Tag Archives: Police State

Trump to Cops: You should do more to physically harm American citizens

And the cops cheered.

Trump gave a talk to a gathering of police out on Long Island, earlier today. It went horribly. There are cops that are going to take Trump’s lead, take what he said seriously, and because of that, they are going to harm or kill Americans and end their own careers, destroying their own families and parts of their communities along the way.

The President of the United States egged the police on to disdain their civilian bosses, and they cheered him. The President of the United States told the police that they should not avoid harming suspects, and they clapped. The President of the United States encouraged the police to injure suspects, and they cheered.

He called American citizens being harassed by the police “animals.”

This was like and unlike Trump’s over-the-top and embarrassing tirade in front of the Boy Scouts. Similar because this was in both cases Trump being an unmitigated and stupid ass. But different because even though both the cops and the Boy Scouts were blindly cheering and clapping and yowling at these obnoxious comments, we could guess that the leaders of the Boy Scouts were potentially embarrassed. Also, for every Boy Scout there is one or more parental unit of some kind, and we knew many of them would be upset about Trump’s yammerings. And that all turned out to be true, and the Boy Scouts eventually, after some pressure, apologized.

But with the cops we should not assume anything like this is true. The only thing worse than a bunch of cops that show up to hassle some citizens is an organized bunch of cops in the form of an association or union. Today, Trump empowered the police, as a faction on our increasingly fractionated society, to become more violent. I don’t think there is any doubt that they will do this.

The New York City police department did not attend the Long Island event. Some see this as a boycott, since New York is a sanctuary city, and Trump intends to crack down on sanctuary cities. But it is not clear what the position of the New York City, or any other police department or group of police is. As far as I can tell, Trump’s new violence is something cops love. You should see the happy glowing faces of the cops standing behind the president when he tells them to treat suspects like animals, knock their heads on their cruisers, and otherwise, hurt them.

Happy glowing faces of cops clapping and cheering because they just got permission from the head of the United States to be physically harm American citizens.

I have been looking for the name of the organization that sponsored this talk, but I haven’t been able to find it. Whatever organization that is, we should demand that they apologize for Trump’s speech. But they won’t. Because they are cops.

Today is also the day that Donald Trump fired his Chief of Staff and replaced him with the Director of Homeland Security. The top security officer, in a sense, the top cop, of the country is now, apparently, at least according to a set of tweets, going to also be the person closest to the President in any official capacity in the West Wing. I wonder who thought of that idea?

Think about that for a minute. This is what dictators do.

Watch Chris Hays alter the anatomy of a Republican Congress member:

Generation 9/11. History will be embarrassed by us.

This is a piece I wrote in 2011, on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. (Originally posted here.)

I believe that the sauntering I refer to has diminished. But instead of sauntering, our local and county police departments seem to have taken up a different hobby: Shooting unarmed people of color. I think the problems underscored in this essay are mostly worse now than they were five years ago, and the argument I make here for what happened since 9/11/2001 is stronger, more clearly demonstrated by event. Also, the link between 9/11 and the Donald Trump candidacy is as clear as a brand new picture window right after the window washers left.

I’ve made minor edits, but left time references as they were five years ago. This will not affect you reading of this post.

Happy Anniversary 9/11

A former engineering student, on seeing film of the World Trade Center towers collapse on September 11th, 2001, indicated surprise. He told a friend that he would have thought that on being hit with jumbo jets, the two or three immediately affected floors of the tower would have been destroyed but the structures would probably remain standing, or at most the floors above the impact sites could possibly collapse due to melting support beams but the lower floors would stand. The complete collapse, above and below the impact sites, of both of the structures was a surprise to him, given his engineering training.

Those remarks were made shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Almost ten years later the same man who made these remarks was shot to death by US special forces agents in a raid on a residential compound in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad. And just like Osama bin Laden, the former engineering student1 who made those remarks, also a businessman, and ultimately, the world’s most serious terrorist ever (and no relation to me), I also have a hard time believing that it happened. But it did happen and the fallout from that event is still with us, and in fact, getting worse.

Many have spoken of the Post Patriot Act world, affecting day to day life in America, the wars, our treatment of our fellow humans at Gitmo and untold secret prisons around the world, the rise of the most expensive bureaucracy ever, all that. Icons of post 9/11 loom over us largely, and also exist in a small way in every nook and cranny of day to day life. And it rarely makes sense.

I once told you about a rural Iowan, who felt trapped and scared in the Big City, calling an elderly African American homeless wheel chair bound gentleman a “Terrorist.” That was an example of regular people substituting mundane daily fears, in this case, the “inner city” the “Black man” and I suppose “Wheel chairs” … oh, and we were in a “deli” run by “middle eastern people” so there was that too … with the largely made-up bogeyman of “Terrorist.”

One day last summer criminals drove down our street and carried out a criminal act before our very eyes, so we called 911. The police showed up way too late to matter and with way too many cops to make me think they were anything but frightened to go out alone, and the first thing they did was to demand to see my identification. I’m standing in my yard at the Weber, coals hot, brats cooking, a long bbq style fork in my hand and an apron that says “A Man and his Grill” on it and the cop is asking me for my identification.2 I blew him off with a stern look, and he went away. (Our cops are fairly meek. That would not have worked everywhere.) But that has become the norm: When the cops show up, you better damn well assume we live in a police state at least for that moment, or pretty soon you’ll be assuming the position just for standing there. Yes, folks, more and more people are being treated just like black folk in this country always have been. That should tell you something. One step backwards. Then a few more steps backwards.

I used to be a guy who called 911, when appropriate, and probably more than others on average. Now, I only call 911 if someone is in physical danger or needs medical attention. If I’m going to get shaken down for helping the coppers, the coppers can help themselves, thank you.

When an accident happens, or even some crap falls off a truck and causes an obstruction in the road, the First Responders show up and close more lanes than they need to and they saunter. Yes, that’s what I said. Instead of rushing in and managing the situation safely and effectively, they saunter around in full view of the drivers who are all forced over onto the shoulder to get by the scene. One day I sat in traffic for a half hour going north on State Route 169, and for the last six or seven minutes of that I could clearly see the two fire trucks that were blocking most of the lanes of traffic and the first responders sauntering around with absolutely nothing going on, no debris, no inured citizens, no other vehicles, nothing on the road to clean up, no “investigation” in progress, and they were passing around coffee. I’m sure there were donuts somewhere. I’m a fairly observant person and I’m not especially paranoid, and I’m pretty sure that I’m right: Post 911 first responders think they are the shit because hundreds of them died in the World Trade Center. This change in status and attitude is seen everywhere in our culture, I don’t need to convince you of that. Here, I’m just adding in that extra bit of unnecessary and costly sauntering at scenes that should be cleared. Because the cultural details matter even when they are small.

Do you know that during the late 1960s, when the US was in the throes of an unpopular war and a on the edge of revolution at home, there were an average of well over one hijacking of a commercial airplane flying out of a US based airport every month? Do you know what the reaction to that was? Metal detectors, and eventually baggage screening. Society did not change. It just got slightly harder, but not much harder, to get onto an airplane. Post 9/11 changes have been enormous and far reaching and pervasive. Now, I’m not trying to equate, or even compare, the scores of hijackings in the late 1960s and early 1970s with 9/11 and related acts (such as the attack on the Cole and the earlier WTC bombing, etc). There is no way to make that comparison. What I am trying to compare is the reaction, then vs. now. And, I’m not even comparing the reaction, exactly. What I’m trying to point out here is that in the 60s, the governmental and societal reaction to a significant spate of hijackings was to address airport security. The more recent reaction (to 9/11) was to shift all of society and almost every aspect of American culture, the activities of ever government department and agency, the expectations and rule sets, the budgets, the procedural manuals, and everything else to a paranoid modality and to institute what is essentially a low-level police state. That’s a difference worth noting. And worth complaining about.

Generation 9/11. History will be at least a little embarrassed by us.

Recently, we’ve been discussing the State Mandated Recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. The reason this is becoming increasingly enforced around the US is because of various state laws passed in time to be in place for today’s anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, or more generally as part of a post 9/11 culture. In one of our local schools, students had interesting responses to this happening on their turf, expressed in a school paper’s “debate” layout. The printed views were even … same number for and same number against. Those against the pledge requirement made all the usual and generally quite convincing arguments and did a great job. Those in favor of the jingoistic approach were, well, jingoistic, but, with an interesting and very positive twist; Most of them gave sway to atheists and agnostics. They said that they fully supported people leaving off the “under god” part and totally understood why they might do that. And none of the pro-pledge opinions were dripping with religious commentary or reference. It is important to note that of all the high schools in the region, the one to which I refer to is in the top four or five with respect to conservatism of the area served (it is in a Michele Bachmann clone’s Congressional District), and in the top two with respect to per capita wealth of the residents, and is probably the least diverse district in the state.

And that is interesting because the average high school kid is about 16 years old, meaning that they were 6 when the 9/11 attacks happened, and therefore, the attacks themselves are not necessarily part of their own cultural composition to the same degree that it is with older folk. These are kids that grew up in the post 9/11 world without necessarily feeling the powerful disbelief that many of us felt, followed by whatever fear or rage or helplessness or sense of dread or revenge that affected so many. The bad news is that this generation has become accustom to a much, much lower standard of freedom than many older people have, but this also means that when they confront this lack of freedom they may be more willing to rebel against it because they related less directly to the Defining Moment.

Sauntering firemen and cocky police officers are not the end of the world and they are not the Nazi’s or the Bradbury’s Salamander. They are, rather, puddles of dried blood from a minor wound. When you get into a bad accident, you may get a major wound that could kill or maim you, but you will also get a lot of minor wounds that on their own would not mean much. But you know that the accident was truly traumatic when the minor wounds add up to a plethora but are uncounted or ignored because they are just background. Sauntering firemen, cocky police officers, and Iowans who label homeless wheel chair bound African American old guys as “terrorists” are the tiny scrapes and bruises on a battered corpse.

And now might be a good point to ask the question, “What has risen from the ashes of the 9/11 attacks?” There was much talk at the time, and since then, and again today, about how great America is, how great Americans are, and how we will move forward and become better and stronger and so on and so forth. But it is just talk. What has happened instead is something entirely different.

The giddy fear and sense of dread that comes from a violent moment clouds the mind, of the individual or more broadly but also the collective social mind. The disorientation that caused that lady from Iowa to mistake the wheel chair bound homeless man for a “terrorist” represents an internal derailing of logic. The guard rail is down, the road is slippery, and rational thought has spun not just into the ditch but across the highway into oncoming traffic. The playbook has become garbled and the Quarterback is running the wrong way. The general, gone mad, is locked up on the army base with the launch codes. Twelve Angry Men, Lord of the Flies … stop me before I metaphor again! I think you get the point. There are a lot of people who benefit from our present social pathology, and that surely has been a factor. But also, it is simply a social pathology that we are experiencing, a terrorist victory, a lack of character on our part as a nation.

But the scary part is what comes out of it, and by now you have probably guessed my point. The Tea Party and things like the Tea Party. Strongly held anti-social illogical destructive beliefs with no hope of critical self evaluation, in a large and organized part of the population. It is obvious why this happened in the Republican Party and not the Democratic Party, but people on both sides of the political aisle have contributed. Literalist, libertarian, paranoid, self-centered, easily frightened, reactionary, sub-average in intelligence, deluded in self worth and unmovable in conviction and belief despite all evidence to the contrary. The lady from Iowa, the sauntering firemen, the sheep who welcome being harassed by the TSA agents at the gate, the people who are happy to click “I agree” when confronted with a 43 page EULA that, somewhere in there, tells you the thing you just bought and paid for is not yours; A general social willingness to be told what to do, fear of not being told what to do, cynicism that we can think of what to do on our own, and utter disbelief that collective progressive action any longer has potential or meaning.

The little puddles of drying blood are everywhere, splatter evidence not from the 9/11 attacks but from our national and social flailing about and rending of cloth and flesh as aftermath. It isn’t just that the terrorist won on that day; It is much much worse than that. First they beat us, then they recruited us to do ourselves in.

Happy Anniversary 9/11

1Apparently there is some question as to whether or not Osama bin Laden was actually an engineering student, but we’ll roll with it for the present purposes. Here’s the video of him making the remarks I paraphrased:

2I’m exaggerating. There was no apron. But I was wearing my Darwin I Think Cap.

Police unnecessarily kill a third black man this week, threaten to kill more

Police had cornered a murder suspect. There were negotiations and there was exchange of gunfire.

Normally this stand off would have been maintained as long as possible. The way these things end, usually, is that the suspect gives up, the suspect kills themselves, there is what the police would call a “fair” exchange of gunfire* and the suspect is wounded or killed, etc.

But the police had a new tool they could use to shorten the time span for such standoffs. They blew the suspect up with a bomb delivered specifically for that purpose. A robot drove over to the suspect, got the bomb near him, and blew him up.

This means that the police had a method of killing people that involved bombs ready to go. They would not think up a new technology and deploy it in a high profile case unless they already had a method of deploying it and a reasonably good idea it would work.

This was the Dallas police department. I would like to know how many different police departments have bombs designed to kill suspects ready to go. How many police departments have the robots at the ready, how many have been engaged in training programs. I would like to see copies of the protocols for using bombs to kill suspects, and I’d like to know which legal or legislative authorities have been involved in developing those protocols.

As far as I can tell, this is homicide. There were other ways to do this. There were no hostages being held. No one was being protected by killing this suspect at that time.

I’m also a little concerned that during the same incident, the sniper shooting of several police officers in Dallas, that at least one, possibly two, other people were arrested or detained but released because they were found not involved. So, by my count, there was a maximum of a 3 in 5 chance that the police correctly identified suspects in this incident. Are we pretty sure the suspect that was assassinated by the Dallas Police Department, using the bomb, was not just some wigged out dude that wanted to be thought of as a suspect? I doubt that is the case, but one normally determines these things by some sort of due process. This was not that.

As the events in Dallas unfolded last night, a police expert (former top cop guy of some kind) issued an explicit threat to all Americans. He said that given the assassination of several Dallas Police officers, police around the country were going to do two things.

First, they would double up or get into larger groups, so there would be fewer units to respond to calls, and maybe some reluctance to respond to certain calls. So, forget about the police doing their jobs. In many areas they already don’t do their jobs. But in the few places they were doing their jobs, perhaps expect this to become a thing of the past.

Second, he said they wold be much more trigger happy an more likely to kill when they do show up to do their jobs.

Essentially the police response to being the rare victim (instead of perpetrator, as the commonly are) of random killing of innocent people is to stop protecting people from such violence, and increase the amount of such violence that they themselves carry out.

So, that’s where we are at right now.

If you see a cop, avoid them. If yo are not white and you see a cop, really really avoid them. If you have a reason to call 911 other than a dire medical emergency, do not call. You may end up being responsible for someone getting killed, because when the cops show up, anyone around who is not white is at serious risk, and actually, everybody is at risk.

People are seeing the shooting of the Dallas cops as the most recent escalation in a very bad downward spiral of civilization. But it is not. The most recent escalation was the killing by the police of a suspect that they had cornered, using a robot and a bomb.

Expect worse.

*According to several cops commenting on Dallas, a the only fair way to have a gun exchange with the cops is for the non-cop to stand in the open and only shoot at cops that are facing them.

Black Lives Matter and the Marathon: A Pair of Dilemmas (Updated)

UPDATE: BLM and the St Paul authorities have come to a compromise.

… the Mayor announced that Turner and the St. Paul Black Lives Matter chapter have agreed to refrain from interfering with runners trying to complete the course, as had previously been threatened. Instead, BLM, will demonstrate near the finish line, raising their voices about the issues that have boiled on the front burner since the death of Ferguson, Missouri resident Michael Brown at the hands of a white police officer.

“The Mayor took the time to listen, he heard our concerns,” Turner shared. “We will not disrupt the course.”

Turner said BLM St. Paul still intends to protest at the marathon, but in a designated space without blocking any runners.

Hat tip: Renee.

The current plans (and I use the plural of “plans” intentionally) for a Black Lives Matter action at the upcoming Twin Cities marathon, and the discussion surrounding those plans, exemplify areas in which Black Lives Matter could do a better job at organizing, and how people responding to Black Lives Matter’s activity could be more thoughtful. Much of this is apparent in a recent WCCO report by Esme Murphy which I will use as a framework for my provisional comments. First, I’d like to state that I stand with Black Lives Matter. The problem here is that there are three of them involved in this maneno (National, Minneapolis, and Saint Paul) and the are at odds. So, this is one of those situations where it may be impossible to lose. Or win.

So, this was reported:

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As Black Lives Matter Minneapolis said repeatedly on Twitter that they are not responsible and have no role in the Sunday’s protest of the Twin Cities Marathon, Black Lives Matter St. Paul offered a very different version of what protesters plan to do.

One could argue that having very little apparent coordination between groups is a good thing. Please put that argument in the comments below so the rest of us know what that is.

Rashad Turner is an organizer with a Saint Paul group of Black Lives Matter. According to Murphy’s report, Turner said “…on Saturday: “My hope is the marathon runners realize they are not going to be able to finish this race.”

Many see this as a problem. When a person runs 26 miles in a race, they come very close to a limit of endurance and need to go through several steps in order to reduce the chance of a bad medical outcome. This involves modulating the amount of energy they spend over time, near the end of the race and for a while after. It also involves a support system for hydration during the race, proper cool down and hydration right after the race, quick access to medical aid if needed, etc. The timing and spatial organization of all these things is critical. The range of negative outcomes caused by disruption of any of these things includes minor injury, serious injury, and death. So, if “not going to be able to finish the race” means a runner has to top at mile 25, then the BLM disruption is a very serious thing. This, I assume, is why the Saint Paul police have indicated that they will not tolerate any such disruption, and it is why some (many?) runners are concerned.

But, apparently the stated plan is not the plan. Continuing with Murphy’s report…

Turner walked that back Tuesday.

“We are not going to physically stop any runners,” Turner said. “Runners will have an option to stop in and join the protest, but we have no plans for physically stopping the runners.”

Turner insists this is not a reversal, and that the protests will be noticeable.

“It’s going to be a disruption, it is not going to be business as usual,” he said.

I am going to go out on a limb and guess that someone clued Turner in on how a marathon works, and this particular Black Lives Matter group changed their plans a bit. Having said that, I’m not sure how the last mile or so of a marathon is “not going to be business as usual” while the runners also have full access to what they need. Also, I don’t see how most of the runners will stop at mile 25. What happens to those that don’t? A lot of booing as they run by? This is unclear. In any event, Black Lives Matter protestors may be a bit disappointed as most of the runners run right by them, heading for the finish line (the reason for running the first 25 miles) and much needed rehydration fluids, etc.

Anyway, this does look like a reversal, saying it isn’t doesn’t look very honest, and the plan kinda sucks. A disruption without a disruption, but if there is a real disruption, putting people in danger.

But this is not all about Black Lives Matter (one group anyway) doing a poor job of organizing. The reactions from many are exactly the sort that uncover the basic problem that Black Lives Matter is trying to address. Many people are philosophically or intellectually in support of addressing a clear problem in the way people of color are treated by the police and other authorities in our emerging post-9/11 police state. Again, back to Murphy’s report. But that isn’t really enough.

Runners are continuing to react with anger on social media with comments like this: “I, too, worry about being trampled to death in a terrifying panic situation.”

Alicia Perkins is a Twin Cities runner who vented her frustration on her popular running blog and on Twitter.

“How dare you say your cause is more important than anyone else’s?” Perkins said. “You don’t know what people are running for. Some people are running for personal reasons, some people are running for charitable reasons.”

She has been training since May for Sunday’s marathon and is hoping to get a good enough time to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

“I guess it helped release anxiety,” Perkins said. “I respect everyone’s right to have a voice, but not when it infringes on other people’s rights.”

She is among the many runners and others saying they are not opposed to the cause, but are opposed to the forum and the proposed disruption of the race.

Comparing the relative importance of “causes” is a commonly used strategy by those who oppose the cause. We see this all the time. Someone or some group opposes a particular industrial or agricultural health risk, and someone else points out that more people die in car accidents than from that health risk. Etc. People are running for … reasons. Therefore those reasons are equivalent to the frequent abuse or slaughter of members of a class of people. No, Alicia, that is a false equivalence. This does not mean that you don’t support Black Lives Matter’s cause. But it does mean that you don’t get it.

Perkins and others are also saying they are worried about any interruption, especially at mile 25, when runners will be so exhausted.

Well, maybe. When I first heard about the BLM plans (which were entirely vague at the time) I supported the idea of doing something at the marathon because of the previous two actions in the Twin Cities. One was at the State Fair (disrupting traffic at a main entryway to the fair) and the other an action to stop the transit line leading to the Vikings home opener. I did think the former was a bit silly. Getting a large group to show up and disrupt traffic at an event that was essentially defined by having a huge crowd and horrible traffic seemed to be like casting a pebble into the surf. Also, since the State Fair is a multi day event that is reliably covered in every news show (morning, noon, early PM, evening news, nightly news, special coverage in between at all hours), I thought BLM would be able to capture part of every one of those news cycles by doing something every day. The traffic disruption itself was not a bad idea, but it was too little.

Here’s the thing. For both of those disruptions, plans and adjustments were made. BLM got their disruption in, but nothing really went wrong. For example, some complained that stopping the train line would be dangerous, but everything turned out to be fine.

With that background, I had assumed that BLM and others would end up with an effective action at the marathon that would not backfire. However, I now realize that things are a bit different. There was never a good plan, there were never, apparently, any good conversations between BLM and others as to how to do this, and of the three BLM groups (national, Minneapolis and Saint Paul), two oppose the action and only one wants to do it, and that group, apparently, does not have a good plan. Well, maybe they have an excellent, secret plan, and I’ll take all this back later when it is carried out. We’ll see. But so far what we see does not inspire confidence.

Turner says there will be signs and chanting. But St. Paul Police have promised if there is a disruption of the race, protesters will be attested.

Signs and chanting is a good thing, I suppose. But that is not what BLM usually claims to be sufficient, and generally I agree with them. It may be that a disruption of the marathon turned out to be a bad idea, BLM is backing off on those plans (though somewhat clumsily, not admitting a mistake), and this will turn out to be a mere “awareness raising” event. It may be that once we have hindsight it will be clear that targeting the marathon with disruption at mile 25 was a bad idea, plans were changed, and not much happened.

Black Lives Matter is on the horns of a dilemma with this one, as are commenters (such as myself) who question the idea. The dilemma for BLM is needing to go forward with truly disruptive actions (that is their raison d’être) but being stuck with a declared plan that would potentially backfire. The dilemma for those who might comment on this action is that opposing BLM actions is almost always a form of tone policing, which is a huge part of the problem, a huge part of the reason that our society has not addressed the regular killing of people of color, which has been going on at varying levels of intensity for a very very long time. On the other horn, of course, is simply expressing an opinion (that a particular action is not a good idea) when the opinion seems valid and important.

My initial reaction to the BLM plan was to shut up, point to it but not with comment, and see what happens, trusting that BLM would come up with something like their previous two actions, essentially shutting down the Tone Police and making the points they needed to make. But now I’m switching horns, provisionally, for this one event. If you prefer the interpretation that I’m not being supportive of BLM with this post, please note that I’m in line with two out of three BLM groups, questioning the wisdom of a planned action by a third. Indeed, anyone who supports a disruption at mile 25 of the marathon is opposing two BLM groups. Dilemma.

Having said all that, to be clear, I’m asking questions and putting together relevant information here. I’m not going to form a particular strong opinion about any of this until after the race. It all depends on what happens.

Osama bin Laden 1; Railroads 0

The terrorists have defeated the railroads, and by extension, the people. Well, not totally defeated, but they won a small but important battle.

We have a problem with the wholesale removal of petroleum from the Bakken oil fields, and the shipping of that relatively dangerous liquid mainly to the east coast on trains, with hundreds of tanker cars rolling down a small selection of tracks every day. I see them all the time as they go through my neighborhood. These trains derail now and then, and sometimes those derailments are pretty messy, life threatening, and even fatal.

There has been some effort in Minnesota to get the train companies to upgrade their disaster plans, which is important because about 300,000 Minnesotans live in the larger (one half mile) disaster zone that flanks these track. A smaller number, but not insignificant, live int he blast zone, the place where if a couple of train cars actually exploded you would be within the blast area. For the last couple of years, my son was at a daycare right in that blast zone. I quickly add that the chance of being blasted by an oil train is very small, because the tracks are in total thousands of miles long, derailments are rare(ish), and the affected areas can be measured in city blocks. So a blast from a Bakken oil train may be thought of as roughly like a large air liner crash, or may be two or three times larger than that, in terms of damage on the ground.

But yes, the trains derail at a seemingly large rate.

Now, here is where the terrorists come in. And by terrorists I specifically mean Osama bin (no relation) Laden, or his ghost, and that gang of crazies that took down the world trade center in New York. When that happened, we became afraid of terrorism, and everyone who could use that fear for personal gain has since exploited it. I’m pretty sure that the rise of the police state in America has been because of, facilitated by, and hastened due to this event. For years the American people let the security forces and related government agencies do pretty much whatever they wanted. The Patriot Act, you may or may not know, is a version of a law that conservatives have been pushing in the US for decades, a draconian law that gives great power to investigative and police agencies. That law never got very far in Congress until 9/11. Then, thanks to Osama bin Laden, it seemed like everyone wanted it. Only now, years later, are we seriously considering rolling it back (and to some extent acting on that consideration).

So now, the railroads have been forced to come up with a disaster plan related to the oil shipments. And they did. But for the most part they won’t let anyone see it. Why? Because, according to one railroad official, “… to put it out in the public domain is like giving terrorists a road map on how to do something bad.”

What does he mean exactly? As far as I can tell, the disaster plan pinpoints specific scenarios that would be especially bad. These scenarios, if they fell into the hands of terrorists, would allow said terrorists to terrorize more effectively.

I’m sure this is true. But I’m also sure this is not a reason to keep the plans secret. There are three reasons, in my view, that the plans should be totally available for public review.

1) If you want to know what the worst case scenarios for a rail tanker disaster are, don’t read this report. It is easier to get out a map, maybe use some GIS software if you have it, and correlate localities where the train tracks cross over bridges, cross major water sources, and go through dense population areas. A high bridge through an urban area over an important river, for instance. This is not hard. Indeed, I call on all social studies teachers with an attitude (and most of the good ones have an attitude) to make this a regular project in one of your classes. Have the students try to think like terrorists and identify the best way to terrorize using oil trains. The reason to do this is to point out how dumb the railroads are being.

2) Secret plans are plans that can be exploited or misused by those who make them. We will see security measures taken that, for example, limit public access to information unrelated to oil trains, with the terroristic threat used as an excuse. I’m sure this has already happened. It will continue to happen. It is how the police state works.

3) The plans can be better. How do I know this? Because all plans can be better. That’s how plans work. How can you make the plans better? Scrutiny. How do you get scrutiny? Don’t make the plans secret.

MPR news has a pretty good writeup on this situation here. MPR is fairly annoyed at the secrecy, as they should be, but frankly I’d like to seem this and other news agencies, as well as the state legislators involved, and everyone else, more fired up. We should all be working harder against the police state.

I want to end with this: I like trains, and you should too. Trains are among the most efficient ways to move stuff across the landscape. Those of us concerned with things like climate change should be all for trains. Ultimately, I think we can increase the use of trains to move goods and people, and at the same time take the trains off fossil carbon. They are already mostly electric, using liquid fuel to run generators. That liquid fuel could be made, largely, from renewable biodiesel and a bit of grown biodiesel, and more of the trains can probably go all electric. But this secrecy thing is not OK.

Blacks were disproportionately targeted by Ferguson police

According to a source cited by NPR the Ferguson Police Department

… violated the Constitution when it policed to raise money and with a racial bias toward African-Americans, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the report.

The investigation, the source says, concluded that blacks were disproportionately targeted by the police and the justice system and that has led to a lack of trust in police and courts and has led to few partnerships for public safety.

The report will be released on Wednesday. But there are some tidbits available including two emails between police and court employees.

One says Obama will not be president for long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.” Another says a black woman in New Orleans was admitted to a hospital to end her pregnancy and then got a check two weeks later from “Crime Stoppers.”

According to the data assembled in the report, African Americans constitute 67% of the Ferguson population but make up 85% of the vehicular stops and 93% of those arrested, and are twice as likely to be searched as whites but less likely to possess drugs or weapons one searched.

In the court sytem, African Americans were 68% less likely than non-African Americans to have cases dismissed by municipal judges and more likely to have arrest warrents taken out on them. NPR reports that “From October 2012 to October 2014, 96 percent of people arrested in traffic stops solely for an outstanding warrant were black,” and “Blacks accounted for 95 percent of jaywalking charges, 94 percent of failure to comply charges and 92 percent of all disturbing the peace charges.”

Terry Oliver for Mayor

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 10.59.57 AMThis was sent to me by a colleague as an excellent example of highly disciplined and effective messaging.

But I saw two other things: 1) A person who should be running for office just because of her ability to stay on message; and 2) a person who should be mayor or governor or something because she seems quite willing to push back against the constant, incremental, creep towards a police state every time some thing or another happens.

FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

One step in solving the police problem

People, usually people of color, more often than not Native Americans and African Americans (according the the available statistics) suffer regular repression by the police. Day to day, the most common form of repression is about the small stuff. Jay walking, being out after curfew, walking around in a shopping mall, driving while black, and similar imagined (or at worst, very minor) offenses bring the police into contact with individuals, making day to day existence harder and for many building up a list of arrests, charges, and convictions that form an ever-growing albatross around those individuals’ necks.

The recent work slowdown in New York is being heralded by astute observers as an inadvertent, almost ironic, positive step. As long as the police refuse to “do their jobs” in this manner, they are incidentally refusing to engage in this day to day repression.

It is generally thought that the small stuff — citations for minor offenses that often don’t even rise to the level of violations of law — make up a part of the public safety or, more broadly, municipal budgets of the governmental institutions supporting the police (city, county, state).

But what if that income was never accessible to those institutions? What if all of the money collected in fines could not be put against the city, county, or state budget? That might remove the impetus, in part, to engage in this kind of policing. I’m not entirely sure where the money should go. If it went into some public program (food shelters, etc.) it might replace other budget items at the same level of government. That would not serve the intended purpose of sequestering these funds. But with a little imagination, it probably would not be too hard to find a way to use that flow of cash for purposes that would not benefit the government responsible for the police force, or any other class of people, corporation, or pubic authority that might have the power to direct increased enforcement.

A law, or in some cases, a constitutional amendment (at the state level) could suffice for this purpose. Don’t fund the police, or any unit of government, on the backs of those being repressed. This is only a partial solution to a larger problem but it could be a useful and meaningful single step. The “Back Turning” law.


Welcome to the Police State

I was going to put this on my facebook page, but it seemed worthy of a higher status. As it were.

We live in a police state, here in America, in the same way one gives oneself a particular religion or non-religious label. Unless you are a priest, a habitually repentant sinner, or like me, a habitually annoyed atheist, you usually aren’t anything. Someone can’t look at you and pick out your belief system. It is in the background lurking around doing nothing, ignored and all but forgotten most of the time. But when needed out comes the book (The Bible, The Origin, whatever). Our police state, like most people’s religion, can be turned on or off as needed by most people with privilege, or at least, someone is turing it on and off so it can spend a lot of time in the background doing nothing, ignored and all but forgotten most of the time. The other day a fugitive who apparently lives in the wooded swampy areas that permeate the part of Minnesota I live in (ever since he executed his lover at a gas station, then ran him over with his BMW, a couple of weeks ago) was spotted, possibly, at the nearby small airport. I saw pictures of the police response. It looked like Ferguson, with the armored vehicles, cops wearing storm trooper gear, and all that. Yes, the police state is always available and that is what the police state looks like to the privileged.

If only that was all the police state was.

Police searching for fugitive near my house.  They may be overdressed for the occasion.   But maybe not.
Police searching for fugitive near my house. They may be overdressed for the occasion. But maybe not.
You see, the Ferguson Event, where the police showed up in the Storm Trooper gear, is not really the thing to worry about. If that’s all they did, we’d be fine. So what if the police need to show up every now and then in the large black van, back door opening, one, then another, then another, storm trooper attired cop hopping out and going into squat-move-stalk stance and loping off weaving back and forth among themselves and holding their guns to their noses like the priest holds the crucifix at that one point during mass, “hut, hut, hut” serpentining into the danger zone. That would only be now and then, when “needed” because of the fugitives living in the heavily wooded swamps.

What really happens in Ferguson is not that. The real problem, in Ferguson and everywhere our nation’s African American’s and often Hispanics are mostly sequestered, is a totally different thing.

If you want to know what happens, you need to do this. First, get black. Once you are black it is much easier. If you are not naturally black I’m not sure how you do this. Anyway, get black and then go stand on a street corner. If you are of the right age white people will pull over and try to buy drugs from you. If you are the right sex people will assume you are a prostitute. Eventually the police will stop by and they’ll throw you in jail for no good reason. But it will go on your record. Eventually, you’ll get thrown in jail for no good reason a certain number of times, and then you won’t get out. For no good reason.

Prefer to drive? You can do that. Same effect. A white person I know works mainly with white people in a white town in a white part of the Twin Cities. There are a few black people there, of course, but in her unit only one African American colleague. Regular guy. Drives slow. He is stopped by the cops on the way to work about twice a month. No one else who works there has ever been stopped by the cops. Driving while black was big thing, on the news and all, a while ago. Still a big thing. Just not so much on the news. You still cant’ drive while black in many communities.

How about Beverly Hills? The police in Beverly Hills, during the year 2013, issued 3,250 traffic tickets and over 1,000 citations for non-traffic violations. That might not sound like a lot to you, but I’m not talking about Beverly Hills, California. I’m talking about Beverly Hills, Missouri, down by Ferguson.

Beverly Hills, Missouri has 571 people living in it.

Beverly Hills, Missouri is 92.7% black. Of the remainder, about half are white.

(I know you are wondering: As far as I know a lot of the cops in that town are non-white.)

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the police state. It is not Storm Troopers on armored vehicles. Unless necessary. It is not black helicopters. Well, now and then with the helicopters. It is not drones. Usually. Mainly it is day to day police work that pays for itself because every few minutes somebody gets a fine for being black and living in one of those places where the African Americans in our country are generally sequestered.

So this all started out me wanting to tweet an article I read in Slate, then elevated to a Facebook posting with comments, and I ended up taking it a little farther than I thought I would and now I have to get on to other things. Go read the article for yourself. And the Washington Post article it is based on. Be careful though, the WaPo piece is a thinly disguised Libertarian argument.