By John W. Whitehead
While Americans have been busy getting and spending, the powers-that-be have erected a police/surveillance state around us. This is reflected in the government’s single-minded quest to acquire ever greater powers, the fusion of the police and the courts, and the extent to which our elected representatives have sold us out to the highest bidders—namely, the corporate state and military industrial complex.
Indeed, a handful of seemingly unrelated incidents in the week leading up to Memorial Day perfectly encapsulate how much the snare enclosing us has tightened, how little recourse we really have—at least in the courts, and how truly bleak is the landscape of our freedoms. What these incidents reveal is that the governmental bureaucracy has stopped viewing us, the American people, as human beings who should be treated with worth and dignity. That was the purpose of the Bill of Rights. The Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures of our persons and effects was designed so that government agents would be forced to treat us with due respect. With this protection now gone, those who attempt to exercise their rights will often be forced to defend themselves against an increasingly inflexible and uncompromising government.
For example, on May 24, 2011, a Virginia Circuit Court refused to reverse the expulsion of a 14-year-old honor student charged under a school zero tolerance policy with “violent criminal conduct” and possession of a weapon for shooting plastic “spitballs” at classmates. This young man was eventually faced with three assault and battery charges as a result of three students being hit on the arms by the spitballs. Despite the fact that the judge acknowledged the school’s punishment to be overreaching, he refused to intervene, essentially washing his hands of the matter and leaving it to the schools to act as they see fit.
Two days later, on May 26, the U.S. Supreme Court—the highest court in the land, in a devastating ruling that could very well do away with what little Fourth Amendment protections remain to public school students and their families, threw out a lower court ruling in Alford v. Greene which required government authorities to secure a warrant, a court order or parental consent before interrogating students at school. The ramifications are far-reaching, rendering public school students as wards of the state. Once again, the courts sided with law enforcement against the rights of the people.
That night, in a race against the clock, Congress pushed through a four-year extension of three controversial provisions in the USA Patriot Act that authorize the government to use aggressive surveillance tactics in the so-called war against terror. Within hours of the Patriot Act extension being passed, however, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, revealed that the government has been broadly interpreting the Patriot Act for its own purposes and keeping that interpretation under wraps.
Then, on May 28, a small group of young people showed up at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC, to protest a recent appeals court ruling that expressive dancing is prohibited at the memorial. Swaying minimally to whatever music was in their heads, the small group barely had time to “bust a move” before Park Police descended on them. The resulting fracas, in which police choked and body slammed one protester, Adam Kokesh, handcuffed others and shut the memorial down altogether, was captured on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jUU3yCy3uI).
For anyone wanting to truly understand what it is to live in a police state, which U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas defined as one “in which all dissent is suppressed or rigidly controlled,” I would strongly recommend watching the footage. This Jefferson Memorial event is just the latest in a long series of incidents that clearly illustrate the extent to which our government has adopted an authoritarian mindset, one that is most clearly seen in the way law enforcement deals with American citizens.
Consider, for example, a recent incident involving a young ex-Marine who was killed after a SWAT team kicked open the door of his Arizona home during a drug raid and opened fire. According to news reports, Jose Guerena, 26 years old and the father of two young children, grabbed a gun in response to the forced invasion but never fired. Police officers were not as restrained. The young Iraqi war veteran was allegedly fired upon 71 times in what appears to be yet another senseless killing. Guerena had no prior criminal record, and the police found nothing illegal in his home.
Shocking, yes, but what’s more shocking is that such raids, which annihilate the Fourth Amendment, are actually being sanctioned by the courts. Just a few weeks ago, the Indiana Supreme Court broadly ruled in Barnes v. State that people don’t have the right to resist police officers who enter their homes illegally. And then within days of that ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively decimated the Fourth Amendment in an 8-1 ruling in Kentucky v. King by giving police more leeway to smash down doors of homes or apartments without a warrant when in search of illegal drugs which they suspect might be destroyed if the Fourth Amendment requirement of a warrant were followed.
What these assorted court rulings and incidents add up to is a nation that is fast imploding, one that is losing sight of what freedom is really all about and, in the process, is transitioning from a republic governed by the people to a police state governed by the strong arm of the law. In such an environment, the law becomes yet another tool to oppress the people.
America is spiraling into an authoritarian vortex from which there appears to be no return. And if freedom is to survive, we’re going to need leaders—not talking news heads or politicians at rallies—who will, like the great dissidents of the past such as Mahatma Gandhi, dare to defy the “law” and the establishment in effectuating change.
One thing is clear: the time to act is now.
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book The Freedom Wars (TRI Press) is available online at www.amazon.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org
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