Radley Balko: Right, because they're openly flouting FDA regulations, and we can't have that.
Rob Kall: This is, what you don't call, you don't call that a free society, you call that a police state.
Radley Balko: Yeah, well I kind of shied away from the word police state because we associate it with East Germany for example, and I don't think we're anywhere near that point. But I don't think we should wait until we get there to start voicing our objections, when it's already too late. We don't yet get stopped and asked our papers every few miles, we're free to leave, you know move about the country, we have free speech; I can write this book without being throw in jail.
So I would hesitate to call it a police state, I would say maybe Police State "Lite". It's certainly something, I think we have certainly passed the point where we need to be concerned. But I think we sort of lessen the severity of actual police state if we refer to what's going on now here as that.
Rob Kall: Absolutely. Have you been threatened?
Radley Balko: No! " Actually, I had one incident, I used to live in Alexandria, Virginia, a suburb of D.C., and I moved to Nashville a few years ago and right before I left I wrote a series of articles about how northern Virginia police departments, sheriff's departments and the state were basically, openly ignoring the state's open records laws. They were turning down every single open records request, regardless of whether they had the authority to do so. I mean in some cases, they were turning down requests for information that they had put out themselves in a press release a couple weeks earlier.
So it was just a blanket denial, and I wrote about it, and it generated a little bit of local controversy. And I was told after I moved, I got a email from a neighbor who said that a uniformed member of the sheriff's department had visited my house, where the new tenant was living, and came with a copy of the magazine that I had written the article in, and asked if anybody from Reason magazine lived in the house. Which is a little disconcerting. But, you know, I had already moved at the time so it was just kind of an interesting story at that point. But that's really the only time anything like that has ever happened. I think most of the time I've had, I mean I've had good and bad interactions with police officers, but the bad ones weren't tied to anything I'd written, or the fact that they recognized me or anything.
And when I write about this issue, you get some negative feedback that gets kind of nasty some times. But I've given talks to police organizations, and for the most part they've been very respectful, even when they disagree.
Rob Kall: That's good to hear. all right let me move on. You mentioned, I forget where, that there is a tie in, that your awareness of this has developed partly with the crack-downs of the Occupy Movement. And I want to start with that, but then I want to go to the idea that New York police commissioner Kelly is now being considered to replace Janet Napolitano as the head of the Department of Homeland Security. So I'd like a little bit of background on your observations about the Occupy Movement, and the New York police, and then tie that to the police commissioner and what effect that might have on the Department of Homeland Security.
Radley Balko: Sure, well yeah, the crackdowns on the Occupy protesters were an interesting development in this issue in a few ways. One is this has become the standard city reaction to protest, political protest now. I mean since the 1990 WPO Riot in Seattle, this is how we deal with protest now. And it's a way of dealing with protest that is very hostile to the First Amendment. Police come to these protests expecting confrontation now. And I think there's a interesting lesson to be got from Seattle in 1999, the police chief in Seattle was Norm Stamper. And I interviewed Stamper for the book, and he says today that he thinks the way he reacted to the protest was the biggest mistake of his career. And the reason why is because he says he's looked at how police departments have responded to protests since, and he realizes now that the Seattle reaction has become a template, and he thinks that's wrong, *chuckles*, to say the least. And he's really, he's heartbroken by it.
And you know the first amendment is obviously the first amendment for a reason. The founders thought it was critically important to a functioning democracy. And the irony about how we respond to protest today, is really that the more important the meeting that's being protested, the more influential the people in the meeting, the more consequential the decisions those people are making at the meeting, the less likely it is that the protesters are going to be heard. So the more important the meeting, the more influential the people involved in the meeting, the further away from the meeting police are going to put protesters.
And I think that's kind of a sad commentary on the state of protest and free speech in this country now. And it's not just here, it's about how all countries respond to protest now for the most part. And so that's troubling. And I generally don't agree with, I don't share a World view with the Occupiers or the Anti Free Trade protesters, but I do think they deserve to be heard, and they deserve the chance to be heard without being moved, beaten or cordoned off into the orwellian named "free speech zone".
But the other sort of interesting thing that happened with the crackdowns on the Occupy protesters has been that this was one of the few times, one of the rare times I guess, that these sorts of tactics were being used. And on people who had the means and a platform to respond. And the Occupy protestors were mostly upper middle class white kids, and they all had cell phones, smart phones with video capabilities. They all knew how to instantly stream video up to the internet. They were all very deft at utilizing social media, and getting word out.
So we learned about these crackdowns almost as they were happening. And so we saw, a kind of instant outrage, instant public reaction, we all knew what was going on as it was happening. And not coincidentally, we saw more accountability in these cases, I mean the police officers who initiated these attacks were much more likely to be held accountable and disciplined than in a typical case of police brutality. It still probably doesn't happen nearly enough.
And I think police have a point that in some cases Occupiers baited police officers, they would throw something at them and then start the camera when the police officer responded. But a lot of these crackdowns were brutal, and unnecessarily brutal. And it was interesting to see how this new class of people that these tactics were being used against were able to utilize these advances in personal technology to hold the government accountable. And I think it was encouraging, I think it was a good time.
Rob Kall: So what about commissioner Kelly, and if he were to be appointed to be the replacement for Janet Napolitano as the head of Homeland Security?