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“Liberty, Racism And Police Militarization”: Those Entrusted With Our Safekeeping Have Become Agents Of Racial And Class Division

An important duty of any law enforcement professional is to prioritize the safety of the public over that of his or her self, which is precisely the sacrifice for which we owe our officers immense respect and gratitude. Their selfless commitment to protect and serve our communities warrants praise and commendation, without question.

Unfortunately, it is becoming evident that police agencies are instead implicitly prioritizing their own safety over that of the public, and they justify this trend by citing heightened threat levels on the job. This reorganization of priorities is implied by a passive but evident willingness to increase their protection and firepower at the cost of civil liberty and comfort.

Police militarization is in and of itself an escalation of sorts; when confronted by a police force that is armed with and protected by military grade equipment, a reasonable person will likely perceive himself to be under immediate threat of physical violence. Therefore he will be more likely to reciprocate, resulting in increased aggression by both parties whether that manifests passively (police intimidation) or physically (hurling rocks at a line of police). It is by no means an imaginative stretch to say that the chances of a peaceful protest becoming violent increase dramatically if the assembly is approached or contained by an intimidating and imposing police presence.

Unnecessarily subjecting our police to harm is also ill-advised, but we should pay careful attention to the balance between their safety and the degree to which their presence hinders individual and collective liberty. Even if any perceived assault on liberty is wholly unintended, it is nonetheless unwarranted and unjust.

My critique of police convention is not to trivialize the issue of the structural racism evident in Ferguson and which is pervasive across our justice system. Contrarily, the issue of the militarization of law enforcement directly contributes to and perpetuates this unfair system since the burden of militarization most often rests on the shoulders of underprivileged minority groups. For comparison, consider this year’s Pumpkin Festival at Keene State, which largely devolved into a destructive riot, and how the police response was relatively subdued.

In the aforementioned example, it could be argued that a reduced perception of threat could have driven the relatively amicable police response. This line of thinking alone is indicative of the inequality prevalent in our society. It suggests that those we have entrusted with the safekeeping of our communities have themselves become agents of racial and class division, and that their understanding of institutionalized privilege and oppressive power structures is largely nonexistent.

Though it is easy to believe that such subjectivity is warranted and possibly even a best practice for the protection of our law enforcement officers, placing the safety of a police force over the safety of the community is a dangerous line to cross in the context of a supposedly free and progressive nation. How can we expect subjective law enforcement conventions to establish and maintain an objective peace in our marginalized communities if they themselves perpetuate the structural violence that affects these communities?

Furthermore, we cannot readily expect communities that receive privileged treatment from law enforcement agencies to denounce, acknowledge, or even understand the impacts of inherently racist police practices, their ignorance a result of their own advantaged realities. Such existential distance diminishes the power of compassion to rally our ally communities in support of the less fortunate.

Will a less intimidating police presence fix our problems? No. But it will be a lot easier to support our officers when we don’t see them as being catalysts of the very violence they are employed to suppress.

 

By: Andrew Nathan Bartholomew, The Blog, The Huffington Post, December 1, 2014

December 2, 2014 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Ferguson Missouri, Law Enforcement | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Clemency For Snowden”: His Behavior Is More About Promoting Himself Than Promoting Privacy

The word “whistle-blower” conjures up a certain kind of individual and circumstance. One imagines a workaday, dedicated employee who comes to realize that there is corruption or grave misconduct, dangerous to the public good, happening at his or her workplace. The employee may or may not go to superiors at the company or agency (depending on fears of losing one’s job). If that is not an option, the next move is a prosecutor (in case of illegal activity), oversight agencies and sympathetic members of Congress. If none of that works – and it’s nearly unfathomable that no one at any of those institutions would take an interest – the whistle-blower can go to the press.

This is not what happened with Edward Snowden. Snowden took an oath, when he joined the national security community, to keep national secrets secret. There is a legitimate argument to be had over whether too much is classified. But that is an argument someone with national security clearance can have internally. If you take the pledge, you take the pledge. Snowden broke it when he collected massive amounts of classified information and released it to the media.

Breaking the law would be more forgivable if it was both targeted and a last resort. Neither of those things is true in Snowden’s case. He told the South China Morning Post that he got a job with government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton for the purpose of collecting information on federal surveillance. This is like saying you took a job as a construction contractor so you could rob people’s homes.

Nor did Snowden make an effort to go to Congress with his concerns – an outlet where there are certainly members who would bring Snowden’s concerns to light in a responsible way. But that avenue would have made the issue about, well, the issue, and not about Snowden – which seems to be Snowden’s main concern.

Had Snowden gone into the national security business, become alarmed and disillusioned at what he saw as unwarranted invasion of Americans’ privacy, and then made efforts to expose that troubling practice in a targeted and responsible way, he would be a more sympathetic character. But what Snowden did – amass huge amounts of information, then leave the country as he watched U.S. officials squirm over how much Snowden knew and what he would tell – is proof that his behavior was more about promoting himself than promoting privacy. And piously warning New Year’s babies about the loss of privacy is pretty rich, considering that Snowden made his name by stealing secrets and making them public.

Blowing town doesn’t add to Snowden’s credibility. A real whistle-blower or practitioner of civil disobedience waits around and takes the fallout. They don’t hightail it out of the country and shop around for exile – most laughably, in places where civil liberties are not respected.

The New York Times editorial board has called on President Obama to engage in clemency talks with Snowden. That would be a reasonable suggestion if Snowden had made a very targeted release of information after first trying other avenues. It would be reasonable if Snowden had had the courage to stay in the country he purports to be protecting from tyranny and take the heat from his illegal behavior. But he didn’t. Clemency would just make national security oaths and laws a joke.

It’s a good thing that Americans know about the vast information-collecting the U.S. government has been doing on its own citizens (though there’s been something of an over-reaction by people who think the government is reading through everyone’s emails and listening to everyone’s calls). Congress – which, notably, gave intelligence-gathering authorities the right to do such data-mining in the hysteria after 9/11 – ought to re-examine what we allow our own government to do in the name of public security. But that’s not what Snowden’s behavior was about. It was all about Edward Snowden.

 

By: Susan Milligan, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, January 2, 2014

January 3, 2014 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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