Friday, December 30, 2011

The Rise of the American Police State

by Nomad
From Fiction to Fact

Here is a clip from that brilliant, strange but frightening film "Brazil." The film was a surreal tragic comedy involving a Dystopian authoritarian world where the last refuge of the common man is in his heroic dreams. Because of the threat of terrorism, the state relies on an aggressive policy of No-Questions-asked policy which soon becomes mere intimidation. 

Even then, sometimes things go wrong. 
But this was all fiction, you say. Just a harmless bit of entertainment. I mean, it couldn't happen in the free nations of the West. We have protections for our civil rights built into the system, after all. These have to be respected by authorities. Perhaps not in some third world banana republic, but in the US or in Europe, it's simply not possible. That is a proud notion based on a small degree of truth and a great deal of wishful thinking.
In fact, beginning with the war on drugs and dramatically increasing with the war on terror, the local police have become more and more aggressive in their assault on the rights of citizens. 

Because videotaped evidence can often be quite misleading, the details in this case are, therefore, important. 
Without the videotape, this is how the official story would read in your local gazette. 

Acting on a tip, SWAT police in Columbia Missouri arrested 25 year old Jonathan E. Whitworth on February 11, 2010 for drug possession. 
A police SWAT team entered Whitworth’s residence around 8:30 p.m. suspecting a large amount of marijuana at the location, police spokeswoman Officer Jessie Haden said. SWAT members encountered a pit bull upon entry, held back and then fatally shot the dog, which officers said was acting in an uncontrollably aggressive manner.
Quite predictably, most dogs tend to act in an aggressive manner when confronted with an uninvited squad of intruders bearing arms, breaking down doors and behaving in a threatening manner. It is what we train them to do. From the video, it doesn't appear that the dog actually attacked anybody and was reportedly caged during the intrusion.
Whitworth was arrested, and his wife and 7-year-old son were present during the SWAT raid, Haden said. A second dog, which Whitworth’s attorney Jeff Hilbrenner described as a corgi, also was shot but was not killed.
“The family is concerned with what happened,” Hilbrenner said. “We don’t feel like what happened in the home was appropriate. The priority right now for us is the misdemeanor charges.”
Based on information from two confidential sources (informants) law enforcement believed the man to be in possession of large amounts of the illegal substance. In fact, what the police found was a pipe with a small amount of pot- enough only for misdemeanor charges (under 35 grams).  
In order to justify their obvious failure in the matter, the police decided to charge Whitworth with second degree child endangerment, presumably in regard to the marijuana. Ironic, given the actions of the SWAT team.

Whatever one's own opinions on illegal drugs such as marijuana, one has to ask whether the police response matches the severity of the crime. Was this degree of aggression necessary to serve a warrant? Even if the police had found large qualities of marijuana on the premises, was this actually the best way to handle the situation?
After all, in the United States, in theory, suspects are presumed innocent until a judge or jury determines otherwise. This type of home invasion, destroying property and traumatizing children is not acceptable treatment of an innocent citizen and his family.
With a warrant in hand, the police could have easily entered the home without all the drama. Better yet, the suspect could have been picked up outside the home and the house could have been searched separately. The man and his family could have been an opportunity to peacefully evacuate the home with their pets restrained while police conducted a search of the home.  As you can clearly see, the family was given little time to answer the door and no time whatsoever to restrain their dogs. There were many alternatives but this heavy handed approach was the only one the local police considered.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and Warrants shall not be issued, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Apparently a search warrant was obtained. Police authorities were able to persuade a judge that there was probable cause- incorrectly, as it turned out. How they could ever have persuaded a judge that possibly endangering a seven year old child was a necessary risk is hard to imagine.  And indeed they were well aware that a child was at the residence when they decided to send the SWAT team- as the statements of police demonstrate in the article.
Because the SWAT team acts on the most updated information available, the team wanted to enter the house before marijuana believed to be at the location could be distributed, she said.
Drug distributors traditionally have a history with firearms, which is why the SWAT team is used when executing such warrants, Haden said. If the SWAT team believed they could have executed the warrant successfully during the daytime when the wife and child were not present, they would have, she said.
“If you let too much time go by, then the drugs are not there,” she said.
The excuse is, therefore, expediency and yet nothing is given to corroborate the claim that it was a matter of urgency. According to the spokesperson, it simply was not possible to conduct this action during the day. End of story. We are expected to take her word for the fact. However, given the sheer number of police involved in this drama, it would have taken only one or two police officers to maintain a continual police surveillance of the home until a more appropriate time could be found. 
Was this type of "shock and awe" police action actually warranted? And purely from an economic standpoint, is it worth the expense to the taxpayers? All that equipment, all that training of so many SWAT members? 
But you know what? This event is merely one example.

From the War on Drugs to the War on Terror..and Beyond 
According to  Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America, by Radley Balko a policy analyst specializing in civil liberties issues:
Over the last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law enforcement, along with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of paramilitary police units (most commonly called Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT) for routine police work. The most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home.
These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they're sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers. These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors. The raids terrorize innocents when police mistakenly target the wrong residence. And they have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries, not only of drug offenders, but also of police officers, children, bystanders, and innocent suspects.
The real push to arm your local police to the level of military force standards began immediately after September 11 2001. According to Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz of the Center for Investigative Reporting, much of the funding of local police agencies for buying military equipment comes in federal government grants of more than $34 billion in the last ten years.
The federal grant spending, awarded with little oversight from Washington, has fueled a rapid, broad transformation of police operations ... in departments across the country. More than ever before, police rely on quasi-military tactics and equipment, the Center for Investigative Reporting has found.
No one can say exactly what has been purchased in total across the country or how it’s being used, because the federal government doesn’t keep close track. State and local governments don’t maintain uniform records. But a review of records from 41 states obtained through open-government requests, and interviews with more than two-dozen current and former police officials and terrorism experts, shows police departments around the U.S. have transformed into small army-like forces.
While it may be impossible to determine exactly how this money was spent, this interactive map can give one a general idea how much funding state police forces received. In 2011 California, for example, received $141,599,909 for something called Urban Areas Security Initiative.  As  Andrew Becker and   G.W. Schulz explain:
Administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the UASI program allocates grant funding to help high-risk, high-density urban areas develop the capacity “to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism.”
With an annual budget of  $662,622,100, little oversight on spending and no clear definition of what is and what is not terrorism, the program is ripe for misapplication.

And keep in mind this is only one program of many under the auspices of Homeland Security which provides funding. among other anti-terrorism funding programs, there is State Homeland Security, which received $526,874,098 this year, and Emergency Management Performance Grant, $329,040,400 and Emergency Operations Center Grant,  $14,601,740. Again, these are only a few examples of the kind of funding. Justin Elliot for interviewed Becker and Schultz who explained:
What we learned over time is that it’s not just one grant program, it’s grant programs. There is a dizzying array of grants that local communities are eligible for from the Department of Homeland Security and sometimes the Justice Department. A few grants existed prior to 9/11. After DHS was created, Congress kept creating new programs to meet perceived needs around security. For example, “We need a bulletproof vehicle to send in our SWAT unit if a Mumbai-style attack occurs.” That led to a spree of spending on bulletproof vehicles. Each round of purchases is fueled by a what-if scenario.
You could be thinking that this is the price that we all have to pay in order to prevent acts of terrorism in the modern age. But even the General Accounting Office questions whether there is any proof that all the funding  has done anything to decrease the risks. FEMA reports claim that the program is effective but provides little in the way of evidence. David Muhlhausen for The Foundry reports:
Too frequently, the report asserts that the UASI program is effective without providing any quantifiable outcome measures. For example, the report asserts that the “UASI program is enhancing regional collaboration and coordination” without providing any quantitative evidence to support the conclusion. How much has collaboration and coordination increased in areas receiving funding? Other than stating that there has been an increase, the report does not provide any outcome measures. In a 2009 report that contradicts this finding, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that FEMA “does not have measures to assess how UASI regions’ collaborative efforts have built preparedness capabilities”—the primary goal of the program.
Of course, nobody would argue that the United States should not be prepared to deal with terrorist acts. The threats are not imaginary. However, , as we have seen recently in a number of cases, when this money is spent against citizens engaged in peaceful protest then it is only right and only fair to begin asking the hard questions. As the article on Center for Investigative Reporting points out:
No one can say exactly what has been purchased in total across the country or how it’s being used, because the federal government doesn’t keep close track. State and local governments don’t maintain uniform records. But a review of records from 41 states obtained through open-government requests, and interviews with more than two-dozen current and former police officials and terrorism experts, shows police departments around the U.S. have transformed into small army-like forces.
Since Occupy Wall Street and similar protests broke out this fall, confusion about how to respond has landed some police departments in national headlines for electing to use intimidating riot gear, pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators. Observers have decried these aggressive tactics as more evidence that police are overly militarized....
Many police, including beat cops, now routinely carry assault rifles. Combined with body armor and other apparel, many officers look more and more like combat troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The list of equipment bought with the federal grants reads like a defense contractor catalog. High-tech gear fills the garages, locker rooms and patrol cars in departments across the country.
Although local officials say they have become more cautious about spending in recent years, police departments around the country are continually expanding the equipment and tactics of their jobs, despite, in many cases, the lack of an apparent need.
Not quite true. The apparent need has been found: the elimination of  freedom of speech and the right to peaceful dissent. Our local police, equipped with funds by large Homeland Security grants, are now being used, along with the Patriot Act, to quash all protests and intimidate non-violent protesters around the nation. All under the guise of fighting terrorism. As Conspiracy Watch notes:
The FBI has filed 164,000 suspicious activity reports written up on activists who did not follow government policies. For example, in California, 27 individuals are set to go on trial for protest actions. In Pennsylvania, activists even faced terrorism charges for writing slogans in chalk on sidewalks. But this is just the beginning of a frightening nationwide trend. 

Be sweet, please retweet.!/ANomadicView/status/152787813618810882!/ANomadicView/status/152789142957330434

I found this informative video (courtesy of InfoWars) that shows examples of brutality and excess by police departments. I admit that context is important but when a police officer arrests a teenage girl for blowing bubbles at him, or for selling lemonade then it is worth a second look. 

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