A disheartening but not unsurprising development surrounding the Occupy movement has been the emergence of people who support the kind of brutality and excessive force against innocents that is the signature of a police state. There will always be a sect of authoritarians in any population that supports government oppression, police brutality, unchecked government powers, unending wars, a magically shrinking list of rights that are increasing limited only to a perverted and impossible idea of a perfect citizen.
In fact the kind of authoritarianism we’re experiencing in America cannot exist without the support of a large portion of the population defending it, so long as it doesn’t personally effect them.
Americans have been trained not to question police brutality, to defend it when they do see it and actually see it as a positive, and to accept the twisted philosophy that anyone arrested and harmed by the police deserved what they got because they were guilty.
How do they know the person was guilty? Because the police went after them. Innocent people aren’t electrocuted with stun guns or pepper sprayed by police, shot in the face with rubber bullets, or beaten with batons. That’s what happens in country’s that aren’t a police state, where the police break the law as much as criminals do. It doesn’t happen in an enlightened society like ours does. By definition, it happens over there because they aren’t freedom loving, constitution-obeying Americans. It never happens here, or happens rarely, because we love freedom and have a constitution.
The police only hurt criminals here – and that’s OK because criminals deserve it – and protect everyone else. Therefore anyone hurt by the police is ipso facto guilty and deserving of unilateral punishment without being charged with a crime or given a trial.
Circular logic like that has been used to excuse all sorts of violent crimes against innocent Americans and has been perpetuated by the highest levels of our government now that the President has given himself (and every President that follows) the power to declare any American citizen a terrorist and have them assassinated without any due process of law.
Anwar Al-Awlaki didn’t deserve a trial or civil liberties, despite being an American, because the government said he was a terrorist. How do we know he actually was what the government claimed? Because the government killed him, and our government being good and wholesome only kills bad guys.
There is no difference between the government’s reasoning behind assassinating an American citizen without even trying to charge him with a crime, much less giving him a trial, and people supporting police state brutality.
That authoritarian mindset makes it impossible to ask reasonable questions, such as whether or not the police firing tear gas canisters into non-violent crowds, or firing fire extinguisher-sized cans of pepper spray directly into the face of people whose only alleged crime is refusing to stand up, are even legal orders in the first place. In the military, no soldier is required to obey an illegal order. This is a legal escape hatch built into the system to allow soldiers to avoid having to participate in atrocities under the duress of an order they’d normally have no choice but to follow (because the United States, like most countries, prosecutes soldiers for obeying illegal orders). Likewise, no citizen is required to obey an illegal order by the police, and merely disobeying an order is not evidence of a crime and does not justify violent action to subdue and arrest.
Nor is it within the power or responsibility of the police to decide that a crime has been committed subject to extrajudicial punishment. That is for prosecutors, a judge, and eventually a jury to decide. If punishment is to be handed out, it’ll be at the hands of a jury, not the police.
That’s why most Americans ought to find statements such as this disturbing and manifestly un-American:
you argue with a cop you are breaking the law. People in this society feel like they have the right to disrespect the police.
Contrary to this person’s opinion, arguing with the police is not a crime in the United States, and neither is disrespecting them. That feeling, despite undoubtedly being shared by a great number of people, is the language of the police state and of the authoritarian. It teaches us that questioning anything a police officer does or says is a crime itself, which is the surest way possible to invite physical brutality against non-violent but non-compliant citizens, law breaking, corruption, and eventually murder.
Here is the New York Police Department, the one that made the Occupy Wall Street movement famous by randomly attacking peaceful protestors with mace seemingly in an hourly basis, the people you shouldn’t be arguing with and have no choice but to respect:
An anonymous tip about a crooked cop grew during the past three years into a sweeping internal corruption probe on the under-the-table practice of fixing tickets, with dozens of wiretaps, 10,000 intercepted calls and an officer undercover as a barber in a sting, authorities said.
Thirteen New York Police Department officers, two sergeants and a lieutenant were slapped with criminal charges Friday, just three days after the embarrassing arrests of five officers in a separate gun-running probe. [..]
The officers pleaded not guilty to hundreds of charges including misconduct, grand larceny, records tampering and obstructing governmental administration. Among those charged was Jennara Cobb, an internal affairs bureau lieutenant who pleaded not guilty to charges she leaked information to union officials about the probe.
These charges would result in serious jail time, yet you won’t see any stories about these officers being sprayed in the face with pepper spray, shot in the face with rubber bullets, beaten with batons, raided at 2AM in the morning while rallying outside a courthouse expressing their first amendment rights in support of their corrupt companions. You won’t see their rally choked with tear gas and dispersed by New York’s anti-terrorism unit. You won’t see journalists beaten and arrested at this rally:
As 16 police officers were arraigned at State Supreme Court in the Bronx, incensed colleagues organized by their union cursed and taunted prosecutors and investigators, chanting “Down with the D.A.” and “Ray Kelly, hypocrite.”
As the defendants emerged from their morning court appearance, a swarm of officers formed a cordon in the hallway and clapped as they picked their way to the elevators. [..]
Federal agents earlier in the week arrested eight current and former officers on accusations that they had brought illegal firearms, slot machines and black-market cigarettes into New York City. Recently, other officers have been charged in federal court with making false arrests, and there was testimony in a trial in Brooklyn that narcotics detectives planted drugs on innocent civilians.
Is this crackdown taking place in Mexico, where police corruption is a notorious problem, or here at home?
The police are corrupt, ignore the law when it suits them, and break it if need be to protect their friends. Those that probably aren’t corrupt rally in support of those that are and are flabbergasted that they are being treated to the sharp end of the justice system. Others shoot Iraq war veterans in the face with rubber bullets, choke thousands with tear gas, and mace others for expressing their first amendment rights and refusing to stand up. A federal national security and defense agency, the Department of Homeland Security, is coordinating with cities and states across the nation to clamp down on unarguably peaceful protests with violent force in nearly identical patterns while the President, who swore to defend and uphold the constitution, either stands idly by or actively helps crush dissent.
An 84-year-old woman’s face is soaked with pepper spray, and one man’s response is “don’t fuck with the police”.
Is this America, or Egypt? Libya or Syria?
It creates an interesting contrast when NYPD officers rally in support of their corrupt associates being charged with breaking and ignoring the law, that they were “just following orders” to break the law and therefore they shouldn’t be held accountable, while they illegally assault non-violent protestors who haven’t broken any laws but deserved the violence because they didn’t follow what were probably illegal orders.
But then, none of that really matters. As the anonymous Twitter user argued to Green Greenwald yesterday, “you argue with a cop you are breaking the law”. But if a cop breaks the law, well, just ignore it, because “it’s been going on since the days of the Egyptians”.
The Occupy Wall Street movement in many ways exists precisely because some people have had enough of these double standards. While it’s nice to see corrupt members of the NYPD charged with ignoring their duty and actively breaking the law, it doesn’t really seem to matter much when so many of their friends and fellow police officers literally don’t see anything wrong with what they were doing. Nor is it inspiring to see other members of the NYPD who have been violently attacking OWS protestors for the past two months suffer no repercussions, simply because those specific crimes happen to jive with what the city government wants to have happen.
None of that even begins to address whether these violent “police riots” are in any way justified even under the most favorable circumstances. The students at UC Davis were not throwing rocks and bottles at the police. They weren’t blocking city streets. They weren’t occupying a private company’s lobby. They were sitting on the ground with interlocked arms, refusing to move from a college campus they had more legal right to “occupy” than the police did.
For the violent, horrible crime of sitting on the ground and refusing to stand up, they were sprayed in the face from a distance of only a few feet with a canister of pepper spray large enough to be mistaken for a fire extinguisher. Not by a dozen officers who had already attempted to cuff and arrest them. Not as a measure of last resort.
They were assaulted with excessive force by one or two scumbags who get off on hurting innocent people and tripping on their own power.
This of course isn’t a new phenomena. When I’ve questioned several times over the past month when – not if – people were going to die when the police decided they had had enough fun and were going to get serious about repressing people, in the back of my mind I’ve held a minimal doubt as to whether or not it would actually happen. But then other people reminded me that my knowledge of history is sorely lacking, because it seems to happen every time the American people rise up against their government.
In may of 1979, 2,000 students gathered on the grounds of Kent State University in Ohio to protest an escalation of the Vietnam War by President Nixon. The university tried to shut down the protest before it began, but people rallied anyway. Like the Oakland PD, the Ohio National Guard tried to disperse the rally with tear gas. When that failed, they fixed bayonets to their rifles and advanced on the students in what must have looked like a scene straight out of Tiananmen Square. At some point after that when many of the students had left the area, the National Guard opened fire and murdered four students, injuring nine others.
Like OWS, the students at Kent State were upset about what their government was doing, believed they were being ignored, and wanted to speak out against the war. For the very serious crime of availing themselves of their first amendment rights, the students were cut down by their own government like animals.
People were blasted with water cannons during the civil rights movement. The record of government violence against Americans is lengthy and well documented and history has conclusively proven that the American state is capable of being every bit as evil and callous as Syria is being today, if it feels the people are truly threatening to take away its power.