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The Devil's Bargain: The Illusion of a Trouble-Free Existence in the American Police State

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It's no coincidence that during the same week in which the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Yates v. United States, a case in which a Florida fisherman is being threatened with 20 years' jail time for throwing fish that were too small back into the water, Florida police arrested a 90-year-old man twice for violating an ordinance that prohibits feeding the homeless in public.

Both cases fall under the umbrella of overcriminalization, that phenomenon in which everything is rendered illegal and everyone becomes a lawbreaker. As I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, this is what happens when bureaucrats run the show, and the rule of law becomes little more than a cattle prod for forcing the citizenry to march in lockstep with the government.

That both of these incidents occurred in Florida is no coincidence. Remember, this is the state that arrested Nicole Gainey for letting her 7-year-old son walk to the park alone. This is also the state that authorized police raids on barber shops, purportedly to make sure that the barbers were licensed.

Clearly, despite its pristine beaches and balmy temperatures, Florida is no less immune to the problems plaguing the rest of the nation in terms of overcriminalization, incarceration rates, bureaucracy, corruption, and police misconduct. In fact, the Sunshine State has become a poster child for how a seemingly idyllic place can be transformed into a police state with very little effort. As such, it is representative of what is happening in every state across the nation, where a steady diet of bread and circuses has given rise to an oblivious, inactive citizenry content to be ruled over by an inflexible and highly bureaucratic regime.

This transformation of the United States from being a beacon of freedom to a locked down nation illustrates perfectly what songwriter Joni Mitchell was referring to when she wrote:

Don't it always seem to go

That you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

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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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