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Is the United States a Police State

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Honorable people like to debate whether the United States of America is a "police state," but when it comes to shutting down the expression of ideas on the political left, there's little room for argument.

We are inundated in this country with propaganda boilerplate about being the greatest democracy in the world. No, we're not a police state like our friends in Saudi Arabia or our former friends, and current enemies, in Iran. Our police agencies have figured out how to accomplish police state repression in a "softer," more sophisticated manner.

Look at the video in the September 26 report by Lawrence O'Donnell [1] of MSNBC on what he describes as a "violent burst of chaos" caused by armed "troublemakers" from the New York Police Department.

It was a peaceful demonstration against Wall Street greed. At least it started out that way. All evidence suggests it was, then, sent careening into chaos by the police strong-arming of young protesters who had done nothing but express their views in public.



Dep. Inspector Anthony Bologna, left, his female victims and a brave activist by Unknown

In one incident, young women on the sidewalk observing the arrest of a young man in the street are corralled by cops using orange plastic nets. White-shirted Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna, then, walks up, un-holsters his pepper spray gun and sprays the women full in the face [2]. He re-holsters his weapon and walks away. Another video shows him doing the same thing indiscriminately to others in an apparent violation of NYPD rules that say the spray is only authorized to disable someone resisting arrest. Over 80 people were arrested in the melee.

The MSNBC video also shows a young man with a camera being violently slammed into a parked Volvo for videotaping the actions of the police. As O'Donnell emphasizes, videotaping cops is a completely legal activity. In fact, the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month on exactly this situation in a case involving a man who videotaped cops beating a man in Boston Commons. (For a PDF of the ruling, go to: http://www.ca1.uscourts.gov/pdf.opinions/10-1764P-01A.pdf [3] )

The case is instructive. It began with a federal lawsuit brought by Simon Glik, a Russian immigrant who had become a lawyer in the US. He saw cops beating a man and took out his cell phone to videotape them. He was told to stop and he refused. Police arrested him, confiscated his phone and deleted the video. They charged him with illegal wiretapping since his recording included audio.

The district court scoffed at the wiretapping charge and concluded just because "officers were unhappy they were being recorded during an arrest ... does not make a lawful exercise of First Amendment rights a crime. ... [The] First Amendment right publicly to record the activities of police officers on public business is established."

The City of Boston and the individual police officers involved appealed the ruling, and the 1st Circuit upheld the district court. The justices pointedly demolished the notion often used by police officers that the law on the matter is unclear.

As to whether videotaping cops beating people on a public street is constitutionally protected behavior, they wrote: "Basic First Amendment principles, along with case law from this and other circuits, answer that question unambiguously in the affirmative."

And this protection applies to everyone -- including "bloggers" and other private citizens with cameras or cell phones. Again, contrary to what police agencies like to say when confronted with cameras in embarrassing situations, one does not have to be a credentialed mainstream media journalist with a government-obtained "press badge" to qualify for First Amendment protection.

As to citizens making their displeasure about police actions known, the 1st Circuit cites a Houston case from 1987: "The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principle characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state." That is, one has a clear right to make faces or express disfavor at police actions -- as long as one doesn't physically interfere with those actions.

The justices emphasized "the fundamental and virtually self-evident nature of the First Amendment's protections in this area." Citing another 1st Circuit ruling from 2009, they wrote: "We thus have no trouble concluding that "the state of the law at the time of the alleged violation gave the defendants [the police officers] fair warning that their particular conduct was unconstitutional.' "

The court is saying all this is so clear cops should know slamming a man against a Volvo for videotaping is a violation of law.

In the Wall Street melee, white-shirted commanders popped up a lot in videos as the worst abusers. As leaders, these officers should be informing their subordinates that this sort of "police state" activity is culpable behavior and, as frustrating as it may be, cops simply have to learn to live under the gaze of citizens' cameras.

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I am a 65-year-old American who served in Vietnam as a naive 19-year-old kid. From that moment on, I've been studying and re-thinking what US counter-insurgency war means. I live outside of Philadelphia, where I'm a writer, photographer and a video (more...)
 

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Yes, John, this country IS a police state - it has... by Ronnie Moehrke on Thursday, Sep 29, 2011 at 1:31:29 PM
Police break the law and  juries are not wel... by . . on Thursday, Sep 29, 2011 at 6:04:31 PM
Get in the way of the revenue collection and asset... by Steven G. Erickson on Friday, Sep 30, 2011 at 11:22:42 AM