Sunday, August 29, 2004

Lately, I have been struck by the alarming nature of the growing oppressive tactics adopted by law enforcement agencies. I think it’s time to start asking why we have accepted, and even embraced, Police State-style infractions against people in America.

Let me tell you why I have been moved to write this particular piece. I turned on the TV and of course, the Olympics was on. Determined to avoid the nauseating alliterations and constant fawning of Bob Costas, I changed the channel and ended up on our local Fox affiliate, Channel 2. The show playing was “COPS”. I was treated to a demonstration of how the Police use tazer technology in the field. The subject, a large man who does look intimidating, had two “probes” shot into his side while his hands were on the hood of the police car and he had “assumed the position”, although he was clearly unhappy about it and expressed his opinion. This man had done nothing but display a bad attitude, and 50,000 volts were forced through his body. TWICE.
The man was on the ground, muttering “Oh God that hurts”, and the Police Officer tells his partner to “hit him again”.
Another 50,000 volts.
(After “COPS” ended, “America’s Most Wanted” comes on. If you’ve never seen the old Swarzennegger film “The Running Man”, then rent it and then watch “AMW”. If you still think John Walsh is a stand up guy, then you’re an idiot. But I digress.)
Thoroughly disgusted, I decide to check my email. Lo and behold, one of my fellow CFMers had posted a story published by the Progressive. The abridged version of the story:
FBI Trails and Interrogates Missouri Activists

The FBI trailed and interrogated three young men from Kirksville, Missouri, in July, and talked to their parents. The activists were then subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury on the very day they were planning to be in Boston for a protest at the Democratic National Convention.
"In the week leading up to the Democratic National Convention, the parents of each of three were visited by agents of the FBI identifying themselves as members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force," says Denise Lieberman, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, which is representing the three men. "They said they were there to get their sons' current contact information and to ask some questions about their sons' political affiliations."
Two things make this case even more alarming than other similar incidents around the country, she says.
The first is that her clients were subpoenaed, and as a consequence could not go to their intended protest.
"On Monday, July 26, my clients received a subpoena to appear before a federal grand jury, and at the same time they received a target letter saying they were a target of the investigation," says Lieberman. "They were ordered to appear on Thursday, July 29, which was the same date they were scheduled to appear in Boston for a protest. It certainly had the effect of preventing them from attending the protest."
Lieberman says that neither the subpoena nor the target letter offered specific information about particular incidents of alleged criminal activity. And she said the prosecutor refused to grant her clients an extension.
The second distinctive characteristic of this case, Lieberman says, is that her clients were repeatedly and overtly tailed.
"Our clients were put under 24-hour surveillance," she says. "It began approximately Sunday July 25th. At that point, they all had come to St. Louis. They noticed cars in front of the house where they were staying, at least three at any given time. One was a dark SUV, one was a GMC suburban, one was a silver truck. Sometimes there were other cars. They were there for a period of five days, and they followed them everywhere they went."
Lieberman says her clients would drive around their block four times, and the FBI would be there behind them. Undercover agents also followed them to the grocery store and even to her ACLU office.
One member of the house who was not involved with the planned protest in Boston "was followed to work at his local grocery store and was taken aside by his supervisor," she says. "This person felt that perhaps his job could be jeopardized."
Lieberman says she is very troubled by the government's tactics.
The use of surveillance and even a subpoena as an apparent tool to prevent people from going to a protest violates the First Amendment, she believes.
"It's one thing if you go to a protest and engage in illegal activity like civil disobedience, where you know you could be subject to arrest. And police have every right if people do that to arrest them," she says. "But it's quite another thing to stop them before the protest and question them and take steps to intimidate them or prevent them from going in the first place."
And the intimidation extended beyond her clients.
"There were about 10 people who were supposed to go with them to Boston, and all of them cancelled," she says. "That makes the chilling effect greater."
Joe Parris, a spokesman for the FBI in Washington, told The New York Times: "The FBI isn't in the business of chilling anyone's First Amendment rights. But criminal behavior isn't covered by the First Amendment. What we're concerned about are injuries to convention participants, injuries to citizens, injuries to police and first responders."
But Lieberman says her clients hadn't engaged in criminal activity and were simply trying to exercise their First Amendment rights.
"The FBI," says Lieberman, "is sending a message not just to those targeted but to those around them: If you are outspoken, an FBI file may be opened on you or you might expect to see an FBI agent knocking on your door."

Now, I have never had a problem with law enforcement officers having the ability to do their jobs, but doing your job is also respecting the rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution. The Police have crossed this line with alarming regularity. The FBI and the St. Louis Police Department have used these tactics a number of times in the last few years, most noticeably when the homes of Monsanto protesters were raided just before the World Agricultural Conference last year, the arrest of a very active labor leader at a peaceful protest, and a rash of harassments of people who wear dreadlocks and ride bicycles. These incidents, including the tazer demonstration on “COPS”, reinforce the idea that the Police do not HAVE any respect for Free Speech protections or the 1st Amendment.
This is America Dammit, and I got news for them! I am not afraid of stating that they’re breaking the law. Law Enforcement agencies and procedures need to be reformed and curtailed at all levels, the Department of Homeland Security be deemed illegal, and the officers who engage in these tactics should be locked up for life because of their activity. The actions of the Police and the Fraternal Order of Police Association need to be scrutinized. (Oh yeah, there’s that “Patriot Act” thing too)We have to make a stand against such Orwellian tendencies, and it’s time to hold the Police accountable for acting like brownshirts in 1930’s Germany. The days of the St. Louis Police State and the political machine that coddles these forces are numbered, but only if we act NOW. I hate to think of the alternative.
I challenge all CFM members and readers to run for office so we can make reforms like this, as well as other issues we all care about. The city elections will take place in March and April of 2005, and most of the intimidating tactics take place the City of St. Louis. Run for Alderman. Run for Mayor. Run against the politicians who are allowing the Police to act this way. You have rights. Use them. Do not live your life cowering in fear.
Howard Dean asked us if we want to take our country back. It’s time we answered him.
Joe Bruemmer


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