Everyone should fear the police state

Salon has an amazing piece of investigative journalism by Radly Balko about the militarization of the police force in the United States over the last few decades. It’s a bit long, so I excerpted the parts I think everyone should see. If you have the time, I recommend reading the whole story.

A 2009 G-20 summit shows us that we can be arrested for pretty much anything:

The most egregious police actions seemed to take place on the Friday evening before the summit, around the university, when police began ordering students who were in public spaces to disperse, despite the fact that they had broken no laws. Students who moved too slowly were arrested, as were students who were standing in front of the dormitories where they lived.

A University of Pittsburgh spokesman later said that the tactic was to break up crowds that “had the potential of disrupting normal activities, traffic flow, egress and the like. . . . Much of the arrests last night had to do with failure to disperse when ordered.” Note that no one needed to have broken any actual laws to get arrested. The potential to break a law was more than enough. That standard was essentially a license for the police to arrest anyone, anywhere in the city, at any time, for any reason.

“What’s that? Freedom of press you say? ‘Cuff him, Jim.”:

At the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, police conducted peremptory raids on the homes of protesters before the convention had even started. Police broke into the homes of people known to be activist rabble-rousers before they had any evidence of any actual crime. Journalists who inquired about the legitimacy of the raids and arrests made during the convention were also arrested. In all, 672 people were put in handcuffs.

I think we can all agree that matching shirts are cute. Especially when they’re bragging about beating non-violent protestors:

Perhaps the best insight into the mentality the police brought to the DNC protests could be found on the T-shirts the Denver police union had printed up for the event. The shirts showed a menacing cop holding a baton. The caption: DNC 2008: WE GET UP EARLY, TO BEAT THE CROWDS. Police were spotted wearing similar shirts at the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago. At the 1996 DNC convention in Chicago, cops were seen wearing shirts that read: WE KICKED YOUR FATHER’S ASS IN 1968 . . . WAIT ’TIL YOU SEE WHAT WE DO TO YOU!

“I don’t care about any of this, the only people who have to worry about the police are criminals.” Or, you know, small business owners:

In June 2006, Ruttenberg filed a civil rights suit alleging that, among other things, using a SWAT team to conduct an alcohol inspection was an unreasonable use of force.  In 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit denied his claim. So for now, in the Fourth Circuit, sending a SWAT team to make sure a bar’s beer is labeled correctly is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

You’re Eight Times More Likely to be Killed by a Police Officer than a Terrorist

As if we needed any more evidence that the War on Drugs has been a gigantic waste:

In my opinion, too many people are still transfixed by terrorism despite the collapse of Al Qaeda over the last decade and the quite manageable—indeed, the quite well-managed—danger that terrorism presents our society today.

If you want to indulge your fears and prioritize terrorism, you’ll have plenty of help, and neither this blog post nor any other appeal to reason or statistics is likely to convince you. Among the John Mueller articles I would recommend, though, is “Witches, Communists, and Terrorists: Evaluating the Risks and Tallying the Costs” (with Mark Stewart).

If one wants to be clinical about what things reduce death to Americans, one should ask why police officers are such a significant source of danger. I have some ideas.

Cato’s work on the War on Drugs shows how it produces danger to the public and law enforcement both, not to mention loss of privacy and civil liberties, disrespect for law enforcement, disregard of the rule of law, and so on. Is the sum total of mortality and morbidity reduced or increased by the War on Drugs? I don’t know to say. But the War on Drugs certainly increases the danger to innocent people (including law enforcement personnel), where drug legalization would allow harm to naturally concentrate on the people who choose unwisely to use drugs.

Spaniards trust the police more than journalists

spanish police

The Christian Science Monitor:

It’s not just the expected result of citizens’ loss of institutional trust amid the grueling global economic crisis. Increased politicization and institutional weakness are making journalists easy prey to government and corporate pressure, experts say, leading to blatant cases of political and corporate manipulation and serious editorial mistakes in even the most reputable publications and broadcasters.

In fact, Spaniards trust journalists just a sliver more than lawyers, according to a poll released Feb. 20. Only 53 percent of Spaniards say journalists are honest, compared to 51 percent for lawyers, 80 percent for police, 88 percent for teachers, and more than 90 percent for health professionals. Bankers and members of parliament came in at 12 percent and 11 percent respectively.

[…]

To make things worse, media companies in Spain are either controlled by the government, or corporately owned by banks, large corporate tycoons, and even the Catholic Church. “From that point of view, [society] feels media companies lack independence of vested interests, and respond to ideological and economic clientlism.”

I spend a significant amount of time complaining about the state of journalism here in the US – yet, as this article shows, it could be a lot worse.

Crime rate falling in Mexico City

mexico city crime falls drug cartels

From Bullets to Bistros: the Mexico City Miracle – Nathaniel Parish Flannery – The Atlantic:

Mexico City was once feared as being the most dangerous city in the planet. A new network of security cameras, and a focus on community police-work and patrols, have helped entrepreneurs, restaurant owners, and young professionals out of a decade of stalled urban renewal programs, and fostered the emergence of a vibrant nightlife. As street gangs have receded to fringe neighborhoods, crime has fallen, and many late night partiers have a different concern: the fear of being detained at the breathalyzer checkpoints.

[…]

“Accidents caused by drunk drivers are down 30 percent,” Perez said. Other types of crime have fallen as well. In 2012, the U.S. Department of State dropped its “critical crime level” warning for Mexico City. Police patrols, security cameras, and a relentless focus on reducing crime in in upper-middle-class neighborhoods such as Polanco, Condesa, and La Roma have helped change the city. In particular, the alcoholímetro anti-drunk driving program has been a success. “People think it’s annoying, but it really works, it’s lowered the number of drunk driving accidents,” Eduardo Guerrero said. In recent years Mexico City has also achieved impressive reductions in assaults, robberies, and violent crime. In 2011, inter-gang conflicts in Mexico City, the largest urban hub in the country, accounted for about 1 percent of the total number of drug-related murders reported in Mexico.

It’s nice to see that progress can still be made in a country with so many problems. Of course, much more could be done if the Mexican cartels weren’t so powerful. Which means hitting them where it hurts: their wallets. How do we do that? By legalizing marijuana.