The middle class is shrinking. Those in power have run up enormous debts on public credit while shoveling most of the money into private pockets. The corporations that have benefitted from this borrowing binge, meanwhile, leverage the global trade system to transfer their profits beyond the reach of national governments.

Meanwhile, we have been told lies by Democrats and by Republicans, divided into artificial camps and led into debates that are either irrelevant or so dramatically scripted that we fail to realize every choice leads to the same result: the dismantling of the social framework that defined and sustained the opportunity of the last century. National mobilization of resources has given way to radical individualism under a narrative that, in the wealthiest nation in the world, we must always expect less.

In this tumultuous time, we search for a way forward - a new Square Deal for the American people.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Welcoming the Police State

A few days ago, a police officer put a man named Eric Garner in a chokehold for "resisting arrest."  He was suspected of selling untaxed loose cigarettes, something he had done before.  When an officer told him to put his hands behind his back, he instead spread his arms and said he hadn't done anything wrong.  What followed was so egregious--the man was choked, had trouble breathing, was ignored by medical technicians, and died--that the two officers were taken off duty pending an investigation, and Officer Pantaleo, who actually choked Garner, was required to turn in his gun and badge.

In the days that have passed since, there has been outrage at the actions of the officers.  The outrage is not only for this incident, of course; there are many such cases of police excess that lead to serious injury or death.  NYPD received 1,022 complaints of officers using choke holds between 2009 and 2013.  The officer responsible for Garner's death has been sued twice in the last two years.  Heck, in the week since Garner's death, another video has surfaced of an NYPD officer choking a man and punching him in the face while he is on the ground. 

Investigations are typically done internally, if at all--it is impossible to say in many instances, because an astonishing number of locales exempt the police from requests under free-information laws that apply to other government entities, and police readily ignore such requests in many locales that don't offer exemption--and actual wrongdoing is admitted very, very rarely.  The only reason that this event got such attention is that the event was caught on video, making it hard to deny the events.

Nonetheless, the Internet has been alive with people rallying to defend the actions of the police (as well as reactions from police furious at one of their own being called out; the police union, for instance, called the taking of Pantaleo's badge and gun "completely unwarranted").  From several people on my own list of Facebook friends, I've seen arguments as simple as they are bizarre: the man was huge and obese, so his death was effectively earned.  The man refused to do as he was told, which made him violent.  The man might have been armed, so any force used was appropriate.
 
It doesn't take imagination to know where these folks would have stood on police actions in Selma.  Their position is that non-violence is violence--that simply refusing to do as one is told deserves a forceful, even fatal, response.

Except when it doesn't.  Not six months ago, many of the people I now see leaping into virtual
exchanges in defense of the police were cheering for hundreds of armed men who took up positions behind highway emplacements with locked and loaded assault rifles and threatened open war on agents of the Bureau of Land Management.  Free State Films portrayed Cliven Bundy as a hero in the propaganda piece "The Last Rancher."  Enforcing grazing rights was touted as a prime example of Federal overreach by people find it perfectly acceptable that police choked a man for temporarily hindering his own arrest on suspicion of selling untaxed loose cigarettes.  (Mr. Bundy continued to receive the backing of people like Sean Hannity even after he asserted that black people in America got less freedom as a result of the abolition of slavery.)

Observe that the primary difference here is that one case involved a rural white man and the other an urban black man, and the cries of outrage over someone "playing the race card" can be heard from the surface of the Moon.1  And indeed, race actually doesn't explain it: it has recently been observed that it is more dangerous to be a black man pulling out a wallet than a white man pulling out a gun, but people also cheered the casual pepper-spraying of affluent white protesters by the campus cops of their own school during the heyday of the Occupy movement.  (And for those who didn't follow that one all the way to its conclusion, the officer who was suspended for his actions got $38,000 in Workers Compensation for "moderate psychiatric distress" caused by people being angry at what he did, 25% more than the students were given for being the recipients of his actions.)

This is how police states really arise, folks.  The government doesn't impose martial law one day with a big parade.  The police just start detaining people, questioning them in secret, and society is solidly divided over whether it's even a problem.  It's a foregone conclusion that any campaign of such nature will not forever be confined to the people you don't like.  Yet the tens of millions of Americans who stockpile weapons and ammunition in near-paranoia of government "tyranny" sit back and nod approvingly whenever the power of the state is brought down like a steel gauntlet on the backs of people whose principle crimes are failure to be cowed by threats and daring to pretend that freedom of assembly has meaning.

What "tyranny" is it that they fear, if not arbitrary assault and arrest by police whose records are irretrievable and whose actions are circularly assumed valid simply because they occurred?

1 I realize that, because sound does not travel through vacuum, it is highly unlikely that any noise could be heard on the surface of the Moon.

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