Normalizing the police state (and how it ends with taser-firing drones)
Bob Herbert recently wrote about the overzealous enforcement of “peace officers” assigned to New York City schools. The officers are accused of detaining, searching, handcuffing, and arresting students for silly things like drawing on desks, or handling — not using, but handling — cell phones in school.
In one case, a safety officer kicked in the door of a stall in the boys’ bathroom, wounding a student’s head. The officer’s response to questioning about the matter was: “That’s life. It will stop bleeding.”
Another student, this time a 5-year-old, was shipped off to a hospital psychiatric ward for throwing a tantrum.
These absurd reactions to normal childhood behavior is all part of “Zero Tolerance.” Six-year-old Zachary Christie faced disciplinary action after bringing a Cub Scout utensil that can serve as a knife, fork, and spoon to school. Apparently, the state of Delaware is terrified of children shanking each other, and after all, it’s the era of Zero Tolerance.
Treating children as suspects is the new normal in American culture. There is something innately wrong with children. If they’re too chatty, they need to be medicated. If they’re too angry, they need to be suppressed by a “peace officer.” They are not to be trusted, and must be monitored at all times.
A school in Pennsylvania is accused of covertly activating webcams in school-issued laptops to spy on students. The accusations have generated a lot of outrage, but this is the logical conclusion of the country’s general movement toward a police state. If the NSA can wiretap citizens’ phones, the FBI can infiltrate protest groups, and the police can generally dominate and suppress any kind of protest, why shouldn’t schools be able to monitor student activity?
Americans have already accepted forms of police brutality (macing, sound cannons, tasering) as the inevitable punishments for exercising their First Amendment rights. They have already submitted to the bureaucratic requirements of permits (permits to gather, permits to use a bullhorn,) and the ridiculous spectacle of caged protests where activists are literally penned behind gates and cannot move from their designated locations as they “exercise” their “freedom of speech.”
When the protest spills past the acceptable parameters of activism, the police state shocks the citizenry back into submission. They taser, and mace, and deafen people until they stop fighting.
There hasn’t been too much fuss about this kind of oppression. Some guy got tasered when he asked John Kerry a question, but his fellow citizens mostly laughed about that. Jay Leno had a lot of fun with the “Don’t taze me, bro” stuff. Good times had by all.
Students like Ryan O’Neil got tasered at UCLA:
Kathryn Winkfein, a 72-year-old great-grandmother, was tasered (twice) by an officer for getting shouty after she was pulled over for a traffic offense. Youtube commenters — ever the empathetic bunch — said Winkfein was “asking to be tasered.” Another said Winkfein clearly has to take some “responsibility” for being tasered.
Worse than the police state itself are the people who can’t rush to defend the oppressors quickly enough. That student was asking for it. Grandma shoulda kept her mouth shut.
Digby calls this the “normalizing of torture.” Not only are people unsurprised by tasering these days, but they watch it for entertainment on Youtube. This normalizing goes beyond tasering, however. It’s now normal for the state to monitor citizens, and for any kind of mass protest to be immediately restricted by the government.
The terrifying conclusion to this normalization of the police state is featured in the latest issue of Harper’s. (h/t Digby)
Taser’s distributor has announced plans for a flying drone that fires stun darts at criminal suspects or rioters.
Oh, goody. It’s like if a thousand tasers rained down from the heavens. Other nifty inventions include
a “Shockwave Area-Denial System,” which blankets the area in question with electrified darts, and a wireless Taser projectile with a 100-meter range, helpful for picking off “ringleaders” in unruly crowds.
It all sounds like science fiction. Sane individuals read stuff about the taser-firing drones and think, “That’ll never happen!” But consider that thirty years ago, people would have laughed at the idea that police would one day be permitted to electrocute citizens for getting mouthy.
And considering what else the Pentagon has worked on in the past, I wouldn’t put anything past these people:
Pentagon interest in “advanced riot-control agents” has long been an open secret, but just how close we are to seeing these agents in action was revealed in 2002, when the Sunshine Project, an arms-control group based in Austin, Texas, posted on the Internet a trove of Pentagon documents uncovered through the Freedom of Information Act. Among these was a fifty-page study titled “The Advantages and Limitations of Calmatives for Use as a Non-Lethal Technique,” conducted by Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory, home of the JNLWD-sponsored Institute for Non-Lethal Defense Technologies.
Penn State’s College of Medicine researchers agreed, contrary to accepted principles of medical ethics, that “the development and use of non-lethal calmative techniques is both achievable and desirable,” and identified a large number of promising drug candidates, including benzodiazepines like Valium, serotonin-reuptake inhibitors like Prozac, and opiate derivatives like morphine, fentanyl, and carfentanyl, the last commonly used by veterinarians to sedate large animals. The only problems they saw were in developing effective delivery vehicles and regulating dosages, but these problems could be solved readily, they recommended, through strategic partnerships with the pharmaceutical industry.
Little more was heard about the Pentagon’s “advanced riot-control agent” program until July 2008, when the Army announced that production was scheduled for its XM1063 “non-lethal personal suppression projectile,” an artillery shell that bursts in midair over its target, scattering 152 canisters over a 100,000-square-foot area, each dispersing a chemical agent as it parachutes down. There are many indications that a calmative, such as fentanyl, is the intended payload—a literal opiate of the masses.
Here we have the completion of the perfect police state. Citizens are monitored from cradle to grave. Any signs of anger or rebellion are swiftly squelched with medication or “peace officers.” The schools step in when the state cannot act to monitor and regulate every movement of students’ lives under the banner of “Zero Tolerance.”
When the medicated and monitored children grow into dysfunctional adults, some of who eventually realize their shitty circumstances (complete with shitty healthcare, outsourced jobs, limited resources, poisoned environment, enormous wealth disparity, etc.) and they think about rebelling, they are immediately lassoed with an anchor of bureaucracy. Should you want to protest, please fill out form AYT0754 five months prior to said protest, and pay this fee, and remain in this pen, and please don’t make too much noise…
Those few brave souls that break through this wall and do manage to protest are put down at Stage 2 of the Police State with weaponry: mace, sound cannons, tasers, and whatever else the Pentagon desires to test on them. The state will only be too happy to use opiate weaponry next. What a nice, neat way to stop activism! Spray a little Happy in the herd’s face and watch them wander off, smiling.
Sinclair Lewis said, “When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” I think people expect the end of America’s free society to look like a violent apocalyptic scene in some Hollywood film, but that’s not how it will happen. Government officials figured out that suppressing riots with bullets is bad PR. They have learned to do it quietly, and in a way where they can claim they’re being humane about the whole thing. Look! We don’t shoot people anymore! We taser them!
The end product is the same, though. Rebellion is suppressed. Activism is thwarted.
It’s no coincidence that in the era when the US government passed the most progressive, civil rights-oriented legislation, the activist culture was thriving, and the police had not yet been issued their “toys” with which they could neatly euthanize dissent.
The activist-police clashes in the sixties were bloody and violent. They were loud and terrible, and they made the news. Black protesters were attacked by police dogs. The moment the populace saw those images, everything changed. “The black community was instantaneously consolidated behind King,” said David Vann, who would later become mayor of Birmingham.
Now, imagine if dogs hadn’t been used, but the police instead utilized “non-lethal personal suppression projectiles.” In this world, the civil rights protesters in the sixties didn’t scream and fight. They just got kind of loopy, smiled, and walked home. Yes, technically the police prevented injuries, but the larger damage is much more severe. The police prevented political change. That may be a good thing for the regime of the moment, but it’s a bad thing for justice and society at large.