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UN Condemns U.S. Police Brutality, Calls For ‘Stand Your Ground’ Review August 31, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Police, Race, Racism.
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Roger’s note: the United States was founded on the genocide of the First Nations peoples and much of its enormous wealth was derived from the forced labor of African slaves.  Racism is as American as apple pie.  This is not leftist ranting, it is historical fact.  Sadly, under the “leadership” of the country’s first African American president, the situation is only getting worse.  Obama’s immigration extradition policies, his orientation towards Wall Street and away from Main Street, the federal government’s militarization of urban police forces — all this contributes to the discrimination and impoverization mostly of peoples of color.  The Republican Party may be more overtly racist in its ideological bias, but it is a Democratic president that is implementing racist policies.  God help America.

 

Posted: 08/30/2014 8:31 am EDT Updated: 08/30/2014 9:59 am EDT
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* Panel issues recommendations after review of U.S. record

* Says killing of Michael Brown “not an isolated event”

* Decries racial bias of police, pervasive discrimination

* ACLU calls for addressing racial inequality in America

 

GENEVA, Aug 29 (Reuters) – The U.N. racism watchdog urged the United States on Friday to halt the excessive use of force by police after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman touched off riots in Ferguson, Missouri.

Minorities, particularly African Americans, are victims of disparities, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) said after examining the U.S. record.

“Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life from de facto school segregation, access to health care and housing,” Noureddine Amir, CERD committee vice chairman, told a news briefing.

Teenager Michael Brown was shot dead by a white police officer on Aug. 9, triggering violent protests that rocked Ferguson – a St. Louis suburb – and shone a global spotlight on the state of race relations in America.

“The excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against racial and ethnic minorities is an ongoing issue of concern and particularly in light of the shooting of Michael Brown,” said Amir, an expert from Algeria.

“This is not an isolated event and illustrates a bigger problem in the United States, such as racial bias among law enforcement officials, the lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations governing the use of force, and the inadequacy of training of law enforcement officials.”

The panel of 18 independent experts grilled a senior U.S. delegation on Aug. 13 about what they said was persistent racial discrimination against African-Americans and other minorities, including within the criminal justice system.

U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper told the panel that his nation had made “great strides toward eliminating racial discrimination” but conceded that “we have much left to do”.

Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown, has been put on paid leave and is in hiding. A St. Louis County grand jury has begun hearing evidence and the U.S. Justice Department has opened its own investigation.

Police have said Brown struggled with Wilson when shot. But some witnesses say Brown held up his hands and was surrendering when he was shot multiple times in the head and chest.

“STAND YOUR GROUND” LAWS

In its conclusions issued on Friday, the U.N. panel said “Stand Your Ground” Laws, a controversial self-defense statute in 22 U.S. states, should be reviewed to “remove far-reaching immunity and ensure strict adherence to principles of necessity and proportionality when deadly force is used for self-defense”.

Ron Davis, father of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old shot dead in a car in Jacksonville, Florida during an argument over loud rap music in November 2012, attended the Geneva session. Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen killed in Miami, Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer, testified.

The U.N. panel monitors compliance with a treaty ratified by 177 countries including the United States.

“The Committee remains concerned at the practice of racial profiling of racial or ethnic minorities by law enforcement officials, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Transportation Security Administration, border enforcement officials and local police,” it said, urging investigations.

The experts called for addressing obstacles faced by minorities and indigenous peoples to exercise their right to vote effectively. This was due to restrictive voter identification laws, district gerrymandering and state-level laws that disenfranchise people convicted of felonies, it said.

Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the U.N. recommendations highlighted “shortcomings on racial equality that we are seeing play out today on our streets, at our borders and in the voting booth.

“When it comes to human rights, the United States must practice at home what it preaches abroad,” he said.

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Why Cops in Ferguson Look Like Soldiers: The Insane Militarization of America’s Police August 14, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Police.
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Roger’s note: I find myself using this phrase too often nowadays: This is truly frightening.  I read that residents of Gaza have sent messages to the protesters in Ferguson with advice on how to deal with tear gas.  The chickens have truly come home to roost.

http://www.nymag.com

Army fatigues, armored vehicles, tear gas, AR-15s — it’s the war-ready imagery not just of Gaza and Iraq but Ferguson, Missouri, a town of 21,000 with zero murders on the books in 2014. Unless, of course, you count 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The response to protests against the teen’s death at the hands of police turned even more authoritarian when darkness fell on Wednesday, asjournalist and citizens alike were targeted with undue force. In night vision, tanks rolling through smoky suburban streets recalled an occupation. But however misguided the show of brute force against the mostly peaceful demonstrators was, it’s a chest-out, guns-up posturing small-time police departments across the country have been preparing for.

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Photo: Jeff Roberson

Jelani Cobb of The New Yorker described the scene from last night:

What transpired in the streets appeared to be a kind a municipal version of shock and awe; the first wave of flash grenades and tear gas had played as a prelude to the appearance of an unusually large armored vehicle, carrying a military-style rifle mounted on a tripod. The message of all of this was something beyond the mere maintenance of law and order: it’s difficult to imagine how armored officers with what looked like a mobile military sniper’s nest could quell the anxieties of a community outraged by allegations regarding the excessive use of force. It revealed itself as a raw matter of public intimidation.

The instruments of that intimidation have been funneled to local police beginning with the drug war, as laid out by journalist Radley Balko in his book Rise of the Warrior Cop, and a Cato Institute paper on the subject from 2006:

Over the last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law enforcement, along with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of paramilitary police units (most commonly called Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT) for routine police work. The most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home.

These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they’re sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers.

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Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The trend only increased as a response to terror after September 11, and more so as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down. From Adam Serwer at MSNBC:

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the Department of Defense has transferred $4.3 billion in military equipment to local and state police through the 1033 program, first enacted in 1996 at the height of the so-called War on Drugs. The Department of Justice, according to the ACLU, “plays an important role in the militarization of the police” through its grant programs. It’s not that individual police officers are bad people – it’s that shifts in the American culture of policing encourages officers to ”think of the people they serve as enemies.” […]

Training materials obtained by the ACLU encourage departments to “build the right mind-set in your troops” in order to thwart “terrorist plans to massacre our schoolchildren.” It is possible that, since 9/11, police militarization has massacred more American schoolchildren than any al-Qaida terrorist.

 

Images & reports out of are frightening. Is this a war zone or a US city? Gov’t escalates tensions w/military equipment & tactics.

 

Ferguson specifically was a part of such a program, USA Today reports, having “received advanced rifle sights and night vision equipment between 2012 and 2014”:

Michelle McCaskill, media relations chief at the Defense Logistics Agency, confirms that the Ferguson Police Department is part of a federal program called 1033 that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars of surplus military equipment to civilian police forces across the United States. The materials range from small items, such as pistols and automatic rifles, to heavy armored vehicles such as the MRAPs used in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“In 2013 alone, $449,309,003.71 worth of property was transferred to law enforcement,” the agency’s website states.

As Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times described presciently in June, the broader trend includes sending equipment to towns with no use for it. (The state of Missouri has received seven armored vehicles since 2006.) And much of that gear is provided in a “use it or lose it” arrangement:

Between 2011 and 2012, sixty-three agencies polled by the A.C.L.U. reported that they had received “a total of 15,054 items of battle uniforms or personal protective equipment”; some five hundred agencies had received “vehicles built to withstand armor-piercing roadside bombs.” In many instances, the receipt of these military-grade weapons is contingent on their use within a calendar year.

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How necessary is any of this? Well, in February, local Sergeant Matthew Pleviak of St. Louis County’s Tactical Operations Unit SWAT team told theRiver Front Times, “If you go to any subdivison, there’s grass and trees and bushes.”

But writing for the Daily Beast, a military veteran argued, “The net effect is a Ferguson police department in name only. In terms of its equipment, organization, and deployment methods, the Ferguson force looks more like an infantry or military police company in Iraq … this military gear transforms the police department into an occupying army, and enables the police to act with such speed and violence so as to destroy any meaningful right to peaceably assemble or address grievances towards government.”

Balkey put it this way in a Reddit AMA before Ferguson: “I think that as bad as the weapons and tactics are, the uniforms might be more pernicious, at least in terms of fostering a militaristic mindset.”

“When you dress like a soldier,” he wrote, “you’re predisposing yourself to start thinking like one. And of course, there’s really no strategic value, unless you’re raiding a forest.”

 

 

American State of the Union: A Festival of Lies February 1, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Economic Crisis, Trade Agreements, War.
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Roger’s note: here are two articles from the same source, the black agenda report web site, analyses you are not likely to find in the mainstream media.

Wed, 01/29/2014 – 14:37

by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

Before the nation and the world, President Obama pledges to take “action” against “economic inequality,” while simultaneously holding secret negotiations on a Trans Pacific Partnership trade scheme that will quicken the pace of the global Race to the Bottom, deepening economic inequalities. “Lies of omission are even more despicable than the overt variety, because they hide.”

 

When you say ‘jobs,’ he says tax cuts – just like the Republicans, only Obama first cites the pain of the unemployed, so that you know he cares.”

“Believe it,” said the current Prevaricator-in-Chief, in the conclusion to his annual litany lies. President Obama’s specialty, honed to theatrical near-perfection over five disastrous years, is in crafting the sympathetic lie, designed to suspend disbelief among those targeted for oblivion, through displays of empathy for the victims. In contrast to the aggressive insults and bluster employed by Republican political actors, whose goal is to incite racist passions against the Other, the sympathetic Democratic liar disarms those who are about to be sacrificed by pretending to feel their pain.

Barack Obama, who has presided over the sharpest increases in economic inequality in U.S. history, adopts the persona of public advocate, reciting wrongs inflicted by unseen and unknown forces that have “deepened” the gap between the rich and the rest of us and “stalled” upward mobility. Having spent half a decade stuffing tens of trillions of dollars into the accounts of an ever shrinking gaggle of financial capitalists, Obama declares this to be “a year of action” in the opposite direction. “Believe it.” And if you do believe it, then crown him the Most Effective Liar of the young century.

Lies of omission are even more despicable than the overt variety, because they hide. The potentially most devastating Obama contribution to economic inequality is being crafted in secret by hundreds of corporate lobbyists and lawyers and their revolving-door counterparts in government. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, described as “NAFTA on steroids,” would accelerate the global Race to the Bottom that has made a wasteland of American manufacturing, plunging the working class into levels of poverty and insecurity without parallel in most people’s lifetimes, and totally eviscerating the meager gains of three generations of African Americans. Yet, the closest Obama came to even an oblique allusion to his great crime-in-the-making, was to announce that “new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help [small businesses] create even more jobs. We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment and open new markets to new goods stamped ‘Made in the USA.’” Like NAFTA twenty years ago – only far bigger and more diabolically destructive – TPP will have the opposite effect, destroying millions more jobs and further deepening worker insecurity. The Trans Pacific Partnership expands the legal basis for global economic inequalities – which is why the negotiations are secret, and why the treaty’s name could not be spoken in the State of the Union address. It is a lie of omission of global proportions. Give Obama his crown.

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, described as ‘NAFTA on steroids,’ would accelerate the global Race to the Bottom.”

The president who promised in his 2008 campaign to support a hike in the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011, and then did nothing at all to make it happen, says this is the “year of action” when he’ll move heaven and earth to get a $10.10 minimum. He will start, Obama told the Congress and the nation, by issuing “an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you should not have to live in poverty.” Obama neglected to mention that only new hires – a small fraction, beginning with zero, of the two million federal contract workers – will get the wage boost; a huge and conscious lie of omission. The fact that the president does not even propose a gradual, mandated increase for the rest of the two million shows he has no intention of using his full powers to ameliorate taxpayer-financed poverty. We can also expect Obama to issue waivers to every firm that claims a hardship, as is always his practice.

What is Obama’s jobs program? It is the same as laid out at last year’s State of the Union, and elaborated on last summer: lower business taxes and higher business subsidies. When you say “jobs,” he says tax cuts – just like the Republicans, only Obama first cites the pain of the unemployed, so that you know he cares. “Both Democrats and Republicans have argued that our tax code is riddled with wasteful, complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here, and reward companies that keep profits abroad. Let’s flip that equation. Let’s work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs right here at home.” Actually, Obama wants to lower tax rates for all corporations to 28 percent, from 35 percent, as part of his ongoing quest for a Grand Bargain with Republicans. For Obama, the way to bring jobs back to the U.S. is to make American taxes and wages more “competitive” in the “global marketplace” – the Race to the Bottom.

In the final analysis, the sympathetic corporate Democrat and the arrogant corporate Republican offer only small variations on the same menu: ever increasing austerity. Obama bragged about reducing the deficit, never acknowledging that this has been accomplished on the backs of the poor, contributing mightily to economic inequality and social insecurity.

Obama offers nothing of substance, because he is not authorized by his corporate masters to do so. He takes his general orders from the same people as do the Republicans. That’s why Obama only speaks of minimum wage hikes while Republicans are in power, rather than when his own party controlled both houses of Congress. Grand Bargains are preferred, because they are the result of consensus between the two corporate parties. In effect, the Grand Bargain is the distilled political will of Wall Street, which feeds the donkey and the elephant. Wall Street – the 1 percent – believes the world is theirs for the taking, and they want all of it. Given this overarching truth, Obama has no choice but to stage a festival of lies.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com

 

Barack Obama, the State of the Union and the Prison State

Wed, 01/29/2014 – 14:18 — Bruce A. Dixon

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

For a generation now, predatory policing, the war on drugs and the prison state have been government’s most frequent intersection with young black Americans. The gossip before this year’s State of the Union was that the president would now do by executive order all those good things Republicans have blocked him on the last 3 years. Does that include reining in or rolling back the prison state? Should we hold our collective breath?

“…Obama campaigned in 2007 and 2008 saying he would pass legislation raising the minimum wage…”

In the days before this year’s State of the Union address, we heard a lot about how Barack Obama was finally about to unleash the mighty executive powers of his office to accomplish some of the many great things he’s always wanted to accomplish, those mostly unspecified things which evil and immoral Republicans have prevented him from doing. From long experience dating back at least to the Clinton era, the White House and Democratic party know this is an attractive picture to many, one that conveniently excuses Democrats in office from even trying to accomplish the real demands of the millions who vote them into office.

Barack Obama campaigned in 2007 and 2008 saying he would pass legislation raising the minimum wage and making it easier to organize unions so people could stand up for their own rights in the workplace. The president apparently lied. Once in office with a thumping majority in both houses of Congress the president promptly froze the wages of federal workers, and made no move to protect union organizing or to raise the minimum wage. Four and five years later, with the House of Representatives safely under Republican control, the president has begun to make noises about how “America deserves a raise” and has finally declared that federal contract workers will soon have to be paid a minimum of $10.10 per hour.

Although Barack Obama’s career, and those of the entire black political class are founded on the notion that they and the Democratic party somehow “represent” the aspirations and political power of African Americans, the policy concerns of black America were nowhere to be found in last night’s state of the union. The speech contained no mention of the persistent gap between black and white unemployment, or the widening gaps between black and white wealth, and reaffirmed his commitment to “Race To The Top” an initiative to privatize public education in poorer communities across the country.

” Obama could halt the construction and opening of the new federal supermax prison…”

And of course, no cluster of issues impact black America more savagely and disproportionately than police practices, the drug war and the prison state. African Americans are one eighth the US population, but more than 40% of its prisons and jails. Together with Latinos, who are another eighth and make up nearly 30% of US prisoners, people of color are a quarter of the US population and more than 70% of the locked down. No cluster of issues would benefit more from a few presidential initiatives and well placed strokes of the pen than police practices, the drug war and the prison state.

Here are just a handful of things President Obama and his party could and would do, things that Republicans are powerless to prevent, which would make a large and lasting impact upon the communities they purportedly represent.

With the stroke of a presidential pen, Barack Obama could halt the construction and opening of the new federal supermax prison at ADX Thomson in Illinois, also called “Gitmo North.” Citizen activists in the president’s home state last year managed to close down the state’s brutal supermax prison at Tammsbecause they know that supermax prisons do not rehabilitate, they are instruments of torture pure and simple. Ordinary citizens know that torture should not be a career, or a business governments engage in. Even Obama’s own Bureau of Prisons is on record as wanting to examine whether the regimes in supermax prisons across the country constitute torture. It’s time to look for that presidential pen.

The president could take public notice of the alarming militarization of police forces across the country and the wave of police shootings of civilians. Far more persons die in the US of police gunfire than of terrorist incidents and school shootings. The feds play an enormous role in the funding, training and arming of thousands of local police departments across the country, through its grants to the state-level training and certification agencies, and its authorization of the sale of military equipment to police departments. The result is that every county and town in the US now has a SWAT team, employing shoot-first-question-later tactics, and although African Americans are far from the only victims of unchecked police violence, a black person is killed by police, security officers or vigilantes once every 28 hours. Again, this is a case for a presidential statement, a few orders to underlings and that mighty executive pen.

The president could order his Justice Department to reconsider its objections to the retroactive reduction of unfair and disproportionate sentences to crack cocaine defendants. When the president signed the so-called Fair Sentencing Act reducing the crack to powder cocaine penalty ratio from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1 thousands of defendants should have been eligible for immediate release. But Obama’s and Eric Holder’s Justice Departments have gone to court repeatedly to keep them behind bars. Our civil rights establishment from the Mark Morials and Al Sharptons down, seem more invested in the prestige of the president than doing justice to prisoners, and so have politely refused to call Obama and Holder on this glaring disconnect between their public pronouncements and their actual policies. The mighty presidential pen in the hands of Barack Obama could have made a big difference here any time in the last several years, and still can, if only he will.

The president could use his mighty executive powers to release some long-time political prisoners. There’s Iman Jamil Al-Amin, the former H. Rap Brown who distinguished himself laying the foundations for what passes for black political empowerment, risking his life registering voters and conducting Freedom Schools in rural Alabama with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the mid and early 1960s. After repeated attempts by Georgia officials in the 1990s to frame Al-Amin for shootings, one of these stuck long enough to get a shaky conviction in 1999. As pressure for a retrial from local community activists built up and even in the face of protests from establishment figures like former Atlanta mayor, congressman and ambassador Andy Young, Georgia officials transferred Al-Amin into federal custody in the dead of night, and the feds spirited him away to the hellhole at ADX Florence in Colorado where he has been for more than a decade. With a stroke of that might executive pen, President Obama could send Al-Amin back to Georgiawhere his family and attorneys could visit him, and pressure would mount on Georgia authorities to give him a new trial, in which he might well prove his innocence.

The president could pardon or grant clemency to Leonard Peltier, a Native American leader who has served a decade longer in prison than Nelson Mandela did for an offense that nobody at his trial even alleged he actually committed. Peltier is recognized around the world as a political prisoner. His continued imprisonment shows that many wounds from the 60s and 70s were never healed, and his release would demonstrate that this president acknowledges the need for this healing. After almost 40 years, Leonard Peltier surely deserves to come home.

President Obama could acknowledge the wave of hunger strikes and protests in prisons across the country, and name a commission to investigate how we can reverse the expansion of prisons, guarantee the re-absorption of former prisoners into society, and reverse the culture and law which discriminate against and punish former prisoners and their families for the rest of their lives. Right now a number of prisoners at Menard Penitentiary in the president’s home state of Illinois are waging a hunger strike, with demands that differ little from those raised by prisoners in California’s Pelican Bay last year, and those in Virginia, Georgia, Ohio and elsewhere.

We must not imagine that rolling back the carceral state is something no government on earth has ever done. Right now in Venezuela, that nation is confronting a crisis of crime, the practical limits of prison expansion, and of what kind of society they want to build. They’re taking a different path than so-called “progressives” here, who seem upset only about prisoners who are factually “innocent” and only about prisons if they’re privatized. Venezuela is frankly committed to shrinking its prison population and exploring models of restorative rather than punitive justice. There really are other ways to go, if we have the will and the vision our Democrats and Republicans lack.

Obama’s Attorney General has learned how to let the words “mass incarceration” roll off his lips fluently, after his recent discovery that such a thing actually exists. The president opined that Trayvon Martin could have been his own son, minus the status, the privilege, the neighborhood and a few other things. But that mighty presidential pen that can call commissions, impose directives, re-set priorities and make all manner of changes by executive order, changes that no evil and immoral Republicans can block or reverse, at least until they re-take the oval office, is still in that desk drawer, or wherever Barack Obama keeps it. He hasn’t found it the last five years in office. Maybe he will discover it in these last three.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and serves on the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He lives and works in Marietta GA and can be contacted via this site’s contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.e pointed out repeatedly the last five years, there are boatloads of things a president anxious to serve the will of the people could do with the stroke of a pen

Meet the Private Companies Helping Cops Spy on Protesters October 25, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Occupy Wall Street Movement, Surveillance State, Whistle-blowing.
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Roger’s note: Back in the last decades of the 2000s, when we participated in protest activities — from the Vietnam War to the Iraq invasions — we knew there were likely to be police abuses and arrests, especially if civil disobedience was part of the strategy.  So we prepared by “arming” ourselves with information about our constitutional rights and usually had  ACLU lawyer types ready to back us up, their phone numbers in our back pockets.  Times have changed.  The constitution and habeas corpus doesn’t mean much any more.  The police have always acted with a degree of impunity, but today that has increased exponentially, along with a frightening degree of police militarization (they already have armored cars and tanks and will soon have little drone missiles).  The crackdowns on the Occupy Movement two years ago made that crystal clear.  Do we live in a police state?  I think the evidence speaks for itself.  Here is just one example of what peaceful protest faces today.

 

Promotional materials for private spy companies show that mass surveillance technology is being sold to police departments as a way to monitor dissent

 

by John Knefel

A number of private spying companies offer services to help police keep tabs on individual protesters’ tweets and Facebook posts. (Credit: Fuse)

The documents leaked to media outlets by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden this year have brought national intelligence gathering and surveillance operations under a level of scrutiny not seen in decades. Often left out of this conversation, though, is the massive private surveillance industry that provides services to law enforcement, defense agencies and corporations in the U.S. and abroad – a sprawling constellation of companies and municipalities. “It’s a circle where everyone [in these industries] is benefitting,” says Eric King, lead researcher of watchdog group Privacy International. “Everyone gets more powerful, and richer.”

Promotional materials for numerous private spy companies boast of how law enforcement organizations can use their products to monitor people at protests or other large crowds – including by keeping tabs on individual people’s social media presence. Kenneth Lipp, a journalist who attended the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia from October 19th to 23rd, tells Rolling Stone that monitoring Twitter and Facebook was a main theme of the week. “Social media was the buzzword,” says Lipp. He says much of the discussion seemed to be aimed at designing policies that wouldn’t trigger potentially limiting court cases: “They want to avoid a warrant standard.”

While the specifics of which police departments utilize what surveillance technologies is often unclear, there is evidence to suggest that use of mass surveillance against individuals not under direct investigation is common. “The default is mass surveillance, the same as NSA’s ‘collect it all’ mindset,” says King. “There’s not a single company that if you installed their product, [it] would comply with what anyone without a security clearance would think is appropriate, lawful use.”

The YouTube page for a company called NICE, for instance, features a highly produced video showing how its products can be used in the event of a protest. “The NICE video analytic suite alerts on an unusually high occupancy level in a city center,” a narrator says as the camera zooms in on people chanting and holding signs that read “clean air” and “stop it now.” The video then shows authorities redirecting traffic to avoid a bottleneck, and promises that all audio and video from the event will be captured and processed almost immediately. “The entire event is then reconstructed on a chronological timeline, based on all multimedia sources,” says the narrator. According to an interview with the head of NICE’s security division published in Israel Gateway, NICE systems are used by New Jersey Transit and at the Statue of Liberty, though it isn’t clear if they are the same products shown in the video.

“Thousands of customers worldwide use NICE Security solutions to keep people safe and protect property,” says Sara Preto, a spokesperson for NICE. She declined to confirm any specific clients, but added: “We work with law enforcement and other government agencies within the framework of all relevant and national laws.”

Another program, made by Bright Planet and called BlueJay, is billed in a brochure to law enforcement as a “Twitter crime scanner.” BlueJay allows cops to covertly monitor accounts and hashtags; three that Bright Planet touts in promotional material are #gunfire, #meth, and #protest. In another promotional document, the company says BlueJay can “monitor large public events, social unrest, gang communications, and criminally predicated individuals,” as well as “track department mentions.” Bright Planet did not respond to a request for comment.

A third company, 3i:Mind, lays out a scenario for a potential law enforcement client that begins: “Perhaps you are tracking an upcoming political rally.” It continues:

Once you set up the OpenMIND™ system to profile and monitor the rally, it will search the web for the event on web pages, social networking sites, blogs, forums and so forth, looking for information about the nature of the rally (e.g. peaceful, violent, participant demographics), try to identify both online and physical world activist leaders and collect information about them, monitor the event in real-time and alert you on user-defined critical developments.

The scenario concludes: “Your insight is distributed to the local police force warning them that the political rally may turn violent and potentially thwarting the violence before it occurs.” The 3i:Mind website gives no clues at to which governments or corporations use their products, and public information on the company is limited, though they have reportedly shown their product at various trade shows and police conferences. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Other companies are less upfront about how their products can be used to monitor social unrest. A product that will be familiar to anyone who attended an Occupy Wall Street protest in or around New York’s Zuccotti Park is SkyWatch, by FLIR, pointed out to Rolling Stone by Lipp, the journalist who attended the police conference. SkyWatch is a mobile tower in the form of a two-person cab that can be raised two stories high to provide “an array of surveillance options,” according to a promotional brochure. Those options include cameras and radar, as well as “customizable” options. The brochure says SkyWatch is perfect for “fluid operations whether on the front lines or at a hometown event.” As of this writing, the NYPD still has a SkyWatch deployed in a corner of Zuccotti Park, where Occupy activists were evicted by the police nearly two years ago.

These promotional materials, taken together, paint a picture not only of local police forces becoming increasingly militarized, but also suggest departments are venturing into intelligence-gathering operations that may go well beyond traditional law enforcement mandates. “Two things make today’s surveillance particularly dangerous: the flood of ‘homeland security’ dollars (in the hundreds of millions) to state and local police for the purchase of spying technologies, and the fact that spook technology is outpacing privacy law,” says Kade Crockford, director of the Massachusetts ACLU’s technology for liberty program and the writer of the PrivacySOS blog, which covers these issues closely. “Flush with fancy new equipment, police turn to communities they have long spied on and infiltrated: low-income and communities of color, and dissident communities.”

Many of the legal questions surrounding these kinds of police tactics remain unsettled, according to Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security program at New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice. Information that is publicly available, like tweets and Facebook posts, is generally not protected by the Fourth Amendment, though legal questions may arise if that information is aggregated on a large scale – especially if that collection is based on political, religious or ethnic grounds. “This information can be useful, but it can also be used in ways that violate the Constitution,” says Patel. “The question is: what are [police departments] using it for?”

Rolling Stone contacted police departments for the cities of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. for comment on this story.

“The Philadelphia Police Department has their own cameras,” says that force’s spokesperson Jillian Russell. “The department does not have private surveillance companies monitor crime.” She directed follow-up questions about software used to process big data to a deputy mayor’s office, who didn’t return a phone call asking for comment.

When asked if the LAPD uses programs to monitor protesters, a media relations email account sent an unsigned message that simply read: “We are not aware of this.”

The other police departments did not respond to requests for comment.

Our militarized police forces November 8, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy.
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(Roger’s note: what is described below with respect to the militarization of police is neither a recent or even a new phenomenon.  Its escalation in the era of the bogus wars on drugs and terror is logical evolution.  Police harassment of indigent, aboriginals, minorities, immigrants, women and gays and lesbians is a deeply entrenched tradition of the North American police culture.  This culture includes the frightful notion that police are the “thin blue line” between order and anarchy, that the average citizen lacking the courage has outsourced the dirty work of protecting society to the men in blue; and, consequently, the ordinary citizen cannot understand the nature of crime fighting and therefore has no right to exercise civilian oversight.  Police brutality did not begin with the violence against peaceful OWS protesters, it has a long history going back to union busting and racial profiling.  The escalation of police militarization is there to meet the escalation of protest against that we are beginning to see today against the ravishing effects of capitalist so-called democracy.  It is not a pretty picutre, and it is going to get worse.
 
Tuesday, Nov 8, 2011 5:40 PM 18:56:00 EST

The wars on drugs and terror have given police departments a lot of deadly toys and dangerous attitudes

 
An armed Metropolitan Transportation Authority police officer stands guard in New York's Grand Central Station on Monday, May 2, 2011.

An armed Metropolitan Transportation Authority police officer stands guard in New York’s Grand Central Station on Monday, May 2, 2011. Security was heightened as a result of the announcement of the killing of Osama Bin Laden. (AP Photo/Stephen Chernin) (Credit: AP/Stephen Chernin

 

The Atlantic has a good piece on one of those subjects that I am slightly obsessed with, the ongoing militarization of American police forces. As a New Yorker, I am accustomed to being greeted by cops bearing assault rifles bravely monitoring the morning commute, which is more than slightly jarring, but the depressing thing is that that sort of sight quickly becomes normalized.

As former peace officer and Iraq veteran Arthur Rizer and co-author Joseph Hartman write, the police arms race has very clearly spread well beyond the urban borders of the only cities to actually be targeted by foreign terrorists.

Now, police officers routinely walk the beat armed with assault rifles and garbed in black full-battle uniforms. When one of us, Arthur Rizer, returned from active duty in Iraq, he saw a police officer at the Minneapolis airport armed with a M4 carbine assault rifle — the very same rifle Arthur carried during his combat tour in Fallujah.

The extent of this weapon “inflation” does not stop with high-powered rifles, either. In recent years, police departments both large and small have acquired bazookas, machine guns, and even armored vehicles (mini-tanks) for use in domestic police work.

What possible need does your average American police department have for a tank? I mean, besides giving it to Steven Segal so that he can kill a puppy during a raid on a suspected cock-fighter that’s being filmed for a reality show.

Turning police departments into quasi-National Guard regiments isn’t just a huge waste of resources, it’s also dangerous and demoralizing. A militarized police force makes the citizenry — especially minorities — feel like they’re living under a military occupation. (As with most police abuses, it’s generally easier to ignore for members of the classes not routinely stopped, frisked and thrown in jail for minor drug offenses.) It’s unsettling and undemocratic. And the cops start to feel like occupiers.

The most serious consequence of the rapid militarization of American police forces, however, is the subtle evolution in the mentality of the “men in blue” from “peace officer” to soldier. This development is absolutely critical and represents a fundamental change in the nature of law enforcement. The primary mission of a police officer traditionally has been to “keep the peace.” Those whom an officer suspects to have committed a crime are treated as just that – suspects. Police officers are expected, under the rule of law, to protect the civil liberties of all citizens, even the “bad guys.” For domestic law enforcement, a suspect in custody remains innocent until proven guilty. Moreover, police officers operate among a largely friendly population and have traditionally been trained to solve problems using a complex legal system; the deployment of lethal violence is an absolute last resort.

Soldiers, on the other hand, are trained to identify and kill the enemy. This is a problem. Cops are increasingly seeing the citizens they’re hired to protect as “the enemy.” This is in part how nonviolent protesters end up tear-gassed and shot at. This is part of why violence is so often the first resort of cops dealing with any sort of tricky situation, rather than the last. The idea that we need our cops to be the heavily armed soldiers of the streets — instead of, say, social workers with the power to arrest — leads to bad recruiting, bad training, unnecessary deaths, mass distrust of the police by vulnerable communities, and the contemptuous feeling of many cops that they themselves are above the law.

The authors identify 9/11 as the start of this trend. But I agree with Reason magazine that it actually all started with the war on drugs. Radley Balko did the essential research on the subject a few years back, and most paramilitary police actions that end up going horribly wrong are anti-drug raids. The Patriot Act itself is routinely used to fight the drug war. The argument that these tactics are necessary to keep us safe from scary foreign terrorists falls apart when you see how often all this firepower is directed at Americans looking only to get high or make a buck getting someone else high.

Alex Pareene
Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon. Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene  More Alex Pareene