one gun-toting, disabled, 71-year-old war veteran who was arrested for purchasing cans of Arizona iced tea, a can of bug spray and razor blades, all of which were on the City’s list of temporarily prohibited, potentially “dangerous” items. Incidentally, the veteran’s guns (not among the list of prohibited items) caused no alarm.

Talk about draconian.

This continual undermining of the rules that protect civil liberties will inevitably have far-reaching consequences on a populace that not only remains ignorant about their rights but is inclined to sacrifice their liberties for phantom promises of safety.

Be warned: these lockdowns are just a precursor to full-blown martial law.

The powers-that-be want us acclimated to the sights and sounds of a city-wide lockdown with tanks in the streets, military encampments in cities, Blackhawk helicopters and armed drones patrolling overhead.

They want us to accept the fact that in the American police state, we are all potentially guilty, all potential criminals, all suspects waiting to be accused of a crime.

They want us to be meek and submissive.

They want us to report on each other.

They want us to be grateful to the standing armies for their so-called protection.

They want us to self-censor our speech, self-limit our movements, and police ourselves.

As Glenn Greenwald notes in The Intercept:

Americans are now so accustomed to seeing police officers decked in camouflage and Robocop-style costumes, riding in armored vehicles and carrying automatic weapons first introduced during the U.S. occupation of Baghdad, that it has become normalized… The dangers of domestic militarization are both numerous and manifest. To begin with… it degrades the mentality of police forces in virtually every negative way and subjects their targeted communities to rampant brutality and unaccountable abuse… Police militarization also poses grave and direct dangers to basic political liberties, including rights of free speech, press and assembly.

Make no mistake: these are the hallmarks of a military occupation.

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

We are already under martial law, held at gunpoint by a standing army.

Take a look at the pictures from Charlottesville, from Baltimore, from Ferguson and from Boston, and then try to persuade yourself that this is what freedom in America is supposed to look like.

A standing army—something that propelled the early colonists into revolution—strips the American people of any vestige of freedom.

It was for this reason that those who established America vested control of the military in a civilian government, with a civilian commander-in-chief. They did not want a military government, ruled by force. Rather, they opted for a republic bound by the rule of law: the U.S. Constitution.

Unfortunately, with the Constitution under constant attack, the military’s power, influence and authority have grown dramatically. Even the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which makes it a crime for the government to use the military to carry out arrests, searches, seizure of evidence and other activities normally handled by a civilian police force, was greatly weakened by both Barack Obama and George W. Bush, who ushered in exemptions allowing troops to deploy domestically and arrest civilians in the wake of alleged terrorist acts.

Now we find ourselves struggling to retain some semblance of freedom in the face of police and law enforcement agencies that look and act like the military and have just as little regard for the Fourth Amendment, laws such as the NDAA that allow the military to arrest and indefinitely detain American citizens, and military drills that acclimate the American people to the sight of armored tanks in the streets, military encampments in cities, and combat aircraft patrolling overhead.

We’ve already gone too far down this road.

Add these lockdowns onto the list of other troubling developments that have taken place over the past 30 years or more, and the picture grows even more troubling: the expansion of the military industrial complex and its influence in Washington DC, the rampant surveillance, the corporate-funded elections and revolving door between lobbyists and elected officials, the militarized police, the loss of our freedoms, the injustice of the courts, the privatized prisons, the school lockdowns, the roadside strip searches, the military drills on domestic soil, the fusion centers and the simultaneous fusing of every branch of law enforcement (federal, state and local), the stockpiling of ammunition by various government agencies, the active shooter drills that are indistinguishable from actual crises, the economy flirting with near collapse, etc.

Suddenly, the overall picture seems that much more sinister.

The lesson for the rest of us is this: once a free people allows the government to make inroads into their freedoms or uses those same freedoms as bargaining chips for security, it quickly becomes a slippery slope to outright tyranny. And it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican at the helm, because the bureaucratic mindset on both sides of the aisle now seems to embody the same philosophy of authoritarian government.

Remember, a police state does not come about overnight.

It starts small, perhaps with a revenue-generating red light camera at an intersection.

When that is implemented without opposition, perhaps next will be surveillance cameras on public streets. License plate readers on police cruisers. More police officers on the beat. Free military equipment from the federal government. Free speech zones and zero tolerance policies and curfews. SWAT team raids. Drones flying overhead. City-wide lockdowns.

No matter how it starts, however, it always ends the same.

Remember, it’s a slippery slope from a questionable infringement justified in the name of safety to all-out tyranny.

These are no longer warning signs of a steadily encroaching police state.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the police state has arrived.