22 05 2011

Advanced warning: The subject of this post might make you physically ill. It still makes me sick to my stomach.

At about 9:30 AM on May 5th, Jose Guerena was shaken awake by his frantic wife telling him that there were men with guns in their back yard. Guerena, a Marine Iraq war veteran, rolled out of bed, told his wife to take their youngest child and hide in the closet,then grabbed his rifle and went to see what was going on. Before he even had a chance to take the weapon off “safe”, he was shot 60 times by the Tuscon Police SWAT unit. Guerena’s wife was still frantically talking to the 9-1-1 dispatcher when the cops dragged her out of the closet and pointed their guns at her. She screamed that she had her baby with her, and the police didn’t shoot her. Paramedics were on the scene within 2 minutes, but were not allowed into the house for more than an hour while Guerena bled to death.

Tuscon  was using the SWAT unit to serve search warrants for “multiple households”. Using SWAT to serve search warrants is moronic. This sort of dumbassery has already led to scores of dead citizens, suspects, and police officers all over the country, but police continue to follow this imbecilic practice in order to justify all the neat paramilitary stuff they have on hand. Conducting searches of “multiple households” on a single warrant is of dubious Constitutionality, and Tuscon PD has yet to say why Jose Guerena’s house was targeted. They never did find anything illegal in his house after they shot him down, by the way.

Let’s re-cap: Tuscon PD shot a completely innocent man 60 times in his own house, then let him bleed to death while the paramedics were kept away from the scene for 75 minutes. But it gets worse. The police originally claimed that Guerena fired at them, but later had to retract that statement when it turned out his weapon was still on “safe”. One of the keystone cops in question had fired first, thus sparking all the rest to fill the Marine veteran full of holes. All told, the cops fired 71 times, hitting Guerena with 60 of those shots. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that might have been excessive force. Just a hunch.

Clarence Dupnik, the Police Chief responsible for this execution of an innocent citizen, went on to criticize the media for questioning the legality of the shooting. Allow me to paraphrase: “Nothing to see here, citizen. We’re just doing our jobs, keeping y’all safe from evil-doers. Everyone go back home and keep quiet, and don’t you dare ask any questions about it.”

I don’t know about you folks, but I have a serious problem with the police executing citizens and then pretending the public has no business knowing what actually happened. Given the dismal statistics of the long-since-lost “War on Drugs”, I submit that we (the People) need to start paying a lot more attention to the actions of those we pay to enforce our laws. In similar cases around the country over the last couple of decades, the police officers involved were never even reprimanded for murdering a member of the public they allegedly serve. I predict something similar will be the result here. The “internal investigation”- which is not subject to public review- will determine that the officers acted “in accordance with department policy”. Nothing to see here. Move along- or else.

Our law-enforcement agencies are increasingly treating the public they supposedly serve as the enemy. They sneeringly refer to us as “civilians”- despite the fact that they are also civilians. Police agencies and their agents are not above the law- at least, they aren’t supposed to be in this country. Incidents like this one- which, let us remember, ended up with the police murdering an innocent man- only serve to underscore the increasing divide between the police and the public. In online discussions of this particular incident, far too many people claiming to be police are defending the officers involved. Unless you have completely lost all traces of humanity, this murder by the police is completely indefensible. There is no excuse for this.

Let us look at the end result of allowing the police to continue to treat the public as enemies. I don’t do drugs. I have a license to carry a concealed weapon, which means I have passed a thorough background check. I have passed several more intense background checks for my work with the US Navy. I have served my country in the Armed Forces, and am permanently disabled as a result. Despite all this, if my house were attacked under similar circumstances while I was home, the result would probably be the same. The media would then be fed a line of bullshit about the “assault rifle” (actually a semi-automatic hunting rifle), pistol,  prescription drugs, and the case of ammunition they would find after searching the premises. The impression would be that a dangerous criminal had been taken off the streets. The fact that my wife would undoubtedly win the ensuing lawsuit would be of little comfort to me. And yet, this exact situation has been happening for years. Something has gone very wrong in this country.

What can we (the People) do about it? Glad you asked. First, make a stink about crap like this. Every time the police end up shooting a citizen, demand an impartial, transparent review. Write letters and emails to your city council, mayor, police chief, and state legislators. Make sure the press is kept informed. We grant the police a lot of power to be used in our name, we should make sure they’re held accountable for the uses of that power.

Next, vote. Remember which local officials are a little too cozy with the police and vote the bastards out of office. Do the same thing for district attorneys who fail to indict police for illegal behavior. Make sure you tell all your friends and neighbors to do likewise. The only way to retain (or regain) control of our police agencies is to put pressure on the elected officials who control them. Run for office yourself, if that’s what it takes.

If those two options don’t work, take the bastards to court. Public officials are supposed to represent the public’s interest. If they fail to do their jobs, take ’em to court. Another court-related option involves jury duty. Make a point of voting your conscience if you’re selected for a jury. This is one of the most powerful votes you have, as a citizen. Make it count.

If nothing else works, we’ll be left with only one option. It isn’t a good option, but it’s better than being relegated to the status of serfs. Armed resistance. I really hope some policy-makers are made aware of this post, because they have the power to prevent any such uprising by keeping a tighter rein on the police. If they fail to keep the police under control, the public could be forced to protect themselves against the police with force. Nothing good happens after that, so let’s get ahead of the game by making a stink about it now.

Because, no matter how you look at it, the current situation really stinks, and ignoring the smell won’t make it get any better.

Current status: Alarmed

Current music: Secrets by One Republic

It Was Nice While It Lasted

17 05 2011

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

I regret to announce the untimely demise of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution (1791-2011), at the hands of the United States Supreme Court (like a regular Court, but with tomatoes and sour cream). The Fourth Amendment fought the good fight for more than two centuries, but was eventually eaten away, bit by liberty-guaranteeing bit, over the last few decades while few people noticed. It finally succumbed to terminal frustration yesterday, May 16th, 2011, when the Supremes voted 8-1 that the police basically no longer needed a warrant to break down your door and search your house.

Many of us saw the end coming for the Fourth when the Supremes decided that we (the People) had no recourse if the police wanted to set up roadblocks and check to see if anyone was driving under the influence of alcohol. Apparently, the needs of the many to be free from the possibility of encountering a drunk driver outweighed the desire to be free from unreasonable searches. Not long thereafter, it was decided that- in the interest of the War on Drugs- we no longer had the right to be free from searches and seizures in our own homes if the police were afraid that evidence might be destroyed. Thus began a long period of increasing use of paramilitary raids on private homes using “no-knock” warrants.

This last, fatal injury came when the Supreme Court ruled that the police no longer even need to bother with a “no-knock” warrant if they claim to hear something which may or may not be someone possibly making noises which could possibly be the sounds of maybe destroying evidence- whether or not a crime had been previously suspected in the residence. The police can now claim “exigent circumstances” on almost any pretext and break in the door of any home if they think evidence of a crime may be in danger of being destroyed.

We are no longer citizens- we are serfs. Our rights against unreasonable search and seizure have been stripped from us in the interest of police convenience. What few rights remain to us are getting nibbled to death by ducks, and the majority of people in this country stand up and cheer because it is in the interests of “being tough on crime”. They are willingly trading liberty for security, blind to the historical truism that they will most likely fail to achieve either one.

It is especially depressing to note that the demise of liberties in the United States is accelerating at a time when oppressed people all over the world are just now beginning to realize the possibility of liberty for the first time. The people of Egypt and Tunisia have thrown off the yoke of their oppressors and are even now working out for themselves the rules for how their countries will be run. In Libya and Syria, people are standing up to the autocrats and dictators who rule them and many pay the ultimate price for their courage. The people of Yemen are very close to driving out their president under similar conditions, and at similar costs in lives. In China, people speak out against the excesses and failures of their police state in spite of the risk they might end up in prison- or simply disappear. Here in America … the Supreme Court of Indiana just ruled that citizens have no right to resist an illegal search of one’s home by police.

Some might say that these rulings are not such a big deal. Surely we can trust the police to use their new powers sparingly and only at great need. Sadly, we cannot. An Indiana Sheriff has already stated publicly that police can now conduct house-to-house searches if they feel the need to do so as a direct result of these recent rulings by the US and Indiana Supreme Courts. He even opined to the media that most citizens would welcome such exercises of byzantine power.

A perusal of English Common Law- upon which much of US law is based- shows that we have been cheerfully relinquishing our liberties to near duplicates of the same conditions which led to their creation. “King’s Messengers” and similar agents of the Crown once raided and searched the homes of Englishmen who spoke out against the government. Victims of those transgressions sought relief in the courts, eventually winning the same guarantees of liberty which we Americans have so recently abandoned. The similarities are rather startling- to me, at any rate.

Still worse are the attitudes of the people to whom I speak about these infringements of our liberties. Far too many people are willing to put up with violations of their inherent rights in the interest of convenience. They would rather allow warrantless searches of their homes, vehicles, and persons than face the possible delay while the police get a warrant. This exaltation of convenience over liberty is the final step from being citizens to becoming subjects.

An author named Mike McQuay wrote a series of dark novels about a dystopian future America where the police were blatantly agents of control for the political and corporate elites, and the wealthy few in their fortified mansions and villas were protected by gaudily-uniformed security thugs referred to as “fancy dans”. Ordinary people were treated harshly by these uniformed servitors for the benefit of the privileged few, with little to no recourse. I used to enjoy those stories. Today, they seem a little too close to reality for comfort.

Requiescat en pace, American liberty. I, at least, will miss you.

Bugler, taps.

Current status: Locked, loaded, and liquored up.

Current music: The World I Know by Collective Soul

Lest Darkness Fall

15 05 2011

For those of you who aren’t in touch with the wing-nut segment of our society, there are a bunch of billboards and posters showing up in various places around the US claiming that the world will end on the 21st of May (this coming Saturday). Some dotty whackjob claims to have deciphered texts in the Bible which tell him the date of Christ’s return. Note that he made the same claims about a date in the mid-90’s. When the apocalypse didn’t happen as he had foretold, he claimed that further study had revealed the “true” date. He’s managed to convince a bunch of weak-minded imbeciles that he has the straight dope, and these people are the ones paying for the billboards and posters.

Why do I bring this up? A couple of reasons, really. First, I make a point of heaping scorn upon the inexcusably stupid. This nutjob and his feeble-minded followers certainly qualify. Some of them have been spending their life savings in the belief that they won’t need money after May 21st, 2011. These simpletons are throwing away their future on the say-so of a religious huckster who doesn’t even understand his own religious texts. I’ve tried to work up some sympathy for these witless idiots, but I honestly can’t manage it. If they’re dumb enough to fall for this scam artist’s lies, they deserve to be bankrupt and homeless when the rapture doesn’t go off on schedule and their prophet moves the goalposts again.

Second, this is yet another example of the danger religious fuckwits pose to civilized society. Granted that these particular idiots are pretty far out there, even for Christians, they aren’t very far removed from the Christian Dominionists who are deeply involved in our political system. Part of the reason why so many politicians are unwilling to rein in the environmental excesses of various corporations is their religious belief that humans have been given a mandate by god to do with the planet as we wish. Some prominent political figures in the US government have been recorded saying that they needn’t worry about the long-term consequences of their political actions, because they are convinced that the rapture and Armageddon will occur in their lifetimes.

Organized Christianity has probably done more to retard the ideals that were its founders’ than any other agency in the world. – Richard Le Gallienne

A group of supposedly christian people from the US have been doing their best to spread their interpretation of the Bible to the far corners of the Earth- usually to the detriment of the people living in those corners. In Uganda, for one horrible example, christian dominionists from the US managed to convince the Ugandan government to make homosexuality a capital crime. Christian dominionist ministers have gone on record as stating that the United States should be governed by the laws of the Bible, and not by the Constitution. One of them ran for election as President in 2008.

When facism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. – Sinclair Lewis

These cabals of the religiously deluded all share several ideals which are an anathema to a civilized society. They despise homosexuals, relegate women to second-class citizenship (at best), are largely condescending (at best) or outright hostile (at worst) to anyone whose skin is not lily-white, and they universally make overt attempts to destroy or drive out any religion or sect they deem to be not sufficiently similar to their own. To further their agenda, these so-called “christians” vigorously campaign to remove Constitutional protections from all groups and individuals whit whom they disagree. As evidence, I need only point out the dozen or so state legislatures which have passed or are considering laws banning the practice of “sharia law” (despite the fact that none of these legislators have a clue what sharia law is). Several states have had legislation introduced which denies Constitutional protections to atheists, as well. To date, I don’t believe any have passed, but the fact that an elected official was willing to put his or her name to such stupidity is astonishing- and not a little frightening.

An infinite God ought to be able to protect Himself, without going in partnership with State Legislatures. – Robert Ingersoll

One has to wonder what these deluded zealots are so afraid of. Why the sheer hysteria at the possibility that two men might want to get married? What does it hurt the christian dominionists if their neighbor is an atheist- or a buddhist, muslim, jew, or pastafarian, for that matter? Is their faith so weak that mere exposure to the presence of unbelievers can shake it?

Christian fundamentalism:  the doctrine that there is an absolutely powerful, infinitely knowledgeable, universe spanning entity that is deeply and personally concerned about my sex life. – Andrew Lias

Here’s an idea- rather than try to force the whole planet into the warped template of your version of religion, try reading the words in that book you like so much. Granted that it was translated from Aramaic to Hebrew to Greek to Latin and then into English, and doubtless enjoyed many interesting linguistic adventures along the way, there are still a lot of stories in there which you can use as examples in your own lives. You’ll have the smug satisfaction of being “saved” amongst the heathen (if that’s what turns your crank), and the rest of us won’t have to put up with you while you’re reading it. If you have to use any means to convert others to your cause other than showing a good example, perhaps your message isn’t that appealing. If the mere existence of other faiths threatens your belief system, maybe your belief system isn’t that healthy to begin with.

I am treated as evil by people who claim that they are being oppressed because they are not allowed to force me to practice what they do.  – D. Dale Gulledge

As for me, I care not what you believe or don’t believe- provided you don’t try forcing your beliefs on anyone else. If your god doesn’t like the way I live, let him tell me. Anything you might tell me has exactly the same weight as the rantings of the homeless guy on the corner wearing the tin-foil hat. Anyone who cannot live by this simple rule shall be confronted at every turn, to be exposed as the hypocritical authoritarians they are. It is incumbent upon all Americans to call out these theonomists among us, before they destroy the country in their pursuit of religious purity.

Current status: Annoyed

Current music: For the First Time by the Scripts