Where Do We Go From Here?
In yesterday’s post, JC pulls back the lens on Ferguson to examine the implications of an unchecked police state. Excerpted in that post is a piece by John Whitehead, writing for the Rutherford Institute. I finally got a chance to read the whole article and one of the things that jumped out was the massive expenditure of resources to catch the cop killer in Pennsylvania:
Just a few weeks after the Ferguson showdown, law enforcement agencies took part in an $11 million manhunt in Pennsylvania for alleged cop killer Eric Frein. Without batting an eye, the news media switched from outraged “shock” over the military arsenal employed by police in Ferguson to respectful “awe” of the 48-day operation that cost taxpayers $1.4 million per week in order to carry out a round-the-clock dragnet search of an area with a 5-mile-radius.
The Frein operation brought together 1,000 officers from local, state and federal law enforcement, as well as SWAT teams and cutting edge military equipment (high-powered rifles, body armor, infrared sensors, armored trucks, helicopters and unmanned, silent surveillance blimps)—some of the very same weapons and tactics employed in Ferguson and, a year earlier, in Boston in the wake of the marathon bombing.
The manhunt was a well-timed, perfectly choreographed exercise in why Americans should welcome the police state: for our safety, of course, and to save the lives of police officers.
Opposed to any attempt to demilitarize America’s police forces, the Dept. of Homeland Security has been chanting this safety mantra in testimony before Congress: Remember 9/11. Remember Boston. Remember how unsafe the world was before police were equipped with automatic weapons, heavily armored trucks, night-vision goggles, and aircraft donated by the DHS.
Contrary to DHS rhetoric, however, militarized police—twitchy over perceived dangers, hyped up on their authority, and protected by their agencies, the legislatures and the courts—have actually made communities less safe at a time when violent crime is at an all-time low and lumberjacks, fishermen, airline pilots, roofers, construction workers, trash collectors, electricians and truck drivers all have a higher risk of on-the-job fatalities than police officers.
In the comments JC reminded our readers of what a militarized police response looks like in Missoula. If you didn’t watch it, you should:
It was the summer of 2000, the month I actually moved to Missoula with my fiancé. I remember wondering why there was such a heavy police presence in a college mountain town. Sure, the Hells Angels were visiting, but did that really warrant out-of-state police officers patrolling Missoula streets?
It seems to me, looking back, that the show of force by the Missoula Police Department antagonized enough people into demonstrating. If you watch the video, you will see what abuses of police authority look like.
And if you go to 18:33 in the video you will hear Pete Lawrence, Missoula’s Chief of police at the time, say something that should be disturbing to any citizen. In describing the decision to let crowds disperse Saturday night after the bars closed, Chief Lawrence states that “we backed off, pulled our troops out of the Front Street area…” (my emphasis)
Remember, this is 2000, a full year before the 9/11 attacks provided the perfect excuse to greatly expand the police state.
Getting back to Ferguson, JC was quick to point out the perversion of the grand jury process in this case. Chris Lehmann, writing for Al Jazeera America, also takes a crack at this angle in an article titled A deafening liberal silence on Ferguson. From the link:
It speaks volumes about the anorexic state of liberal moral reasoning in today’s America that it has met the failure of a grand jury to indict Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson for the Aug. 9 killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown with little more than a procedural shrug. All appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, the system has worked, liberals intone.
This should not come as any great surprise. Liberalism, in its current technocratic guise, doesn’t possess any strong moral vocabulary for describing — let alone condemning — procedural abuses, for the simple reason that its most ardent apostles don’t imagine them occurring. Hence our first African-American president — a classic managerial liberal whose bona fides were minted in the academy’s most hallowed cathedral of neoliberalism, the University of Chicago Law School — greeted the outrage of Wilson’s non-indictment with the bland assurance that our impersonal institutions of justice were all in fundamental working order.
“First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law,” President Barack Obama said in his address to the nation following the Nov. 24 grand jury decision. Never mind that the legal proceedings in question had forestalled the most basic protections that safeguard such rule — the opportunity to mount a public inquiry into a police officer’s grave trespass against a private citizen. Instead it produced something of a parody of due process, via a highly irregular grand-jury proceeding relying mainly on the contradictory and implausible testimony of the would-be defendant.
Nevertheless, the president pressed on with his alternate-universe version of events. “We need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make,” he announced — even though no one protesting was challenging the panel’s formal authority, any more than abolitionists or civil-rights activists had denied that the Supreme Court’s rulings in Dred Scott v. Sanford or Plessy v. Ferguson were the law of the land. What was in question, rather, was the actions of the grand jury, after its members had been prodded by St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch, a notoriously cop-friendly DA, to contort the basic purpose of a grand-jury hearing out of all recognition. Grand juries are not empowered to settle the momentous question of guilt or innocence, or finer-grained matters of motive, opportunity and state of mind. They’re only charged with establishing probably cause for a trial to proceed — to indict, rather than to exonerate or convict, a prospective criminal defendant.
This was the howling, first-order procedural abuse that permitted all the other, kindred trespasses of this inquiry to disfigure the routine operations of the legal system in the killing of Michael Brown. Since they’re formal path-clearing inquiries, grand juries typically don’t hear the testimony of more than a handful of witnesses. McCulloch, by contrast, called 60 witnesses, who testified for more than 70 hours. Wilson alone testified without cross-examination for four hours — an unheard-of span of time for a prospective defendant, even in a police murder inquiry. Likewise, grand-jury proceedings in any criminal case rarely go beyond a day or two — but McCulloch kept this body empaneled for more than 100 days.
The article goes on and is worth reading in full.
So where do we go from here? Considering there are differing opinions on what the core issues even are, that’s a difficult question to begin answering. Is institutional racism the main problem or is it the police state? Is reforming the system possible, and if so, by what means? Direct action? The ballot box?
Personally, I swing back and forth. I participate in the daily grind within the system, trying to make positive impacts wherever possible. And I have seen that there are possibilities. I know there are good members of law enforcement who do protect and serve our community. Change is slow and tedious, but it is possible.
But then there’s my cynical side, fueled by how politics distorts and destroys the potential for change.
Money in politics is one of those core issues that, if not addressed, will ensure the debilitating status quo is maintained. On that front, it was incredibly disappointing to read about Governor Bullock’s intention to chair the DGA:
Gov. Steve Bullock this week acknowledged his interest in serving in the top post at the Democratic Governors Association.
Politico reported Wednesday that Bullock, who in December 2013 was chosen to chair the group’s major donor program, is poised to succeed Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin in the organization’s top spot.
“Gov. Bullock is a Democratic governor who knows how to balance a budget, keep money in the bank for a rainy day and prioritize public schools,” Bullock’s spokesman, Dave Parker, said in a statement. “Folks have noticed what Gov. Bullock is doing out here and some of his colleagues have encouraged him to consider running. He’s doing that.”
The group convenes in Los Angeles on Dec. 8-9 for its annual meeting and holiday party, at which Bullock is expected to be picked as the next DGA chair.
If elected, Bullock would head an organization that primarily exists to elect Democratic governors, and does so by raising millions of dollars from corporate donors.
The DGA is a 527 tax-exempt political organization that can solicit corporate contributions in any amount.
In 2012, the DGA raised more than $50 million, much of that coming from unions, drug makers, insurance companies, energy companies and other corporate sources. That year, the DGA gave over $2.8 million to Montana Jobs, Education and Technology PAC, a political action committee that worked to get Bullock elected.
If Bullock is picked to be the next DGA chair, that will mean both our Governor and one of our Senators (Tester) will be dedicating a significant amount of their time in public office fundraising. Somehow I don’t think the interests of Montanans will be a top priority as Governor Bullock and Senator Tester involve themselves in corporate panhandling.
I guess that means it’s up to us. Unfortunately that notion reinforces my cynicism.