Police State America

Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger

Hill_Street_Blues_CastI have written some guest blogs in the past dealing with aspects of the issue of America becoming a Police State and will link to them at the end of this piece. There are so many issues that call for our concern and attention in this country today, that dealing with the entire dysfunctional state of our country becomes daunting due to the wealth of material. Finally, the stories on a given issue multiply in such a way that their effect is a realization across all political lines that enough is enough. The issue of our country’s continuing descent into a”Police State” equaling all we know of the vile systems in the USSR and the former East Germany is an issue that concerns me.. The situation is  dire and the consequences have produced not only horrible injustices, but also the many unneeded maiming and deaths of innocent individuals. Our country imprisons more people per capita than any other country in the world by far. Part of the reason for that is the “War on Drugs” an abject failure that falls most heavily upon people with low incomes and people of color. One such incident caused Professor Turley to pen two blogs this week. They were about a man falsely suspected of drug possession who had all his bodily orifices and cavities checked in the local Arizona police’s vain attempt to find evidence of guilt. None was found and the procedures were not only traumatic, but invasive. Thus the “War on Drugs” is one major contributing force to turning our country into a Police State.

Another contributing Police State factor has been the Federal Government militarizing our local police forces. I’ve written about this as well and will link at those blogs at the end as well. Somewhere along the line, certainly hastened by 9/11 it appeared a necessity to some that are police should be turned from officers of the law into a paramilitary occupying army. There is a great distinction between an officer of the law and a paramilitary trooper. An officer of the law the way I see it, is empowered to enforce the criminal law in ways of lawful conduct that are deemed permissible via our Constitution and Statutes.  Thus an officer of the law should be a citizen like the rest of us and in the performance of their jobs should respect the rights of the citizenry. A paramilitary trooper by definition perceives themselves operating in a hostile environment and so everyone in that environment that is not of their army is a potential “hostile”. This unerringly begets a certain level of brutality when dealing with the populace, because from a paramilitary perspective people are presumed guilty, until they are proven innocent. We have seen and I have documented in guest blogs that vast sums of money have come in from the Federal Government to help create paramilitary SWAT teams. Once created, the uses for these teams multiply far beyond their original purpose, because having a tool inevitably causes its usage. After the split I will discuss yet a third factor that adds to this police state mentality, but first I’d like to express the following. The issue of our country becoming a Police State should not be and is not a partisan issue. Just from the opinions of people who follow this blog and comment, we see general agreement that these police tactics violate our Constitution and our innate sense of propriety. We may not all agree on most aspects of government policy, but I would hope we can agree on the proper manner in which our law officers should enforce the peace.I begin with a quote from that great journalist Hunter S. Thompson:  “There are always risks in challenging excessive police power, but the risks of not challenging it are more dangerous, even fatal.”–Hunter S. Thompson, Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century”

This quote opened an article I read this week from OpEdNews http://www.opednews.com  The title of the article is “Welcome to the United Police States of America, Where Police Shoot First & Ask Questions Later”. The author John Whitehead’s premise is that this uptick in police violently attacking suspected criminals is rooted in fear and that fear causes them to shoot first and ask questions later. I must admit that when I read it the idea had resonance with me because it related to much of my own thoughts on this subject. Since the advent of Television as our country’s dominant medium there have been two ongoing staples in the theme of TV drama. One that has dissipated through the years was the Western and indeed that was the dominant TV Drama in the 50’s along with innumerable “Private Detective” Shows such as “77 Sunset Strip”, “Hawaiian Eye”, “Surfside Six”, “Peter Gunn”, etc. One crime show rose above all though and that was Jack Webb’s “Dragnet” which was on top for many years. What was so interesting about “Dragnet” as opposed to today’s police procedural was that while it could at times go over the top, the sanctimonious marijuana episode for instance, it portrayed police detectives who were in control of their world and rarely had to use more than minimal force. Then too, the Detectives on the show followed criminal procedure and never cut corners in dealing with potential perpetrators. There was even a show or two where a disgusted Sgt. Friday busted a “dirty cop”.  As the 60’s waned so did the TV western drama and the private eye shows to be replaced with shows like CHIPs which were standard police procedural.

The tumult of the 60’s though left its legacy and in the 70’s shows like “The Streets of San Francisco” began to dominate the TV drama scene. These shows were somewhat more edgy and their police detective heroes were at time less in control of their environment and often faced tremendous dangers. Then too at times, they “stretched” the law in ways that were constructed to garner audience approval of their actions. After all the police were presented as noble men who were working in a very dangerous world and so needed to at times go beyond the law to enforce it. By the beginning of the 1980’s this trend continued with the award winning “Hill Street Blues” which was a show I particularly loved, because each episode was laden with emotion and the acting was superb. The world portrayed in “Hill Street Blues” was a dangerous one and various cast members were either badly injured or killed, as ploy lienes during the show’s run. Indeed, each episode opened with the Duty Sergeant reading the roll, setting the day’s activities and ending with the ominous “Be careful out there.” “Blues” set the standard for TV shows to follow after and in setting that standard made all of us care about the officers and the great dangers they faced. If a sympathetic officer was killed, or badly wounded, we the viewer would each feel a stab of emotional pain. Today, all of the top rated TV dramas are police shows. They are well written, well acted, directed and scored. They portray the world of the police as a terribly dangerous one and because they give the officers “back stories”, family and children, the danger to them seems even more intense to the viewer.

These shows affect our cultural attitudes and I have no doubt effect the cultural attitudes of our country’s police officers. Whereas in the 50’s we see officers in control of their environment, in the Twenty First Century we see officers facing ever greater dangers and our instinct is to caution them to take care and preserve their lives. Then came 9/11 and our country became riddled with fear at the potential for disaster as we led our everyday lives. Police lost so many good people on that day that they too felt the infection of fear. We all should be aware that fear itself is infectious and it is an infection that spreads rapidly. To complement that we saw the formation of a Department of Homeland Security, one of whose main functions seems to be the militarization of our police forces and the doling out of weaponry of ever greater destructive power. Many of our police today work their jobs in constant fear and do so with a distrust of the people they are charged to serve. I believe this fear is behind much of the police abuse that we see spiraling out of control. As the author Mr. Whitehead puts it:

“No longer is it unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later. What is unusual is our lack of outrage, the relative disinterest of our elected representatives, the media’s abysmal failure to ask questions and demand answers, and our growing acceptance of the status quo in the United Police States of America–a status quo in which “we the people” are powerless in the face of the heavy-handed tactics employed by the government and its armed agents. 

However, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, it’s all part of the larger police state continuum. Thus, with each tragic shooting that is shrugged off or covered up, each piece of legislation passed that criminalizes otherwise legal activities, every surveillance drone that takes to the skies, every phone call, email or text that is spied on, and every transaction that is monitored, the government’s stranglehold over our lives grows stronger. 

We have been silent about too many things for too long, not the least of which is the deadly tendency on the part of police to resort to lethal force. However, as Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” http://www.opednews.com/articles/Welcome-to-the-United-Poli-by-John-Whitehead-Police_Police-Abuse-Of-Power_Police-Brutality_Police-Killing-Children-131105-375.html

Mr. Whitehead talks about a “safety at all costs” mindset that permeates many of today’s police and contrasts it with statistics that show that “policing” is not quite as dangerous as we, or the police are led to imagine:

“Unfortunately, this police preoccupation with ensuring their own safety at all costs–a mindset that many older law enforcement officials find abhorrent in light of the more selfless code on which they were trained–is spreading like a plague among the ranks of police officers across the country, with tragic consequences for the innocent civilians unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet the fatality rate of on-duty patrol officers is reportedly far lower than many other professions, including construction, logging, fishing, truck driving, and even trash collection. In fact, police officers have the same rate of dying on the job as do taxi drivers. 

Nevertheless, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 400 to 500 innocent people are killed by police officers every year. That does not include the number of unarmed individuals shot and injured by police simply because they felt threatened or feared for their safety. This is the danger of having a standing army (which is what police forces, increasingly made up of individuals with military backgrounds and/or training, have evolved into) that has been trained to view the citizenry as little more than potential suspects, combatants and insurgents.”

Mr. Whitehead provides many incidents but I’m just going to quote one that at the time was the subject of a blog by Professor Turley, because I think it might be worth your time to read his entire article:

“For the sake of 13-year-old Andy Lopez, we can be silent no more. The Santa Rosa teen was shot dead after two sheriff’s deputies saw him carrying a toy BB gun in public. Lopez was about 20 feet away from the deputies, his back turned to them, when the officers took cover behind their car and ordered him to drop the “weapon.” When Lopez turned around, toy gun in his hand, one of the officers–a 24-year veteran of the force–shot him seven times. The time span between the deputies calling in a suspicious person sighting and shooting Lopez was a mere ten seconds. The young boy died at the scene. Clearly, no attempt was made to use less lethal force. 

Rationalizing the shooting incident, Lt. Paul Henry of the Santa Rosa Police Department explained, “The deputy’s mindset was that he was fearful that he was going to be shot.” Yet as William Norman Grigg, a commentator for LewRockwell.com, points out, such a “preoccupation with “officer safety’ ” leads to unnecessary police shootings. A peace officer is paid to assume certain risks, including those necessary to de-escalate a confrontation with someone believed to be a heavily armed suspect in a residential neighborhood. A “veteran’ deputy with the mindset of a peace officer would have taken more than a shaved fraction of a split-second to open fire on a small male individual readily identifiable as a junior high school student, who was carrying an object that is easily recognizable as a toy–at least to people who don’t see themselves as an army of occupation, and view the public as an undifferentiated mass of menace.

Unfortunately, this police preoccupation with ensuring their own safety at all costs–a mindset that many older law enforcement officials find abhorrent in light of the more selfless code on which they were trained–is spreading like a plague among the ranks of police officers across the country, with tragic consequences for the innocent civilians unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

In most areas of this country being a police officer is considered to be an honorable profession and in general police officers are well paid. Policing is an opportunity for many to enter the “middle class” and to do productive work for the community. I’ve known many police officers socially and through work. I’ve lectured on handling the mentally ill at police precincts in New York City. Some of those lectures revealed to me perfectly legal and ingenious strategies for dealing with people with mental illness, that were a revelation to me as a professional. The police are not our enemies. What are our enemies though are the mindset that separates police from civilian, the militarization of our police forces as a quick fix to a complex problem, the “thin blue line” wall of silence that prevents police officers from ratting on the bad apples among them and finally politicians who garner votes with their toughness on crime via legislation to solve problems that don’t exist. Murder rates have fallen as have crime rates around the country. Yet the government, with the approval of both parties, keeps shoveling out money and equipment to make the local police even more separated from those they are putatively sworn to protect. To me this is madness and we are far down the path to a USSR style police state. That we already imprison a hundred people per capita more than Putin’s Russia proves that. Finally the wars “terrorism and drugs” must end so that we can deal with the problems of each in rational manners. As Hunter S. Thompson wrote:

“Coming of age in a fascist police state will not be a barrel of fun for anybody, much less for people like me, who are not inclined to suffer Nazis gladly and feel only contempt for the cowardly flag-suckers who would gladly give up their outdated freedom to live for the mess of pottage they have been conned into believing will be freedom from fear.”

My final words to you the reader return me to my favorite police show of yore, but this time are intended for all of us civilians when we encounter police: “Be careful out there.”

Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger

Please note: These links below represent only a few of the many blogs written here on these issues. You can find many more by using the search function on the upper right.











51 thoughts on “Police State America

  1. Mike, appreciated the post. However, I can’t make sense of “we already imprison a hundred people per capita more than Putin’s Russia” – is that a typo? Or do I just need more coffee?

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