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The Absurd, Bureaucratic Hell That Is the American Police State

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Whether it's the working mother arrested for letting her 9-year-old play unsupervised at a playground, the teenager forced to have his genitals photographed by police, the underage burglar sentenced to 23 years for shooting a retired police dog, or the 43-year-old man put in a chokehold by NYPD officers allegedly over the sale of untaxed cigarettes, the theater of the absurd that passes for life in the American police state grows more tragic and incomprehensible by the day.

Debra Harrell, a 46-year-old South Carolina working mother, was arrested, charged with abandonment and had her child placed in state custody after allowing the 9-year-old to spend unsupervised time at a neighborhood playground while the mom worked a shift at McDonald's.

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A Connecticut mother was charged with leaving her 11-year-old daughter in the car unsupervised while she ran inside a store--despite the fact that the child asked to stay in the car and was not overheated or in distress. A few states away, a New Jersey man was arrested and charged with endangering the welfare of his children after leaving them in a car parked in a police station parking lot, windows rolled down, while he ran inside to pay a ticket.

A Virginia teenager, charged with violating the state's sexting law after exchanging sexually provocative videos with his girlfriend, was issued a search warrant to "medically induce an erection" in him so police could photograph his erect penis and compare it to the images sent in the sexting exchange.

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In Georgia, a toddler had his face severely burned when a flash bang grenade, launched by a SWAT team during the course of a no-knock warrant, landed in his portable crib, detonating on his pillow. Also in Georgia, a police officer shot and killed a 17-year-old boy who answered the door, reportedly with a Nintendo Wii controller in his hands.

Now we can shrug these incidents off as isolated injustices happening to "other" people. We can rationalize them away by suggesting that these people "must" have done something to warrant such treatment. Or we can acknowledge that this slide into totalitarianism--helped along by overcriminalization, government surveillance, militarized police, neighbors turning in neighbors, privatized prisons, and forced labor camps, to name just a few similarities--is tracking very closely with what we saw happening in Germany in the years leading up to Hitler's rise to power.

When all is said and done, what these incidents reflect is a society that has become so bureaucratic, so legalistic, so politically correct, so militaristic, so locked down, so self righteous, and so willing to march in lockstep with the corporate-minded police state that any deviations from the norm--especially those that offend the sensibilities of the "government-knows-best" nanny state or challenge the powers that be--become grist for prosecution, persecution and endless tribulations for the poor souls who are caught in the crosshairs.

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Then there are the incidents, less colorful perhaps but no less offensive to the sensibilities of any freedom-loving individual, which should arouse outrage among the populace but often slip under the radar of a sleeping nation.

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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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