Category Archives: Militarization of Police Forces

Our Carceral State

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French philosopher, Michel Foucault once famously argued that society operates as a vast prison. While Foucault’s concerns were with an individual’s freedom constrained in such a system, maybe a more direct analogy to our current situation is how our judiciary and police force is used to control and literally imprison a vast swath of our lower classes.

It is no secret that in Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was killed by police officer Darren Wilson, much of the city’s income was derived from fines and court fees for minor traffic violations, essentially converting area police work from “public safety” officers to revenue collectors. These violations disproportionately fell on poorer individuals and minorities who may not have had the money to keep their hedges trimmed and their vehicles perfectly equipped. In effect, the tickets and citations amount to a regressive tax on members of our society least able to afford it.

In the wake of the Brown killing, Governor Jay Nixon signed a broad municipal court reform bill that capped court revenue and imposed new requirements in an attempt to end what the bill’s sponsor called predatory practices aimed at the poor. Good. The bill’s primary sponsor, Senator Eric Schmitt, said people have the right “not to be thrown in jail because you’re a couple of weeks … late on a fine for having a taillight out.” He called the current system in place in Ferguson, “taxation by citation.”

“Under this bill, cops will stop being revenue agents and go back to being cops,” Nixon said.

This is all good, too, and certainly the caps on revenue collection by police is a step in the right direction, but in the larger scheme of things, I’m not nearly as sanguine as Governor Nixon is about “cops going back to being ‘cops.’”

…in Southern states groups of designated white men would set out on patrols to round up runaway slaves during the antebellum period. The phrase for these men—paddy rollers, or patrollers — has come down to us as patrolmen or patrol officers and it’s not too much a stretch to suggest that in areas of the deep American South their function is much the same.

For one thing, the historical precedent that they might ‘go back’ toward isn’t exactly edifying, especially in Southern states where groups of designated white men would set out on patrols to round up runaway slaves during the antebellum period. The phrase for these men—paddy rollers, or patrollers — has come down to us as patrolmen or patrol officers and it’s not too much a stretch to suggest that in areas of the deep American South their function is much the same; that is, ensuring the safe keeping of property for the wealthy. In the North, police officers often functioned as barriers between the wealthy elites and the immigrant “hordes.” The history of industrialization and unionization in this country is rife with struggles between union supporters and police officers or private firm surrogates operating in their wake (such as the Pinkerton Detective Agency –fun fact, at the height of its existence, the Pinkertons had more agents than the standing army of the United States of America).

We like to think of police officers as neutral arbiters of the law, itself a neutral amalgam of well thought out rules for living, but whether rounding up runaway slaves or busting union organizers, the police have historically found themselves on the side of property owners. What this means in contemporary America is a focus on things like illegal drug use and sale, vehicle violations, public disturbance rules, and zoning laws that disproportionately hit the poorest members of our society first and hardest. If we run back through just the most noteworthy police shootings in the last year (topping 1,000 according to an unofficial list compiled by the New York Times here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/04/08/us/fatal-police-shooting-accounts.html?_r=0), most of the precipitating causes involved minor infractions, expired inspection stickers, broken signal lights, or tail lights, unpaid fines or alimony. Public service, protecting humans from harm to themselves or to others might be a nice ancillary outcome of a police officer doing his job, but it’s not the main event.

In fact, the idea that police are here to protect us is not much more than a happy slogan. In its landmark decision DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services,the U.S. Supreme Court declared that “the Constitution does not impose a duty on the state and local governments to protect the citizens from criminal harm.” The United States Supreme Court, in the 2005 case, Castle Rock v. Gonzales upheld that decision and extended it to include a state or municipality’s police force– codifying what many folks in poorer neighborhoods had long since suspected: neither the state nor the police have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm.

Strictly speaking, the police are law enforcement officers, they are present to make sure the laws as passed by city, county, and state legislators are followed. Towards that end they write tickets, and citations for breaking the law, make arrest and testify in court about their actions. This narrow interpretation of their duties is often clarified in training on the so called ‘public duty’ doctrine that provides that a “governmental entity owes a duty to the public in general, not to any one individual.”

Police are also warned—constantly—to look out for themselves. According to ex-Officer, Seth Stanton, writing in the Atlantic Magazine, “police training starts in the academy, where the concept of officer safety is so heavily emphasized that it takes on almost religious significance.” Rookie officers are taught what is widely known as the “first rule of law enforcement”: An officer’s overriding goal every day is to go home at the end of their shift. One slogan that is bandied about squad rooms sums up the mind set: “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.”

Police are trained to fear the public they are nominally intended to serve. During their training “they are shown painfully vivid, heart-wrenching dash-cam footage of officers being beaten, disarmed, or gunned down after a moment of inattention or hesitation. They are told that the primary culprit isn’t the felon on the video, it is the officer’s lack of vigilance.” Writes Stanton, “in most police shootings, officers don’t shoot out of anger or frustration or hatred. They shoot because they are afraid. And they are afraid because they are constantly barraged with the message that that they should be afraid, that their survival depends on it.”

“In most police shootings, officers don’t shoot out of anger or frustration or hatred. They shoot because they are afraid. And they are afraid because they are constantly barraged with the message that that they should be afraid, that their survival depends on it.”

If you happen to peruse Police Magazine, you’ll find that the majority of the stories are about violence against police—and the weapons or tactics they can use to keep themselves safe. This month’s issue features a large photo of an Armalite AR-10 20-Inch Tactical Rifle that was initially designed for the US military. To drive home the point, Police magazine’s logo shows the O in policeman segregated by cross hairs, like a target.

Of course, in addition to the protect-thyself-first attitude, there’s also an underlying racial bias; probably because police officers fear blacks more than whites. In 2015, The Washington Post documented 990 fatal shootings by police, 93 of which involved people who were unarmed. “Black men accounted for about 40 percent of the unarmed people fatally shot by police and, when adjusted by population, were seven times as likely as unarmed white men to die from police gunfire.”

“The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black,” said Justin Nix, a criminal justice researcher at the University of Louisville and one of the report’s authors. “This just bolsters our confidence that there is some sort of implicit bias going on,” Nix said. “Officers are perceiving a greater threat when encountered by unarmed black citizens.”

The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black…

The report noted that officers may unconsciously develop biases over time. “In other words, the police — who are trained in the first place to be suspicious — become conditioned to view minorities with added suspicion,” according to the report.

So we have a fearful police force, over trained for self-protection with an underlying bias against minorities whose main job is not to protect citizens but to enforce legal codes that order society for the benefit of property owners (that will likely make a poor person’s life more difficult). Add to the brew, the over militarization of our police force (do we really need armored tanks on civilian streets?) and the fact that most police officer shootings are investigated by the police departments themselves and it shouldn’t be too difficult to understand how deeply dysfunctional the whole shebang is. I had one friend suggest that, given the stress our minority communities are under, it was surprising incidents like Dallas hadn’t happened more frequently.

But they haven’t– and perhaps that’s a testimony to what many police departments are coming to recognize—the necessity for retraining and community engagement. In fact, it’s a sad irony that the Dallas Police department has done an exceptional job in just this area. It’s obvious that Police Chief David Brown –whose own life is rife with personal tragedy—is dedicated to a community outreach program. Just hours before the killings began last Thursday night in Dallas, his officers took time to chat with protesters, even taking selfies with them.

“We saw police officers shaking hands and giving high fives and hugging people and being really in the moment with us,” demonstrator Sharay Santora said.

But then the shooting began, and, as if granted permission, police departments like those in Baton Rouge quickly reverted to form and began arresting activists on private property without cause or due process, much less warrants. In fact, they arrested the individual who provided video evidence of the Alton Sterling shooting. All of this should tell us that police forces in this country are as diverse as their leaders and the communities that they serve. Our own city, Richmond, Virginia, much like Dallas, has done excellent work in reaching out to the various communities here—including, surprisingly, the LGBT community. So it’s not hopeless, but no one solution will fit all the municipalities across the nation, and maybe one of the questions we should be asking is how well our expectations of police service match the reality? After all, as Chief Brown has noted, “Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve”

But then the shooting began, and, as if granted permission, police departments like those in Baton Rouge quickly reverted to form and began arresting activists on private property without cause or due process, much less warrants. In fact, they arrested the individual who provided video evidence of the Alton Sterling shooting

Many of our poor neighborhoods have a nearly round the clock police presence—from squad cars anyhow. Police appear, write up infractions, and arrest vagrants, keep an eye on shifty characters, “gangbangers” and the like. They do what they are trained to do. But the result isn’t a working society. The result, as I suggested in the beginning of this essay, is a carceral state.

Right now, if you are an Afro-American male, your odds of being in jail at some point in your life are 1 in 3. I doubt this is because 1 in 3 Afro-American males are genetically predisposed to periodic episodes of violence and criminal behavior. More likely, it has to do with the incredible dearth of job prospects made infinitely worse by a rap sheet and applying while black.

Police officers can’t solve that problem. They aren’t social workers or teachers or medical service personnel, as Brown correctly points out—but the nature of the system we have put in place allows all the problems of our society to flow downward to the cop on the beat whose one job is to enforce the law, but who we mistakenly believe can somehow catch all the detritus of a dysfunctional system and keep it working.

In Michel Foucault’s famous work, Discipline and Punishment, the ruling metaphor is society as a vast prison; a kind of panoptic nightmare—a word derived from Jeremy Bentham’s famous panopticon which was a prison designed so that every cell is view-able from a raised central location, like a watchtower plunked into the middle of a cell block. The point was to understand and react to the behavior of the individuals in the surrounding cells so as to control them. But even at this rudimentary level we are failing, for it’s obvious we don’t understand the individuals caught in our system and we aren’t really controlling behavior, we’re merely holding them in our prison cells precisely because we don’t know what else to do with them.

You can’t fix a mental health problem with an AR-10, any more than you can fix homelessness with a traffic citation, or drug abuse with an armored vehicle, or unemployment with a prison cell.

Our criminal justice system is trying to repair something it simply isn’t equipped to mend. You can’t fix a mental health problem with an AR-10, any more than you can fix homelessness with a traffic citation, or drug abuse with an armored vehicle, or unemployment with a prison cell. Perhaps if we, as a society, decided that the carceral state was a bad idea; if we decided, instead, to fund jobs programs and provide secure housing for those in need, if, indeed, we provided drug treatment programs instead of felony convictions we might resolve many problems before they become statistics. We can tinker with police community outreach, provide stricter guidelines for engagement and the use of force and institute better ways of policing the police (oh, please let us have a uniform standard for conduct and an external agencies that review police shooting across the nation), but in the end the panacea we are looking for won’t come from a guy or gal on the beat– with or without a gun. They will come from providing adequate resources to all our public workers,  developing jobs programs and training for individuals from all walks of life, and from our own personal engagement with the community in which we live. Maybe it’s time to stop looking to the police to solve the problems of our deeply dysfunctional system. Rather, we should restructure the system so we don’t need the police—or not nearly as much. Maybe it’s time we all signed up.

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Barney Fife Я Us

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This just in: citizens of Gaza have tweeted advice to citizens of Ferguson, Missouri on how to deal with tear gas. The tweets included such sage advice as…

Don’t Keep much distance from the Police, if you’re close to them they can’t tear Gas. To #Ferguson from #Palestine

Solidarity with #Ferguson. Remember to not touch your face when tear gassed or put water on it. Instead use milk or coke!

And one tweeter, Mariam Barghouti noted…

It feels so weird using my experience from #Palestine and Israeli oppression to give advice to #Ferguson. Much love and solidarity!

Indeed, it is weird, but when you consider that former Police Chief Tim Fitch studied Counter-Terrorism in Israel with the Israeli Defense Forces in April 2011, and that the weapons and tactics deployed in Ferguson in the last few days closely match weapons used in military occupations from Iraq to Afghanistan to Gaza, than it’s not so much weird as inevitable. In fact, many US veterans of those conflicts are tweeting that Ferguson police are ‘better armed’ than the initial invading troops for Operation Desert Storm.

To put this in context, Ferguson is a small town that spans just six square miles. It has a population of 21,203 people, and one ZIP code. Ferguson has about 40 robberies per year, a couple of homicides, almost no arson cases and a crime rate only a bit higher than the national average. Nevertheless, last night, Wednesday, August 13, some 70 SWAT officers showed up to ‘quell’ the unrest surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen killed by a Ferguson police officer. They arrived in full body armor with machine guns atop mine proofed personnel carriers trained on the crowds. Now, even I, unschooled in the most rudimentary of police work would know that this is not how you pacify a crowd or win hearts and minds. The opposite would seem to be the case: this is how you escalate a situation. Naturally, chaos ensued. An alderman was arrested, Washington Post and Huffington Post journalists were arrested. The Al Jazeera news team was harassed and tear gassed and after they fled, the police decided to ‘confiscate’ their equipment. Local citizens had to contend with rubber bullets and rounds of wooden pellets that “aren’t as lethal as live rounds”….always good to hear.

According the Riverfront Times, tear gas was so ubiquitous that reporters said they could not go from the police station on one side of the town to their cars on the other because of tear gas en route. Officers reportedly marched down streets ordering protesters to leave as they fired tear gas into the backyards and homes of individuals who stood on their own property with their hands up.

That a small town police force might be incompetent is not especially surprising—I always think of Barney Fife on these occasions. A periphrastic buffoon, Fife, played by the inimitable Don Knotts on the Andy Griffith show delivered a comic version of a small town police deputy so enthralled by the gadgetry of law enforcement that to give him live ammunition was to risk accidental death and mayhem. The sheriff of Mayberry wisely never allowed him to carry a loaded weapon. Like Fife, the police of Ferguson appear to be knuckle heads—they blew the situation in their hometown by over reacting. This morning the Governor of Missouri stepped in and said that the Ferguson police force would no longer be in charge of protecting Ferguson—which will come as some relief to those who have been ‘protected’ thus far. What is surprising, or sad, or just plain weird, is that we should be giving a small town police force enough military equipment to lay siege to their own township and a half dozen municipalities, besides. It’s like giving Barney Fife a bazooka, with sufficient live ammunition to level Detroit.

Unfortunately Ferguson is part of a nationwide trend where local police forces are supplied with surplus military equipment, a process that started back in the 90s when the ‘war on drugs’ was in its prime, and escalated dramatically after the 9/11 attacks. Now up to 4.3 billion dollars worth of military equipment is in the hands of our indomitable Barney Fifes. Among the gear transferred: tanks, aircraft, and machine guns, as well as 181 grenade launchers, for all those times when cops just have to launch a grenade at someone. And since they have all this equipment, our Barneys feel obligated to use it, too, otherwise, of course, all that deadly goodness is just going to waste. So now, fully outfitted ‘SWAT’ teams equipped with canons and grenade launchers and AR-15s and armored personnel carriers carry out such mundane tasks as serving warrants to skin flint husbands skipping out on alimony payments and so forth. Which might not be so bad, except when you’re walking around with half a million dollars worth of equipment whose sole function is to kill something, sometimes bad things occur.

For example, this April, a SWAT team badly burned a toddler when they dropped a flash grenade into his crib while searching for a relative they thought might be carrying drugs. And in 2010, a SWAT team shot and killed a 7-year-old girl when they accidentally raided the wrong house. Even when innocent humans don’t die, it’s common for police in these raids to shoot pet dogs on sight. So despite the millions of dollars of equipment, we are not getting any safer. On the contrary, an ACLU report released this summer – examining just 800 incidents of the estimated 45,000 annual Swat team deployments in America– found the opposite: seven people were killed and dozens were injured– and 61% of people impacted by drug-case Swat raids were minorities.

Kara Dansky, the chief author of the ACLU report, said that “the unnecessary use of paramilitary policing tactics tends to escalate the risk of violence to both civilians and officers.” But there is no central tracking system of the military equipment going out to local police departments – just as there is no oversight on how the equipment is used, or any reporting requirements other than hitting drug-enforcement numbers that bring in more cash—to pay for more weapons, of course.

To add to the mix, since 2001, the Department of Homeland Security has encouraged further militarization of police through federal funds for “terrorism prevention.” The armored vehicles, assault weapons, and body armor borne by the police in Ferguson are the fruit of turning police into soldiers. According to the ACLU, police training material encourages departments to “build the right mind-set in your troops” in order to thwart “terrorist plans to massacre our schoolchildren.” According to a Mother Jones report, it is possible that, since 9/11, police militarization has massacred more American schoolchildren than any al-Qaida terrorist.

There’s been almost no public debate on police militarization: it was part of our overreaction to 9/11 which has whittled away our civil liberties, started two unnecessary wars overseas, while transforming our own neighborhoods into war zones. In many ways, our reaction to those attacks have done more to destroy ‘our way of life’ than any destructive fantasy Osama bin Laden might have dreamed. The result? Well, I’d say, imagine Mayberry RFD with Barney Fife in charge, but you don’t have to imagine– just watch what’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri.

Out of Many, One!

The one is made up of all things, and all things issue from the one. ~ Heraclitus’s 10th fragment

Gentleman’s Magazine Flowers Motto. America was originally likened to a bouquet of different flowers, where unity and individuality coexisted.

In 1782, the Great Seal of the United States said E Pluribus Unum – “Out of Many, One”.

I’ve always liked that a lot. Solidarity is what perpetuates the rule of the American people.

“Divided we fall” is pretty basic and understandable.

Then in 1956, Congress passed and President Eisenhower approved of a Joint Resolution of the 84th Congress declaring “In God We Trust” the national motto of the United States. However you feel about the intention to erect a wall of separation between church and state, on that day it went legislatively and divisively over the dam.

But here’s the thing: In 2011, our lawmakers (Forbes, R-VA) wasted all the time it takes and taxpayer dollars to reaffirm “In God We Trust‟ as the official motto of the United States. Why did they do that when it was already a law on the books? They were pandering to a voting bloc – the religious right. It served no other purpose.

Laws without cause are a rip off and they’re dangerous. If there’s no realistic purpose for a bill, it should go to File 13 and the bill’s sponsors should go with it. There’s too much else that needs to be done for us to put up with dubious bills and legislators with hidden agendas. Examples of that are so prevalent today it’s sickening. And meanwhile, needed legislation is ignored.

Iris Scanning – As Occupy Arrestees Arraigned, Iris Scans Affect Bail

Protesters “and their legal advisers were surprised yesterday to learn that the size of their bail was being affected by whether defendants were willing to have the distinctive patterns of their irises photographed and logged into a database.”

There is no law on the books for the ongoing use of Iris Scanning. Peaceful, non-violent, Occupy protesters in New York have once again been arrested and are being subjected to a hand-held scanning device that photographs and collects distinctive biometric information to be logged into a national database.

According to Paul J. Browne, chief spokesman, “a legal review by the department had concluded that legislative authorization was not necessary.”

Really?

In America, if there’s no law on the books, there can be no penalty for non-compliance. When someone hasn’t been charged with a crime, much less convicted, it seems to me that a “policy” leveraging the amount of the people’s bail and time spent in jail would be considered an issue worthy of the time and resources necessary for lawmakers to do their jobs and determine its legality.

The voting bloc for that is all the American people.

“This is an unnecessary process,” Mr. Banks said. “It’s unauthorized by the statutes and of questionable legality at best. The statutes specifically authorize collecting fingerprints. There has been great legislative debate about the extent to which DNA evidence can be collected, and it is limited to certain types of cases. So the idea that the Police Department can forge ahead and use a totally new technology without any statutory authorization is certainly suspect.”

Suspect? The NYPD is the world’s seventh biggest army! With that kind of power, I would have to say this policy is more than suspect, and that it needs to be yanked until legislated and the American public can catch up with the massive shift in private data handling that is progressing at an uncanny pace without public debate.

“Out of Many, One” is a fearful concept for those who would deem the power of the people a threat. We, all together, are the voting bloc that counts – and the one lawmakers and police departments are expected to protect and serve.

The many ways in which we’re being divided into subgroups as election pawns is counterproductive to our freedoms, our rights and true national interests.

“Divided we fall” is pretty basic and understandable.
DCKennedy

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Teach your children well – Hearts and Minds

Crosby Stills Nash and Young
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.

I found a safety pin in the carpet and remember being surprised and delighted when I got it open. I used it to scratch the paint off the face of my sister’s new dolly. After the tear fest that followed her outrage, torrents of Bible verses and lectures about jealousy fell on my young ears and then Daddy got home to teach me several other consequences of destructive behavior. I remember it well.

Feelings about fairness are rooted in every social problem.

A sense of fairness, whether innate or learned, is something I imagine most parents attempt to highlight in their children, and learning to respect the property of others is basic. Understanding why we wouldn’t is more subjective, requires empathy and addresses the feelings of persons negatively affected. When authoritative consequences drive home the point that punishment follows for those who disobey the law, it only works if the laws are understood, reflect society’s morals and ethics, and if the punishment is applied fairly across the board.

“Do as I say, not as I do” and “Do what I say without question” are old style authoritarianism, ineffective leadership, and not the least bit democratic. We need to get that mentality out of our government. When the American people react en mass out of feelings of unfairness, we don’t need to have the sin spanked out of us. We need representatives willing to listen first, ask and answer questions, and attend to our needs – whatever we say our needs are. Their secrecy and the favoritism they show to corporations is abhorrent. They need to keep their religion to themselves and legislate in fairness with the hearts and minds of the people as their priority. That could begin with laws that respect the peoples’ property.

When young lessons are twisted up in a mix of religious and economic self-righteousness, the result is confusion, then anger, then rage. The same goes for a nation with laws that allow corporations to abuse or destroy our property while others are subjected to jail time.

If my factory emissions cause your emphazima, loss of employment and homelessness, even death – that’s too bad. Illness, cancer, toxic waste, the destruction of our environment – it’s all the same. Erin Brockovich was popular because our hearts and minds were with her in a desperate struggle to right a wrong, but the rarity of her success is what made it a story.

Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you’ll know by.

It’s role reversal. The people are the teachers, not the government. And the parents of America’s children have their hands full trying to convey that message, I’m sure. It must be tough, for example, teaching children that their bodies are their most precious possessions, to be cared for and treated with respect by all. This, at the same time the state of Virginia among others have the audacity to force medical procedures on unwilling women for a purpose clearly not covered in the law – a future mandate for women to endure unplanned pregnancy and bear unwanted children.

Another thing I know parents struggle with today, because it’s getting difficult for everyone, is providing and modeling healthy nourishment. Having compromised the standards for the most fundamental requirements of the human body – in favor of corporate profits, government agencies have made a mockery of our basic needs. Body, heart and mind – it takes clean air and water, healthy food.  John Prine suggests,
“Blow up your T.V.
throw away your paper,
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches”.
And while you’re at it, exercise the freedom to make your own spiritual choices. The religious doctrine of others is healthy food for thought and a joy to study and consider – during the process of independent, personal resolve.

I jumped off the track with John Prine, but while I’m here, I’ll say what I’m thinking: there’s nothing reasonable about making smiles illegal. “Well done, hot dog bun, my sister’s a nun.” Try explaining that one to your kids, but you might hold off on the drug war. They’ll eventually see through it like everybody this side of “Just say no”, another authoritative instruction from the old school that never worked and never will.

Back to religion – by their very nature, spiritual choices are unregulated; they come through a variety of life and family experiences. Legislation that favors your experience over mine is categorically wrong, but a good example of the confusing religious and economic self-righteousness being dished out by ‘Daddy’ these days.

Among various other discrimination, Virginia’s new adoption law allows state agencies to say, “You may adopt this child if you’re a Christian, but not if you’re a Jew”. If you live in America, have a brain cell and are raising a child, that’s another one that should be difficult to explain, especially for Christians. Subjecting the soft skin of children to the warehousing of orphanages when they deserve, have a right and an opportunity to become a family member in a safe, protective and loving home, is not exactly ‘witnessing’. If I were an orphan under those circumstances, I can’t think of anything that would drive me away from Christians more completely.

And you, of tender years,
Can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.

Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

The point is, good parents are what we need and I hold them in the highest esteem. Having the know-how, intuition, courage and stamina to make positives from negatives and prepare young minds for a go at the world ahead is more than I can grasp, but I appreciate them and the challenges they face.

One of the most important lessons in fairness and how our children will work toward it is in our Bill of Rights. The First Amendment enshrines the right to assemble peaceably, to speak freely, and to petition for governmental redress of grievances. In light of what happened at the Capital in Richmond on Saturday during the rally for women’s rights, I’ve wondered how parents are supposed to teach their children to be good citizens who practice healthy, peaceful redress efforts without being afraid or intimidated. (If you don’t know what happened, here’s March 3rd, 2012 – Of Protests and Bitch Slaps, by Jack Johnson, and excellent account of the rally and of the arrests that followed.)

The following is an example of good parenting that I think fits the bill. I saw it earlier today, and don’t know the mom who posted it, but see if you don’t agree that she has the “hearts and minds” of her children in full view of their future and our needs as a nation:

“Since Saturday I have been wondering about an appropriate role in the re-surging women’s rights movement. As I watched civil disobedience play out on Saturday I kept wondering, what can/should I do? What is my role in this?

I am a mom.
I am needed at home.
My life is busy.
You are too.
But…………………..

I sometimes wonder if some elected officials count on us being so busy as to not pay attention to what they do. I am not *that* busy anymore. But what, given the requirements of being a mother, should I be doing?

I am a mother.
I have two daughters.
I will teach.

Today I called the Capitol Tour Desk to inquire about having a picnic with my children on the grounds. I am told that we are allowed to bring food or purchase food at their underground café and eat anywhere on the grounds except inside in the historical part of the building.

I plan to take my girls for a field trip to discuss civil disobedience, democracy, and the women’s rights movement. I may do this more than once and I am putting the intention into the universe that other mothers will feel the strength of this lesson for the next generation. The erosion of personal freedoms is not to be tolerated. This Thursday I plan to sit on the steps in the same spot that the protesters were sitting and bring my laptop with the YouTube video of what happened in that spot.

Think of the tremendous life learning opportunity we have before us to teach the next generation. I am not looking to turn this into anything other than what it is… mothers teaching their children and remaining visible even while handling our busy lives.

I was thinking I might head over there this Thursday a little before lunchtime. Anyone care to join me???”

(That will be tomorrow, March 8, 2012)

~~~~~

DCKennedy

Some News from APV, Virginia:

Today Governor McDonnell signed HB 462 (the Mandatory Ultrasound Bill) into law. We are deeply disappointed by his decision, but not deterred. There is no doubt that our voices have been heard ‘loud and clear’, not just by our representatives, but by the press and therefore the country. We have gotten our message out there. We have been remarkably successful in fighting some of the worst legislation out of the GA this year with the odds against us. We have forged alliances and gathered people who will not forget, and we will continue to build momentum to take this state back. We’re in this for the long haul. Make no mistake, we ARE winning.

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Hearts and Minds

Sculpture “Non-Violence” in memory of John Lennon, Manhattan, by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd

Gad! No wonder the people in this country are struggling. This issue is disturbing on so many levels that just being aware of it is intimidating! If it continues unabated like it is now, just imagine what life in the good ole USA will be like for Americans down the road a ways. You think they’ll be safe enough?

The cost of America’s police state, by Stephan Salisbury, is a good recent piece on the what, where, when, why, and how of the militarization of our local police forces, the vast network of video surveillance interlinked with information databases, “fusion centers”, and more.

One thing not mentioned in the article is 1033. But more than a year ago, Benjamin Carlson covered it in BATTLEFIELD MAIN STREET, and I think it’s key in understanding how all this got its big heave-ho. Here’s an excerpt, and the article has some great photos of the equipment being distributed at the time.

“Passed by Congress in 1997, the 1033 program was created to provide law-enforcement agencies with tools to fight drugs and terrorism. Since then, more than 17,000 agencies have taken in $2.6 billion worth of equipment for nearly free, paying only the cost of delivery.”

In today’s Mayberry, Andy Griffith and Barney Fife could be using grenade launchers and a tank to keep the peace. A rapidly expanding Pentagon program that distributes used military equipment to local police departments — many of them small-town forces — puts battlefield-grade weaponry in the hands of cops at an unprecedented rate.

Through its little-known “1033 program,” the Department of Defense gave away nearly $500 million worth of leftover military gear to law enforcement in fiscal year 2011 — a new record for the program and a dramatic rise over past years’ totals, including the $212 million in equipment distributed in 2010.

The surplus equipment includes grenade launchers, helicopters, military robots, M-16 assault rifles and armored vehicles.

And the program’s recent expansion shows no sign of slackening: Orders in fiscal year 2012 are up 400 percent over the same period in 2011, according to data provided to The Daily by the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency. (…)

Experts say the recent surge is simply the continuation of a decades-long trend: the increasing use of military techniques and equipment by local police departments, tactics seen most recently in the crackdowns on Occupy Wall Street protesters across the country. But critics of the program say that the recent expansion of 1033 distributions should be setting off alarm bells. (…)

Arthur Rizer, a Virginia lawyer who has served as both a military and civilian police officer, stressed that their outlooks and missions are fundamentally different.

“If we’re training cops as soldiers, giving them equipment like soldiers, dressing them up as soldiers, when are they going to pick up the mentality of soldiers?” he asked.

“If you look at the police department, their creed is to protect and to serve. A soldier’s mission is to engage his enemy in close combat and kill him. Do we want police officers to have that mentality? Of course not.”

The intimidation factor associated with having a military presence instead of a “protect and serve” mentality in law enforcement from coast to coast is obvious. If you haven’t noticed it, try a little redress of grievances with a group of like-minded, concerned citizens some day soon. At this rate and before too long, most people will be afraid to object to any legislation that comes down the pike, and I’m not sure that isn’t the precise intention of all this beef-up. If you read the articles above, you may disagree, but I think it’s already out of control in every way. Regardless of the “freebies” provided to local law enforcement, we can’t afford it. It’s an oppression tactic, and we don’t want to be an oppressed people. At least, that’s not what I had in mind.

How do you go about turning something like this around before it gets worse? Salisbury offers a clue or two pointing out: “This is not simply a police issue. Law enforcement agencies may acquire the equipment and deploy it, but city legislators and executives must approve the expenditures and the uses. State legislators and bureaucrats refine the local grant requests. Federal officials, with endless input from national security and defense vendors and lobbyists, appropriate the funds.” [emphasis mine]

But for some historical context, validation and encouragement, this recent interview with Jonathan Schell did it for me. It’s worth your time, “hearts and minds”.

How Empires Fall: An Interview With Jonathan Schell
DCKennedy

March 3rd, 2012 – Of Protests and Bitch Slaps


Part 1, Protests – View from Top


By all rights, this should have been a boring article. Saturday, March 3, over a thousand activists converged on the steps of the State Capitol building. They assembled there to petition their government for a redress of grievances, in this case, asking Governor McDonnell not to sign into law a piece of legislation—HB462. Many of the marchers argued that HB462 was designed to shame and humiliate women seeking to end an unwanted pregnancy; something that had won the Republicans of the Virginia General Assembly overwhelming ridicule and nationwide notoriety. A massive protest barely two weeks earlier, organized by Speak Loudly With Silence, had flooded the State Capitol with protestors lining the walkway from the General Assembly building to the State Capitol. Saturday Night Live made jokes about the invasive transvaginal ultrasounds required by the language of HB462, with one wit noting that she really enjoyed ‘Transvaginal Airlines.’ Realizing that his conservative base had badly overstepped, Governor McDonnell suggested that they soften the language somewhat lessening the ‘transvaginal’ part of the bill and allowing for a less invasive abdominal ultrasound. The amendment passed, but it hardly lessened the fury of Pro-Choice activists who saw the bill as an intrusion of government into women’s reproductive rights, the proverbial war on women.

One activist, Sheila Jones, noted that over a million women marched to block such governmental overreach in reproductive health matters years ago. “I thought we’d taken care of these atrocities [on women’s rights] back then, and we haven’t,” On that Saturday, she wore a t-shirt from the 1992 Pro-Choice rally at the National Mall, “So I had to come back down here and do this for all of the young women that now are fighting for the same thing that we thought we had taken care of 20 years ago.”

If you happened to be standing on the top steps of the Virginia Capitol this last Saturday at around 2:00 pm, you would have seen something to make Sheila proud: a stream of hundreds (over a thousand by most estimates) Pro-Choice activists, many wearing red arm bands, filling the State Capitol grounds and waving signs that read “Life Begins when you Stand Against Madness”, “Gov. McDonnell Get Out Of My Vagina” and “Mind Your Own Private Parts.” All the while they chanted “Kill the Bill.” You may also have seen two or three Capitol Police officers on bicycles creating a mini phalanx attempting to block the protestors as they ascended the Capitol steps, but impotent against the sheer number of outraged citizens the General Assembly of Virginia had managed to piss off.

Now, as in the first protest march, the activists had a permit to assemble by the Bell Tower, but not on the Capitol steps. Eileen Davis, who helped organize the original Speak Loudly With Silence along with APV board member, Clair Tuite, saw this and quickly spoke to Capitol Police Col. Pike. “Just let this play out,” she pleaded. She asked for time. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. No good. According to Ms. Davis, Col. Pike argued that if he did this for one group, he’d have to do it for every group. Luckily for Col. Pike, State Police just happened to be on hand that day; State Police in full riot gear, as chance would have it….

Shortly, thereafter, the call went out that the activists had to leave the steps. “Alright everyone we have 5 minutes and then Capitol Police are bringing in the troopers!”

They weren’t kidding. State Police Troopers went quickly on the march themselves. Over-armored and over-weaponized, they made a tidy black row, creating an ominous phalanx of plexiglass covered helmets and body-length shields to separate those who refused to move off the steps from those who were further out on the State Capitol grounds. They wore the familiar body armor reminiscent of Darth Vader with padded elbows and padded knees and bullet proof vests, and thick scarves around their faces in case they might need to use tear gas (in order to disperse, through chemical weapons if necessary, the group of men, women and children requesting a redress of grievances by sitting peaceably on the Capitol steps). Captain Goodloe of the Capitol Police refused to say how many State Troopers in riot gear were on hand that day, but the number was right around 20, and even that number, apparently, wasn’t sufficient. To protect the Commonwealth from the dreadful depredations of 31 protestors sitting in silent protest, his men needed back up.

That’s why they brought in the Capitol Police tactical force, or the Men in Green. At a distance I mistook them for an armed military presence. Close up, I realized they were not, but they are no less scary. I was assured, later, that they were indeed just ‘police’… A somewhat rarefied variety of the Capitol Police, like our S.W.A.T. teams, apparently. They were decked out entirely in green camouflage, with green helmets that looked exactly like military helmets and they wore the same specialized padding the State Troopers wore and they carried –this is the scary part—assault weapons (like the kind they use in the military when they are ‘assaulting’ something deadly – an enemy military force equipped with Light Weight Anti-Tank Weapons, say, or bombs made of plastic explosives or nuclear weapons hijacked by maniacal terrorists for that matter—not, however, American men, women and children interested in petitioning their government for a redress of grievances). They also, by the way, spent a fair amount of time passing canisters back and forth that may have been tear gas, or, as I was told, flash grenades. No one was sure, and when asked, the officers refused to answer.

Labor organizer, Muna Hijazi, was dismayed by the heavy police presence: “The show of force was amazingly ugly and over the top.” Delegate Delores L. McQuinn, D-Richmond also spoke out. She said she had “never seen a similar police presence [even] when guns rights advocates assembled on Capitol Square on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.” She thought there was a slight political slant in such policy decisions.“ The men and women who marched on Capitol Square have a right to peacefully protest without the threat that they will be arrested for exercising that right,” McQuinn said in a news release. “At several recent women’s rights events, there has been an overabundance of police presence. In fact, the Capitol Police tactical team has been at all of the events,” she said.

Despite this show of force, thirty-one protestors chose not to relinquish their right to assemble on the Capitol Steps that day. Some were arrested to assert their first amendment right to peaceably assemble, after all the protestors had a permit for their assembly at the Bell Tower about 50 yards away and were within their time frame for that permit. No other like-sized protests were met with this ugly show of a police presence. Others who were arrested were protesting in favor of a woman’s right to choose. They were given numbers to call, legal advice and opportunities to leave. But they refused.

As an historical note, up until the 1970s, protests were allowed anywhere on the State Capitol grounds—or more accurately were not required to be ‘permitted’. This picture, taken in 1969 by APV member Mike Garrett, shows hundreds of anti-war protestors flooding the steps and covering the entire front of the of the State Capitol building. No arrests, no State Troopers and certainly no Men In Green. That’s mostly because up until then there weren’t that many protests to worry about. But by the 1970s –in the aftermath of the civil rights marches and the beginning of the anti-war protests– the Virginia Assembly decided that protests required permits with limited time durations and specific geographic areas –down to the foot and yards, apparently.

Protestors of this Saturday, March 3rd, 2012, locked arms and huddled. One by one they were pried apart and handcuffed, then led, dragged or carried to awaiting white buses emboldened with the initials DCP that drove them to the station at Ninth and Leigh Street.

Now, here’s where things get interesting. Those arrested Saturday afternoon were charged with either trespassing or unlawful assembly and were taken to the Richmond City Jail. Both charges are Class 1 Misdemeanors, usually processed with a summons (basically, like a traffic ticket) to return to court at a convenient date. But that’s not what happened to our March 3rd protestors. Not by a long shot.


Part 2, Arrests & The Long Wait.

Ninth and Leigh is an nondescript block, which, if you didn’t know better you would mistake for a faceless bureaucrat building ringed by a large parking lot. Maggie N., who works everyday as a Registered Nurse at MCV just across the street from Ninth and Leigh, had no idea what went on there. “I didn’t even know there was a jail here.” It’s easy to miss because the spot is actually about 10 -20 feet below street level, dug out, effectively, so unless you knew that the police vans backing up to the garage doors held desperate criminals, or, in this instance, disoriented women’s rights protestors, you’d never guess its true function.

On the afternoon of March 3rd, two white buses containing handcuffed activists parked in front of those two double garage doors and essentially spent three to four hours while the activists waited in handcuffs, either on the bus or inside the garage doors without water, without food and without access to a lawyer. Keep in mind, every one of them was ultimately charged with a Class 1 Misdemeanor that should have required the equivalent of a traffic ticket. Said one Richmond Police Officer (who preferred anonymity), “I think that this is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen.”

That’s how the male protestors that day were treated. But there was special treatment for the female activists. Many of them were made to wait a total of eight to nine hours before the last of them was finally processed and released. They were made to wait eight to nine hours with hands tied behind their backs, without food and without water and without access to a lawyer.

The wretched conditions for the activists were well known. Fellow protestors had taken up a position around the block-wide dug-out at Ninth and Leigh and spent all of that Saturday night banging on the metal rails, chanting “Give Them Water” and “Take off the cuffs” and trying to update anyone of influence in the city to let their general condition be known. Stories trickled out about their treatment. Apparently, one bus contained a primitive bathroom facility while the other did not. The women were kept on the bus without the bathroom, so, if nature should happen to call within their 5-9 hour wait, they were taken off one bus, transported to the other bus and allowed to use the restroom. Each time this happened the activists circling the lot would shout, “Give them water.” When women were finally released, one of the first things they looked for was some soap and water to clean up, because none had been provided in the primitive bathroom.

Initially, when asked why they couldn’t receive water, the protestors were told that while on the buses, the prisoners were under jurisdiction of the Capital Police. The Richmond City Police claimed that they were not supposed to assist them until they were taken into the building and processed. When the Capitol Police heard that, they repudiated it in the strongest terms, and said that, in fact, it was the City Police who had a policy of not allowing prisoners to drink water. Either way, the women did not receive water for easily seven hours that day, even when complaining of headaches or nausea.

In some instances, the treatment of the women approached the absurd. When Gabi S. was asked what country she came from, she replied “Israel”…. Before she was led away, the police officer asked her, “How do you spell that?” She was later placed in solitary confinement for two hours, apparently because she hailed from a different country. She noted in a short summary of her time there: “So yesterday I was arrested for peacefully protesting. I was pulled from the group of women to be fingerprinted, given a mug shot, strip searched and put in solitary confinement. After 2 hours in there without any updates I was allowed out to see the nurse because my wrists were swollen from the handcuffs [a frequent complaint from other protestors]. When I was eventually released I was told that I had been processed differently because I was born in another country, Israel….”  But Quincy M. who hailed from Scotland and didn’t have a social security number (or US citizenship), was not put into solitary confinement, and was released hours before Gabi so it’s difficult to determine if there was any rational procedure being followed, outside of general harassment.

Activists, Glen B., who works for the Sierra club and was released after being held for about four hours, said that holding the women under such conditions was abominable. “We can’t let them get away with this. This state, remember, Virginia, has a history of abusing prisoners, of sterilizing its own citizens. What they are doing here is inexcusable, unacceptable and un-American”

Eileen Davies put it more bluntly, “Attorney General Cucinelli is trying to bitch slap all these women.” Indeed, rumors that someone in the nether reaches of State government was requesting a particularly long and punitive process for the detainees did not seem outlandish. Each activist arrested had a thorough background check which is unusual for a Class 1 Misdemeanor. Wayne Powell, a criminal defense lawyer running against Eric Cantor in the 7th district, offered to represent the detainees pro bono and was outraged by the delays, the fact that he was not allowed to speak with his clients, and the enforced background checks. “This is nowhere close to standard operating procedure for this kind of offense.” A few of the arrestees were even given relatively large bails – up to $500, some for prior offenses, but at least one was given the large bail for putting into words what many of the activists felt—a resolve not to be ground down by the excessive use of force, the government overreach, and the punitive harassment involved in their detention.

When asked by the magistrate if he intended to return to the Capitol grounds after he was released, activist Jonathan C. answered simply, “What time is it?”

~~~~~

If you appreciate that 31 of the courageous M3 protestors chose to be taken to jail in defiance of Virginia’s attack on women’s rights, rather than retreat and just go home when they were given the option, you might consider donating to their legal fund today. You can do that here. I’m grateful for what they did and wish them a speedy and fair experience with Virginia’s court system! Big thanks to all 31!

One more important thing: The ACLU is investigating the conditions of detention for March 3rd, 2012 protestors at the State Capitol. If you or someone you know has information regarding the arrests and/or detention conditions, please contact Tom Fitzpatrick at 804-644-8080 or email him at tfitzpatrick@acluva.org.

And stay tuned for updates, as I imagine this story will be unfolding for some time to come ….

(All photos, unless otherwise identified, are from Style Weekly Magazine’s Facebook page.)

.

Militarization of U.S. Police Forces

The effect is a loss of civility, and an erosion of constitutional rights, rather than a building of good will. ~Timothy Lynch

Photo: DAVID PARDO/AP
The BobCat is equipped with battering rams, tear-gas dispensers and gunports.


This is about conditioning – desensitizing the people to domestic militarization. Not many things are all good or all bad, but weighed in the balance, this seems like a very bad trend. Here are two good articles with some background and recent opinions on where this is leading.

I might add, that though the police departments are acquiring this equipment at low or no cost, the people paid full price for it when it was new, and continue to pay for its exorbitant up-keep. We own it.
DCKennedy

BATTLEFIELD MAIN STREET
Pentagon project lets police forces – even in small towns – arm themselves with military gear
By Benjamin Carlson
Monday, December 5, 2011

[The police force of Erie, Pa., has worked to avoid that perception by taking its BearCat out into the community. SWAT team commander Lt. Les Fetterman told The Daily that his department took the armored vehicle to a city picnic, where “a couple hundred inner-city kids” played in and around it.”

Most of the people, they see it — it looks, I don’t want to use the word, intimidating — so you get some stares,” Fetterman said. “But it’s actually become a community relations tool … It’s an ice breaker, like a firetruck when they take it to parades.”

For some critics, though, the concern is not alienating neighbors, but the change in attitude of police themselves.”]

And:

Arthur Rizer, a Virginia lawyer who has served as both a military and civilian police officer, stressed that their outlooks and missions are fundamentally different.

“If we’re training cops as soldiers, giving them equipment like soldiers, dressing them up as soldiers, when are they going to pick up the mentality of soldiers?” he asked.

“If you look at the police department, their creed is to protect and to serve. A soldier’s mission is to engage his enemy in close combat and kill him. Do we want police officers to have that mentality? Of course not.”

The second article is, When the Police Go Military, by AL BAKER.

“The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 generally bars the military from law enforcement activities within the United States. But today, some local and city police forces have rendered the law rather moot. They have tanks — yes, tanks, often from military surplus, for use in hostage situations or drug raids — not to mention the sort of equipment and training one would need to deter a Mumbai-style guerrilla assault.”

This NYT graphic, Riot Gear’s Evolution, shows the about-face change since 1995 in what had otherwise been progress in communication and cooperation with the people of America.