Root Cause

By now you have heard that Attorney General Holder, Claire McCaskill, Rand Paul, and others have all called for the demilitarization of America’s police, and Rep. Hank Johnson plans to introduce a bill limiting military weapons being transferred to municipalities:

A Democratic congressman plans to introduce a bill to restrict a Defense Department program that provides machine guns and other surplus military equipment for free to local law enforcement agencies across the country.

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said the legislation is in response to the death of an unarmed teenager who was shot by a police officer in a St. Louis suburb. The bill comes as members of Congress have called for the Justice Department to investigate the shooting of a black teen by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo.

Police in riot gear and military garb have clashed nightly with protesters since Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown and at times have trained weapons on them from armored trucks.

Johnson said city streets should be a place for businesses and families, “not tanks and M16s.” He said a Pentagon program that transfers surplus military equipment to state and local law enforcement has led to police agencies resembling paramilitary forces.

“Militarizing America’s main streets won’t make us any safer, just more fearful and more reticent,” Johnson said. He said his bill would limit the type of military equipment that can be transferred to law enforcement, and require states to certify they can account for all equipment received.

The bill targets a 24-year-old military surplus program that transfers equipment from blankets to bayonets and tanks to police and sheriff’s departments across the country. An Associated Press investigation last year of the Defense Department program found that a large share of the $4.2 billion in surplus military gear distributed since 1990 went to police and sheriff’s departments in rural areas with few officers and little crime.

The program is known as 1033, and Newsweek has a little primer:

America has been quietly arming its police for battle since the early 1990s.

Faced with a bloated military and what it perceived as a worsening drug crisis, the 101st Congress in 1990 enacted the National Defense Authorization Act. Section 1208 of the NDAA allowed the Secretary of Defense to “transfer to Federal and State agencies personal property of the Department of Defense, including small arms and ammunition, that the Secretary determines is— (A) suitable for use by such agencies in counter-drug activities; and (B) excess to the needs of the Department of Defense.” It was called the 1208 Program. In 1996, Congress replaced Section 1208 with Section 1033.

The idea was that if the U.S. wanted its police to act like drug warriors, it should equip them like warriors, which it has—to the tune of around $4.3 billion in equipment, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union. The St. Louis County Police Department’s annual budget is around $160 million. By providing law enforcement agencies with surplus military equipment free of charge, the NDAA encourages police to employ military weapons and military tactics.

The NY Times has a great piece on this, as does Bill Moyers and company (actually a must read), and I am sure it will surprise no one that one of the driving forces behind 1033 was none other than Joe Biden, who despite the good, almost always seems to be on the wrong side of law and order issues– don’t forget the Patriot Act and the hideous 2005 Bankruptcy Act (which then Senator Obama voted against- he also convinced Chicago police to use cameras whenever possible during interrogations. Smart guy-I bet he would make a good President!), but what do you expect from a Senator from Delaware, which is run by banking the way WV is run by coal.

At any rate, this is a good thing, and I hope the pressure continues to give us the momentum to pass a meaningful bill that will get these people who like playing dress up, as Ryan Reilly calls them off the street and the military hardware mothballed. Remember, it’s not just the weaponry, it’s really shitty, untrained, insecure, and often times racist cops with heavy weaponry. Yes, we need to get these weapons out of the hands of these clowns, but we also need to address the large amount of shitty cops out there. Michael Brown wasn’t killed with a sniper rifle or a carbine or a tank. A bad cop can cause enough mayhem and murder with just a handgun. Until the power structure of Missouri reviews every Vine and every picture and every video of cops calling people animals and brutalizing civilians is punished, they aren’t taking things seriously. It’s insane that they have tanks but not dashcams. Hopefully the new approach being used tonight will show that this kind of weaponry is wholly unnecessary, and it certainly looks like Captain Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol is a total stud.

But we have to be realistic. The most important change that needs to happen is a change in way we think and act about the war on drugs and counter-terrorism. The weapons are just the fruit of the poison tree, much like no-knock raids, asset forfeiture, the almost complete destruction of the 4th Amendment, and so on. Getting these weapons off the street is a good start, and hopefully our politicians will have the courage to follow through on this. I am far less hopeful that a similar strain of sanity will take hold regarding the war on drugs.

But we can hope, and we can vote, and we can keep talking about it and doing what it takes to force this change. It won’t be easy, particularly since Democrats are notoriously cowardly when it comes to being labeled soft on crime, but it can be done. This insanity has got to stop.

*** Update ***

Some people are going to have to be dragged kicking and screaming towards change:

The executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police criticized President Obama Thursday for his remarks about law enforcement in Ferguson, Mo.

“I would contend that discussing police tactics from Martha’s Vineyard is not helpful to ultimately calming the situation,” director Jim Pasco said in an interview with The Hill.

“I think what he has to do as president and as a constitutional lawyer is remember that there is a process in the United States and the process is being followed, for good or for ill, by the police and by the county and by the city and by the prosecutors’ office,” Pasco added.

Pasco harkened back to 2009, when Obama criticized a Massachusetts police officer for arresting Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, when he was attempting to break into his own home. Obama said the officer had “acted stupidly.”

“That is one where the president spoke precipitously without all the facts,” Pasco said, adding that the current situation “is a much larger and more tragic incident.”

Pasco said both police and members of the public are entitled to due process but said he is not convinced police have used excessive force in Ferguson.

“I’m not there, and neither is the president,” Pasco said. “That is why we have due process in the United States. And this will all be sorted out over time. But right now, I haven’t seen anything from afar — and maybe the president has — that would lead me to believe the police are doing anything except to restore order.”

A. You don’t know what Obama is convinced of at all, so stop talking for him you punk.

B. If you aren’t convinced that was excessive force, you are part of the problem.

C. Go to hell.

135 replies
  1. 1
    Baud says:

    I’m confused. I’m watching the news and, even though the military style police are gone, there are no riots.

    How is that possible?

  2. 2
    CB says:

    101st Congress. Is that like the 101st Chairborne?

  3. 3
    John Cole +0 says:

    @Baud: It was the Ferguson police and SWAT teams that were rioting.

  4. 4
    Trentrunner says:

    Correction: Last night, St. Louis County was in charge of law enforcement in Ferguson.

    That’s why the Ferguson Chief of Police and Mayor sounded so clueless today about last night. They weren’t in the chain of command.

  5. 5
    JPL says:

    Hank Johnson won’t be able to bring a bill to the floor for a vote. Boehner won’t let him.

  6. 6
    Howard Beale IV says:

    Dream on. Until we get to the Russian-level penetration of dash-cam usage, nothing will change.

  7. 7
    bluehill says:

    Missouri is already an open carry state. Trying to imagine what it would be like if they had a stand-your-ground law as well. I think that would change some opinions on usefulness of these laws. Someone should raffle off an AR-15 in Ferguson like some tea party candidates have been doing.

  8. 8
    hilts says:

    Good interview from earlier today with Kara Dansky, a senior counsel at the ACLU and one of the authors of the report War Comes Home, explaining how and why federal programs have created incentives for law enforcement to use paramilitary tactics and military grade weapons

    h/t http://www.wnyc.org/story/mili.....epartments

  9. 9
    Violet says:

    @hilts: Someone interviewed on my NPR station this afternoon–I think it during the BBC hour–said the problem was military veterans being hired by police departments. I don’t think there’s actual data to back that up.

  10. 10

    @Howard Beale IV: That’s a good point, though. In Russia, the dash cams are for insurance purposes. I wonder if there’ll start to be serious growth here in the popularity of dash cams here the states, but in case of police stops, rather than against insurance scams.

  11. 11
    KG says:

    @JPL: if the Dems hold the Senate, I’m sure there’s an enterprising Democratic Senator that would introduce a similar bill. I’m wondering what Rand Paul would do with that

  12. 12
    Dog On Porch says:

    “But we have to be realistic”.

    In political terms, realism is a awfully pliable concept.

    After all, Clinton, Kerry, and minority leader Gephart all reacted in “realistic” terms in March of 2003. Their country and humanity be damned, they realistically calculated their presidential ambition as extinguished barring their endorsement of the Big Lie War of 2003. Suffice to say, 2 of the 3 are still riding high. And I doubt Gephart is starving for funds.

  13. 13
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @CB: Very similar, indeed.

    I would say you hit the proverbial nail on the head here.

  14. 14
    kindness says:

    You Go John!

    Raise the roof.

  15. 15
    mzrad says:

    How much of these incidents is ‘roid rage, do you think? Does anyone test cops for steroid use? Can’t they make a person extra aggressive and inclined to explode?

  16. 16
    bubba says:

    It’s not the hiring of military vets. It’s more like the hiring of locals who can’t find a job anywhere else but who have, or more likely whose parents or other family members have, a little political juice that gets them hired. This is particularly true in suburban and rural communities. I grew up in a smallish Cleveland suburb and our town motto had to be “we employ the unemployable” in light of those who were hired for our safety forces. And from what I have seen this is close to the norm around the country. And these folks also tend to have big chips on their shoulders which is incendiary when coupled with a position of power.

  17. 17
    mclaren says:

    And the person responsible for initiating the Pentagon program of dumping surplus military weaponry to local police departments at low or no cost?

    Yes, once again, it’s Ronald Reagan.

    The older I get, the clearer it becomes that Ronald Reagan was the worst thing to happen to America in my lifetime.

    Ever since Ronald Reagan in 1981 helped draw up the Military Cooperation With Law Enforcement Act, quickly passed by a very cooperative congress, effectively circumventing the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 by codifying military cooperation with law enforcement, the military has been encouraged to give any and all law enforcement agencies unfettered access to all military resources, training and hardware included. The military equipment was designed to be used by American fighting forces in combat with “the enemy,” but since a law was passed in 1994, the Pentagon has been able to donate all surplus war materiel to America’s police departments. The National Journal has compiled a number of statistics showing that in the first three years after the 1994 law came into effect, the “Department of Offense” stocked police departments with 3800 M-16 assault rifles, 2185 M-14’s, 73 grenade launchers, and 112 armored personnel carriers, as well as untold number of bayonets, tanks, helicopters, and even some airplanes.

    Source: “With Global Unrest and Militarized Police, Where Do You Go To Escape?” Jamie Douglas, Escape From America magazine online, November 2011.

  18. 18
    Mike in NC says:

    @Howard Beale IV: I asked my wife tonight if future cars will all have as a standard feature dashboard cameras. She loves reality TV.

  19. 19
    mclaren says:

    @Scott Peterson:

    Yes, the good news is that in America personal lapel cameras on police are appearing ever more frequently. In the not-too-distant future, every U.S. police officer who interacts with any civilian anywhere will be required by law to record it on video/audio.

    The statistics prove striking.

    Police officers in the small city of Rialto in San Bernardino County have been wearing cameras since 2012. Rialto Police Chief William A. Farrar, working with a Cambridge University researcher, found two big results: Complaints against his officers declined by 88 percent and officer use of force declined by 60 percent.

    [My comment: San Bernardino County is ground zero for meth production in America. That county produces so much methamphetines that it qualifies as a ‘drug-producing nation’ according to the DEA. So this really means something.]

    Source: “Fact Check: Do Police Cameras Decrease Police Complaints?” 28 March 2014.

    In the very near future, media blackout zones like the one in Ferguson MO will be physically impossible because the police will be required by law to video record all interactions with the public.

  20. 20
    Betty Cracker says:

    Wonderful post, Mr. Cole. It was a national disgrace to see an occupying army in an American city, and —incredibly — it wasn’t just us DFHs who were disturbed by it. Maybe this is what progress looks like.

  21. 21
    the Conster says:

    I am as sure about this being a tipping point about the militarization of the police as I was about Newtown and gun control.

  22. 22
    slag says:

    As someone who wishes I had an IED every time I see a Hummer drive by, it’s not hard for me to imagine how provocative a camo’d and jackbooted up police force might be. The only question I have is how hard can it be for anyone to imagine something so seemingly obvious. Can anyone really be so lacking in empathy as the Ferguson PD seems to be? The idea stretches the limits of credulity.

  23. 23
    Howard Beale IV says:

    @Mike in NC: @Scott Peterson:

    Everything you need to know: http://www.copblock.org/

  24. 24
    Mr. Twister says:

    @mclaren: We have a winner. Look at any graph regarding any issue in this country and they always change around 1980.

  25. 25
    Howard Beale IV says:

    @Scott Peterson: It isn’t just for insurance purposes in Russia.

  26. 26
    efgoldman says:

    @slag:

    Can anyone really be so lacking in empathy as the Ferguson PD seems to be? The idea stretches the limits of credulity.

    They get plenty of training with their cool new toys. Intra-personal actions? Non-violent crowd control? Not so much.

  27. 27
    amk says:

    @the Conster:

    yup. fear.of.other = not.gonna.happen.

  28. 28
    Botsplainer says:

    @bluehill:

    Thinking M1 Garands with scopes and great heaping piles of.30-06.

    Let’s see composites, Kevlar and Helo plexiglass stop a .30-06…

  29. 29
    Mike in NC says:

    @mclaren: I was saying the same thing about Reagan 25 years ago and people told me I was being shrill.

  30. 30
    rikyrah says:

    Someone at POU found this over at LGF:

    A great comment from commenter at LGF.

    CuriousLurker Aug 14, 2014 5:07:00pm

    Yesterday when I was lurking someone—Decatur Deb, IIRC—said something to the effect of the people of Ferguson were being punished for electing a black President, and (paraphrasing) “You didn’t think they were going to go out easy, did you?”

    I’ve had those same thoughts myself many times since Obama was
    elected. Ditto the black friends I’ve discussed it with. I never
    imagined that it would get as ugly as it has though—not just in
    Ferguson, but all over.

    I think those people knew they were being punished too and it hurt
    them and made them angry. Black Americans were so happy when Obama was elected, as were many people of all races. Do you guys remember seeing all the people weeping with joy, and even reporters & people like Stephen Colbert choking up? Everyone was so proud.

    That lasted what, a week? Maybe until his swearing in? Then we found out later that they whole time the GOP was planning to obstruct him at every turn. He’s gotten nothing but disrespect from certain quarters since 2008. It’s truly shameful. It pisses me off and I’m not black, how do you think black people feel?

    All the hundreds of years of brutal slavery, loss of their original
    cultures & languages, families broken up and sold, women raped, men (and women) whipped & beaten, Jim Crow, lynchings, the Civil Rights fights, and still they never got equality. Then OMG, a black President! Happiness, pride, black children knowing they really could one day be anything, even president…

    Yeah, I’m 100% sure there are some people who see this sea change, the changing culture & demographics, as a zero sum game and want to punish black Americans for it. It’s sickening.

    *steps down from pulpit*”

  31. 31
    Howard Beale IV says:

    And now we got the ex-Representative and war criminal Allen West calling Obama an Islaminst. Tell ya what, ya war criminal-we’ll give ya a division and you can take out IS, mmkay?

  32. 32
    srv says:

    @mclaren:

    The older I get, the clearer it becomes that Ronald Reagan was the worst thing to happen to America in my lifetime.

    Derp, I figured that out in 1980.

    It’s good that all those democrats were docile, compliant and voting for Goring In America. As you know, anger is bad thing.

    If I’d hated you more, just a little bit more, we would have had a lot less trouble
    — Rev. Jim Jones

  33. 33
    skerry says:

    I think cops should live in the community where they work. Helps to eliminate the “us vs them” mentality.

    Also think they should all wear cameras.

    And, another reason revealed to me about why I am so glad I never voted for Reagan. I didn’t know about the military-police connection that he started, but not surprised. Side story, I was student at Purdue when he was campaigning and stopped by the campus. There was an “election” held by the student government before the visit. SGA president at the time was a punk rocker. Happy to report that we voted him our “favorite vegetable”.

  34. 34
    John O says:

    Christ, it’s good to have you back, John.

  35. 35
    scarshapedstar says:

    Yanno, all this time I thought the Holocaust was bad, but now I see that they were merely following a process for good or ill.

  36. 36
    M. Bouffant says:

    @Violet: I know the L.A.P.D. loves to hire veterans. Also, people who’ve participated in team sports, like football.

    Why, it’s as if you’re still in the military:

    636.10 ARMED FORCES RIBBONS. Commanding officers shall encourage uniformed personnel to wear ribbons representing duly authorized decorations or awards for service in the Armed Forces of the United States, or awarded by an ally friendly to the United States at the time of service at formal events (e.g., memorial services, funerals, inspections, and graduations). Ribbons worn on the uniform shirt shall be affixed below the badge and above any Department medal or award. If necessary to provide sufficient space for ribbons, the badge may be adjusted upwards a maximum distance equal to the width of two rows of ribbons; if additional space is still needed, the location of authorized Department medals and decorations may be adjusted downward the width of one row of ribbons. Ribbons worn on the dress coat and shall be worn below the below the badge.

    Exception: Staff and command officers shall wear their Armed Forces ribbons when appearing in dress uniform.

    636.20 ARMED FORCES MEDALS. Medals of the armed services may be worn only in the manner prescribed by the order of precedence established by military regulations. Such medals may be worn only upon prior approval of the Chief of Police.

    636.30 VETERANS’ EMBLEM. As a means of displaying veteran’s status, one discharge button or one official emblem of a veterans’ organization, either of the Armed Forces of the United States or an ally friendly to the United States at the time of service may be worn at the top left corner of the left pocket of the uniform shirt.

  37. 37
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @John Cole +0

    A. You don’t know what Obama is convinced of at all, so stop talking for him you punk.

    B. If you aren’t convinced that was excessive force, you are part of the problem.

    C. Go to hell.

    I love you, John G. Cole.

  38. 38
    Heliopause says:

    What will happen is, there will be some momentum for this for a few days, then when the reality hits that vested interests stand to lose money as a result it will predictably die in our glorious halls of Congress. Remember, this is the country where cute little white six year olds being slaughtered literally by the dozen was insufficient to change the status quo; what chance does a broad policy that benefits communities of color have?

    As Atrios so often says, I’ll be delighted to be completely wrong about this.

  39. 39
    slag says:

    @efgoldman: There is a case to be made that the desire to play with their equipment superseded any concern about provocation. Or maybe that desire harmonized with a desire to provoke (as it so frequently does with the Zimmermans of the world). But I’d find it extremely hard to believe that the issue of potential provocation was never even considered.

    Even without basic training, basic human instinct should have stepped in somewhere.

  40. 40
    Baud says:

    Shorter Pasco: Obama is uppity.

  41. 41
    JPL says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: IMO, That statement was an appropriate way to express his anger.

  42. 42
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @JPL: Yep.

  43. 43
    efgoldman says:

    @slag:

    But I’d find it extremely hard to believe that the issue of potential provocation was never even considered.

    Why should they? They got all the big scary guns and armor.
    What’s the conservative/RWNJ/TeaHadi ethos?
    Fear.
    Why should small town midwestern cops be any different?

  44. 44
    M. Bouffant says:

    Screw Rand Paul & his comb-forward/rug/thing. Steve M. got him right.

    Only at the end of the op-ed does he make overt references to race. They’re forthright references, and I give him credit for them. But they’re secondary to his main point. The word “militarization” appears in the op-ed five times, and “military” three times. “Government/governments” appears five times. “Black” and “race” appear once each.

    Military weaponry makes a bad situation much worse, but the core problem is still police forces that have nothing but contempt for the populations they’re supposed to “protect and serve.” By all means criticize the hardware — but the real problem isn’t going to go away if the use of that hardware is dialed back, because cops will treat civilians they despise with contempt using whatever’s at hand. And if Paul’s fellow libertarians get us talking almost exclusively about gear and government, then they’ll have successfully diverted the discussion onto their turf, for their ends. We mustn’t let that happen.

  45. 45
    Mike in NC says:

    @Howard Beale IV: Why hasn’t Allen West gotten his own show on FOX News? Too dark?

  46. 46
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @M. Bouffant: It was ever thus with the Pauls.

  47. 47
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Local TV news talking about “Safe Twittering” of situations like Ferguson, and one of the main bullet (yikes!) points was “don’t post pictures of policemen.”

    Say what?

    The entire point is to make it well known who the bad cops are, and let the chips fall where they may. The advice given by a local sheriff’s deputy was basically “don’t expose our fuckups, it makes us angry”.

    Too fucking bad, asshole. Post them all over the fucking tubes. These shitty cops need huge doses of sunshine on their mugs.

  48. 48
    Mike in NC says:

    @M. Bouffant: As a 30 year military veteran, I say this policy is very fucked up. LAPD remain the scum of the earth, apparently.

  49. 49
    Citizen_X says:

    I haven’t seen anything from afar — and maybe the president has — that would lead me to believe the police are doing anything except to restore order.

    I’ll give you something from afar, asshole: Ferguson tonight, under State Trooper control, vs. Ferguson last night, under Ferguson/St. Louis PD control. One is restored order, the other’s a police riot.

  50. 50
    JCT says:

    @Howard Beale IV: Couldn’t we just “accidentally” drop him behind enemy lines all by himself?

  51. 51
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Citizen_X:

    One is restored order, the other’s a police riot.

    Police riot…shades of Chicago, summer of 1968 at the Democratic National Convention.

    “Let’s bust some hippy heads, men!”

  52. 52
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @JCT: Bacteriological weapons are banned by a variety of treaties.

  53. 53
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Baud: Pasco and Lynn Westmoreland see eye to eye about the near sheriff, it seems.

  54. 54
    Howard Beale IV says:

    @Mike in NC: Too much of a paper trail unlike Snowflake Snooki.

  55. 55
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name):

    “Don’t slime me, bro!”

  56. 56
    slag says:

    @efgoldman: Well, theoretically, they have some sort of standard by which they are assessed beyond whether or not they get killed. Theoretically, that standard includes some version of keeping the peace. I would presume that even the most capricious of assessors would admit that the peace was not adequately kept in Ferguson over the last three days. And even if not, I would put peacekeeping in there under basic human instinct as well. Likewise probably overridden rather than nonexistent.

  57. 57
    Howard Beale IV says:

    @JCT: I like that idea. Problem is that he’s done gone and retired.

  58. 58
    M. Bouffant says:

    Screw the Prez too:
    “There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests.” After lecturing people that “there is never an excuse for violence against police.” Like hell.

    There is never, ever an excuse or reason to use any force of any kind whatso-ever against peaceful “protests.”

    And note the use of the word “protest” rather than “protesters.” Subtle dehumanizing. Suddenly the protesters are merely part of an object or thing, not people exercising their First Amendment guarantees, & it’s O.K. to use force (as long as it’s not, you know, “excessive”) against them.

    Accepting the use of force against peaceful protests is a high enough crime for me. Impeach him now!

  59. 59
    JCT says:

    @Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name): Well-played. But that slime ball may be lower than bacteria…

  60. 60
    MikeBoyScout says:

    Guns don’t kill people.
    People with guns kill people.
    Killing people is wrong.
    Therefore, dispose of the guns and love the people.

  61. 61
    the Conster says:

    Also props for the Newsweek link John +0 – it’s like a blogger #tbt shoutout. I’d forgotten all about them and didn’t even know it was still a thing.

  62. 62
    Cacti says:

    If St. Louis County PD had just kept their hands off the white journalists, they’d probably still be on patrol in Ferguson today. Let’s not kid ourselves about that fact.

  63. 63
    M. Bouffant says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    The policeman is here to preserve disorder.

  64. 64
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @M. Bouffant:

    Impeach him now!

    Oh FFS.

  65. 65
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @JPL:

    Yup.

  66. 66
    Jay C says:

    @Betty Cracker:

    Betty, I wish you were right – I mean, I REALLY wish you were right about “progress”, but I just have this sinking feeling that the inevitable reaction to the Ferguson mess (and by that I mean the usual, sick right-wing ragegasm about “law and order” and apoplectic “support” for the police – wherever and whoever they are) is going to set in in about 2 or 3 days, and after the “mainstream”media gets through with it, the whole issue is going to devolve into a sorry circus of simple-minded talking-points: along the lines of “Obama encourages rioters!” , “race hucksterism!” and obsessive reputation-trashing designed to turn Mike Brown into a vicious thug who deserved to get blown away, turn Officer Anonymous who shot him into a brave, stalwart hero; and the black population of Ferguson, MO into an American Hamas. It will start with the right-wing blogosphere (already has) – and I will be surprised if the “MSM” take on this sorry affair doesn’t degenerate accordingly within a week or so.

    PS: I hope sincerely that I am wrong.

  67. 67
    M. Bouffant says:

    @Mike in NC:
    Last encounter I had w/ the force, some yrs. ago:
    A kid was being attacked at a bus stop by three others, a police car rolled up & the assailants ran around the corner & hid behind a dumpster in an alley. The two officers were all over the beatee but didn’t seem interested in the perps. I told them where the three were but they still weren’t in the least interested, I repeated myself & asked why they weren’t interested in the perps, & was informed by one of the two that his partner was in a bad mood or something & might just arrest me, so I left.

    Just weird.

  68. 68
    JCJ says:

    @skerry:

    You were at Purdue then? I remember Dow Jones (of the punk band Dow Jones and the Industrials) was the student body president. I even campaigned for him. I was at Purdue from ’79 – ’84. West Lafayette is my home town as well. My brother lives there now but I haven’t been there for at least five years.

  69. 69
    JCT says:

    @Jay C: I would usually be as cynical as you are here, but the release of that autopsy report will probably take the wind out of any wingnut/MSM spin.

    That cop put a lot of holes in that boy.

  70. 70
  71. 71
    M. Bouffant says:

    @Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name):
    Really? Another humorless authoritarian, eh?

  72. 72
    Citizen_X says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Also like the Tompkins Square riot in 1988.

    A couple of friends of mine got caught up in that. They were just visiting NYC, went out for an evening walk, and “Oh, look, a demonstration. Sure are a shitload of cops. HOLY FUCK THEY’RE CHARGING!”

    And these were mounted cops, mind you.

  73. 73
    mclaren says:

    @Betty Cracker:

    It was a national disgrace to see an occupying army in an American city…

    And why, pray tell, didn’t you speak out against this creeping police state fascism back when Boston got locked down and turned into a ghost town patrolled by tanks and hypermilitarized “police” armed with more weaponry than soldiers in Iraq?

    I did.

    Where were you when it came time to speak up against this insanity?

  74. 74
    M. Bouffant says:

    @max: Thanks. Too lazy to link, & I suppose the yout’ have no idea of the first Mayor Daley

  75. 75
  76. 76
    chopper says:

    B. If you aren’t convinced that was excessive force, you are part of the problem

    Right. I understand that the head of the FOP is going to reflexively back the cop here, but there’s no real way of going through this story while ignoring the fact that this cop shot an unarmed kid who was running away from him.

    If you don’t think that’s excessive force (and then some) you have no soul.

  77. 77
    Jay McDonough says:

    Agree that police forces look like/act like they’re conducting raids in Baghdad. That said, as long as the nation’s laws allow any psychotic to accumulate as many and as varied weaponry as they desire, I can understand a police department that tries to stay one step ahead in terms of firepower.

  78. 78
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @M. Bouffant: Yeah, that’s it. Because Obama is the problem here. Right….

  79. 79
    mclaren says:

    I’m really interested in why people are so outraged now about this wildly extreme police militarization, with SWAT tanks patrolling the streets and bizarrely over-weaponed police with more grenades and body armor and M-15 grenade-launching automatic rifles than U.S. troops typically carry in Iraq…when no one on this forum seemed to utter a peep against this insanity during the aftermath of the Boston bombing lockdown.

    I warned you all then — this is what a police state looks like. This is the real deal…curfews…tanks in the streets…citizens ordered to stay indoors, national guard troops doing warrantless house-to-house searches… This isn’t just “militarization,” it’s honest-to-god junta time. It’s the kind of thing you saw under Pinochet. The only thing missing is throwing detainees out of helicopters into the ocean for the waiting sharks.

    And what was the reaction of the Balloon-Juice commentariat? I was “mentally ill,” “a troll,” “in need of therapy,” “demented,” “sick in the head.”

    Now do you people see where this kind of police state lockdown and militarization of the police leads?

    Last year’s Marathon bombings were seized on by authorities as a pretext to launch a lockdown of the city and its environs, as police hunted down the nineteen-year-old alleged perpetrator. The area was flooded with thousands of National Guard troops and police, who carried out warrantless house-to-house searches in blatant violation of constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

    A blanket order was issued covering an area with 1 million residents for all people to “shelter in place,” while machine gun-mounted armored vehicles patrolled the empty streets and helicopters buzzed overhead. Public transportation and public institutions were shut down.

    This dragnet and suspension of democratic rights, which amounted to de facto martial law, was almost universally praised by the media as a legitimate response to a terror attack. There was no significant protest from any section of the political establishment.

    Source: “The Boston Marathon and the militarization of America,” 23 April 2014.

    Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps
    by
    Naomi Wolf [originally published in The Guardian, 23 April 2007]

    Last autumn, there was a military coup in Thailand. The leaders of the coup took a number of steps, rather systematically, as if they had a shopping list. In a sense, they did. Within a matter of days, democracy had been closed down: the coup leaders declared martial law, sent armed soldiers into residential areas, took over radio and TV stations, issued restrictions on the press, tightened some limits on travel, and took certain activists into custody.

    They were not figuring these things out as they went along. If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying ways. But it is always effective. It is very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy – but history shows that closing one down is much simpler. You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.

    As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration.

    Because Americans like me were born in freedom, we have a hard time even considering that it is possible for us to become as unfree – domestically – as many other nations. Because we no longer learn much about our rights or our system of government – the task of being aware of the constitution has been outsourced from citizens’ ownership to being the domain of professionals such as lawyers and professors – we scarcely recognise the checks and balances that the founders put in place, even as they are being systematically dismantled. Because we don’t learn much about European history, the setting up of a department of “homeland” security – remember who else was keen on the word “homeland” – didn’t raise the alarm bells it might have.

    It is my argument that, beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable – as the author and political journalist Joe Conason, has put it, that it can happen here. And that we are further along than we realise.

    Conason eloquently warned of the danger of American authoritarianism. I am arguing that we need also to look at the lessons of European and other kinds of fascism to understand the potential seriousness of the events we see unfolding in the US.

    1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy

    After we were hit on September 11 2001, we were in a state of national shock. Less than six weeks later, on October 26 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed by a Congress that had little chance to debate it; many said that they scarcely had time to read it. We were told we were now on a “war footing”; we were in a “global war” against a “global caliphate” intending to “wipe out civilisation”. There have been other times of crisis in which the US accepted limits on civil liberties, such as during the civil war, when Lincoln declared martial law, and the second world war, when thousands of Japanese-American citizens were interned. But this situation, as Bruce Fein of the American Freedom Agenda notes, is unprecedented: all our other wars had an endpoint, so the pendulum was able to swing back toward freedom; this war is defined as open-ended in time and without national boundaries in space – the globe itself is the battlefield. “This time,” Fein says, “there will be no defined end.”

    Creating a terrifying threat – hydra-like, secretive, evil – is an old trick. It can, like Hitler’s invocation of a communist threat to the nation’s security, be based on actual events (one Wisconsin academic has faced calls for his dismissal because he noted, among other things, that the alleged communist arson, the Reichstag fire of February 1933, was swiftly followed in Nazi Germany by passage of the Enabling Act, which replaced constitutional law with an open-ended state of emergency). Or the terrifying threat can be based, like the National Socialist evocation of the “global conspiracy of world Jewry”, on myth.

    It is not that global Islamist terrorism is not a severe danger; of course it is. I am arguing rather that the language used to convey the nature of the threat is different in a country such as Spain – which has also suffered violent terrorist attacks – than it is in America. Spanish citizens know that they face a grave security threat; what we as American citizens believe is that we are potentially threatened with the end of civilisation as we know it. Of course, this makes us more willing to accept restrictions on our freedoms.

    2. Create a gulag

    Once you have got everyone scared, the next step is to create a prison system outside the rule of law (as Bush put it, he wanted the American detention centre at Guantánamo Bay to be situated in legal “outer space”) – where torture takes place.

    At first, the people who are sent there are seen by citizens as outsiders: troublemakers, spies, “enemies of the people” or “criminals”. Initially, citizens tend to support the secret prison system; it makes them feel safer and they do not identify with the prisoners. But soon enough, civil society leaders – opposition members, labour activists, clergy and journalists – are arrested and sent there as well.

    This process took place in fascist shifts or anti-democracy crackdowns ranging from Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s to the Latin American coups of the 1970s and beyond. It is standard practice for closing down an open society or crushing a pro-democracy uprising.

    With its jails in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, of course, Guantánamo in Cuba, where detainees are abused, and kept indefinitely without trial and without access to the due process of the law, America certainly has its gulag now. Bush and his allies in Congress recently announced they would issue no information about the secret CIA “black site” prisons throughout the world, which are used to incarcerate people who have been seized off the street.

    Gulags in history tend to metastasise, becoming ever larger and more secretive, ever more deadly and formalised. We know from first-hand accounts, photographs, videos and government documents that people, innocent and guilty, have been tortured in the US-run prisons we are aware of and those we can’t investigate adequately.

    But Americans still assume this system and detainee abuses involve only scary brown people with whom they don’t generally identify. It was brave of the conservative pundit William Safire to quote the anti-Nazi pastor Martin Niemöller, who had been seized as a political prisoner: “First they came for the Jews.” Most Americans don’t understand yet that the destruction of the rule of law at Guantánamo set a dangerous precedent for them, too.

    By the way, the establishment of military tribunals that deny prisoners due process tends to come early on in a fascist shift. Mussolini and Stalin set up such tribunals. On April 24 1934, the Nazis, too, set up the People’s Court, which also bypassed the judicial system: prisoners were held indefinitely, often in isolation, and tortured, without being charged with offences, and were subjected to show trials. Eventually, the Special Courts became a parallel system that put pressure on the regular courts to abandon the rule of law in favour of Nazi ideology when making decisions.

    3. Develop a thug caste

    When leaders who seek what I call a “fascist shift” want to close down an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out to terrorise citizens. The Blackshirts roamed the Italian countryside beating up communists; the Brownshirts staged violent rallies throughout Germany. This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy: you need citizens to fear thug violence and so you need thugs who are free from prosecution.

    The years following 9/11 have proved a bonanza for America’s security contractors, with the Bush administration outsourcing areas of work that traditionally fell to the US military. In the process, contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been issued for security work by mercenaries at home and abroad. In Iraq, some of these contract operatives have been accused of involvement in torturing prisoners, harassing journalists and firing on Iraqi civilians. Under Order 17, issued to regulate contractors in Iraq by the one-time US administrator in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, these contractors are immune from prosecution

    Yes, but that is in Iraq, you could argue; however, after Hurricane Katrina, the Department of Homeland Security hired and deployed hundreds of armed private security guards in New Orleans. The investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill interviewed one unnamed guard who reported having fired on unarmed civilians in the city. It was a natural disaster that underlay that episode – but the administration’s endless war on terror means ongoing scope for what are in effect privately contracted armies to take on crisis and emergency management at home in US cities.

    Thugs in America? Groups of angry young Republican men, dressed in identical shirts and trousers, menaced poll workers counting the votes in Florida in 2000. If you are reading history, you can imagine that there can be a need for “public order” on the next election day. Say there are protests, or a threat, on the day of an election; history would not rule out the presence of a private security firm at a polling station “to restore public order”.

    4. Set up an internal surveillance system

    In Mussolini’s Italy, in Nazi Germany, in communist East Germany, in communist China – in every closed society – secret police spy on ordinary people and encourage neighbours to spy on neighbours. The Stasi needed to keep only a minority of East Germans under surveillance to convince a majority that they themselves were being watched.

    In 2005 and 2006, when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau wrote in the New York Times about a secret state programme to wiretap citizens’ phones, read their emails and follow international financial transactions, it became clear to ordinary Americans that they, too, could be under state scrutiny.

    In closed societies, this surveillance is cast as being about “national security”; the true function is to keep citizens docile and inhibit their activism and dissent.

    5. Harass citizens’ groups

    The fifth thing you do is related to step four – you infiltrate and harass citizens’ groups. It can be trivial: a church in Pasadena, whose minister preached that Jesus was in favour of peace, found itself being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, while churches that got Republicans out to vote, which is equally illegal under US tax law, have been left alone.

    Other harassment is more serious: the American Civil Liberties Union reports that thousands of ordinary American anti-war, environmental and other groups have been infiltrated by agents: a secret Pentagon database includes more than four dozen peaceful anti-war meetings, rallies or marches by American citizens in its category of 1,500 “suspicious incidents”. The equally secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (Cifa) agency of the Department of Defense has been gathering information about domestic organisations engaged in peaceful political activities: Cifa is supposed to track “potential terrorist threats” as it watches ordinary US citizen activists. A little-noticed new law has redefined activism such as animal rights protests as “terrorism”. So the definition of “terrorist” slowly expands to include the opposition.

    6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release

    This scares people. It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the investigative reporters who wrote China Wakes: the Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, describe pro-democracy activists in China, such as Wei Jingsheng, being arrested and released many times. In a closing or closed society there is a “list” of dissidents and opposition leaders: you are targeted in this way once you are on the list, and it is hard to get off the list.

    In 2004, America’s Transportation Security Administration confirmed that it had a list of passengers who were targeted for security searches or worse if they tried to fly. People who have found themselves on the list? Two middle-aged women peace activists in San Francisco; liberal Senator Edward Kennedy; a member of Venezuela’s government – after Venezuela’s president had criticised Bush; and thousands of ordinary US citizens.

    Professor Walter F Murphy is emeritus of Princeton University; he is one of the foremost constitutional scholars in the nation and author of the classic Constitutional Democracy. Murphy is also a decorated former marine, and he is not even especially politically liberal. But on March 1 this year, he was denied a boarding pass at Newark, “because I was on the Terrorist Watch list”.

    “Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that,” asked the airline employee.

    “I explained,” said Murphy, “that I had not so marched but had, in September 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the constitution.”

    “That’ll do it,” the man said.

    Anti-war marcher? Potential terrorist. Support the constitution? Potential terrorist. History shows that the categories of “enemy of the people” tend to expand ever deeper into civil life.

    James Yee, a US citizen, was the Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo who was accused of mishandling classified documents. He was harassed by the US military before the charges against him were dropped. Yee has been detained and released several times. He is still of interest.

    Brandon Mayfield, a US citizen and lawyer in Oregon, was mistakenly identified as a possible terrorist. His house was secretly broken into and his computer seized. Though he is innocent of the accusation against him, he is still on the list.

    It is a standard practice of fascist societies that once you are on the list, you can’t get off.

    7. Target key individuals

    Threaten civil servants, artists and academics with job loss if they don’t toe the line. Mussolini went after the rectors of state universities who did not conform to the fascist line; so did Joseph Goebbels, who purged academics who were not pro-Nazi; so did Chile’s Augusto Pinochet; so does the Chinese communist Politburo in punishing pro-democracy students and professors.

    Academe is a tinderbox of activism, so those seeking a fascist shift punish academics and students with professional loss if they do not “coordinate”, in Goebbels’ term, ideologically. Since civil servants are the sector of society most vulnerable to being fired by a given regime, they are also a group that fascists typically “coordinate” early on: the Reich Law for the Re-establishment of a Professional Civil Service was passed on April 7 1933.

    Bush supporters in state legislatures in several states put pressure on regents at state universities to penalise or fire academics who have been critical of the administration. As for civil servants, the Bush administration has derailed the career of one military lawyer who spoke up for fair trials for detainees, while an administration official publicly intimidated the law firms that represent detainees pro bono by threatening to call for their major corporate clients to boycott them.

    Elsewhere, a CIA contract worker who said in a closed blog that “waterboarding is torture” was stripped of the security clearance she needed in order to do her job.

    Most recently, the administration purged eight US attorneys for what looks like insufficient political loyalty. When Goebbels purged the civil service in April 1933, attorneys were “coordinated” too, a step that eased the way of the increasingly brutal laws to follow.

    8. Control the press

    Italy in the 1920s, Germany in the 30s, East Germany in the 50s, Czechoslovakia in the 60s, the Latin American dictatorships in the 70s, China in the 80s and 90s – all dictatorships and would-be dictators target newspapers and journalists. They threaten and harass them in more open societies that they are seeking to close, and they arrest them and worse in societies that have been closed already.

    The Committee to Protect Journalists says arrests of US journalists are at an all-time high: Josh Wolf (no relation), a blogger in San Francisco, has been put in jail for a year for refusing to turn over video of an anti-war demonstration; Homeland Security brought a criminal complaint against reporter Greg Palast, claiming he threatened “critical infrastructure” when he and a TV producer were filming victims of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. Palast had written a bestseller critical of the Bush administration.

    Other reporters and writers have been punished in other ways. Joseph C Wilson accused Bush, in a New York Times op-ed, of leading the country to war on the basis of a false charge that Saddam Hussein had acquired yellowcake uranium in Niger. His wife, Valerie Plame, was outed as a CIA spy – a form of retaliation that ended her career.

    Prosecution and job loss are nothing, though, compared with how the US is treating journalists seeking to cover the conflict in Iraq in an unbiased way. The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented multiple accounts of the US military in Iraq firing upon or threatening to fire upon unembedded (meaning independent) reporters and camera operators from organisations ranging from al-Jazeera to the BBC. While westerners may question the accounts by al-Jazeera, they should pay attention to the accounts of reporters such as the BBC’s Kate Adie. In some cases reporters have been wounded or killed, including ITN’s Terry Lloyd in 2003. Both CBS and the Associated Press in Iraq had staff members seized by the US military and taken to violent prisons; the news organisations were unable to see the evidence against their staffers.

    Over time in closing societies, real news is supplanted by fake news and false documents. Pinochet showed Chilean citizens falsified documents to back up his claim that terrorists had been about to attack the nation. The yellowcake charge, too, was based on forged papers.

    You won’t have a shutdown of news in modern America – it is not possible. But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have pointed out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well. What you already have is a White House directing a stream of false information that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to sort out truth from untruth. In a fascist system, it’s not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can’t tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.

    9. Dissent equals treason

    Cast dissent as “treason” and criticism as “espionage’. Every closing society does this, just as it elaborates laws that increasingly criminalise certain kinds of speech and expand the definition of “spy” and “traitor”. When Bill Keller, the publisher of the New York Times, ran the Lichtblau/Risen stories, Bush called the Times’ leaking of classified information “disgraceful”, while Republicans in Congress called for Keller to be charged with treason, and rightwing commentators and news outlets kept up the “treason” drumbeat. Some commentators, as Conason noted, reminded readers smugly that one penalty for violating the Espionage Act is execution.

    Conason is right to note how serious a threat that attack represented. It is also important to recall that the 1938 Moscow show trial accused the editor of Izvestia, Nikolai Bukharin, of treason; Bukharin was, in fact, executed. And it is important to remind Americans that when the 1917 Espionage Act was last widely invoked, during the infamous 1919 Palmer Raids, leftist activists were arrested without warrants in sweeping roundups, kept in jail for up to five months, and “beaten, starved, suffocated, tortured and threatened with death”, according to the historian Myra MacPherson. After that, dissent was muted in America for a decade.

    In Stalin’s Soviet Union, dissidents were “enemies of the people”. National Socialists called those who supported Weimar democracy “November traitors”.

    And here is where the circle closes: most Americans do not realise that since September of last year – when Congress wrongly, foolishly, passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 – the president has the power to call any US citizen an “enemy combatant”. He has the power to define what “enemy combatant” means. The president can also delegate to anyone he chooses in the executive branch the right to define “enemy combatant” any way he or she wants and then seize Americans accordingly.

    Even if you or I are American citizens, even if we turn out to be completely innocent of what he has accused us of doing, he has the power to have us seized as we are changing planes at Newark tomorrow, or have us taken with a knock on the door; ship you or me to a navy brig; and keep you or me in isolation, possibly for months, while awaiting trial. (Prolonged isolation, as psychiatrists know, triggers psychosis in otherwise mentally healthy prisoners. That is why Stalin’s gulag had an isolation cell, like Guantánamo’s, in every satellite prison. Camp 6, the newest, most brutal facility at Guantánamo, is all isolation cells.)

    We US citizens will get a trial eventually – for now. But legal rights activists at the Center for Constitutional Rights say that the Bush administration is trying increasingly aggressively to find ways to get around giving even US citizens fair trials. “Enemy combatant” is a status offence – it is not even something you have to have done. “We have absolutely moved over into a preventive detention model – you look like you could do something bad, you might do something bad, so we’re going to hold you,” says a spokeswoman of the CCR.

    Most Americans surely do not get this yet. No wonder: it is hard to believe, even though it is true. In every closing society, at a certain point there are some high-profile arrests – usually of opposition leaders, clergy and journalists. Then everything goes quiet. After those arrests, there are still newspapers, courts, TV and radio, and the facades of a civil society. There just isn’t real dissent. There just isn’t freedom. If you look at history, just before those arrests is where we are now.

    10. Suspend the rule of law

    The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 gave the president new powers over the national guard. This means that in a national emergency – which the president now has enhanced powers to declare – he can send Michigan’s militia to enforce a state of emergency that he has declared in Oregon, over the objections of the state’s governor and its citizens.

    Even as Americans were focused on Britney Spears’s meltdown and the question of who fathered Anna Nicole’s baby, the New York Times editorialised about this shift: “A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night … Beyond actual insurrection, the president may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or any ‘other condition’.”

    Critics see this as a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act – which was meant to restrain the federal government from using the military for domestic law enforcement. The Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says the bill encourages a president to declare federal martial law. It also violates the very reason the founders set up our system of government as they did: having seen citizens bullied by a monarch’s soldiers, the founders were terrified of exactly this kind of concentration of militias’ power over American people in the hands of an oppressive executive or faction.

    Of course, the United States is not vulnerable to the violent, total closing-down of the system that followed Mussolini’s march on Rome or Hitler’s roundup of political prisoners. Our democratic habits are too resilient, and our military and judiciary too independent, for any kind of scenario like that.

    Rather, as other critics are noting, our experiment in democracy could be closed down by a process of erosion.

    It is a mistake to think that early in a fascist shift you see the profile of barbed wire against the sky. In the early days, things look normal on the surface; peasants were celebrating harvest festivals in Calabria in 1922; people were shopping and going to the movies in Berlin in 1931. Early on, as WH Auden put it, the horror is always elsewhere – while someone is being tortured, children are skating, ships are sailing: “dogs go on with their doggy life … How everything turns away/ Quite leisurely from the disaster.”

    As Americans turn away quite leisurely, keeping tuned to internet shopping and American Idol, the foundations of democracy are being fatally corroded. Something has changed profoundly that weakens us unprecedentedly: our democratic traditions, independent judiciary and free press do their work today in a context in which we are “at war” in a “long war” – a war without end, on a battlefield described as the globe, in a context that gives the president – without US citizens realising it yet – the power over US citizens of freedom or long solitary incarceration, on his say-so alone.

    That means a hollowness has been expanding under the foundation of all these still- free-looking institutions – and this foundation can give way under certain kinds of pressure. To prevent such an outcome, we have to think about the “what ifs”.

    What if, in a year and a half, there is another attack – say, God forbid, a dirty bomb? The executive can declare a state of emergency. History shows that any leader, of any party, will be tempted to maintain emergency powers after the crisis has passed. With the gutting of traditional checks and balances, we are no less endangered by a President Hillary than by a President Giuliani – because any executive will be tempted to enforce his or her will through edict rather than the arduous, uncertain process of democratic negotiation and compromise.

    What if the publisher of a major US newspaper were charged with treason or espionage, as a rightwing effort seemed to threaten Keller with last year? What if he or she got 10 years in jail? What would the newspapers look like the next day? Judging from history, they would not cease publishing; but they would suddenly be very polite.

    Right now, only a handful of patriots are trying to hold back the tide of tyranny for the rest of us – staff at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who faced death threats for representing the detainees yet persisted all the way to the Supreme Court; activists at the American Civil Liberties Union; and prominent conservatives trying to roll back the corrosive new laws, under the banner of a new group called the American Freedom Agenda. This small, disparate collection of people needs everybody’s help, including that of Europeans and others internationally who are willing to put pressure on the administration because they can see what a US unrestrained by real democracy at home can mean for the rest of the world.

    We need to look at history and face the “what ifs”. For if we keep going down this road, the “end of America” could come for each of us in a different way, at a different moment; each of us might have a different moment when we feel forced to look back and think: that is how it was before – and this is the way it is now.

    “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands … is the definition of tyranny,” wrote James Madison. We still have the choice to stop going down this road; we can stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the banner the founders asked us to carry.

  80. 80
    A Humble Lurker says:

    @mclaren:
    Just give a damn link.

  81. 81
    efgoldman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name):

    Yeah, that’s it. Because Obama is the problem here. Right….

    Hey, he’s had six damned years to squeeze the racism out of all the police forces in the country, right? I mean, what’s that green lantern for if he doesn’t use it.

  82. 82
    efgoldman says:

    @mclaren: @A Humble Lurker:

    Just give a damn link.

    Yeah. Jeebus. You know how many innocent pixels had to die for that post?

  83. 83
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @efgoldman: Well, he made an iffy statement in a speech, so let’s burn him.

  84. 84
    amk says:

    @mclaren: jeez, louise. fair use and all that.

  85. 85
    mclaren says:

    @Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name):

    Obama is certainly part of the problem in the militarization of the police.

    Those military weapons don’t just magically appear in police hands because the Military Surplus Fairy waves her magic wand — the military weaponry has to be specifically targeted for sale to police departments at low low prices by the Department of Defense, and that means that as the chief executive, Barack Obama could end that practice with an executive order in a heartbeat.

    I mean tomorrow. Obama could pick up his phone, sign an executive order, and that goddamn practice of selling military weaponry to police departments would end instantly.

    Moreover, Barack Obama seems to love the prospect of militarizing civilian police. Obama sold a shit-ton of military LRAD weaponry to the Chicago police department after Barack’s good buddy Rahm Emanuel (he of the stabbing fork into the table while shouting “He’s DEAD!” about his enemies) made a request. And this is not ancient history — we’re talking about 2012 here.

    Obama’s DOJ had noooooooooooooo problem about providing all the military LRAD sound cannons required to deafen and disperse protesters at the G8 conference in 2012.

    Chicago police are preparing to use Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD) on protesters during the G-8/NATO Summit. LRAD devices send sounds, warnings and tones that are painful to the human ear. The use of LRAD devices are controversial. According to the ACLU of Pennsylvania, a bystander during the Pittsburgh protests in 2009 has sued the city of Pittsburgh for hearing loss and pain resulting from the use of LRAD.

    So yes, Barack Obama is definitely part of the problem here. If you don’t realize that, you’re either not paying attention, or you’re lying.

    “G20 protesters blasted by sonic cannon — US police spark outrage by using wartime acoustic weapon to disperse G20 protesters in Pittsburgh,” The Guardian, September 2009.

    September 2009. That’s nearly a year into Obama’s first term. This wasn’t Bush, this was Obama.

  86. 86
    FlyingToaster says:

    @mclaren: I live in Watertown.

    I am not going to feed your trollishness. Please just go DIAF.

    Watertown has a large immigrant population. But Watertown does not have a SWAT team, a Tank, snipers, Hazmat teams, riot squads, or any of that bullshit.

    We do need better communication and pass-over procedures (like our local Fire Departments do in “X-Alarm fire in Town Y”), so that you don’t get cops getting shot by friendly fire in shootouts with murdering, bombing whackjobs and their stoner brothers. Our staties need better training in urban search techniques (protip – don’t point your assault rifle at a retiree who came out to check who was banging on her garbage pails). And we’re actually working on that shit.

    GO AWAY.

  87. 87
    Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN) says:

    @mclaren:

    I’m really interested in why people are so outraged now about this wildly extreme police militarization, with SWAT tanks patrolling the streets and bizarrely over-weaponed police with more grenades and body armor and M-15 grenade-launching automatic rifles than U.S. troops typically carry in Iraq…when no one on this forum seemed to utter a peep against this insanity during the aftermath of the Boston bombing lockdown.

    It’s because we hate you personally. You alone have caused 1.2% of the American populace to turn in favor of police militarization.

  88. 88
    drkrick says:

    @chopper:

    Right. I understand that the head of the FOP is going to reflexively back the cop here, but there’s no real way of going through this story while ignoring the fact that this cop shot an unarmed kid who was running away from him.

    Chances are that he believes the cock-and-bull story about Brown trying to steal the cop’s gun and think that justifies preventing from getting away. The President of the FOP is going to have a black belt in closing ranks.

  89. 89
    NickM says:

    Rand Paul’s sole interest in demilitarizing the police is to make sure the Bundy-ists can more easily defy legitimate democratic authority they don’t like. Don’t get me wrong — the militarization of police forces is wrong for so many reasons, it’s about time it actually got attention, and I suppose we should welcome any allies. But I don’t trust the motives of that weird Goldbug or the elements of the country he represents.

  90. 90
    different-church-lady says:

    Until the power structure of Missouri reviews every Vine and every picture and every video of cops calling people animals and brutalizing civilians is punished, they aren’t taking things seriously.

    Ah, finally, some light shining on the thing that needs to be lit.

  91. 91
    different-church-lady says:

    @mclaren:

    when no one on this forum seemed to utter a peep against this insanity during the aftermath of the Boston bombing lockdown.

    Gee, uh, could it have possibly had something to do with the fucking bombs that were involved you god-damend trolling asshole?

  92. 92
    different-church-lady says:

    @FlyingToaster: If you were to flick your porch light on and off right now, there’s a chance I could see it from where I currently sit. And for my money a fire is too good for the dick — he can die in a shallow kiddie pool.

  93. 93
    gian says:

    @mclaren:

    anyone have the reader’s digest condensed version of that post?

  94. 94
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @gian: No.

  95. 95
    different-church-lady says:

    national guard troops doing warrantless house-to-house searches…

    If you have any evidence for this other than that one infamous (yet unsourced and unexplained) YouTube video, I’d love to see it.

    This isn’t just “militarization,” it’s honest-to-god junta time. It’s the kind of thing you saw under Pinochet. The only thing missing is throwing detainees out of helicopters into the ocean for the waiting sharks.

    Please come to Watertown right now and tell me about the junta we’ve had for the past 16 months. Because basically you’re asking me to believe you or my own damn eyes.

    And what was the reaction of the Balloon-Juice commentariat? I was “mentally ill,” “a troll,” “in need of therapy,” “demented,” “sick in the head.”

    And that’s still my reaction.

  96. 96
    different-church-lady says:

    @gian:

    anyone have the reader’s digest condensed version of that post?

    A hyper-liberal troll with delusions of being Christopher Hitchens gives advice on handing car-jacking terrorists with bombs.

  97. 97
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @gian: The short version is: “stuff sucks and I noticed it, yay me.” You’re welcome.

  98. 98
    different-church-lady says:

    @FlipYrWhig:

    The short version is: “stuff sucks and I noticed it I’m the only one who noticed it, yay me.”

  99. 99
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @FlipYrWhig: There is more of a “you all suck and I am the onliest person who notices what is going on” vibe.

  100. 100
    El Caganer says:

    Think I’ll email my state rep and ask what he thinks of the police body camera idea. I suspect here in Philly it would be extremely popular with the residents, maybe not so much so with the cops. In the forty-some years I’ve lived around here, I’ve been very, very lucky never to get sideways with them, but some of my buddies have, with very bad results.

  101. 101
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @M. Bouffant: A direct quote from the Lord Mayor of Chicago his own self!

  102. 102
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @El Caganer

    : I suspect here in Philly it would be extremely popular with the residents, maybe not so much so with the cops.

    Most likely correct.

    A lot of cops don’t want to be watched when they’re engaging in outright thuggery. Bad for bidness, you know.

  103. 103
    Gordon, the Big Express Engine says:

    @Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): I lol’ed yo!

  104. 104
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: British cops eventually came to like recorded interviews. If you aren’t fucking up, the video shows it. It also show hesitations and tone of voice. These things can matter in a prosecution. At the same time, the knowledge that they were being recorded made them toe the line.

  105. 105
    dww44 says:

    @JPL: Sad to say, but I agree. Now, what Hank needs to do is find a willing co-sponsor or two from across the aisle (a libertarian like Rand Paul?) who agrees that militarized police are not good for anyone. Then his bill might have a bit of a chance.

  106. 106
    dww44 says:

    @the Conster: Oh, I do so hope you are wrong on this.

  107. 107
    FlyingToaster says:

    @different-church-lady: I’m not allowed to give out personal information because of stalkers.

    And when you posted I was upstairs taking WarriorGirl’s temperature (she spiked at 102.4°) and teaching her the words to “The 12 days of Allston Xmas”.

    Twelve plumbers plumbing
    Eleven Skypers skyping
    Ten words a-bleeping
    Nine bands poorly singing
    Eight meter maids ticketing
    Seven vans a brimming
    Six roomies overpaying
    Five moldy things
    Four falling nerds
    Three car dents
    Two hurtled stoves
    and a Storrowed rental Truck from Penske

  108. 108
    different-church-lady says:

    @FlyingToaster:

    I’m not allowed to give out personal information because of stalkers.

    Which is quite prudent.

    Mclaren wouldn’t last 15 minutes in Our Fair City before someone stuffed him into a trashcan in front of Blanchard’s in Allston.

  109. 109
    different-church-lady says:

    @FlyingToaster: PS: are you like me in finding that Universal Hub has become a better source of news than Boston.com lately?

  110. 110
    🚸 Martin says:

    So, my family has long been well represented in the NYPD and NYFD. If you watch local news, you’ve probably seen some of them on TV. I won’t pretend that I like many of them – most are Republicans, and I think it’s fair to say that given my family’s long involvement with both agencies, that at least some of the longstanding problems, particularly with the hiring of minorities can be laid at the family’s feet.

    All that said, one thing one of my dad’s cousins told me ages ago at a family reunion in response to my question about why there was so much tension between the public and the police (this was sometime in the 70s) was that it was impossible for the public to create those problems. The police are a creation of the public. They exist because we willed them into being. We want to like and trust the police. If there is tension it all originates from the police. The public can escalate it, but the police had to start it. He was pretty young at the time, and I doubt he’d tell me that after 30 years on the force, but he was right.

  111. 111
    gian says:

    @FlipYrWhig:

    thank you. I’m glad I watched Phineas and Ferb with my 9 year old instead of reading it.

  112. 112
    Jasmine Bleach says:

    @JPL:

    Hank Johnson won’t be able to bring a bill to the floor for a vote. Boehner won’t let him.

    True, but at least SOMEBODY is actually talking about demilitarizing the police now. That’s huge. It means it’s in the realm of actual discussion in the political arena. It never has been before (outside of liberal blogs).

    Maybe if some politicians see enough of their constituents pissed off about police looking like a military platoon in their neighborhoods, they’ll realize they could get voted in supporting legislation like this. That has the potential to change things.

    Maybe not with the current congress (unless some tea party members can be brought onboard), but who knows what the situation will be like in 6 or 10 years.

  113. 113
    🚸 Martin says:

    @Jasmine Bleach: Johnson may be able to get Rep Amash on board. He’s been pretty outspoken about this. I don’t think Amash has any clout in the GOP, but he does have an R after his name…

  114. 114
    gian says:

    @🚸 Martin:

    the public does create the police and they get the police forces that they want.
    the mostly white voters in Ferguson wanted a police force to address their fear of black people, and they got it.

    I worked for about 10 years driving down a street with prostitutes walking within sight of a local police station, (judged by lack of clothing and waving at every car with a male driver and sometimes I saw the cars pull over etc.) and I’ve visited some pretty high-rent areas as well. the odd thing about pedestrians I’ve noticed in my experience – the high rent ones ignore the lights but stay mostly in or near the crosswalks, the low rent ones don’t bother with the crosswalks. (could be there are more crosswalks in high rent land)
    but being a jaywalker happens everywhere. Seems in one town in the show me state it’s a capital offense requiring summary execution.

  115. 115
    My Truth Hurts says:

    D – White authoritarians always be telling the black President what he “needs” to be doing.

    Fuck this Boss Hogg wannabe right in the ass.

  116. 116
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @gian: I once represented a homeless guy who was maced and cuffed for jaywalking. He had done something I did everyday. I am white and posh-looking, He was not. The cop who fucked with him had done it many times before.

  117. 117
    El Caganer says:

    @Jasmine Bleach: There’s no reason this shouldn’t be pushed at the state and local level, too – the Feds can give the stuff away, but state and local government can tell the cops to keep it in mothballs. People need to be pushing that police body camera thing at the state and local level as well – other than cops (and not even all of them), who’s going to fight it?

  118. 118
    El Caganer says:

    @Jasmine Bleach: There’s no reason this shouldn’t be pushed at the state and local level, too – the Feds can give the stuff away, but state and local government can tell the cops to keep it in mothballs. People need to be pushing that police body camera thing at the state and local level as well – other than cops (and not even all of them), who’s going to fight it?

  119. 119
    El Caganer says:

    @Jasmine Bleach: There’s no reason this shouldn’t be pushed at the state and local level, too – the Feds can give the stuff away, but state and local government can tell the cops to keep it in mothballs. People need to be pushing that police body camera thing at the state and local level as well – other than cops (and not even all of them), who’s going to fight it?

  120. 120
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @My Truth Hurts: Who here is doing that?

  121. 121
    karen says:

    restrict a Defense Department program that provides machine guns and other surplus military equipment for free to local law enforcement agencies across the country.

    The local militias would get all the military equipment instead.

  122. 122
    Violet says:

    @El Caganer:

    People need to be pushing that police body camera thing at the state and local level as well – other than cops (and not even all of them), who’s going to fight it?

    Republicans. They’d claim it would cost money and “we don’t have the money to pay for unnecessary things like body cameras. The police have been doing just fine without them.”

  123. 123
    El Caganer says:

    @Violet: You’re right, of course, but I’d be interested in seeing how much money police departments that use cameras are saving by having fewer lawsuits.

  124. 124
    different-church-lady says:

    @Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name): It’s not aimed at anybody here: “My Truth Hurts” is adding adding a fourth item to Cole’s list of three retorts aimed at Jim Pasco.

  125. 125
    moderateindy says:

    The real reason cops don’t want to be filmed isn’t because they are afraid of getting caught being aholes to civilians, it’s cause they don’t want their superiors to find out that they don’t do jack all day long. I am reminded of a story about a friends father who was with the Chicago PD. He worked the night shift, and basically every day after roll call he and his partner would go home, and sleep with their radios next to the bed in case a call came in.

    The thing in Ferguson reminds me of a story a few years ago at Western IL Univ when the IL Western Regional Tactical Unit (or some such ridiculous name) was deployed for an end of the year block party, complete with their riot gear, and sonic crowd control truck, just in case a riot broke out. So instead of a party, (that in the past would have the town cops break it up if it got out of hand), ending by having local cops do their job, the goon squad lined up chest to chest, and advanced on the crowd of drunken college kids pepper spraying everyone as they went. Hoocadannode that would end badly. The worst part was that the local cops, who were usually pretty reasonable, were right there with this special unit indiscriminately pepper spraying anyone they came across. They basically provoked a riot, which of course had the extra benefit of proving that they needed to be there in case there was a riot.
    If you give law enforcement these toys they are going to create ways to use them. It is not unlike like the Military Industrial Complex. If you continue to invest huge sums of cash into weaponry, the powers that be are going to manufacture reasons to use those weapons to justify the cost.

  126. 126
    Chris says:

    @Dog On Porch:

    In political terms, realism is a awfully pliable concept.

    “We have to be realistic” is usually code for “I can’t justify this morally or practically so I’m just going to say that it HAS to be this way whether we like it or not.”

  127. 127
    Chris says:

    @rikyrah:

    That lasted what, a week? Maybe until his swearing in? Then we found out later that they whole time the GOP was planning to obstruct him at every turn. He’s gotten nothing but disrespect from certain quarters since 2008. It’s truly shameful. It pisses me off and I’m not black, how do you think black people feel?

    I tell people that what really cemented me as a cynic in re American politics isn’t the Bush years I grew up in, it was watching the anti-Obama backlash, the depth of it, and how quickly it happened.

    The speed with which all of Polite Society rushed to declare his policies failed and his presidency dead – basically at his inauguration – was shocking no matter how racist I might’ve theoretically known the country was. At it was especially blatant when you compared it to the previous president – where the opposition party saw crisis as a reason to rally around the flag rather than dig in and refuse any and all cooperation, and where Polite Society gave his policies in Iraq and Afghanistan a good couple of years’ worth of chances before they started proclaiming that okay, something’s not right here.

  128. 128
    CarolDuhart2 says:

    @mclaren: get your own blog, dammit.
    Or are you afraid nobody would read it?

  129. 129
    judge crater says:

    I don’t think anyone has mentioned the “war on drugs” which has been going on for decades. It has created the SWAT team ethos that now infects every police department in the country. Midnight raids, busting in doors, flash-bang grenades, cops dressed up in Robo Cop body armor, and all variety of craziness. After they shoot the family dog and find a marijuana plant in the basement you get sent off to prison for twenty years.

  130. 130
    FlyingToaster says:

    @different-church-lady: Lately? Since about 2008, frankly. Once Adam got laid off from IDG, it became the best local news site, period.

    The NYT buyout basically destroyed local reporting — I had stopped taking the Glob in Somerville in the 90s because the only time they covered the ‘ville was every three years when someone got murdered.

    I stopped buying the Sunday Glob when their Sunday Metrowest coverage went to a three item, 1.5 inch table cell for every freaking ‘burb. I don’t live in effing Dover, morons. Paper of record, my eye.

    Around ChezToaster, the print media are called the Glob, the Whorald, and the Tab. Which is also pretty damn useless, but since the H2OTown blog went the way of the dodo, WickedLocal is all we got.

  131. 131
    different-church-lady says:

    @FlyingToaster: Somerville in the 90s, Watertown today… saaaaay, are you following me?

    I said lately because of boston.com’s recent transition from weak news to unedited journo-blog leach field. I can understand why they’d want to move the “real” on-line Globe behind a pay wall, but I sometimes feel like I need to write them and say, “I know you want boston.com to be a blog, but does it have to be such a crappy one?”

  132. 132
    chopper says:

    @gian:

    “I complained on the internet! Give me a prize!”

  133. 133
    FlyingToaster says:

    @different-church-lady:

    Somerville in the 90s, Watertown today… saaaaay, are you following me?

    Only if you were in Bloomington Indiana in the 80s :)

    Actually, everyone I know who’s my age lived in either Somerville or Allston in the late 80s and early 90s. I was in 02144 for 15 years but couldn’t find a single family house with two parking spots — in our price range — when we went househunting in 2001-2. Hence, Watertown.

    Everyone ended up buying either in a suburb they could afford (Medford, Watertown), a suburb where they spent a few years underwater with better schools (Newton, Lexington, Brookline), or out to the exurbs or out-of-town altogether. Only one couple still lives in Somerville, in a Prospect Hill single family with a one car driveway.

  134. 134
    Applejinx says:

    @mclaren: I’ll give you a real answer, in hopes it might help.

    Possibility and actuality are two different things. I honestly wonder whether you’re even more autistic than me, because I recognize the ‘literality’ of your thinking, that things have to be spelled out and that people will act in accordance with the written rules or with some unwritten ruleset that must be crusaded against.

    It’s not unreasonable for public opinion to swing way in the direction of ‘police possibility’ in a serious emergency. Terrorism does this (whether falseflag or real). It prepares all of society to tolerate a TEMPORARY excess of authority, for the purposes of addressing what’s seen as a temporary excess of crime and tragedy. The idea is ‘make it stop! Then we will return to normal’.

    In peaceful times, the assumption is that we will not entertain such police acts, and if they’re happening to people who are legitimately in their homes and doing nothing wrong, the rules get redrawn. It’s been like that since the Magna Carta: societal pressure limiting authority.

    With racism it gets weird, when you’ve got bigots deciding that some citizens are NOT legitimate. That’s how we got to a state where cops can kill children if they’re black, and pay no consequences at all. Somewhere in America, a cop is killing a black person and it’s not reported on the news. If it is, the black person is redefined as a criminal, making it okay. There are enough bigots for this to work, and it’s a problem.

    With Ferguson, while the black kid being murdered by a cop was an issue, the reason society turned against the cops (and did not in Boston) is that in Boston, cops were trying to catch mad bombers. They were in a sense working for society, not against it.

    In Ferguson, after killing a kid, the cops went out to suppress public demonstrations. Even that is not enough to make society turn on them, but here’s the point that blew it for the cops: when they were throwing tear gas and ordering citizens to disperse and go home when the citizens WERE HOME.

    That tore it. There’s the difference. In Boston (if we take your word as gospel) it’s ‘let us in right now so we can search for the bomber’. In Ferguson, it’s “We ARE home! This is my home! *cough, choke*”

    And it’s fair to say that, as a society, you get to gather somewhere not your home to protest something very wrong. If that’s not true, you really are an animal, to be herded. The police thought so, in no uncertain terms. Society will look upon that uncomfortably and maybe still tolerate it if it’s black people. But when the police are demanding, ‘Go away from here’ and the reply is ‘This IS my home!’ that strikes a nerve.

    Most people can imagine being backed into a corner and clinging to their last refuge. That’s what a home is. You can adapt to an emergency where some cop searches for a third party, if it’s truly an emergency, but being told ‘get the fuck out’ is quite another thing. This isn’t even a human condition, it’s true for any territorial animal.

    And that is why Ferguson was treated differently than Boston. It was utterly different.

    Now, if Boston led the Boston police to feel like they can barge into peoples’ places any time they like even without an emergency, that wouldn’t be totally surprising. And that’s a worthwhile conversation to have. But it is another conversation.

    :)

  135. 135
    Cervantes says:

    @Applejinx:

    I’ll give you a real answer, in hopes it might help.

    Much appreciated.

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