Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Turning Back the Police State: Knowledge is Power

“The problem is at once to distinguish among events, to differentiate the networks and levels to which they belong, and to reconstitute for the lines along which they are connected and engender one another.  From this follows a refusal of domain analysis couched in terms of the symbolic field or the domain of signifying structures, and a recourse to analyses in terms of the genealogy of relations of force, strategic developments, and tactics. Here I believe one’s point of reference should not be to the great model of language (langue) and signs, but to that of war and battle. . . .

“It is hard to see where, either on the Right or the Left, this problem of power could then have been posed. . . . The way power was exercised – concretely and in detail – with its specificity, its techniques and tactics, was something that that no one attempted to ascertain; they contented themselves with denouncing it in a polemical and global fashion as it existed among the ‘other’ in the adversary camp. . . . but the mechanics of power in themselves were never analysed. This task could only begin after 1968, that is to say on the basis of daily struggles at the grassroots level, among those whose fight was located in the fine meshes of the web of power.”

-          Michel Foucault, “Truth and Power” in Power / Knowledge

Today I was pleasantly surprised to see that protests concerning the Michael Brown / Darren Wilson verdict have erupted across the nation. The moment I saw this, I knew that these must have been organized by people who are passionate about overcoming social injustices.

Power accumulates around particular nodes in any system. It is important that power does not accumulate in such a way as to neuter the citizenry of their civil liberties. In a fair legal system, individuals are treated as legal equals, not having any advantage over another in trial due to wealth, race, or gender of an individual. Neither should one be afforded a position of privilege by virtue of working for the state. Only under such a legal system can individuals work together to improve their own lives by cooperating with total strangers in social exchange of all kinds. When legal systems are hacked into by plunderers with political connections – in this case arms manufacturers that are part of the military industrial complex and corrupt police and police departments – individuals lose the ability to exercise their civil liberties. Property is seized indefinitely from those charged with drug possession, often never to return to its rightful owner.  The police departments reap the benefits. Individuals have their personal space violated upon any suspicion by an officer. And day after day, reports and videos of police shooting innocent civilians are published (I’ve linked to a Google news search for “police shoot unarmed”). Something must be done.

The first step is for community leaders to educate themselves concerning the politics that lead to their oppression. For this purpose, I have collected a number of articles that reveal, point by point, how the military industrial complex is destroying the public safety function of police, instead turning them into plunderers and oppressors of the weak and powerless. Also included are works that dig deeply into the philosophy, ethics, and, most basically, the heart state-sponsored aggression. I write this as a former public safety dispatcher for California Highway Patrol. When I worked there, I was surrounded by many good men and women, many of whom I still correspond with. It is time to renew the system that they work for and fight to defend. Incentives that encourage malicious activity, especially if of great pecuniary measure, can turn individuals and the groups they form into a machinery of grave evil and perpetual injustice. I hope that readers will use the information contained in the following literature to turn back this machinery.


1.       Radley Balko

Radley Balko is a journalist “who writes about criminal justice, the drug war, and civil liberties for The Washington Post.” He has made a video that is a great starting point for anyone trying to understand the growing police state and its display in Ferguson. See his Washington Post columns here. Also see his book Rise of the Warrior Cop.

2.       Christopher Coyne and Abigail Hall

There are a number of incisive works on the subject of the spreading militarization of police that any interested reader should read. I leave it to you to search Chris’s and Abby’s curriculums vitae. I find the following to be especially informative.

Coercive government actions that target another country often act like a boomerang, turning around and knocking down freedoms and liberties in the “throwing” nation. Two developments in the United States illustrate the boomerang effect: the rise of government surveillance and the growing militarization of the police.

This paper develops the political economy of the militarization of domestic policing. We analyze the mechanisms through which the “protective state” — where the government utilizes its monopoly on force to protect citizens’ rights — devolves into a “predatory state” which undermines the rights of the populace. We apply our theory to the U.S., where we trace the (failed) historical attempts to establish constraints to separate the military functions and policing functions of government. In doing so we emphasize the role of crises in the form of perpetual wars — the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Terror” — in the accelerated militarization of domestic policing.

General Smedley Butler had been on the inside. With a fervent cry, he digs into the military industrial complex before it was a distinct concept. He names those individuals and corporations that have much to gain from war. And shows how they can disguise their rent-seeking by wrapping their deeds in patriotism. Whether just or unjust, wars invite profiteering with the military-industrial complex demanding more war and in nuanced forms.

Here is a peak.
In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows. 
How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle? 
Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few -- the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill. 
And what is this bill? 
This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.
For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.

4.       Bastiat’s The Law

The Law is a primer on political plunder – i.e., the effects of special interests lobbying government. Within the context of Ferguson, these plunders include those mentioned above: organizations comprised of police officers and the military industrial complex. This is a nice starting point for anyone trying to understand and correct a system that generates unintended consequences that take the form of legal and physical aggression by agents of the state. See also What is Seen, and Unseen.
The law perverted! And the police powers of the state perverted along with it! The law, I say, not only turned from its proper purpose but made to follow an entirely contrary purpose! The law become the weapon of every kind of greed! Instead of checking crime, the law itself guilty of the evils it is supposed to punish.
If this is true, it is a serious fact, and moral duty requires me to call the attention of my fellow-citizens to it.

5.       Henry David Thoreau’s On Civil Disobedience

This goes without saying. See the opening below.
I HEARTILY ACCEPT the motto—"That government is best which governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe—"That government is best which governs not at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient. The objections which have been brought against a standing army, and they are many and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought against a standing government. The standing army is only an arm of the standing government. The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Witness the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool; for, in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure.

6.       Herbert Spencer’s “On Patriotism

This piece speaks for itself.
To me the cry – “Our country, right or wrong!” seems detestable. By association with love of country the sentiment it expresses gains a certain justification. Do but pull off the cloak, however, and the contained sentiment is seen to be of the lowest. Let us observe the alternative cases.
Suppose our country is in the right – suppose it is resisting invasion. Then the idea and feeling embodied in the cry are righteous. It may be effectively contended that self-defence is not only justified but is a duty. Now suppose, contrariwise, that our country is the aggressor – has taken possession of others’ territory, or is forcing by arms certain commodities on a nation which does not want them, or is backing up some of its agents in “punishing” those who have retaliated. Suppose it is doing something which, by the hypothesis, is admitted to be wrong. What is then the implication of the cry? The right is on the side of those who oppose us; the wrong is on our side. How in that case is to be expressed the so-called patriotic wish? Evidently the words must stand – “Down with the right, up with the wrong!” Now in other relations this combination of aims implies the acme of wickedness. In the minds of past men there existed, and there still exists in many minds, a belief in a personalized principle of evil – a Being going up and down in the world everywhere fighting against the good and helping the bad to triumph. Can there be more briefly expressed the aim of that Being than in the words “Up with the wrong and down with the right”? Do the so-called patriots like the endorsement? 

7.       Henry Highland Garnet’s “An Address to the Slaves of the United States

Garnet serves as a timely reminder that individual dignity and liberty lie in legal equity, not privilege which is anathema a legal system that commands common respect to all persons. Slavery was the utmost evil of his age. Now we face another.
Brethren, it is as wrong for your lordly oppressors to keep you in slavery, as it was for the man thief to steal our ancestors from the coast of Africa. You should therefore now use the same manner of resistance, as would have been just in our ancestors when the bloody foot prints of the first remorseless soul thief was placed upon the shores of our fatherland. The humblest peasant is as free in the sight of God as the proudest monarch that ever swayed a sceptre. Liberty is a spirit sent out from God, and like its great Author, is no respecter of persons.

8.       Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “The Mask of Anarchy

I’ve included the final blocks of this timely poem. Tyranny is self-consuming. Best to be rid of it.

‘The old laws of England—they
Whose reverend heads with age are gray,
Children of a wiser day ;
And whose solemn voice must be
Thine own echo—Liberty !

‘On those who first should violate
Such sacred heralds in their state
Rest the blood that must ensue,
And it will not rest on you.

‘And if then the tyrants dare
Let them ride among you there,
Slash, and stab, and maim, and hew, —
What they like, that let them do.

‘With folded arms and steady eyes,
And little fear, and less surprise,
Look upon them as they slay
Till their rage has died away.’

‘Then they will return with shame
To the place from which they came,
And the blood thus shed will speak
In hot blushes on their cheek.

‘Every woman in the land
Will point at them as they stand—
They will hardly dare to greet
Their acquaintance in the street.

‘And the bold, true warriors
Who have hugged Danger in wars
Will turn to those who would be free,
Ashamed of such base company.

‘And that slaughter to the Nation
Shall steam up like inspiration,
Eloquent, oracular ;
A volcano heard afar.

‘And these words shall then become
Like Oppression’s thundered doom
Ringing through each heart and brain.
Heard again—again—again—

‘Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number—
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you—
Ye are many—they are few.’


Last of all, the Ferguson National Response Network is organizing protests across the country, and even outside the United States. If any readers are participating, I encourage you to bring the material that you believe is most adequate for promoting insight into the problems faced by persons confronted with legally condoned brutality.

* Thank you to those of you who helped me form this list. Without you, what you just read would not exist.

**Edited link for Thoreau at 1106 PM EST.

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