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Mar. 7 2010 - 4:20 am | 10,323 views | 7 recommendations | 34 comments

Normalizing the police state (and how it ends with taser-firing drones)

Members of the Virginia State Police, dressed ...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

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:

(AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

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.


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  1. collapse expand

    to view a partial list of crimes committed by FBI agents over 1500 pages long see

    to view a partial list of FBI agents arrested for pedophilia see

    also see new evidence linking FBI agents to the assassination of Martin Luther King

  2. collapse expand

    I can see it now: Patrick Henry stands. “Give me liberty, or give me…ttthhhppppt…oooh, look at the colors!” Doesn’t it make you wonder why this is happening? Is it just a combination of moral apathy and power consolidation.

  3. collapse expand

    Look at the bigger picture: Which would you rather have? Another Kent State? or a non-lethal way to disperse crowds?

    What these methods do is to push protests out of the streets and in to other forums that didn’t exist before. In previous decades, when we had nothing but many to one broadcast media (newspapers, radio and television), people got disgusted and ran out in to the streets in rage because there was nothing else to do.

    Today, they meet on the Internet. Web sites record hits. Search engines tabulate results. And Politicians will notice. While protesting in the street isn’t entirely obsolete, it isn’t the only avenue of dissent, either.

    • collapse expand

      Dissent on the internets? Scary! So a few thousand mouth breathers tap away on their cheeto-cheese encrusted keyboards. That will change things! Not only have we lost the commitment to an active democracy, we have lost the energy to defend it.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      An online petition will never, ever rival the power of an actual protest that stops traffic. It’s a nice, alluring thought that firing off a couple emails will match that level of participation, but it’s an illusion.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        This is my first post on this site. I’m 54-years-old, an old hippie and retired lawyer, and as much as I am saddened by the idea that we may be headed for another Kent State, I cannot disagree with you. Here’s a particularly ironic point: we may have more in common than we know with the “tea baggers.” Trouble is, nothing positive can happen without an EDUCATED citizenry who are CONSTITUTIONALLY LITERATE. Whatcha think?

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          I agree my man, Learning the history of our country, education in constitutional law and thought is imperative to survival as a sovereign people. It’s something our education folks have worked very hard to do away with. It is our obligation to resist unconstitutional laws and those who would tyrannize us. Tea Bagger is a contrived issue meant to divide and obscure the truth that yes, we are all pissed, we have been robbed and THEY have to go!!! I’m an old hippy too, and I want to stay one til I die without a bunch or nanny state thugs taxing, naked body scanning and tazing me into oblivion ….FYI, I think Kent state will be eclipsed by whats about to happen…I pray not though….

          In response to another comment. See in context »
  4. collapse expand

    Fascinating piece. Drones aren’t that far fetched at all for crowd control. Just this morning, I heard a drone over Baghdad, making sure everything in this nascent democracy went smoothly on election day. Granted, it’s a not quite the same thing, but I’m sure that kind of non-lethal surveillance technology is going to be adopted by U.S. law enforcement sooner rather than later.

  5. collapse expand

    This police state behavior is inevitable in a society that barbarically uses death as the ultimate punishment. The Russians used fentanyl to subdue the 2002 Nord-Ost siege which resulted in the death of at least 129 hostages. Unfortunately it seems to have gone too far to do anything at this point.

  6. collapse expand

    Nice post, Allison. Far more comprehensive than mine on Herbert’s column, but we’re on the same wavelength.

  7. collapse expand

    Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” The beauty of democracy WAS the right to protest… the right to affect change BY & FOR the people. As those rights are stripped from us… so goes our freedom.

  8. collapse expand

    Funny thing. When I make comments along the lines of what this article says, fellow T/S-ers will line up to mock me with the usual “conspiracy theory” and “tinfoil hat” shtick.

    Tasers are easily defeatable. And I can make one 100 times better than theirs out of junk laying around the house.

    If ever there’s one piece of advice to follow, it’s this:

    You do not fuck with an electrical engineer.

  9. collapse expand

    Wow, Allison. Powerful piece. Absolutely agree with you!

  10. collapse expand

    Although this is not specifically on point, I must say that a significant part of our current problems could be solved by publicly financed elections! Of course, the present majority of the Supreme Court posits that First Amendment speech encompasses money, and corporations are actual (not fictitious) persons. When SCOTUS is so tainted, we are truly screwed. (So much for the right’s collective fear of “activist” judges!)

  11. collapse expand

    Don’t these jack booted idiots realize they and theirs will eventually make it onto the menu? Has anyone noticed police forces all over the world seem to have lowered their hiring “standards”? I remember when it seemed they sought citizens with character, the best reputations, that exhibited integrity at home as well as in the community? The kind that would resign at such immoral mandates!! I can’t blame them though, the fish rots from the head down. Just look at leaders, what examples, the president is kidnapping and torturing people, our congress closes its eyes while the fed robs us blind, the FDA assists in the marketing of poison, our pentagon is openly poisoning the world with depleted uranium, bonus robbery waivers, unsecured boarders, another year of patriot act spy fest, IRS mafia , the head of the Fed is a tax cheat, etc. etc. etc. No wonder the cops are willing to violate our civil rights, how else can they be noticed for promotion, gotta be like the boss if you want to get ahead…..Thank God there are still police that are whistleblowers and leak these dastardly policies and documents….

  12. collapse expand

    Just an observation, Allison Kilkenny. Perhaps you might not understand that this is a compliment, but it really is: You speak in the voice of the 1960s and make me remember so clearly just how it was. I want to believe there are millions more just like you …

  13. collapse expand

    With the development of non-lethal weapons, it was foreseeable some police would unjustly use those weapons to intimidate and suppress public dissent.

    Prior to non-lethal weapons, violent police officers were thwarted from shooting and beating Citizens without cause because they might be arrested or fired. Now it appears police can too easily Taser Citizens without cause. Historically, Governments and Police have come out on the short end when they use force to suppress free speech and public dissent. Citizens learn to fear their government and police. Then they resist! In Northern Ireland, the harsher British Forces and Police came down on free speech and lawful public demonstrators, the more Citizens joined organizations associated with violent underground groups to fight British rule.

    In America it is problematic that if Citizens believe U.S. Government and police physically threaten their right to free speech and lawful association including protesting, many will go underground to network with resistance organizations. The U.S. Government could control with any kind of weapon or military force an outraged American public. The vast variable terrain of the U.S. lends itself to guerrilla warfare. Hopefully that will never happen. But it is foreseeable if the American People fear their government and police using unwarranted force against them, that fear might turn to resistance.

    Recently it was reported that Top Obama Czar Cass Sunstein proposed infiltrating all Conspiracy Theorists. It appears the Obama CZAR supports infiltrating and spying on Americans, their groups and organizations to obstruct Free Speech, disrupt the exchange of ideas and disseminate false information to neutralize Americans that might question government.

    The German Reich did something that hopefully won’t happen in America. Hitler signed Discriminatory Laws on February 28, 1933 suspending sections of the of the German Reich Constitution until further notice; those suspensions included putting restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, freedom of the press, on the right of assembly and the right of association. Government gave itself the power to invade Citizen’s privacy of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic communications. Without warrants the Reich was allowed to conduct house-searches, confiscate property and put restrictions on private property.

  14. collapse expand

    When I was growing up, the antithesis of freedom was Communism, and we fought it because we were “the free world”. How times change:
    Our newspapers now sing ‘the Party Line’ and people look elsewhere for truth.
    Our gulags torture people to death, worse than the communists ever did. The Pentagon supports terrorism in foreign countries, and kills innocent people with impunity.
    Millions of people have their heads down and worry where the next meal will come from.
    Police powers have never been greater.
    Our Supreme Court tramples individual freedoms, giving the government the right to spy, like East German Stasi, or Russian KGB.
    Provocateurs are abroad in the land, goading the gullible into trapping themselves for the purpose of Show Trials.
    Ex-Trotsyites are pushing America into constant wars for peace.
    Rights granted by the Magna Carta are now questioned. The U.N. is ridiculed.
    Goons take film at every war protest rally.
    Tanks can run over protesters (Rachel Corrie).

    Welcome to the New Communism. Welcome to Israel.

  15. collapse expand

    More tasers coming to Chicago::

    Tasers have caused problems, but they do “less harm” than real bullets, Mayor Daley said today, defending the Chicago Police Department’s decision to dramatically expand the use of “stun guns.”
    Daley said the decision to more than double the use of Tasers — and place one in every squad car — was designed to minimize injury and reduce liability caused by police shootings.

    Daley isn’t a name synonymous with concern about victims of police abuse, so you have to laugh at anything he says.

    What all this “soft kill” technology enables is the “Snackwells Effect” — weapons less lethal are likely to be used more often.

    That Harper’s article you link to is essential reading. It comes down to this obvious point: Our ruling elites are not satisfied with the tragic destruction they’ve inflicted upon Black America, and will do whatever it takes to continue their oppression.

  16. collapse expand

    Many here are probably too young to remember a movie from the late 60s called “Wild In The Streets.” You should check it out. It follows this story very closely.

    I’m 65, a combat Vet, hold many federal licenses and a couple of Ph.Ds. Ten years ago, I moved out of the US due to what I saw as a growing Police State. And I see it, more and more, with each visit to my country. It’s truly sad.

    Allison has hit the nail squarely. It’s refreshing to see the youth of today understanding what’s facing them. I commend you all. Keeping Unkle Sugar in line will always be faced by the populace and it’s a confrontation the People must win. Otherwise, there will be no “United States of America.”

    Soon, I’ll pass the mantle and sword to you. It’s an honor we warriors bestow on others (FNGs, LOL). Yet, we know your capabilities. It is now up to you to keep our land free.

    So, when you hunker down in the trenches while being assaulted, just remember that that old gray-hair next to you might still be able to hit a target at 1000 yards! After all, THEY trained us to be the Best of the Best!

  17. collapse expand

    What would you prefer they use instead of sonic cannons and tasers? Guns? Clubs? Harsh language? At least the aforementioned don’t always cause serious damage.

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    About Me

    I co-host Citizen Radio, the alternative political radio show. I am a contributing reporter to Huffington Post, Alternet.org, and The Nation.

    My essay "Youth Surviving Subprime" appears in The Nation's new book, Meltdown: How Greed and Corruption Shattered Our Financial System and How We Can Recover beside esssays by Ralph Nader, Joseph Stiglitz, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Naomi Klein, who I'm told are all important people.

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