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The U.S. Creeps Closer to a Police State

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Headlined to H1 9/28/09

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When word first arrived that the G-20 would be meeting in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, activists began organizing protest demonstrations. Events like this are what freedom of speech is made for. What better occasion to protest than a meeting of the world's 20 top leaders -- most of them deservedly hated -- where they will be imposing policy on billions of people worldwide?


The majority of protesters consisted of labor and community groups; they encountered an army of police"literally. The New York Times paints an intimidating picture:


""the police were out in force, patrolling on bicycles, foot and horseback, by river and by air " protesters trying to march toward the convention center"encountered roaming squads of police officers carrying plastic shields and batons. The police fired a sound cannon (a new weapon) that emitted shrill beeps " then threw tear gas canisters that released clouds of white smoke and stun grenades that exploded with sharp flashes of light." Rubber bullets were used in a separate incident.


And:


"Riot fences lined the sidewalks. Police helicopters, gunboats and Humvees darted to and fro. City officials announced they had up to 1,000 jail cells ready after county officials freed up additional space last week by releasing 300 people who had been arrested on minor probation violations." (September 25, 2009).


What threat required such a military-like response? None was given. The New York Times article and many like it imply that the mere existence of marching protesters warrants a colossal reaction. Of course the presence of "anarchists" is used to further scare readers into accepting such foolishness, as if this breed of protester is especially lethal (the vast majority of anarchists are like all protesters -- they do not attack the police or anybody else, though some protesters respond aggressively when being confronted with the above mentioned police weapons).



The G-20 police presence is not a terrible surprise to anyone who has attended a legitimate, community-organized protest over the years. Non-provoked usage of brutal weaponry is becoming commonplace; the police-enforced use of "free speech zones" at protests -- small areas surrounded by fences in some cases -- is nothing new.


But the staggering police presence at the G-20 confirms that the stakes have been raised. Two turning points that deserve special attention -- since the mainstream media continues to ignore them -- are last years Democratic and Republican National Conventions. In both cases incredible abuses of police powers were witnessed, with the Republican Convention (RNC) showcasing the most extreme cases of state repression.


At the RNC the unlawful tactic of mass arrests were used when, in separate incidents, a public park and bridge were surrounded by police, trapping everyone in the dragnet. The documentary, Terrorizing Dissent, has excellent footage of both episodes (http://www.terrorizingdissent.org). Police brutality was also a regular occurrence at the RNC -- including much unnecessary usage of pepper spray and tasers -- while occurring alongside an even more troubling episode.


The group now referred to as the RNC 8 consists of eight community organizers potentially facing years in jail for helping organize protests at the RNC. The original charge was the Orwellian Conspiracy to Riot in the second degree in Furtherance of Terrorism (other terrorism-related charges were later added). These terrorism charges were the first ever usage of the Patriot Act toward political activists. And although the terrorism provisions of the charges have since been dropped, due to public pressure, the attempt to equate terrorism with activism has incredible, non-accidental implications for the future.


When the Patriot Act was first enacted, there was no shortage of writers and activists warning about the potential of misuse. These predictions have been fully confirmed. Both the Military Commissions Act and the Patriot Act have created what many believe to be the framework for a full-fledged police state, with the initial flurry of abuses creating a series of dangerous precedents.


One famous precedent is the so-called Telecom scandal, where tele-communication corporations colluded with the Bush-controlled National Security Agency to illegally spy on an unknown number of innocent people. No one has gone to jail for this. Indeed, as a Senator, Obama was one of many Democrats who supported Bush's telecom immunity bill, which excuses those who broke the law while creating new powers to make spying on Americans legal.


Equally outrageous is the Military Commissions Act, created under Bush to destroy a fundamental democratic right: habeas corpus, or due process. This right says that the government cannot jail a person unless there is proof of crimes committed, while also giving that person a chance to challenge these charges in a legal court with a jury.


Bush created a separate category of person called an "enemy combatant," which he claimed was too dangerous to be treated constitutionally. An "enemy combatant" can be tried in a military court with secret or no evidence; or they can be jailed forever without even the symbolic military trial. Of course, it is only a hop and a skip away for political activists charged with terrorist crimes to be considered "enemy combatants" or "domestic terrorists."


Obama continues to uphold Bush's destruction of due process. Obama has said publicly that many so-called enemy combatants held at Guantanamo Bay will be held "indefinitely" without being tried for their alleged crimes. Supposedly, they are "the worst of the worst." If this is true then evidence should be produced to prove it, since anyone can accuse anybody of the most heinous crimes. Without evidence, however, such accusations correctly fall on deaf ears. But no more. Now, accusations of "terrorist activities" warrant life sentences. No crime need be committed, only a vague intention -- even if such intentions were formed by the suggestions of an FBI informant and are impossible to implement. The media blares these absurd "terrorist plots" as facts, and the rationale behind the destruction of civil liberties is re-enforced.


It must not be forgotten that many of the "crimes" Guantanamo Bay inmates are being accused of are merely acts of resistance to the military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, something they have every right to do.

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Shamus Cooke is a social service worker and activist living in Portland Oregon.
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Progressives, wake up! Installation of Obama has q... by Michael Lee on Monday, Sep 28, 2009 at 8:28:17 AM
When I realized Obama was retaining the trappings ... by Jason Paz on Monday, Sep 28, 2009 at 10:12:02 AM
While it may be true that public corruption is har... by WML on Monday, Sep 28, 2009 at 5:43:00 PM
China has a controlled capitalistic system. The wo... by Jason Paz on Tuesday, Sep 29, 2009 at 1:36:51 AM
Disturbing and eye opening. One can't help from ... by Nick van Nes on Monday, Sep 28, 2009 at 12:20:14 PM
Nick van Nes said: "While enough of our system is... by Charlie L on Monday, Sep 28, 2009 at 1:26:05 PM
We still have the numbers on our side. And believe... by Nick van Nes on Monday, Sep 28, 2009 at 7:08:18 PM
"In the early 1960s as a newly elected governor of... by Arthur Avalon on Monday, Sep 28, 2009 at 2:10:53 PM
The people have the right to peaceful assembly to ... by Sarah Morgan on Monday, Sep 28, 2009 at 2:24:42 PM
why would they enforce new rights embodied in a ne... by WML on Monday, Sep 28, 2009 at 5:24:07 PM
Certainly it is an economic issue. You're right ab... by Sarah Morgan on Monday, Sep 28, 2009 at 7:51:29 PM
In reading the vitriol here I cannot help but sit ... by Doc "Old Codger" McCoy on Monday, Sep 28, 2009 at 8:10:04 PM
In my four (4!) decades of following politics, I c... by Perry Logan on Tuesday, Sep 29, 2009 at 12:18:38 PM