It is fitting at a time when the nation is grappling with moral questions about how best to execute death row prisoners, whether police should be held responsible for shooting unarmed citizens, and to what extent we allow the government to dictate, monitor and control every aspect of our lives, that we remember that Jesus Christ--the religious figure worshipped by Christians for his death on the cross and subsequent resurrection--died at the hands of a police state.
Those living through this present age of militarized police, SWAT team raids, police shootings of unarmed citizens, roadside strip searches, and invasive surveillance might feel as if these events are unprecedented. Yet while we in the United States may be experiencing a steady slide into a police state, we are neither the first nor the last nation to do so.
Although technology, politics and superpowers have changed over time, the characteristics of a police state and its reasons for being have remained the same: control, power and money. Indeed, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, a police state extends far beyond the actions of law enforcement. In fact, a police state "is characterized by bureaucracy, secrecy, perpetual wars, a nation of suspects, militarization, surveillance, widespread police presence, and a citizenry with little recourse against police actions."
Just as police states have arisen throughout history, there have also been individuals or groups of individuals who have risen up to challenge the injustices of their age. Nazi Germany had its Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The gulags of the Soviet Union were challenged by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. America had its color-coded system of racial segregation and warmongering called out for what it was, blatant discrimination and profiteering, by Martin Luther King Jr.
And then there was Jesus Christ, an itinerant preacher and revolutionary activist, who not only died challenging the police state of his day--namely, the Roman Empire--but provided a blueprint for civil disobedience that would be followed by those, religious and otherwise, who came after him. Yet for all the accolades poured out upon Jesus, little is said about the harsh realities of the police state in which he lived and its similarities to modern-day America, and yet they are striking.
Secrecy, surveillance and rule by the elite. Much like America today, with its lack of government transparency, overt domestic surveillance, and rule by the rich, Roman leaders were constantly on the watch for any potential threats to its power. The resulting state-wide surveillance was primarily carried out by the military, which acted as investigators, enforcers, torturers, policemen, executioners and jailers.
Widespread police presence. The Roman Empire used its military forces to maintain the "peace," thereby establishing a police state that reached into all aspects of a citizen's life. Today SWAT teams, comprised of local police and federal agents, are employed to carry out routine search warrants for minor crimes.
Citizenry with little recourse against the police state. As the Roman Empire expanded, personal freedom and independence nearly vanished, as did any real sense of local governance and national consciousness. Similarly, in America today, citizens largely feel powerless, voiceless and unrepresented in the face of a power-hungry federal government.