Privacy SOS

“Dissent is what will save us.”

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The majority of those incidences are baton strikes to the head and face. We saw broken collar bones, broken arms, teeth knocked out, heads bashed in, lips busted and a number of concussions."

— Sarah Gelsomino, on the 70 reported cases of police misconduct at #noNATO

Last night Amy Goodman gave the keynote speech at the ACLU of Massachusetts' annual fundraising gala. She spoke eloquently about social movements in the United States, and the increasingly indisputable fact that the government is slouching towards becoming a police state.

To be sure, the US doesn't feel like a police state to everyone. But do we judge our society for how it treats the most privileged among us? What about those relegated to the margins, our nation's scapegoats, our poor and oppressed?

For many people, the US definitely feels like a police state: for young black and brown men in New York City who live in constant fear of the police, even in their own neighborhoods; for Muslims nationwide who fear the FBI and the use of informants at their mosques, having watched many of their communities torn apart by entrapment and mistrust; for Native people, who have been terrorized and attacked by the state at every turn since 1776; and for immigrants, who are brutalized and dehumanized by ICE's vicious deportation programs and anti-immigrant schemes like "Secure Communities" and SB1070.

The United States is on the decline in education, freedom for journalists and health, but we remain number one in incarceration per capita, boasting a full 25% of the world's prison population, while we only make up 5% of the world. 

While the country might not feel like a police state to those of us lucky enough to live outside the cross-hairs of the police, military and intelligence bureaucracies, those institutions are quietly constructing the back end of a system that will enable the implementation of a society-wide police state overnight. People like NSA whistle-blower Bill Binney say this "turnkey totalitarian state" is already here, just waiting for someone to flip the switch.

Our Congress routinely (re)authorizes statutes undermining our most basic rights — from the Patriot Act, which opened the door to warrantless physical searches, to the FISA Amendments Act, which legalized warrantless spying.

Here's what that warrantless spying looks like (click to enlarge):

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security has become an insatiable monster of government bureaucracy gone wild. It is funding a massive expansion of surveillance technology and weapons to state and local police, laying the groundwork for federal surveillance programs, the tracking of motorists on a mass scale and the rapid escalation from normal police activity to Green Zone paramilitary operations whenever a VIP or "National Special Security Event" comes to town.

Little known to many people, DHS has also asserted astoundingly anti-democratic, classically police state powers not just at the border but anywhere 100 miles from a border, obliterating our constitutional protection from unwarranted search and seizure. But predictably, the government is not using these powers to target everyone. Instead, it is using this Fourth Amendment workaround to go after people it doesn't like, but who are not breaking the law.

On the other hand, the Department of Justice routinely breaks the law, hiding from Americans how it uses its vast powers to spy on our electronic communications, and exhibits no shame when it asserts state secrets privilege when called to account for its secretive, troubling behavior. 

All of this is horrible and depressing. So what do we do? We organize, obviously. And we refuse to be afraid.

Last night Amy Goodman spoke about how powerful it was to watch former US soldiers throwing their war medals away at the anti-NATO protests, only for an army of riot police to descend on the largely peaceful group of thousands of demonstrators, washing away the inspiration and sending waves of anxiety and fear through the crowd.

The video above shows what happened next. Goodman says after one such police attack, a young man came up to her, his mouth bleeding, missing teeth, asking "Why?" Meanwhile, the corporate press was largely caught up reporting on the CPD's arrest of five people it charged with terrorism, whom the NLG say police and FBI set up and entrapped.

Displays of force and pre-emptive "terrorism" arrests like those witnessed in Chicago during the NATO summit make clear that the state will not soon stop frightening people away from the streets or from exercising their right to petition the government. The state has all the weapons, surveillance tools and money it needs to build domestic "pop up armies" capable of shutting down and marginalizing protests.

Meanwhile services that uplift communities are slashed, creating a predictable loop of despair with no outlet. As austerity measures cut down on services for working and poor people, protests will grow. As they do, the state's fear campaigns intended to paint dissenters as terrorists will broaden and deepen.

As Stephen Graham writes, "the rhetoric of the War on Terror has become sufficiently diffuse that virtually any political opposition to the sovereign power of the US and its allies can be labeled as terrorist."

Those frequently labeled as terrorists by national governments or sympathetic media since 9/11 include anti-war dissenters, striking dock workers, anti-globalization protesters, campaigners against the arms grade, computer hackers, artists, critical researchers, urban sociologists, advocates for ecological sustainability and freedom of speech, and pro-independence campaigners….Indeed, almost any large group that assembles in city streets and is not preoccupied with consumption has been demonized….

Above all, groups tarred with the terrorist label become radically delegitimized. Who, after all, will speak out in favor of supposed terrorists and their sympathizers?

We must speak up for ourselves. Louder. Amy's advice to the 800 or so people gathered at the ACLU dinner last night was right on target: 

"We must challenge the militarization of the police because dissent is what will save us," she said. 

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.