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“People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf,” goes the famous quote attributed to George Orwell.
Personally, I honor the police the same way I honor our soldiers in the military, because their jobs are similar – both protect us from those who would commit evil acts and do us great harm.
But police today are being put in an almost impossible situation, as we’ll soon see.
As a child, I had an idealized and naïve idea of police work, thanks to “The Andy Griffith Show.” The good-hearted sheriff of the fictional town of Mayberry seemed to be able to solve all the locals’ problems with wisdom and kindly strength – and the “help” of his inept and goofy deputy, Barney Fife.
Around the same time, artist Norman Rockwell rendered his famous painting, “The Runaway,” depicting a state trooper seated at a lunch counter talking with a little boy at whose feet lies a knapsack – clear evidence he is intent on running away from home.
When the real-life policeman who posed for Rockwell’s painting – Massachusetts State Police Sgt. Richard J. Clemens Jr. – passed away a few months ago, the force’s superintendent, Col. Marian J. McGovern, reflected on the iconic image: “The painting of a trooper bending over in counsel to a young boy intent on leaving home captures – much more than any of the images of shootouts and car chases favored by popular culture – the highest ideal of police work: helping someone in need at a vulnerable moment.”
“Helping someone in need.” Yes, that’s what it’s supposed to be all about, which may be why, during the tumultuous 1960s, when both stoned-out hippies and angry leftists publicly reviled the police and called them “pigs,” my favorite bumper sticker was: “IF YOU THINK COPS ARE PIGS, NEXT TIME YOU’RE IN TROUBLE, CALL A HIPPIE.”
When the 1991 Rodney King scandal involving the Los Angeles Police Department led to a media feeding frenzy over supposedly widespread “police brutality” in America, I sided with the cops. In fact, my journalistic defense of law enforcement at the time, which explored the multitude of stresses, sacrifices and challenges police work entails, was widely published in newspapers, law enforcement publications and criminology textbooks.
Alas, over the past few decades, powerful forces have transformed America – and Americans. Many vital institutions have been progressively changed – in fact, just about all of them: The elite news media are more wretched than ever. Hollywood glorifies extreme violence and sexual debauchery. Big labor unions provide funding and zombie ground troops for radical causes and candidates. Our educational system is off-the-charts secular-left, zealously indoctrinating the next generation about how unfair, racist and oppressive America is.
And while we’ve pretty much come to expect such treachery when it comes to academia and the news and entertainment media, unfortunately even our more reality-based institutions, those strongly rooted in traditional values, have not been unscathed. Take the military, for instance: Political correctness, open homosexuality, women in front-line combat, perverse rules of engagement – these and many other radical and reckless changes have been imposed on our armed forces by leaders who care more about utopian social engineering than defeating enemies, winning wars and protecting our troops.
Likewise, law enforcement – particularly in the disintegrating urban environment – is under enormous pressures to abandon the traditional “serve-protect-defend” model of yesteryear in favor of a more aggressive and authoritarian ethos. The post-9/11 era wherein everyone is regarded as a potential terrorist is one factor. Another is the militarization of local and state police with hard-core war-fighting equipment (including surveillance drones and machine-gun-equipped armored personnel carriers), courtesy of a federal government program. When you’ve got such equipment, there’s a tendency to want to use it.
Then there’s the power-mad Obama administration setting the law enforcement agenda from the top – which in its second term, has now expanded to include a major campaign to disarm law-abiding citizens while dramatically increasing the firepower of those who work for the government. Not just Homeland Security, mind you, but even non-police agencies like the Department of Education, National Park Service, Small Business Administration and Fish and Wildlife have their own police forces and SWAT teams.
With the Department of Homeland Security now purchasing billions of rounds of small-arms ammunition, including lots of hollow-point ammo, many Americans are asking: Who exactly is the enemy our government is preparing to fight on our own soil? (The government claims all that ammo is for mandatory quarterly training exercises for government agents, but who uses hollow-point on the practice range?)
Top radio talker Mark Levin provided some context for the huge quantities of recent government ammo acquisitions: “Experts estimate that at the peak of the Iraq war, American troops were firing around 5.5 million rounds per month,” he said. “At that rate, the [Department of Homeland Security] is armed now for a 24-year Iraq war. A 24-year Iraq war!”
So, what crisis is DHS anticipating? “I’m going to tell you what I think is going on. I don’t think domestic insurrection. Law enforcement and national security agencies, they play out multiple scenarios. … I’ll tell you what I think they’re simulating: the collapse of our financial system, the collapse of our society and the potential for widespread violence, looting, killing in the streets, because that’s what happens when an economy collapses.
“I suspect that just in case our fiscal situation, our monetary situation, collapses, and following it the civil society collapses, that is the rule of law, they want to be prepared,” Levin said. “I know why the government’s arming up: It’s not because there’s going to be an insurrection; it’s because our society is unraveling.”
And then there’s terrorism
Meanwhile, the threat of terrorism hovers over law enforcement at every level and feeds the growing surveillance beast. The federal Transportation Security Administration has made quite a name for itself with nude X-ray imaging and invasive pat-downs of ailing grandmothers and crying 3-year-old handicapped children in wheelchairs.
Unfortunately, while almost all of the thousands of terrorist acts perpetrated worldwide in the years since 9/11 have been committed by Muslims in the name of Islam, the Obama administration appears inexplicably obsessed with “potential terrorists” among the president’s critics. The Department of Homeland Security continually defames conservative individuals and groups, as it did in its April 7, 2009, report titled “Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.” That law enforcement advisory characterizes as potential “right-wing extremists” – a term it uses at least 35 times in the 9-page document – constitutionalists, patriots and military veterans, as well as “groups or individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration” – thus conflating normal, traditionally minded Americans with neo-Nazis, skinheads, Klansmen and other potentially violent groups.
Just as the federal government increasingly oversteps its constitutional bounds, America’s police – perhaps following Washington, D.C.’s example – sometimes trample citizens’ rights. If you doubt that police in today’s America – in at least in certain areas and under certain extraordinary conditions – are fully capable of going door to door and forcibly confiscating legally owned firearms, consider what happened in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when the New Orleans Police Department went from house to house taking away the guns of law-abiding citizens.
“Only law enforcement are allowed to have weapons,” announced New Orleans Police Superintendent P. Edwin Compass III in advance of a planned, forced evacuation. The city’s Deputy Police Chief Warren Riley told ABC News: “No one will be able to be armed. We are going to take all the weapons.”
Really? “We are going to take all the weapons”? In America?
Incredibly, online videos are readily accessible documenting uniformed NOPD officers grabbing handguns out of the hands of terrified little old ladies, treating them like criminals, in some cases knocking them to the ground and injuring them.
And that was during the administration of President George W. Bush, who unlike Obama had no designs on widespread gun bans.
This, then, is the dilemma of living in a gradually escalating police state. The police themselves are not the problem, but they are being shaped by powerful political, cultural, legal and financial forces, and sometimes the results are downright ugly.
Good cop, bad cop
There is no shortage of horror stories of police excesses, especially in an era when security increasingly trumps liberty. As civil rights attorney John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute wrote in January:
If you want a recipe for disaster, take police officers hyped up on their own authority and the power of the badge, throw in a few court rulings suggesting that security takes precedence over individual rights, set it against a backdrop of endless wars and militarized law enforcement, and then add to the mix a populace distracted by entertainment, out of touch with the workings of their government, and more inclined to let a few sorry souls suffer injustice than to challenge the status quo.
The resulting concoction, I can promise you, will be a messy, noxious stew unfit for consumption, miserable to digest and with after-effects that will leave you reeling and clutching your stomach in dismay. Such is the nature of life in the emerging police state that is America today, where roadside police stops have devolved into government-sanctioned exercises in humiliation and degradation with a complete disregard for privacy and human dignity.
Consider, for example, what happened to 38-year-old Angel Dobbs and her 24-year-old niece, Ashley, who were pulled over by a Texas state trooper on July 13, 2012, allegedly for flicking cigarette butts out of the car window. First, the trooper berated the women for littering on the highway. Then, insisting that he smelled marijuana, he proceeded to interrogate them and search the car. Despite the fact that both women denied smoking or possessing any marijuana, the police officer then called in a female trooper, who carried out a roadside cavity search, sticking her fingers into the older woman’s anus and vagina, then performing the same procedure on the younger woman, wearing the same pair of gloves. No marijuana was found.
Leila Tarantino was allegedly subjected to two roadside strip searches in plain view of passing traffic during a routine traffic stop, while her two children – ages 1 and 4 – waited inside her car. During the second strip search, presumably in an effort to ferret out drugs, a female officer “forcibly removed” a tampon from Tarantino’s body. No contraband or anything illegal was found.
Meanwhile, four Milwaukee police officers have been charged with carrying out rectal searches of suspects on the street and in police district stations over the course of several years. One of the officers is accused of conducting searches of men’s anal and scrotal areas, often inserting his fingers into their rectums and leaving some of his victims with bleeding rectums. Half-way across the country, the city of Oakland, California, has agreed to pay $4.6 million to 39 men who had their pants pulled down by police on city streets between 2002 and 2009.
I’ll spare you any more gory details. Again, to be fair, these are horror stories and not the norm. Most police do an admirable job at a difficult, dangerous, thankless task.
Moreover, for every cop that fails to live up to professional standards, there are those who go way beyond the call of duty. We don’t hear about them very often; as a rule, things go public when they go wrong, not when they go right. One rare exception – when someone with a cell-phone camera happened to capture the event – was the encounter late last November between Larry DePrimo, a young NYPD cop patrolling Times Square, and a freezing, elderly homeless man with neither shoes nor socks. After talking to the man and ascertaining his shoe size, DePrimo went into a nearby shoe store and, with his own money, bought the stranger a nice expensive pair of boots and socks. When a passerby with a smartphone happened to photograph the scene of a young policeman kneeling down to help a homeless man put on the new boots he had just bought him, the image went viral and made every American’s Christmas a little brighter, and life in America a little more hopeful.
“I was just doing my job,” DePrimo later explained.
Larry DePrimo is not the only cop “doing his job” in this way. I have friends who are policemen and for whom I have nothing but appreciation and respect. I even cut the much-maligned TSA a little slack: I have been patted down dozens of times in U.S. airports since the most recent security protocols were introduced, and I personally have yet to encounter a single TSA agent who was not courteous and utterly professional.
Preserving the ‘thin blue line’
Crises – real or manufactured – do not void the Constitution. Even in real emergencies, as in post-Katrina New Orleans, we cannot descend into the official anarchy that ruled that city, with police blatantly violating the Constitution by confiscating the legal guns of law-abiding citizens. One sign of a powerful counterforce to this trend is the enormous number of county sheriffs – literally hundreds of them – who have recently stood up and defied the federal government over its threats of new infringements on the Second Amendment, even pledging their lives to defend the constitutional rights of the residents of their county, come hell or high water.
Likewise, partnership initiatives between law enforcement and citizens are more important than ever, from “Neighborhood Watch” programs to more ambitious projects like the one my friend radio talker Bob Just created – roving citizen patrols that drive through the community to provide extra “eyes and ears” for law enforcement, communicating problems to the police by CB or cell phone. Called Concerned Fathers Against Crime, the program has gained national notoriety for its successes.
There is one final factor, which may be the most consequential and intractable of all.
If you recall, on “The Andy Griffith Show,” Sheriff Andy Taylor didn’t carry a gun. (In a running gag, Deputy Fife had one bullet, which generally stayed in his shirt pocket – “in case of an emergency,” Andy always explained.) But then, the fictional Mayberry had virtually no crime. Contrast that with today’s America.
Detroit resembles a decimated war zone. Chicago experiences more murders of Americans than does Afghanistan. Los Angeles has over 100,000 gang members. Violent “flash mobs” appear “out of nowhere,” create havoc and destruction, and then disappear. There’s no question that today’s police – especially in America’s increasingly dangerous metropolitan areas, most of which are in stunning decline – face extraordinary challenges.
The more out-of-control and lost Americans become as a people, the more they will call into existence a police state. William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, expressed this immutable law perfectly: “If men are not governed by God, they will be ruled by tyrants.” If police in our cities look like occupying armies sometimes, look at what they’re up against.
Police are sometimes torn between traditional community standards – preserving, protecting and defending their neighbors and communities – and being encouraged to violate Americans constitutional rights by an increasingly unreasonable and parasitical federal government. Today’s national leaders want, above all, power over the nation’s citizens, and they will use every lever of power they can get their hands on to accomplish that – including the police, which are, after all, government employees.
Let’s face reality: Our society is degrading and disintegrating economically, politically, socially, morally and spiritually. (Just about the only thing improving is technology, which creates the illusion of overall progress.) And as America degrades, we continue to expect our police to clean up our messes, to protect us and to apprehend the “bad guys” – from graffiti-scrawling gang wannabes and shoplifters, to robbers and rapists, to deranged, mass-murdering school-shooters and demon-possessed Islamic terrorists. For all their faults, the police continue to stand in the breech between civilization and chaos. So let’s be grateful for that “thin blue line.”
At the same time, let’s not act too surprised to learn that the police themselves are not immune to the ongoing degradation and disintegration of society, nor impervious to the growing pressures on them from the federal government, and thus inevitably become unwitting cogs in the “fundamental transformation of America.”
Reprinted from the March 2013 issue of Whistleblower magazine, “HOW AMERICA IS BECOMING A POLICE STATE.”