“There is no greater tyranny, than which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.” ~ Montesquieu
Here in America, we don’t live in a police state. Not outright. Not yet. But more and more, what I see makes me question exactly what it means to live in a police state. It makes me wonder where America is heading in terms of government and leadership, and how close to a police state we really are.
Many recent things have converged and I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of the police in America. I wanted to write a blog post about this in some form. At one point, I wanted to write about some of my experiences with the police in the reading series portion of this site. But something made me hold off. There are things about this topic that I am still searching, still trying to understand. I don’t think these things look the same across America, and I know people have vastly different experiences with the police. But what I’m seeing is some pretty ominous shit. And it makes me nervous.
America, land of the “free”. America, the bully on the playground of the world. America, that lying, two-faced bitch. America, that money-hungry, opportunistic whore … I can still write these things without fear of being punished by my government. I can criticize America without fear of retribution, as long as I am a singular voice. If I started to voice these opinions to many people en masse, or if I began to organize demonstrations, I believe we would have a different story, and retribution would come swiftly. Because America does believe in free speech and “the people” but if the people organize in a difference of opinion against law and government, and there is a conflict, then all bets are off.
Sometimes the law of people and the law of government do conflict. Even Martin Luther King Jr. was a threat to the law, even with all the good work he did for the world, even having morality and justice on his side. Every once in a while, we see something like what happened in Ferguson. We see the anger and frustration of the people. We see the viciousness of the law when given carte blanche power. The police are notorious for abusing their power, in general. I can’t imagine what it would be like for a black person in America to deal with the police, the majority of whom are white men. But I know what it is like to deal with them as a female, and to be subjugated by their power.
I do not have a police record. Any charges that were ever filed against me were dropped. But when I was younger, I was arrested multiple times, for stupid things. I have been handcuffed behind my back, handcuffed to a chair, in holding cells, interrogated, strip searched, fingerprinted, detained. My rights were completely taken away from me when I was arrested. The police were at complete liberty to do what they wanted to me. Things could have been much worse for me. In another country, I might be held for months. I might have been raped. I might have been killed for the smallest infraction. But this is America. We have courts and lawyers and red tape bureaucracy. Those things don’t happen in America? We don’t hear about those things happening in America. We don’t hear about it, until something happens like what happened in Ferguson, when things go very wrong.
Conflicts and confrontations between people and enforcers of law are only one aspect to living in a police state. There are other, more insidious, ways in which a police state manifests itself.
Where I live, an increasing number of traffic lights have cameras in them. It’s become ominous, there are so many. The purpose for these is to take a photo of the car if they pass a red light. The camera takes a picture of the car, aimed towards the license plate. Then, the person will receive a ticket for a court appearance or fine in the mail. I’ve been noticing that now certain traffic areas also have video surveillance. There are signs noting this. It isn’t hidden, which would be worse in many ways, but the existence of these kinds of surveillance to enforce traffic laws is relatively new. And they seem to be everywhere.
Almost all stores where I live have cameras and monitors in them. These cameras and monitors are used for surveillance, to make sure no one is stealing. These have been around longer. Some are hidden, some are not. People are generally aware that they are being monitored. Again, the purpose for this surveillance is to enforce laws against shoplifting, burglary, etc. But the manifestation of it – everywhere – in today’s world is creepy.
Since 9/11/01, there has an increased “security” in Manhattan, seen most abundantly in train stations, subways, and local airports. I live about an hour by train from Manhattan. The last time I took the train into the city, I was astounded by the police presence, and I mean police in full-out gear, throughout these areas. It is a menacing presence, and one can’t help but feel … what are they protecting, exactly? Are they protecting us, or are they protecting against us. They seem prepared to do both … Demonstrations in city parks during the “Occupy” Movement were flanked by police offers in full out riot gear. The spontaneity of the Occupy Movement across the country, and across the world, was kept just in line. Because there was no leader. Without a true leader, the movement was just a movement, and never became a real threat. I truly believe that if there was a leader, the Occupy Movement would have seen bloodshed.
Before I started writing this post, I did a quick search for “police state” on google, and this is something many people are bringing up and talking about as America sees an unprecedented increase in “security” and “surveillance”. Many people seem to find an eerie continuum that makes it seem that yes, America really does have the capacity to move to a full blown police state. But would the people ever allow that to happen?? These things happen slowly, we acquiesce slowly.
We are taught from the time we enter school to obey authority, to stay between the lines, to not question too much, to sit still, be quiet, do as you are told. We learn that the correct answer to the teacher’s question is the teacher’s answer. The number of “drills” that now happen in public schools across America is frightening. In addition to “Fire Drills”, there are also “Emergency Sheltering Drills”, “Lock Out Drills”, “Lockdown Drills” and “Extended Evacuation Drills.” In today’s world, schools are not safe. These drills are meant to keep children safe, but they also bring an awareness to children of not being safe, which instills fear. I wonder what these drills are teaching them, how they are shaping their ideas of living in this world. As a whole, this society does not teach children the skills and qualities it did even a century ago. Curiosity, ingenuity, creativity, and even intelligence are not inculcated or nurtured. We are a nation of worker bees in a world that revolves around the Queen’s almighty dollar, drugged into submission by television and media, Ritalin and Prozac and Ambien, trying to survive, to live, to find meaning in life.
In my quick search, I found articles such as 9/11 After Thirteen Years: Continuous Warfare, Police State, Endless Falsehoods and We’re Living in a Police State. Many online newspapers, such as the Huffington Post, have tag archives of all related articles written about this topic, and there are many websites, including the ACLU and PoliceStateUSA, devoted to educating and informing the public about issues that affect our rights and liberties. There is a lot of information out there. But do we really want to know how deep this goes? America thrives on the idea that ignorance equals bliss. Even with the knowledge available, I’m not sure if the majority of Americans even care. Many people don’t care about anything unless (or until) it affects them directly. What can the people possibly do, before it becomes too late for the people to do anything?
I don’t know if we are living in a police state, but I know what I see, and it doesn’t look good. I know how the government manipulates the flow of information to people. I know what we are told – this is for our freedom, for our protection, for our own good. In many cases, laws do exist to protect us from ourselves … but “who watches the watchmen?” What do we do when the law is against us, who will protect us then? Wasn’t Orwell’s “Big Brother” in 1984 enough of a warning? Or was it foreshadowing??