Category Archives: Police

Criminalizing Childhood: School Safety Measures Aren’t Making the Schools Any Safer

Every day in communities across the United States, children and adolescents spend the majority of their waking hours in schools that have increasingly come to resemble places of detention more than places of learning. From metal detectors to drug tests, from increased policing to all-seeing electronic surveillance, the public schools of the twenty-first century reflect a society that has become fixated on crime, security and violence.

— Annette Fuentes, Investigative Journalist, Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse becomes a Jailhouse, February 12, 2013

It used to be that if you talked back to a teacher, or played a prank on a classmate, or just failed to do your homework, you might find yourself in detention or doing an extra writing assignment after school.

Of course, that was before school shootings became a part of our national lexicon.

Nowadays, as a result of the government’s profit-driven campaign to keep the nation “safe” from drugs, weapons and terrorism, students are not only punished for minor transgressions such as playing cops and robbers on the playground, bringing LEGOs to school, or having a food fight, but they are being punished with suspension, expulsion, and even arrest.

Welcome to Compliance 101: the police state’s primer in how to churn out compliant citizens and transform the nation’s school’s into quasi-prisons through the use of surveillance cameras, metal detectors, police patrols, zero tolerance policies, lock downs, drug sniffing dogs, strip searches and active shooter drills.

If you were wondering, these police state tactics have not made the schools any safer.

Rather, they’ve turned the schools into authoritarian microcosms of the police state, containing almost every aspect of the militarized, intolerant, senseless, overcriminalized, legalistic, surveillance-riddled, totalitarian landscape that plagues those of us on the “outside.”

If your child is fortunate enough to survive his encounter with the public schools, you should count yourself fortunate.

Most students are not so lucky.

From the moment a child enters one of the nation’s 98,000 public schools to the moment he or she graduates, they will be exposed to a steady diet of draconian zero tolerance policies that criminalize childish behavior, overreaching anti-bullying statutes that criminalize speech, school resource officers (police) tasked with disciplining and/or arresting so-called “disorderly” students, standardized testing that emphasizes rote answers over critical thinking, politically correct mindsets that teach young people to censor themselves and those around them, and extensive biometric and surveillance systems that, coupled with the rest, acclimate young people to a world in which they have no freedom of thought, speech or movement.

By the time the average young person in America finishes their public school education, nearly one out of every three of them will have been arrested.

More than 3 million students are suspended or expelled from schools every year, often for minor misbehavior, such as “disruptive behavior” or “insubordination.”

Black students are three times more likely than white students to face suspension and expulsion.

Zero tolerance policies that were intended to make schools safer by discouraging the use of actual drugs and weapons by students have turned students into suspects to be treated as criminals by school officials and law enforcement alike, while criminalizing childish behavior.

For instance, 9-year-old Patrick Timoney was sent to the principal’s office and threatened with suspension after school officials discovered that one of his LEGOs was holding a 2-inch toy gun.

David Morales, an 8-year-old Rhode Island student, ran afoul of his school’s zero tolerance policies after he wore a hat to school decorated with an American flag and tiny plastic Army figures in honor of American troops. School officials declared the hat out of bounds because the toy soldiers were carrying miniature guns.

A 7-year-old New Jersey boy, described by school officials as “a nice kid” and “a good student,” was reported to the police and charged with possessing an imitation firearm after he brought a toy Nerf-style gun to school. The gun shoots soft ping pong-type balls.

Things have gotten so bad that it doesn’t even take a toy gun to raise the ire of school officials.

A high school sophomore was suspended for violating the school’s no-cell-phone policy after he took a call from his father, a master sergeant in the U.S. Army who was serving in Iraq at the time.

A 12-year-old New York student was hauled out of school in handcuffs for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker.

In Houston, an 8th grader was suspended for wearing rosary beads to school in memory of her grandmother (the school has a zero tolerance policy against the rosary, which the school insists can be interpreted as a sign of gang involvement).

Six-year-old Cub Scout Zachary Christie was sentenced to 45 days in reform school after bringing a camping utensil to school that can serve as a fork, knife or spoon.

Even imaginary weapons (hand-drawn pictures of guns, pencils twirled in a “threatening” manner, imaginary bows and arrows, even fingers positioned like guns) can also land a student in detention.

Equally outrageous was the case in New Jersey where several kindergartners were suspended from school for three days for playing a make-believe game of “cops and robbers” during recess and using their fingers as guns.

With the distinctions between student offenses erased, and all offenses expellable, we now find ourselves in the midst of what Time magazine described as a “national crackdown on Alka-Seltzer.” Students have actually been suspended from school for possession of the fizzy tablets in violation of zero tolerance drug policies.

Students have also been penalized for such inane “crimes” as bringing nail clippers to school, using Listerine or Scope, and carrying fold-out combs that resemble switchblades.

A 13-year-old boy in Manassas, Virginia, who accepted a Certs breath mint from a classmate, was actually suspended and required to attend drug-awareness classes, while a 12-year-old boy who said he brought powdered sugar to school for a science project was charged with a felony for possessing a look-alike drug.

Acts of kindness, concern, basic manners or just engaging in childish behavior can also result in suspensions.

One 13-year-old was given detention for exposing the school to “liability” by sharing his lunch with a hungry friend. A third grader was suspended for shaving her head in sympathy for a friend who had lost her hair to chemotherapy. And then there was the high school senior who was suspended for saying “bless you” after a fellow classmate sneezed.

In South Carolina, where it’s against the law to disturb a school, more than a thousand students a year—some as young as 7 years old—“face criminal charges for not following directions, loitering, cursing, or the vague allegation of acting ‘obnoxiously.’ If charged as adults, they can be held in jail for up to 90 days.”

Another 12-year-old was handcuffed and jailed after he stomped in a puddle, splashing classmates.

Things get even worse when you add police to the mix.

Thanks to a combination of media hype, political pandering and financial incentives, the use of armed police officers (a.k.a. school resource officers) to patrol school hallways has risen dramatically in the years since the Columbine school shooting (nearly 20,000 by 2003).

What this means, notes Mother Jones, is greater police “involvement in routine discipline matters that principals and parents used to address without involvement from law enforcement officers.”

Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, these school resource officers (SROs) have become de facto wardens in the elementary, middle and high schools, doling out their own brand of justice to the so-called “criminals” in their midst with the help of tasers, pepperspray, batons and brute force.

As a result, students are not only being ticketed, fined and sent to court for behavior perceived as defiant, disruptive or disorderly such as spraying perfume and writing on a desk, but they are also finding themselves subjected to police tactics such as handcuffs, leg shackles, tasers and excessive force for “acting up.”

In the absence of school-appropriate guidelines, police are more and more “stepping in to deal with minor rulebreaking: sagging pants, disrespectful comments, brief physical skirmishes. What previously might have resulted in a detention or a visit to the principal’s office was replaced with excruciating pain and temporary blindness, often followed by a trip to the courthouse.”

The horror stories are legion.

One SRO is accused of punching a 13-year-old student in the face for cutting in the cafeteria line. That same cop put another student in a chokehold a week later, allegedly knocking the student unconscious and causing a brain injury.

In Pennsylvania, a student was tased after ignoring an order to put his cell phone away.

On any given day when school is in session, kids who “act up” in class are pinned face down on the floor, locked in dark closets, tied up with straps, bungee cords and duct tape, handcuffed, leg shackled, tasered or otherwise restrained, immobilized or placed in solitary confinement in order to bring them under “control.”

Roughly 1500 kids are tied up or locked down every day by school officials in the United States.

At least 500 students are locked up in some form of solitary confinement every day, whether it be a padded room, a closet or a duffel bag. In many cases, parents are rarely notified when such methods are used.

In almost every case, these undeniably harsh methods are used to punish kids for simply failing to follow directions or throwing tantrums.

Very rarely do the kids pose any credible danger to themselves or others.

For example, a 4-year-old Virginia preschooler was handcuffed, leg shackled and transported to the sheriff’s office after reportedly throwing blocks and climbing on top of the furniture. School officials claim the restraints were necessary to protect the adults from injury.

A 6-year-old kindergarten student in a Georgia public school was handcuffed, transported to the police station, and charged with simple battery of a schoolteacher and criminal damage to property for throwing a temper tantrum at school.

Unbelievably, these tactics are all legal, at least when employed by school officials or school resource officers in the nation’s public schools.

According to a ProPublica investigative report, such harsh punishments are part of a widespread phenomenon plaguing school districts across the country.

Indeed, as investigative reporter Heather Vogell points out, this is a local story everywhere.

It’s happening in my town.

It’s happening in your town.

It’s happening in every school district in America.

This is the end product of all those so-called school “safety” policies, which run the gamut from zero tolerance policies that punish all infractions harshly to surveillance cameras, metal detectors, random searches, drug-sniffing dogs, school-wide lockdowns, active-shooter drills and militarized police officers.

Mind you, this is all part of the government’s plan to “harden” the schools.

What exactly does hardening the schools entail?

More strident zero tolerance policiesgreater numbers of school cops, and all the trappings of a prison complex (unsurmountable fences, entrapment areas, no windows or trees, etc.).

Schools acting like prisons.

School officials acting like wardens.

Students treated like inmates and punished like hardened criminals.

Even in the face of parental outrage, lawsuits, legislative reforms, investigative reports and endless cases showing that these tactics are not working and “should never be used for punishment or discipline,” full-grown adults—police officers and teachers alike—insist that the reason they continue to handcuff, lock up and restrain little kids is because they fear for their safety and the safety of others.

“Fear for one’s safety” has become such a hackneyed and threadbare excuse for behavior that is inexcusable.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that explanation covers a multitude of sins, whether it’s poorly trained police officers who shoot first and ask questions later, or school officials who are ill-equipped to deal with children who act like children, meaning they don’t always listen, they sometimes throw tantrums, and they have a hard time sitting still.

Unfortunately, advocates for such harsh police tactics and weaponry like to trot out the line that school safety should be our first priority lest we find ourselves with another Sandy Hook. What they will not tell you is that such shootings are rare. As one congressional report found, the schools are, generally speaking, safe places for children.

In their zeal to crack down on guns and lock down the schools, these cheerleaders for police state tactics in the schools might also fail to mention the lucrative, multi-million dollar deals being cut with military contractors such as Taser International to equip these school cops with tasers, tanks, rifles and $100,000 shooting detection systems.

Indeed, the transformation of hometown police departments into extensions of the military has been mirrored in the public schools, where school police have been gifted with high-powered M16 rifles, MRAP armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and other military gear. One Texas school district even boasts its own 12-member SWAT team.

According to one law review article on the school-to-prison pipeline:

Many school districts have formed their own police departments, some so large they rival the forces of major United States cities in size. For example, the safety division in New York City’s public schools is so large that if it were a local police department, it would be the fifth-largest police force in the country.

The ramifications are far-reaching.

The term “school-to-prison pipeline” refers to a phenomenon in which children who are suspended or expelled from school have a greater likelihood of ending up in jail.

As if it weren’t bad enough that the nation’s schools have come to resemble prisons, the government is also contracting with private prisons to lock up our young people for behaviour that once would have merited a stern lecture. Nearly 40 percent of those young people who are arrested will serve time in a private prison, where the emphasis is on making profits for large megacorporations above all else.

This profit-driven system of incarceration has also given rise to a growth in juvenile prisons and financial incentives for jailing young people.

Indeed, young people have become easy targets for the private prison industry, which profits from criminalizing childish behavior and jailing young people. For instance, two Pennsylvania judges made headlines when it was revealed that they had been conspiring with two businessmen in a $2.6 million “kids for cash” scandal that resulted in more than 2500 children being found guilty and jailed in for-profit private prisons.

So what’s the answer, not only for the here-and-now—the children growing up in these quasi-prisons—but for the future of this country?

Peter Gray, a professor of psychology at Boston College, believes that school is a prison that is damaging our kids, and it’s hard to disagree, especially with the numbers of police officers being assigned to schools on the rise.

Clearly, the pathology that characterizes the American police state has passed down to the schools. Now in addition to the government and its agents viewing the citizenry as suspects to be probed, poked, pinched, tasered, searched, seized, stripped and generally manhandled, all with the general blessing of the court, our children in the public schools are also fair game.

Instead of raising up a generation of freedom fighters, however, we seem to be busy churning out newly minted citizens of the American police state who are being taught the hard way what it means to comply, fear and march in lockstep with the government’s dictates.

After all, how do you convince a child who has been routinely handcuffed, shackled, tied down, locked up, and immobilized by government officials—all before he reaches the age of adulthood—that he has any rights at all, let alone the right to challenge wrongdoing, resist oppression and defend himself against injustice?

Most of all, how do you persuade a fellow American that the government works for him when for most of his young life, he has been incarcerated in an institution that teaches young people to be obedient and compliant citizens who don’t talk back, don’t question and don’t challenge authority?

What can be done?

Without a doubt, change is needed, but that will mean taking on the teachers’ unions, the school unions, the educators’ associations, and the police unions, not to mention the politicians dependent on their votes and all of the corporations that profit mightily from an industrial school complex.

As we’ve seen with other issues, any significant reforms will have to start locally and trickle upwards.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, with every school police raid and overzealous punishment that is carried out in the name of school safety, the lesson being imparted is that Americans—especially young people—have no rights at all against the state or the police.

If we do not rein in the police state’s influence in the schools, the future to which we are sending our children will be characterized by a brutal, totalitarian regime.

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.

Glencore and Other Mining Corporations Make Record Profits and get Away with Murder Literally

Glencore, according to statistica.com is the world’s largest mining company by revenues. As a way of introduction, here is what statistica.com has to say about Glencore.

Glencore-Xstrata is a public limited company founded in 1974 by Marc Rich whose headquarters are based in Baar, Switzerland and also has registered office based in Saint Helier, New Jersey. Glencore-Xstrata is also a mining company whose headquarters are based in the United Kingdom. On May 2nd, 2013, the current company was established through a merger between Glencore and Xstrata. Glencore-Xstrata is the third largest family owned business in the world and was ranked number 10 on the list of Fortune Global 500 in 2015. Glencore Xstrata is the leading mining company in the world with estimated revenue earned in 2017 of $205 billion, on a rebound from 2015 (US$ 147billion) and compared to the best year so far, 2012 (US$237billion). Net earnings have skyrocketed in 2017 to US$ 5.8 billion, more than 4 times higher than in 2016 (US$ 1.4 billion).

The four next mining corporations in world ranking include BHP Billiton, Australia; British-Australian Rio Tinto; China state-owned Shenhua Energy, and Vale, Brazil. Their mining practices may not differ a lot from those of Glencore’s. However, what distinguishes Glencore is its particularly aggressive business style. Aggressive from all points of views – tax avoidance, corruption, total neglect for employees as well as communities they work in, non-responsiveness to critique.

Though it looks like Glencore’s aggressive business model is paying off. Glencore’s tax rate negotiated in Switzerland is next to zero. The Canton of Zug, where the city of Baar, seat of Glencore’s headquarters (HQ) is located, is the number one tax haven in Switzerland.  Glencore pays 0.2% taxes on its net earnings.

Glencore is exploiting developing countries to the maximum, not respecting any social and environmental laws or even humanitarian standards, brushing them aside and pushing ahead – poisoning and killing people on their way with toxic effluents from their mining practices, no regard, no attention to their fate, to their families, irrespective of whether they have been working for a Glencore mine, when they are sick they are out, no compensation; or whether they are just living in the contaminated environment, in communities on their own plots, exposed on a daily basis to water-ways and soil polluted with cancer-causing deadly heavy metals. The average life expectancy in South American mines is between 32 and 40 years for mine workers. Glencore leaves hardly any tax money or royalties in the country they exploit, on average about one cent per dollar of net earnings, as their tax residence is Switzerland.

This article looks specifically at an event which I witnessed and was able to interview victims about, at Glencore’s copper mine in Espinar, near Cusco, Peru, some 4,200 m above sea-level. Gold is a side product. Where there is copper, there is almost without fail also gold to be found and vice-versa. The mining and refining of both metals is highly toxic, leaving poisonous heavy metals, such as mercury, cyanite, cadmium, arsenic, chromium, lead and many more disease-causing toxins in water, soil, and air, poisoning fauna, flora and humans.

On April 3, 2018, a dozen or so indigenous unarmed, women – the poorest of the poor –protested with their bare hands in defense of their only water way left, a small stream. Glencore wanted to deviate it – totally illegally – for Glencore’s use. The women were attacked by police in full riot gear, beaten with batons. It is openly known that Glencore, like other mining corporations, literally buys the national or local police services for this type of abject brutality.

The police were helped by Glencore’s own security forces. All this was recorded on video and in photos. Arriving the following day on location with a group of locals, we interviewed several of the victims. See also my earlier article on the subject

As the above essay went to press, I wrote directly to Glencore’s CEO, Ivan Glasenberg, suggesting a personal meeting to discuss the event and the general circumstances that led to it. Mr. Glasenberg replied promptly through his director for Sustainable Development (sic), who proposed to meet – which we did, in a neutral place, a hotel lobby in Bern. The Glencore delegation consisted of the Sustainable Development director and her lawyer.  I was alone.

What transpired during a roughly two-hour non-confrontational, rather peaceful dialogue, I recorded in an Aide-Memoire, asking for their approval, comments or suggestions for change. The answer a few days later was a full rejection, saying none of the contents of the AM reflected our conversation. This is, of course, a flagrant lie. Under the circumstances, I decided to make the gist of our two-hour conversation public, as reflected in the Aide-Mémoire.

The conversation covered three key topics

  1. Beating of unarmed indigenous women in Alta Huata, Espinar, Cusco Province, Peru, by Police and Glencore’s Security Forces on 3 April 2018;
  2. Glencore’s contamination of water, soil, air, flora, fauna and humans by toxic chemicals used in the mining process; and
  3. Blood and urine samples – people who are sick from intoxication with mine effluents, working for the mine and/or living in the close vicinity of the mine, sought testing their blood and urine for heavy metals. They were never given the results from the tests from medical doctors, clinics and laboratories. Why?

Addressing point by point, starting with the Beating of unarmed women – the dozen or two bare-handed indigenous women were protesting in defense of their water against Glencore workers, wanting to deviate, actually steal the little stream for Glencore’s own use. They were brutally beaten by national police in government issued riot gear – imagine, in riot gear! – with the help of Glencore’s own security forces. This happened around noon on 3 April, when the women were alone, even more defenseless, while village men were working at the mine or in their small agricultural plots.

According to several accounts from the local population as well as from people in the town of Espinar, Glencore intended to reroute the small stream providing the only water source for the six or so villages higher up on the mountain. This is further corroborated by the large pile of big-sized pipes, deposited on the land next to the small stream. A nearby gigantic earth moving machine and fresh tracks traversing the small water way were also clear signs that water deviation works were planned.

In the early morning hours of 4 April, we went to Glencore’s copper mine at Alta Huata, about 4,200m above sea level, to meet with the mistreated women and to interview them. Still affected by indignation and pain, some of them under tears, showed us their badly bruised body parts. Evidence of the police assault and aggression by Glencore’s security forces is available as independent testimony in the form of short videos and photographs. An elderly woman (65) was beaten so severely, she was resting and moaning in a rickety stone shack which apparently was destroyed by Glencore’s bulldozers the week before and hastily rebuilt by the local population. The woman had pain all over her body, could not move, and got no medical attention, no pain medication – nothing – she was a ‘high risk’ case. Later, we learned, she was miraculously recovering with the care of the villagers.

The villagers told us they wanted to file a complaint with the local police which did not receive them. It is clear, if Glencore hired the police to do their dirty work, they, the police, will not receive the villagers’ complaint. It’s a revolving-door corruption at every level that is being practiced. I wonder whether Glencore’s boss, Mr. Glasenberg, is aware of it. If not, then at least this article which will be sent to him should remind him that he is complicit in serious crimes of his company by letting them happen.

During our meeting, the Glencore ‘sustainable development’ people said the workers were only doing repair work when the women appeared interfering with their job. Another flagrant lie. But how could they know? They are repeating what they are told by their people on the ground. And whenever they go to visit the area, we understand, they never set foot in the affected villages, to talk to the people or to the mayor, but only talk the inside-talk to Glencore insiders, another revolving door approach to resolving problems by being blind to them and keeping perpetuating the lies. The sustainable development people of Glencore also denied that Glencore had anything to do with the beating, that Glencore could not control the police. They dismissed the assertion, against all evidence on video, that Glencore’s security forces were also involved and, of course, that they actually called and hired the police in the first place.

Later we talked to villagers who lived in the mine-surrounding areas. With anguish, sadness and even resignation, they told us that contamination of water, soil, air, flora, fauna – and humans was evident. It appeared in the water ways and was reported in soil samples. Plants adjacent to water courses, rivers and effluents from the mine, were all contaminated by heavy metals, poisoning animals, as well as humans. Farm animals became sick and often died.

Many inhabitants of the mine-surrounding communities, so we were told, including by the former mayor, were sick with cancer and other terminal diseases which were caused by contact with, or ingestion of, contaminated water or food. To purify water efficiently from heavy metals – cyanide, mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium and more – a complex and expensive process is required. It’s called reverse osmosis. In most cases, mining companies do not use this process. In the case of Glencore and Espinar, reverse osmosis is not in use, leaving the effluent waters highly and dangerously polluted.

We talked to several people, some working for the mine, others just living in the immediate vicinity of the mine – say, in a radius of 1 to 5 km. All said, they felt sick; their bodies hurt, they had respiratory problems and many suspected having different types of cancers, mainly lung cancer. The disease rate increased the closer they lived to the mine.

One of the peasants said that young people in his neighborhood were dying “like flies” from cancer. He added that the average life expectancy of people living near the mine was drastically reduced. He also said, that most people by now are just resigned to their fate and were tired of protesting and being frustrated, because Glencore would not respond and do nothing for them. They felt helpless.

To top it off, Glencore’s Sustainable Development people said that Glencore received certification from the municipality that the effluents from their mine were clean and not contaminated by the mine, and that it was common knowledge that the water was not potable, ridiculously ascertaining that contamination occurred naturally in these mountainous streams. This abject manipulation of the truth would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. But the people have no recourses to hire lawyers, and even if they would have the money to do so, no lawyer, no judge, no court would take on a case against Glencore. They are afraid to confront the mobsters from where the money flows – corruption at infinitum! Glencore’s sustainable development representatives rejected all responsibilities for the contamination and said they had no knowledge about the disease rates reported by the local population. They were never informed.

Well, if they didn’t know, they must know now. And Mr. Glasenberg would do well sending an HONEST delegation to Espinar to verify with neutral experts on location the veracity of this account and of the account of the victims. Question is, of course, will there be uncorrupt neutral experts daring to tell Glencore the truth?  And even if that were the case, what would Glasenberg do about it? Glasenberg is the key person. It’s a family business, one of the world’s largest, so if he wants to change the way Glencore does business, he can do it.

Who manages Glencore’s mines on the ground?  Mainly locals, we were told. In Espinar, Peru, it’s a Peruvian. This has two purposes. First, a Peruvian is familiar with the local ‘habits’ of how the ‘turntable’ turns, how to buy favors and how to threaten potential adversaries; and, second, if something goes wrong – like in the present case of brutally beating of inoffensive women, deadly contamination and people dying from cancers caused by intoxication from mine effluents – they, at Swiss HQs can say, we didn’t know; nobody told us. The we didn’t know effect seems to be effective, so effective, in fact, that the entire conversation of two hours was annihilated by the sustainable Glencore people. Even though the conversation took place as recorded, the sustainable people deny its contents.

We also talked with people who lived in the vicinity of the mine, who are feeling ill for years and worsening, mostly the lungs, but also their respiratory and nervous system, yet mine management not only ignores them, but also prevents them, directly or indirectly, from getting their blood and urine samples tested, paid for by the victims themselves. We were told that many of the people living in the communities near the mine, including the people who spoke with us, consulted doctors, clinics, hospitals, laboratories on their own, to get their blood and urine tested for heavy metals. They never received the test results back from these medical establishments.

The truth is beyond suspicion. These medical facilities, are either bought by Glencore, or they fear Glencore to a point that they prefer not to hand out negative health results, of which they know from where they emanate.  The people also said that they get absolutely no medical support from Glencore. They pay their medical expenses from their own pockets and yet, they are refused to see the test results.

Diseases stemming from heavy metals have often long gestation periods; i.e., cyanide and mercury do not necessarily lead to immediate symptoms, rather the impact may be slow, because heavy metals accumulate in the body and are not evacuated as other toxins may be. They affect over time the nervous system, respiratory tracts, the heart and often cause cancer and lead to early death. It is well known that mine workers in general in developing countries have a drastically reduced life expectancy; i.e., in some parts of Peru and Bolivia an average of around 35 years.

The director of the Sustainable Development Department appeared to be shocked. She was unaware, she said, and in an outburst of good will, she offered that any of the people who were sick and concerned may call her directly. Of course, none of this was even acknowledged once they received the Aide-Mémoire.

The moral of this story is multi-fold. There is Glencore, the largest mining corporation in the world, largely a family business, with Ivan Glasenberg, main shareholder, at the helm. He could personally intervene, stop the abuse and high crime, bringing about ‘as clean mining’ as there is, respecting environmental and social ethical rules, regardless of whether the country, where they operate, in this case Peru, is corrupt and can be bought. Glasenberg, the CEO, could become a shining example for ethics in mining which would bode well for the company as well as for the host country, Peru, and not least for their country of residence, Switzerland. The cost of implementing ethical environmental and social standards would hardly make a dent in Glencore’s net earnings, but the gains in positive reputation and improved image are priceless.

On the other hand, you have Switzerland that offers this UK-Swiss mining corporation their tax haven as residency. Yet, the Swiss Government does absolutely zilch, nothing, nada to impose and enforce certain standards of ethics to Glencore and other corporate sinners enjoying the Swiss tax paradise. Talking with people from a so-called Ethics Department (sic) in the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the hush answer was, if we are too strict with them, they will leave Switzerland – and as an after-thought, besides, they [these corporations] have their own standards of due diligence and we trust that they adhere to them. If they don’t, then it’s up to their host country; i.e., in this case Peru, to enforce their laws.

Here you have it. The Swiss Government, the paradise for banking and finance and corporate ‘well-being’, the epicenter of neoliberal economics, where privatization reigns, is knowingly and intimately complicit in the crimes committed by these corporations. No wonder the lawmakers, the Swiss parliamentarians, are entitled to sit in as many corporate boards of directors they please – against all rules of ethics and ‘conflict-of-interest’ guidelines of OECD, of which Switzerland is a member. This built-in lobby of parliamentarians is making the laws in their favor, operating on a ‘legal basis’, not unlike a white-collar mafia.

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.

When an Alien is Our Brother, Son, Friend

I think that most of us instinctively avoid people with mental illness.

I think in many ways what my films are about is that search for my grandpa’s dentures: for that humanizing narrative that bridges the gap between “us” and “them” to arrive at a “we.”
—Brian Lindstrom, documentarian

I first had my real run-in’s with “the law,” in Tucson, Arizona. Pima County Sheriff’s deputies in three vehicles were chasing me on my Bultaco 360cc, as I was cutting through dirt roads and gullies as a 15-year-old unlicensed motocrosser. The mayhem those deputies created, going after me as if I was a mass murderer.

It took six months and probably a few snitches at my high school before the knock on the classroom door of my physics class when the vice principal and two deputies greeted me. The two weaponized cops, in the hallway, handcuffed me and walked me away.

I was charged with driving a motorcycle without a license, along with 18 moving violations.

All of the charges were dropped, as my mother was well-connected to both Tucson Police Department captains and the chief of police, as well as a senator in the Arizona legislature.

Bottom line was the deputies were humiliated, over a one-year period, by my smart-ass ripping up the desert and eluding them. Without evidence that I was actually the one on the Bultaco each time I eluded them, the judge threw the cases out the window while admonishing me to wear a helmet and get a license.

It didn’t take much longer in my life to have more interfaces with cops, as I became the police reporter for both the college daily in Tucson and eventually several dailies and weeklies in Southern Arizona along the US-Mexico border.

My first real live reporter’s story on a cop shooting was when I had to cover a killing of a person with bipolar effective disorder who was in distress near Ajo, Arizona. A mother calls 911 about her son, a Vietnam veteran, drinking a lot and standing in their fenced yard talking to and yelling at ghosts. He had a six-inch Buck knife, and a tall boy PBR in the other hand. Deputy skids to a stop, comes out of the patrol car, pulls his gun, and while in a shoot-to-kill stance, mind you, on the other side of the clear demarcation of the property line to the son and mother’s double-wide trailer and shed set up, he shouts at the man to put the knife down and lay on the 120 degree desert ground with fingers laced and around his head.

The mother pleads to the cop to just back off, to not yell; her son yells back, cussing out this dude, telling him, “Don’t you come onto our property or I’ll stick you.” One thing leads to another, the distressed man charges, while still in his yard, the four-foot high fence between the police official and him. The deputy yells stop, and the Vietnam veteran tells him to fuck off and get away.

At the property line, on his family’s side of the line, the veteran waves his beer and his knife. Fifteen seconds later, the cop fires three rounds, pumping metal into the 42-year-old’s chest.

That was my first foray into investigating police policies around distressed and mentally deranged and emotionally flagging citizens.

One way to end the mental health crisis is to “shoot them out of existence” said one asshole El Paso deputy to me off the record.

Jump cut almost four decades later: Portland, Oregon. Pearl District. Daytime. Man who is deathly afraid of police is confronted by cops, runs away, is subdued, and in less than 120 minutes from the point of confrontation and while in police custody, said perpetrator is dead.

Watching Brian Lindstrom’s Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse, I am reminded of my forty plus years in and around cops, with mentally distressed clients, as a social worker with homeless and re-entry and veteran clients, and as a teacher in many alternative high school programs, community college, prisons, with military students, and with adults living with developmental disabilities.

I viewed the five year old film with homeless veterans and their family members in Beaverton, Oregon. Three in the audience (including me) had heard of the James Chasse case of Portland Police slamming to the pavement a skinny 42-year-old while also kicking him, applying a Taser, and hogtying the man with schizophrenia and letting him turn ashen gray while standing around sipping Starbucks.

Lindstrom’s film is powerful on many levels, notwithstanding the filmmaker’s ability to ply through the historical record to humanize this interesting and buoyant son who was known around Portland for many years. The quintessential peeling back of the biographical onion peel is what’s compelling about the filmmaker’s approach.

Here, a quote Lindstrom, lifted from a 2013 Portland Mercury interview:

With Alien Boy, our main goal was to honor Jim and really to kind of restore the depth and dimension to Jim’s life. We wanted to restore his humanity and depth. When he died his whole existence was reduced to this headline, 42 Year Old Man with Schizophrenia Dies in Police Custody, and that’s just such a desolate interpretation of his life. Actually, it’s really just an interpretation of his death not of his life. So we painstakingly researched his life, and found friends, family, his old girlfriend, his neighbors, all these people that could talk about him and give him the kind of fullness he deserved. He lived a life of hardship. He was dealt a hard hand but he played it well. He had a lot of integrity and drive. He built a meaningful life and we really wanted to show that in the film.

Mr. Chasse was living in an SRO (subsidized single room occupancy apartment) in downtown Portland, with his own little space from where he positioned his life to survive the voices and the hardships a schizophrenic lives through attempting to be accepted and left alone as an atypical in a neuro-normal and highly judgmental world.

The promontory idea my audience participants who viewed the film expressed was how a person who lives their life disheveled and as a loner with obvious atypical clothing and demeanor can end up at the blunt end of the macho and violent world of a police force. What is really compelling are the eyewitnesses to the event – people who did not know James at the time of the brutal and misanthropic and cavalier way he was meted out injustice – and the stake they had in reviving the 42-year-old’s humanity.

As is the case in all these incidents of police brutality, overreach, and killing, the victims are rarely treated as sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, uncle and aunts, friends and neighbors. They are un-people, aliens, reduced to their prior run-ins with the law, their rap sheets, their mental states, and their resistance.

Lindstrom takes this case, and builds a life, and in the process of reportage, he is able to elicit the emotive power of those of us bearing witness to injustice, a crime against humanity, and any warped expression of the human condition vis-à-vis a cliquish and many times felonious police force. Bearing witness, we as the documentary’s viewers are compelled to see a man, Jim, whose origins are a boy, a child, a son, a boyfriend, a character in the community, and a citizen of not only Portland, Oregon, but of the world.

Image result for james chasse jr

Image result for james chasse jr

James Chasse, Jr., was a fixture in the early punk rock scene in Portland, and Lindstrom allows a kaleidoscope of memories to enter the milieu of his film. One might expect the fury of the chase, or the fear of a dark alley and known crack dealer’s crib. In the case of James Chasse, Jr., he was minding his business in his grimy state in an upscale part of Portland. That was his crime.

“I think we’re used to viewing a lot of police tragedies that are unfortunate one-time decisions about pulling a trigger,” Lindstrom says. “What’s so disturbing about this [case] is that the film reveals this cascade of deceits, omissions, and lies that lead to this terrible death, which was preventable.”

Alien Boy premiered in February 2013 at the Portland International Film Festival after six years of production. The architectonics of the film peers back into our own souls – many of us have experienced videotaped depositions, court documents, and witness interviews up close. September 17, 2006 police approached Chasse, believing he was behaving suspiciously. Herein lies the universal truth of community police forces – if you run away, you most probably will be maimed or injured by officers.

In the case of Jim, he ended up with two dozen breaks on 16 ribs. The policemen signed a waiver denying the EMT unit authority to send him to a hospital.

I’ve seen this shit in Guatemala, in Mexico, in El Paso and Spokane – a hog-tied and writhing-in-pain screaming suspect thrown in a cell, whereupon the person stops breathing or has a seizure, and then slow-to-respond jailers and deputies load the suspect into a police vehicle headed for a hospital. Jim’s level of pain was captured on video and audio, and the viewer sees the brutality of group think in the jailer-cop mindset as people stand around inside the Multnomah County Detention Center as the dying Jim Jim went white and cyanic.

Jim was dumped in a squad car where the cop who pounded him to the pavement drove him to Providence Medical Center. He died in transit, a few minutes away from the emergency room.

This film does not hearken back to some episode of Law and Order, and instead we get a wonderful and human portrait of not an alien, but a life of a man who was a seeker of art as musician, writer, and cartoonist.

Here’s the rub – men and women can live lives of dignity and worth even with mental illness and the so-called hearing voices effects of schizoid disorders. They have friends, they believe in things, they are many times artists, and they can be creative and have meaningful relationships. Lindstrom calls Jim Jim “an amazing success story … a beautiful, sensitive, fragile-yet-resilient nature.”

As a practitioner in the social services world, I have worked with hundreds of people who are looked upon by mainstream society as broken, damaged, suspect and unworthy of all the rights embedded in a democracy, part and parcel what it means to be a citizen. I’ve had clients who lived in the same subsidized apartment building Chasse lived in. This world of neuro-atypical people living in our communities is a success story when social services and the full suite of programs come in and help people like James Chasse function in the world.

Jim Jim was part of our world, and given that, we have a responsibility to honor and respect the individual. Our versus his, or us versus them, are not paradigms in 21st Century USA, and Brian Lindstrom plays out that criticism through the people he interviewed and the narrative flow of his powerful film. Unfortunately, police departments, jailers and prison authorities, and now ICE against undocumented immigrants believe that the men and women with the weapons, military gear and new super powers to harass citizens are the “us” and we are the “they.” For people with developmental, psychological and intellectual disabilities, they are at the bottom rung of “humanity” in the minds of many street-level cops.

Lindstrom has spent years confronting the stories of people he says “society kind of puts an X through.” When the audience finishes a film like Alien Boy, we come away as better people in that same collective community, many times with a greater sense of empathy.

For some, it’s not a cakewalk as this filmmaker is challenged to “expose some grit and grace, that otherwise you might not know was there, in the people you may walk by every day.”

The filmmaking involved many sealed documents and gag orders since the city and police bureau were being sued by the Chasse family. “It was an exercise in faith,” he says. “We would just show up and do the work and hope that a way would be revealed.” The floodgates of evidence opened in 2010 when the Chasse family settled for $1.6 million from the City of Portland.

The viewers last week in the homeless veteran shelter where I work asked if things had changed, and some in the audience answered:

“Hell, no. The Portland police have gotten worse. They attack protesters against ICE detention camps. They give me no evidence that they know how to deal with people in mental health crises.”

A bit of a Lindstrom’s biographical underpinning points to a Portland kid who was thinking all the time about stories he wanted to tell, and he came to the conclusion that it was film as a medium to express those narratives.

Lindstrom was the first member of his family to attend college, paying for this education at both University of Oregon and then Lewis & Clark University by working summers at a salmon cannery in Cordova, Alaska. A linchpin to Brian’s transformation into believing he would be a filmmaker occurred when communications professor Stuart Kaplan screened Edward R. Murrow’s 1960 documentary, Harvest of Shame, about the hard lives American migrant farmworkers faced producing America’s food.

“Brian was really captivated by that, and thought that that’s the kind of thing he would like to do,” Kaplan says. “Documentaries that could bring about social change.”

After graduating from Lewis & Clark, Lindstrom got into Columbia University’s film directing program, where he produced educational videos for the New York City Department of Transportation. His thesis films included a short drama adapted from a Charles Baxter short story and a five-minute documentary about the famous schoolyard basketball player Earl “The Goat” Manigault.

Brian Lindstrom

He’s connected to the NW Film School, and he’s worked with one of my old stomping grounds, Central City Concern, a Portland nonprofit that provides housing, health care, and addiction-treatment services. The fruit of his labor includes Kicking, a half-hour documentary that follows three drug addicts through the medically supervised detox process at Central City’s Hooper Detox Center, and then Finding Normal, about CCC’s Mentor program, where recovering drug addicts get housing and a peer mentor to bust the cycle of addiction, sobriety, relapse.

Today, Lindstrom works intently on other projects while also spending time with his two children and wife, writer Cheryl Strayed, author of the best-selling memoir, Wild, which was turned into a Hollywood film.

My quick mini-interview of Alien Boy‘s Brian Lindstrom:

Paul Haeder: What’s the lesson you take away in 2018 after making the film Alien Boy, and after the screenings, the interviews, the passage of time from that 2006 killing?

Brian Lindstrom: We need to do more to support and protect people dealing with mental illness. I naively thought, way back in 2013 when we were finishing Alien Boy, that the Justice Dept. would come in and make everything better. That hasn’t happened. I want to think the opening of Unity is a step in the right direction and takes pressure off of PPB in terms of dealing with people in mental health crises, but evidently there are some issues at Unity that need to be worked out. I want to be clear that just because I’m advocating for anything that takes the burden off of PPB dealing with people with mental illness, I am in no way condoning or excusing what the PPB did to James Chasse. What is clear to me is that we have to figure out a way to support and protect people with mental illness so that PPB isn’t the defacto mental health services provider.

PH: You make documentaries. What influence do you want these films to have on audiences? The old conundrum is as artists who cover social/environmental/cultural/community injustices we get both the 35,000 foot perspective and the two inch POV, yet in the back of our minds we say, “Shit nothing has changed … in fact, it’s worse.” Riff with this in terms specifically with how you see not only PPB dealing with people they come in contact with living with mental health diagnoses, but writ large in the USA?

BL: I have a confession to make. If I’m truly honest with myself, I don’t make films for audiences. I make them for the people in the film. It is my small way of honoring them. That doesn’t mean I don’t delve into dark areas or that I ignore that person’s struggles. I’m much more concerned with trying to achieve an honest depiction of that person’s life than I am with any potential audience reaction.

PH: Why do you focus on the subject matter you have thus chosen in your documentarian body of work?

BL: It chooses me. I don’t know how else to explain it.

PH: Which story that hasn’t been told but for which you would like to see be told by anyone, or you yourself?

BL: Hmm… So many. I will go with the first that comes to mind: I’ve always wanted to make a documentary about an adult overcoming illiteracy.

PH: What advice do you give young or nascent filmmakers who want to make a difference and tell those stories that might spark a difference in our world?

BL: Grab a camera and go for it. Learn to get out of the way of the story.

PH: Anything you learned in the making of Alien Boy that you have just come to grips with?

BL: We must keep fighting for those whom life has dealt a hard hand.

PH: Why do you make documentaries?

BL: The camera is a bridge of sorts that allows me to get to know people I otherwise might never get to meet. I’m forever grateful for the brave people who have let me tell their story.

The Two Conflicting Histories of the King Assassination

There are now in the public sphere two totally contradictory narratives of the assassination in 1968 of Martin Luther King, Jr. with each being advanced again and again over the years by respective advocates as if the other did not exist.

Attorney William Pepper, confidant of Martin Luther King, Jr., became convinced in 1978 that James Earl Ray, the officially declared lone gunman, was innocent. Years of investigation led to his 1995 book, Orders to Kill, in which Pepper presented evidence of governmental involvement in the assassination. Three years later, Gerald Posner, already famous for his support for the Warren Commission’s report concerning President Kennedy’s assassination, published Killing the Dream, a defense of the official governmental contention that Ray was the assassin. The King Family also believed Ray innocent, but due to governmental refusal to pursue a criminal trial, there was instead a 1999 civil trial, The King Family vs. Loyd Jowers et al. Jowers, who had admitted having received the rifle actually used in the shooting, was granted immunity to reveal all he knew. All facets of news media boycotted the trial, arguably the de facto “Trial of the Century”.

History A

The trial brought together three decades of accumulated information, much for the first time. James Earl Ray was shown as set up to take blame for the killing. Some Memphis policemen had met in Jim’s Grill, where Jowers worked, while planning the assassination. The fatal shot, rather than fired by Ray from a rooming house, as officially reported, was seen by eyewitnesses to have come from a brushy area across the street from the Lorraine Motel. Police units near the Lorraine were called away prior to the shooting, as were the “Invaders”, a gang being lodged at the Lorraine while coordinating with King on the planned sanitation worker’s strike. Inexplicably, within hours following the assassination the brushy area was cut to the ground by the city. Many witnesses were not interviewed, and those with accounts at odds with the governmental explanation were ignored.

The 30-06 rifle presented as the murder weapon had actually been discovered next to a shop door wrapped in a bedspread ten minutes before the shooting. Moreover, it had not been sighted in so could not have hit at point of aim, and bullets found with it did not match the bullet taken from King’s body. The bathroom from which Ray is supposed to have fired was seen by a witness to be empty at the time of the shooting, and observers saw Ray drive away from the area a quarter hour before the shooting. Jowers, who worked at Jim’s Grill, adjacent to the brushy area, was handed a still smoking rifle after the shot was fired, which rifle he hid until giving it the following day to a collaborator to throw into the Mississippi river.

US Army Intelligence maintained surveillance on King, who had become a problem for the Federal Government through his opposition to the Vietnam War and for his plans for a Poor People’s Campaign aimed at obstructing governmental function. Army photographers, positioned on a roof near the Lorraine, photographed the shooter lowering his rifle and departing the brushy area. There were multiple military snipers as backup shooters if needed. Elements of the military, CIA, FBI, Alabama National Guard, Memphis Police, and the Mafia were identified as components of a carefully organized conspiracy.

The trial ended with the jury unanimous in finding that King had been assassinated not by James Earl Ray but by means of a conspiracy involving Jowers (30%) and “others including governmental agencies” (70%). Although the trial did not make the news, a Washington Post editorial (December 12, 1999, pg B08) stated “The more quickly and completely this jury’s discredited verdict is forgotten, the better”. (Note: That editorial is apparently no longer available in the Post’s online archive). In 2003, Pepper published An Act Of State, a book detailing the court’s findings.

History B

In 2010, writer Hampton Sides published Hellhound On His Trail, like Gerald Posner’s 1998 book an elaboration of the official governmental report portraying James Earl Ray as lone assassin. Sides described movements of King and Ray during days leading up to King’s killing on April 4, 1968 and of the ensuing hunt by the authorities for Ray. In minute-by-minute detail, Sides has Ray, a racist interested in a reported bounty, following King to Memphis and renting a room in a boarding house with a clear view of the balcony outside King’s Lorraine Motel room. With King in view, Ray rests a recently purchased, scoped 30-06 on the bathroom windowsill and fires, mortally wounding King. Ray then wraps rifle and other items in a bedspread, runs from the building and, seeing police within view of his car, ditches the suspicious looking bundle next to a shop door. He then departs and is on the run until his arrest.

Meanwhile, King was hurried to ER at Catholic-run St. Joseph’s hospital, where Drs. Ted Galyon and Rufus Brown attended him. Shortly, others, including various specialists, entered. Ralph Abernathy remained in the room along with Reverend Bernard Lee. At 7:05 PM King was pronounced dead by Dr. Jerome Basso, who closed King’s eyes. The bullet found in King is reported by Sides to be consistent with ammunition purchased by Ray and found with his rifle.

Although Sides claims to have explored all available sources of data, including “court proceedings”, declares that he “drew from a wealth of memoirs written by the King Family”, and lists the King Center in his bibliography, there is mention neither of the 1999 trial nor of William Pepper’s two books, published years earlier than his 2010 book. However, and despite years of media censorship, awareness of both the trial and of Pepper’s books had spread by 2010, so one must conclude that Sides’ omissions were deliberate. The evasion of such a quantity of opposing information is fatal to Hellhound On His Trail as an objective history.

Nevertheless, in 2010, the same year as the release of Hellhound On His Trail, the PBS television program “American Experience” aired Roads to Memphis, a documentary film described as “the entwined stories of assassin James Earl Ray and his target, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” The film, for which Sides was historical consultant, was based on his book and featured commentary by Sides himself, as well as by author Gerald Posner, an established supporter of the official governmental account. As the book, so the film, in that there was no mention of either the trial or of Pepper’s books. Like Hellhound On His Trail, Roads to Memphis serves as forceful support for the Government’s narrative.

2016: Pepper’s Magnum Opus

William Pepper published The Plot To Kill King, a 770-page detailed summation of the Government’s role in the killing with new material gathered since his 2003 book. Here, Pepper traced the long-term strategy to bring both King and Ray to Memphis. Half of the book consists of appendices revealing military, CIA, FBI, Memphis police and Mafia involvement in the assassination and supportive of Ray’s innocence. The claim by attorney Percy Foreman that he had never pressured his client into a rash, untimely guilty plea is shown to be a lie by a letter from Foreman in which he offers Ray money “…contingent upon the plea of guilty and … without any unseemly conduct on your part in court.” There is a photocopy of the letter in the book’s appendix.

Pepper writes, “At Hoover’s request, James [Earl Ray] had been profiled as a potential scapegoat.” Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s deputy at the FBI, and shown by Pepper to be a central figure in the conspiracy, paid a prison official to engineer Ray’s escape from a prison, so that this designated patsy could thereafter be managed by another conspirator, Raul Coelho, who would then guide Ray to Memphis. Tolson distributed cash, some of which apparently made its way to Jesse Jackson. Jackson, along with others within King’s group, is depicted as an informant paid by the FBI to relay information on King. There is also a report that it was Jackson who had King’s room changed from the ground floor of the Lorraine to the more exposed second floor with its open balcony, and who ordered the Invaders away from the Lorraine shortly before the shooting. Pepper claims that evidence indicates the actual shooter to have been Memphis Police sharpshooter Frank Strausser.

Mortally wounded, King was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital where, surprisingly, “a large presence” of military intelligence officers had taken positions well before the shot was fired. More surprisingly, the hospital’s head surgeon, Breen Bland, accompanied by two men in suits, entered the hospital room in which King was being attended by medical staff. Bland is quoted as shouting, “Stop working on the nigger and let him die” and then ordering everyone out of the room. Personnel hearing the sound of men clearing their throats lingered behind and reported seeing Bland and his two accomplices spit on King, after which Bland smothered King to death with a pillow (Note: Pepper describes this in a 2017 lecture, here on Vimeo).

2118: PBS Takes a Stand 

In the spring of 2018 there were multiple airings on the PBS program “American Experience” of Hampton Sides’ 2010 film Roads to Memphis. This is renewed reinforcement by PBS of the Government’s depiction of James Earl Ray as lone assassin and an excellent illustration of how televised media can function as servant of the State.

Sides’ contention that he drew from memoirs of the King Family as part of his thorough research is at odds with a filmed interview by ABC of the entire King Family. From dialogue, as well as from the youth of the family members, it is clear the interview was pre-1999 Trial (Note: The link indicated is to a 2-hour piece available, at the time of this writing, on YouTube. Start at 1:03 for the 5-minute segment of the King Family interview). In it, Dexter King states, “Evidence I’ve seen or heard will vindicate or exonerate James Earl Ray”. When asked who was behind the assassination, Dexter continues, “I am told that it was part-and-parcel Army Intelligence, CIA, FBI”. When the interviewer says, “This is a staggering idea to carry around”, Dexter answers, with a short derisive laugh, “I think we knew it all along. It’s why we’re not, like, jumping out of our seats, because we’ve known for years.” How on earth could Sides (or Posner) have overlooked such as that?

Although the keepers of the nation’s information gates have striven to bury the results of William Pepper’s four decade quest for the truth of King’s death, millions by now have been exposed to the fact that two opposing explanations of King’s murder continue to exist. Theologian James Douglass, who attended the 1999 trial, later wrote an article in which he stated:

The Memphis trial has opened wide the door to our assassination politics. Anyone who walks through it is faced by an either/or: to declare naked either the empire or oneself.

NJ Weedman Versus the World

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

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

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

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

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

The Reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reality TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bust

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Rat”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Milligan’s Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excludable Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wins and Woes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Weedman has successfully argued on similar grounds before.

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

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

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

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

The Courts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weedman’s Fame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April Appearance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Send in the Troops! Deploying the ADF against Rioters

Such moves should trouble any constructive dissenter and civil libertarian: the vesting of powers in a military force to be used against domestic disturbances.  While the United States has a troubled history with it, posse comitatus still remains something of a letter restricting the deployment of the US armed forces on the streets of the country’s cities. That doctrine has effectively seen an expansion of the FBI’s role to occupy what might have been seen in the past to be traditional military roles.

In Australia, no such reining in powers and impediments exist, though States have been hamstrung by the requirement of making a request to the Commonwealth to initiate military action in the event that their police forces lack the means to protect themselves or the Commonwealth’s interests.

This has left the prospect of enlarging the army’s role in civilian life disturbingly possible in times of perceived crisis.  Utterings since the 2014 Lind Café hostage taking by Man Haron Monis, absurdly described as a “siege” by the counter-terror fraternity, combined with other foreign terrorist incidents that call out powers be broadened have become regular.

Last week, the Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter, who occupies a position where this sort of thing shouldn’t happen, announced that members of the Australian Defence Force would be vested with “shoot to kill” powers to be used only in “reasonable and necessary” circumstances to protect life.

Porter’s arguments give the impression that such military operations will be governed by the protocols of good sense and reason, notwithstanding that the ADF is a killing rather than justice machine.  Matters of evidence matter less than those of expediency.

The use of force by the ADF in a battle situation off Australian soil in a war zone is somewhat different and this is a much higher and more stringent standard, and the same standard in effect the police have been operating under for many decades in our variety of jurisdictions.

The ADF will also be given pre-authorised power to respond to threats on land, at sea and in the air, and given expanded powers to search, seize and control movement at the scenes featuring terrorist incidents. This power would also apply to quelling riots.

Porter also uses the creaky argument that changing security environments have warranted the move. “The terror threat we face today,” he says tediously, “is greater and more complex than that we faced when these laws were introduced almost 20 years ago.”

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin has felt besieged by a movement that can only be described as a militarisation of civil space.  Pressed for comparisons between the effectual nature of a police operation against terrorism last year with its military analogue, Colvin made the following observation:

Of course, [the military] are in a better position to deal with some situations than us.  But the concept that we aren’t trained or capable to deal with the domestic terrorism situations that we see, I think, needs to be challenged.

Specific interest here is focused on Part IIIAAA of the Defence Act 1903, covering the “Utilisation of Defence Force to protect the Commonwealth Interests and States and Self-governing Territories.” Porter’s aim was to ensure “that law enforcement agencies around Australia can easily request ADF assistance to respond to these threats where necessary and are available to states and territories to assist with major incidents, such as geographically dispersed or otherwise widespread, coordinated acts of violence of other domestic incidents that threaten the security and lives of Australians.”

But critics of encouraging military deployments in local counter-terrorist situations have been sharp enough to note that the Lindt operation, which resulted in three deaths including the hostage taker was, in Allan Orr’s words, “not the NSW Tactical Operations Unit (TOU), it was the competitive and jealous quarantining of tactical skills, resources and budget entitlements by the ADF that left the frontline TOU without the training and equipment it needed to do its job properly.”

Orr’s sensible appraisal has been put to one side by such individuals as Neil James of the Australia Defence Association, who takes the line of Australian exceptionalism and creativeness with the historical record.

The whole concept of this goes back centuries back in the days when they didn’t have police forces and governments used to call on the military to do things that the police do now.  All this is doing is putting in a statute was is a century-and-a-half of precedent.

This blotching of the historical record ignores the fundamental wisdom of separating the functions of police and the functions of defending the realm in an industrial society.  Muddling these merely serves to doom the security of citizens, rather than enhancing them.  Such is the danger of amalgamating, rather than dispersing, forces.

As with matters affecting liberty, the bungling nature of proto-authoritarianism is what spares it.  While the ADF might well have these new powers, police are still vested with the lion’s share of dealing with terrorism incidents. The powers in Canberra have also insisted that the military’s Tactical Assault Groups specialised in anti-terrorism activities can only be deployed nearer their bases in Sydney and Perth.  Changing legislation, for all the aspiration of the drafters, does not necessarily change operational realities.

Whose Country Is This? Is the Constitution Even Welcome Here Anymore?

The first time it was reported that our friends were being butchered there was a cry of horror. Then a hundred were butchered. But when a thousand were butchered and there was no end to the butchery, a blanket of silence spread. When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out ‘stop!’ When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.

― Bertolt Brecht, Selected Poems, March 24, 1971

There are days I wake up, and I’m not sure what country I live in anymore.

There are days I wake up and want to go right back to sleep in the hopes that this surreal landscape of government-sanctioned injustice, corruption and brutality is just a really bad dream.

There are days I am so battered by the never-ending wave of bad news that I have little outrage left in me: I am numb.

And then I get hold of myself, shake myself out of the doldrums, and remind myself that it’s not yet time to give up: America needs our outrage and our alertness and our tenacity and our fierce determination to remain a free people in a land where justice matters.

This is still our country.

Don’t just sit there.

Do something.

When you hear that the U.S. government “lost” 1,475 migrant children within its care over a three-month period, in some cases handing them off to human traffickers, don’t just chalk it up to incompetent bureaucrats. The Trump Administration’s plan to separate immigrant children from their parents at the border should outrage anyone with a moral conscience, especially in light of the government’s latest revelation that it is unable to account for the whereabouts of 1500 of those children.

Mind you, this is not just a Trump problem. A recent report indicates that under President Obama’s watch, migrant children were allegedly beaten, threatened with sexual violence and repeatedly assaulted while under the care of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials. According to Newsweek, “Border authorities were accused of kicking a child in the ribs and forcing a 16-year-old girl to ‘spread her legs’ for an aggressive body search. Other children accused officers of punching a child in the head three times, running over a 17-year-old boy and denying medical care to a pregnant teen, who later had a stillbirth.”

ACT. It doesn’t matter what your politics are or where you stand on immigration issues. There are some lines that should never be crossed—some government actions that should never be tolerated or justified—no matter what the end goal might be, and this is one of them. Demand that Congress stop playing politics and endangering children’s lives.

When you read that Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants police to use stop and frisk tactics randomly against Americans without even the need for reasonable suspicion, don’t just shake your head disapprovingly.

ACT: Call the Justice Department (202-353-1555) and read them the Fourth Amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

After you watch the video of how the Transportation Security Administration, unfailingly tone deaf to the spirit of the Fourth Amendment, subjected a 96-year-old World War II veteran in a wheelchair to a patdown that left no part of her body untouched, don’t just seethe in silence.

ACT: Contact your representative in Congress and file a complaint on the TSA’s egregious practices. When old women and little children are being groped by government agents, things have gone too far. In light of revelations that the TSA “has created a new secret watch list to monitor people who may be targeted as potential threats at airport checkpoints simply because they have swatted away security screeners’ hands or otherwise appeared unruly,” you can expect even more headache-inducing behavior in the near future.

When you find out that Amazon is selling police real time facial recognition software that can scan hundreds of thousands of faces, identify them, track them, and then report them to police, don’t just shrug helplessly.

ACT: Harness the power of your wallet to urge Amazon to favor freedom principles over profit motives. It’s only a matter of time before these programs are used widely here in the U.S. They are already being used and abused abroad. For instance, Amazon’s Rekognition software was used by broadcasters to identify attendees at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Chinese police have used similar facial recognition tools to scan crowds at rock concerts, malls and gas stations in order to catch alleged lawbreakers. Just recently, Chinese police used the technology to capture a suspect who had been living under a pseudonym after he failed to pay for $17,000 worth of potatoes. Chinese schools are even employing the facial recognition cameras in classrooms to alert teachers to students who aren’t paying attention.

When you hear Sessions bragging about how much he loves civil asset forfeiture, which allows the government to seize Americans’ personal property—money, cars, homes and other valuables—without having to first prove that any criminal conduct has taken place, don’t just take his word for it.

ACT: Do your own research. You’ll soon discover that because of the corruption that surrounds this abusive program, countless innocent Americans have been robbed blind by government agents out to get rich at their expense. Billions of dollars have been taken without probable cause. Anthonia Nwaorie, a Texas nurse who had saved up $41,377 to start a medical clinic for women and children in Nigeria, had her life savings seized by Customs Agents who refused to return the money unless she agreed to pay their “expenses.” Six months later, even though Nwaorie was never charged with a crime, she’s still waiting to get her money back.

When you hear about armed Denver police pulling a gun on a school official and conducting a classroom-to-classroom search for a missing student at an area high school, don’t just thank your lucky stars your childhood was more idyllic. Likewise, when you hear that the lieutenant governor of Texas thinks the solution to school shootings is fewer school doors (entrances and exits), don’t just marvel at the short-sightedness of government officials.

ACT: Say “enough is enough” to government-sponsored violence. The systemic violence being perpetrated by agents of the government has done more collective harm to the American people and our liberties than any single act of terror or mass shooting. Violence has become the government’s calling card, starting at the top and trickling down, from the more than 80,000 SWAT team raids carried out every year on unsuspecting Americans by heavily armed, black-garbed commandos and the increasingly rapid militarization of local police forces across the country to the surveillance drones that are already crisscrossing American skies.

When you read about how 28-year-old Andrew Finch of Kansas answered a 5 pm knock on his front door only to be shot in the head and killed ten seconds later by a police sniper because a SWAT team responded to a prank “swatting” phone call with full force, don’t just tsk-tsk over the senseless tragedies arising from militarized and police and overzealous SWAT teams. Not only did police refuse to identify the officer who pulled the trigger, but he was also never charged with Andrew’s death.

ACT: Demand accountability. If any hope for police reform is to be realized, especially as it relates to how SWAT teams are deployed locally and holding police accountable for their actions, it must begin at the community level, with local police departments and governing bodies, where citizens can still, with sufficient reinforcements, make their voices heard.

The rise of SWAT teams and militarization of American police—blowback effects of the military empire—have unfortunately become entrenched parts of American life. SWAT teams originated as specialized units dedicated to defusing extremely sensitive, dangerous situations. 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. 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. In some instances, SWAT teams are even employed, in full armament, to perform routine patrols. All too often, botched SWAT team raids have resulted in one tragedy after another for American citizens with little consequences for law enforcement.

When you find out that police and other law enforcement agencies are accessing the DNA shared with genealogical websites and using it to identify possible suspects, don’t offer up your DNA without some assurance of privacy protections.

ACT: Protect your privacy. It’s not just yourself you have to worry about, either. It’s also anyone related to you who can be connected by DNA. These genetic fingerprints, as they’re called, do more than just single out a person. They also show who you’re related to and how. As the Associated Press reports, “DNA samples that can help solve robberies and murders could also, in theory, be used to track down our relatives, scan us for susceptibility to disease, or monitor our movements.”

By accessing your DNA, the government will soon know everything else about you that they don’t already know: your family chart, your ancestry, what you look like, your health history, your inclination to follow orders or chart your own course, etc. Capitalizing on this, police in California, Colorado, Virginia and Texas use DNA found at crime scenes to identify and target family members for possible clues to a suspect’s whereabouts. Who will protect your family from being singled out for “special treatment” simply because they’re related to you? As biomedical researcher Yaniv Erlich warns, “If it’s not regulated and the police can do whatever they want … they can use your DNA to infer things about your health, your ancestry, whether your kids are your kids.”

In the face of DNA evidence that places us at the scene of a crime, behavior sensing technology that interprets our body temperature and facial tics as suspicious, and government surveillance devices that cross-check our biometricslicense plates and DNA against a growing database of unsolved crimes and potential criminals, we are no longer “innocent until proven guilty.”

Finally, when you hear someone talking about how two American citizens in Montana were detained by a Border Patrol agent because he overheard them speaking Spanish at a gas station, don’t just shake your head in disgust.

ACT: Remind yourself (and those around you) that despite the polarizing, racially-charged rhetoric being tossed about by President Trump, this is still a nation whose strength derives from the diversity of its people and from the immigrants who have been seeking shelter on our shores since the earliest days of our Republic. As President Ronald Reagan recognized in one of his last speeches before leaving office:

We lead the world because, unique among nations, we draw our people—our strength—from every country and every corner of the world. And by doing so we continuously renew and enrich our nation… Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we’re a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas, and always on the cutting edge, always leading the world to the next frontier. This quality is vital to our future as a nation. If we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost… Those who become American citizens love this country even more. And that’s why the Statue of Liberty lifts her lamp to welcome them to the golden door. It is bold men and women, yearning for freedom and opportunity, who leave their homelands and come to a new country to start their lives over. They believe in the American dream. And over and over, they make it come true for themselves, for their children, and for others. They give more than they receive. They labor and succeed. And often they are entrepreneurs. But their greatest contribution is more than economic, because they understand in a special way how glorious it is to be an American. They renew our pride and gratitude in the United States of America, the greatest, freest nation in the world—the last, best hope of man on Earth.

As I  make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, if the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, are to mean anything anymore—if they are to stand for anything ever again—then “we the people” have to stand up for them.

We cannot allow ourselves to be divided and distracted and turned into warring factions.

We cannot sell out our birthright for empty promises of false security.

We cannot remain silent in the face of ugliness, pettiness, meanness, brutality, corruption and injustice.

We cannot allow politicians, corporations, profiteers and war hawks to whittle our freedoms away until they are little more than empty campaign slogans.

We must stand strong for freedom.

We must give voice to moral outrage.

We must do something—anything—everything in our power to make America free again.

As Reagan recognized, “If we lose this way of freedom, history will record with the great astonishment that those who had the most to lose did the least to prevent its happening.”