8.29.2010

the u.s. police state at home and abroad

I found three items in my inbox, seemingly unrelated, but in reality, inextricably connected. Think of their implications, on the people of the US and on the world.

First we have The Real News' Paul Jay speaking with author Eric Margolis. The former head of the MI5, the British equivalent of the FBI or the RCMP, admits that the Iraq War was based on lies and deception - but consumers of mainstream US news never hear this.



Next we have Glenn Greenwald musing on the The Washington Post's revelations of a secret US government, spying on nearly everyone - certainly including its own citizens. Jeremy Scahill, writing in The Nation, points out that this has all been known and reported on before, but a major corporate media report should at least raise an eyebrow. But no one makes a peep. Greenwald:
This all "amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight." We chirp endlessly about the Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, the Democrats and Republicans, but this is the Real U.S. Government: functioning in total darkness, beyond elections and parties, so secret, vast and powerful that it evades the control or knowledge of any one person or even any organization.

Anyone who thinks that's hyperbole should just read some of what Priest and Arkin chronicle. Consider this: "Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications." To call that an out-of-control, privacy-destroying Surveillance State is to understate the case. Equally understated is the observation that we have become a militarized nation living under an omnipotent, self-perpetuating, bankrupting National Security State.

I find reading Greenwald on the WaPo expose more edifying than the Top Secret America project itself, for the context and commentary he brings.

And then one more piece, this by Ed Brayton, who tirelessly chronicles (among other things) the epidemic of police abuse of power in North America. This one is particularly brutal. Brayton quotes Alison Kilkenny, who some of you know as the partner of comic Jamie Kilstein.
Late one night in October, a 17-year-old on a bike was chased by a police officer in a cruiser. When the boy refused to stop, the officer aimed his Taser out the driver's window and fired. The boy fell off the bike and the cruiser ran over him, killing him.

Another report on the same incident:

At about 12:45 a.m., said Moultrie, Victor left on a borrowed bike. From there to where the chase started was about four and a half miles. But it was about 1:45 a.m. that Officer Jerald Ard spotted Victor. Where Victor went after leaving Moultrie's house is unclear.

Ard would later say that he tried to stop Victor because he had seen him at a construction site and thought he may have stolen something. But witness Victor Stallworth said he saw Victor ride his bicycle past the construction site without stopping. Months later, Ard gave investigators a different reason for stopping Victor: He didn't have a light on his bike -- only two reflectors.

A video camera on the dashboard of Ard's squad car recorded the brief chase:

Ard spotted Victor and did a fast U-turn to stop him. When Victor didn't stop, Ard veered to the wrong side of the street and up on the sidewalk behind the teenager.

The officer revved the motor, his tires screeching, as he followed Victor into the side yard of an apartment building. With his flashers and PA system on, Ard yelled at Victor to "stop the bike."

It is unclear why Victor disobeyed the order to stop, but the teenager continued pedaling, trying to escape. Ard followed his every move, driving in and out of the wrong lane of traffic and up onto the sidewalk again. One minute and seven seconds into the chase Ard fired his Taser at Victor, who turned into a parking lot. About two seconds later, Victor fell to the ground and Ard ran over him.

And if that isn't enough to make your blood boil, this certainly should:

A video, taken from the dashboard of another officer's car, recorded what happened in the minutes before the discovery:

Three officers squatted next to Ard's car, looking under it at Victor. Ard unlocked the passenger side of his car and got something out. The object is light-colored and floppy, but isn't clearly visible. Ard, holding the object, crawled under the car next to Victor's body and stayed there for 40 seconds. Two minutes later, paramedics found a 9mm silver and black semi-automatic in Victor's pocket.

Lab tests showed the gun had been wiped clean. No fingerprints were on it -- not Victor's, not anyone's. Victor's family, as well as his pastors and friends, were aghast. Victor was scared of guns, they said. He would not have carried a gun around.

None of this is particularly unusual. The officers in the Atlanta PD drug squad who turned state's evidence against their colleagues testified that virtually every officer in the department kept bags full of drugs in the trunks of their squad cars to plant on people.

And guess what? A judge decided that the officer had not done anything wrong by firing a taser at a kid on a bike on the false basis that he might have stolen something that had never been reported stolen.

If this incident shocks you, consider that Brayton blogs about this kind of thing all the time.

So we see a police state on the macro level, as the US attempts to monitor and control nearly the entire world, and a police state on the local level, as police officers operate as uniformed organized crime units. And we see a public largely ignorant of either condition.

To the usual protestations that the US is not a police state, because the person speaking is free to come and go as she chooses, I retort that in every police state, some people remain free and some live under siege. Historically, in any former or current authoritarian society - be it East Germany, Argentina, South Africa or elsewhere - some portion of the population lived well and undisturbed, and some lived in fear and degradation.

Apartheid-era South Africa was a lovely, comfortable society for well-off white people. So can it be said that South Africa was a free society? Whether the distinction is based on class, colour, ethnic origin, or anything else, how can we say a society is free, if a large percentage of its population is harassed, spied on, preyed on, even murdered, with no access to justice and zero consequences to the perpetrators? I explored this theme in this previous post, which documents the millions of law-abiding New Yorkers who live in a police state today.

And if we must look at everything from a purely selfish level, does this map include you? If Winston Smith believed himself to be free, did that make him free?

Around the globe, the US makes war against anyone who challenges its global empire, or happens to live in the way of resources it claims as its own. At home, it makes war against the poor, the ranks of which are growing exponentially.

And the vast majority of its citizens continues to believe they live in a democracy and a free society, because no one tells them otherwise. If anyone does try to raise an alarm, most people have no context in which to place the information; it sounds completely bizarre, and they automatically reject it. Or, increasingly, the bell is a false alarm, ringing backwards, sounded by the people who foment and profit from fascism.

4 comments:

redsock said...

Your post on the more than 2 million innocent New Yorkers randomly stopped by the police in the last six years -- the vast majority of which have dark skin -- should be read again in conjunction with this post.

L-girl said...

Thanks, Allan. You know what? I'm going to add a link to this post, for folks who don't read comments.

deang said...

This post brought to mind an article from an old activist colleague from years ago here in Austin, Zeynep Toufe. She writes here about her preconceptions of what the US would be like before coming here from Turkey and then wonders what keeps Americans from trying to stop the crimes of their government. Posts of yours like this one provide answers to that.

And here's an example from my own, supposedly liberal town of likely police malfeasance against activists: the late Riad Hamad, a long-time activist for Palestinian children who is said to have committed suicide a couple years ago here in Austin, even though he was found in the river bound and gagged with duct tape and had been harassed by the FBI for months preceding his death.

L-girl said...

Thanks for those links, Dean.

She writes here about her preconceptions of what the US would be like before coming here from Turkey and then wonders what keeps Americans from trying to stop the crimes of their government. Posts of yours like this one provide answers to that.

It's funny, I'm always saying how beaten down the US people are, the extreme learned helplessness that they suffer from, what sheep they've been turned into. But as you say, there's something else - there's outright fear that turns into resignation. Very few of us want to die fighting a system that won't change anyway.