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We're All Criminals and Outlaws in the Eyes of the American Police State

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Why are we seeing such an uptick in Americans being arrested for such absurd "violations" as letting their kids play at a park unsupervised, collecting rainwater and snow runoff on their own property, growing vegetables in their yard, and holding Bible studies in their living room?

Mind you, we're not talking tickets or fines. We're talking felony charges, handcuffs, police cars, mug shots, pat downs, jail cells and criminal records.

Consider what happened to Nicole Gainey, the Florida mom who was arrested and charged with child neglect for allowing her 7-year-old son to visit a neighborhood playground located a half mile from their house.

For the so-called "crime" of allowing her son to play at the park unsupervised, Gainey was interrogated, arrested and handcuffed in front of her son, and transported to the local jail where she was physically searched, fingerprinted, photographed and held for seven hours and then forced to pay almost $4000 in bond in order to return to her family. Gainey's family and friends were subsequently questioned by the Dept. of Child Services. Gainey now faces a third-degree criminal felony charge that carries with it a fine of up to $5,000 and 5 years in jail.

For Denise Stewart, just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, whether or not she had done anything wrong, was sufficient to get her arrested.

The 48-year-old New York grandmother was dragged half-naked out of her apartment and handcuffed after police mistakenly raided her home when responding to a domestic disturbance call. Although it turns out the 911 call came from a different apartment on a different floor, Stewart is still facing charges of assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest.

And then there are those equally unfortunate individuals who unknowingly break laws they never even knew existed. A commercial fisherman, John Yates was sentenced to 30 days in prison and three years of supervised release for violating a document shredding provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act when he threw back into the water some small fish which did not meet the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission's size restrictions.

As awful as these incidents are, however, it's not enough to simply write them off as part of the national trend towards overcriminalization--although it is certainly that. It's estimated that the average American actually commits three felonies a day without knowing it.

Nor can we just chalk them up as yet another symptom of an overzealous police state in which militarized police attack first and ask questions later--although it is that, too.

Nor is the problem that we're a crime-ridden society. In fact, it's just the opposite. The number of violent crimes in the country is down substantially, the lowest rate in 40 years, while the number of Americans being jailed for nonviolent crimes, such as driving with a suspended license, is skyrocketing.

So what's really behind this drive to label Americans as criminals?

As with most things, if you want to know the real motives behind any government program, follow the money trail. When you dig down far enough, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, you quickly find that those who profit from Americans being arrested are none other than the police who arrest them, the courts which try them, the prisons which incarcerate them, and the corporations, which manufacture the weapons and equipment used by police, build and run the prisons, and profit from the cheap prison labor.

Talk about a financial incentive.

First, there's the whole make-work scheme. In the absence of crime, in order to keep the police and their related agencies employed, occupied, and utilizing their many militarized "toys," one must invent new crimes--overcriminalization--and new criminals to be spied on, targeted, tracked, raided, arrested, prosecuted and jailed.

Second, there's the profit-incentive for states to lock up large numbers of Americans in private prisons. Just as police departments have quotas for how many tickets are issued and arrests made per month--a number tied directly to revenue--states now have quotas to meet for how many Americans go to jail. Having outsourced their inmate population to private prisons, increasing numbers of states have contracted to keep their prisons at 90% to 100% capacity.

But what do you do when you've contracted to keep your prisons full but crime rates are falling? Easy. You create new categories of crime and render otherwise law-abiding Americans criminals. Notice how we keep coming full circle back to the point where it's average Americans like you and me being targeted and turned into enemies of the state?

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John W. Whitehead is an attorney and author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law and human rights. Whitehead's aggressive, pioneering approach to civil liberties has earned him numerous accolades and (more...)
 

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