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article imageOp-Ed: Inside the American police state Special

By Justin King     Jan 2, 2014 in World
For decades, activists have warned of the advancing police state in the United States. The police state arrived, not amidst a storm of riot police, but through the completely unmitigated expansion of total surveillance.
Edward Snowden’s continued leaks have given the world a look at exactly how far the National Security Agency’s assault on freedom has gone. Each new revelation demonstrates that the Agency that was set up in the 1950s to streamline cryptography and communications efforts in America’s fight to preserve liberty against the threat of the Soviet Union has become a larger threat to the freedom of the American people than the Soviet Union ever was. Other federal agencies continue to expand their power beyond the scope of moral conscience and law, and the legislature has no desire to curb the aggressive expansion of federal power.
A brief overview of the Snowden revelations demonstrates clearly that the NSA has extended its surveillance apparatus to levels that George Orwell could never have envisioned. The truly terrifying part is the fact that only a fraction of the documents Snowden has in his possession have been released.
Constitution of the United States
Constitution of the United States
U.S. National Archives
A brief overview of the American surveillance state
Requests to private companies: In the first six months of 2013, Facebook alone received requests for information on over 38,000 people by government entities. Similar requests go out to every technology and telecommunications firm in the United States.
Telephone Intercepts: The NSA intercepts roughly 1.7 billion electronic communications every day. The information is stored for later use. All of this is done without a warrant. The NSA states that they only store metadata from the intercepts, but this information can be used to gain profiles of the targets. The targets in this case include every US citizen.
Edward Snowden  former CIA employee who worked for National Security Agency (NSA)
Edward Snowden, former CIA employee who worked for National Security Agency (NSA)
Illustration by Digital Journal
Spying on website traffic: The NSA monitored data from every major internet company; infiltrating links, and stealing data from hundreds of thousands of user accounts. The agency also stole the address books and web contacts of those accounts.
Postal mail surveillance: The United States Postal Service photographs the outside of every piece of mail it handles, 160 billion pieces per year. This information is later available for U.S. security services to exploit.
Hacking consumer products: The NSA keeps a 50-page document full of backdoor exploits and hacking tools for virtually every system and product available. Many of America’s most popular devices are completely at the mercy of government surveillance.
Spying on the main systems of the Internet: The agency monitors fiber optic cables, intercepting emails and web traffic indiscriminate of who it is affecting.
Intercepting postal deliveries: The NSA intercepts deliveries en route and installs spyware on them.
Destroying privacy protections: The NSA uses taxpayer dollars to deconstruct the systems taxpayers use to protect their privacy. It defeats encryption efforts employed by Americans to protect themselves against spying.
Human elements of the police state
Beyond the undeniable surveillance state built in the United States, the government has removed basic rights from citizens through the adoption of so-called “constitution free zones” and legislation curtailing protests, free speech, and the right to not self-incriminate. Simply entering many areas today is an automatic waiver of most Constitutional protections.
While these efforts provide the framework for the security services to know who to target, for the U.S. to be called a true police state, the police must somehow be held unaccountable for their actions when subduing their targets. In illustrating that point, it should be noted that since 1993, despite shooting unarmed people, the FBI has not had a single fatal shooting ruled unjustified. That statistic was referred to as “suspiciously low” by criminal justice professor Samuel Walker from the University of Nebraska Omaha. Even in cases where the federal government was forced to pay the victim, the agents themselves were deemed faultless.
Lt. John Pike just casually pepper spraying peaceful protesters.
Lt. John Pike just casually pepper spraying peaceful protesters.
This de facto immunity from prosecution extends to local departments as well. The New York Police Department recently opened fire on an unarmed man, striking nine bystanders in the barrage of bullets. The unarmed, mentally ill man was then charged with assault for the wounds the police inflicted on the innocents walking through Times Square. The unarmed man was mentally ill and was considering suicide. A 2012 study found that 58% of those killed by law enforcement suffered from mental health issues.
The militarization of local law enforcement has accelerated at a rate so alarming that even elements within the Department of Justice, an agency known for Gestapo-like tactics, have raised concerns. In this month’s newsletter, Senior Policy Analyst Karl Bickel said
Police chiefs and sheriffs may want to ask themselves—if after hiring officers in the spirit of adventure, who have been exposed to action oriented police dramas since their youth, and sending them to an academy patterned after a military boot camp, then dressing them in black battle dress uniforms and turning them loose in a subculture steeped in an “us versus them” outlook toward those they serve and protect, while prosecuting the war on crime, war on drugs, and now a war on terrorism—is there any realistic hope of institutionalizing community policing as an operational philosophy?
These police departments are increasingly using weapons of war against U.S. citizens. This month, the Boston Police Department rolled out its plan to equip every patrol car with an AR-15. The AR-15 is a clone of the M-16 rifle carried by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. In 2009, Boston Police ordered 200 M-16 rifles directly from the Department of Defense.
Assault rifle
Assault rifle
Jack Kervin, president of the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation labor union has expressed concerns about the weapons stating
All of a sudden the department seems to be rushing into this. It isn’t like this is Fallujah or we’re in a war zone.
This decision to give law enforcement even more firepower comes as homicides in the city have declined for the fourth straight year.
Another common step in the militarization of unaccountable law enforcement is the acquisition of heavily armored vehicles, shipped directly from the wars in the Middle East to Main Street, USA. South Tahoe Lake recently acquired one of the vehicles from the Department of Defense. The Department obtained an MRAP, which stands for Mine-Resistant, Ambush Protected, vehicle.
South Lake Tahoe’s police chief, Brian Uhler, knows exactly what the vehicle is used for, saying
“It’s designed to rescue people pinned down by gunfire,”
Since the turn of the century, South Tahoe has not had more than a single murder per year. It is hard to imagine a scenario in which the police department would need to deploy the weapon. However, the intimidation factor of a having such a vehicle might persuade the populace to be more compliant. The South Lake Tahoe is still reeling from the arrest of one of the police officers on charges of witness tampering.
Police corruption and police brutality have reached levels high enough to spawn dozens of Facebook pages on the subject. Two of the largest pages, Police State USA: Land of the Checkpoints and Police the Police, post daily stories to tens of thousands of followers.
On the subject of ending the police state, Alex Freeman, an activist and writer, said
The only thing that can be done is for a significant number of Americans stand in union and assert their rightful power over the federal government. It governs at our behest. We do not serve at theirs.
Anyone can inform themselves and others. Complacency and allowing a pervasive ignorance of the growing police state serves their purposes. Awareness of their actions alone has shown that the police state can be slowed in its progress. So awareness is the first and necessary step that you can do from the ease and comfort of your sofa.
Many activists cling to the doctrine of nonviolence when confronting the police state, but as the injustices and brutality continue, many are beginning to worry the tyranny will only end under threat of force. Before it comes to that, it is more important than ever for citizens to engage in the political process and remove leaders that do not represent any interests but their own.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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