The ACLU reports [PDF] that when it made Freedom of Information requests for Massachusetts SWAT team records, the SWATs claimed that because they were organized as "law enforcement councils" (jointly owned by many police departments, with additional federal funding) that they were not government agencies at all, but rather private corporations, and not subject to open records laws.
SWATs are the white-hot center of the increasingly brutal and militarized response of US police forces, which have outfitted themselves with ex-Afghanistan/Iraq military materiel and have deployed it in an escalating violent series of attacks, largely as part of the war on drugs. As Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post, the SWATs' claim to be private companies doesn't pass the giggle test: they are funded by the government, pay government employees, and do the government's business.
The argument boils down to this: we are not the police, we are private mercenaries armed with automatic weapons and military-grade vehicles and equipment, and when we attack and kill in the streets of American cities, we do so as private soldiers who happen to be funded by the police departments' budgets.
The ACLU is suing the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council to challenge this ruse, but even if they win, this should be setting off alarm bells for anyone who believes in good government and responsible policing. The cornerstone of democratic legitimacy is a duty to the public, with all the transparency and respect that implies. When police forces up and down the state structure themselves to create and exploit a loophole that lets them obscure the details of their most violent, most spectacular screw-ups -- which generally result in gruesome injuries and deaths to innocent members of the public -- there is no way they can claim to be acting in the public interest.
The fact that the city governments that oversee these departments and the federal agencies that fund the LECs have been complicit in this suggests that this isn't a matter of police overreach, but rather is a policy that goes literally all the way to the top of the policing regulatory structure in America.
After US marshalls raided a Florida police department to seize documents about to be revealed in an ACLU case over "stingray" mobile phone surveillance, we knew that the case was endangered. Now the worst has happened: state circuit court judge Charles Williams has thrown out the case because he says his court has no jurisdiction over federal agents, so he can't order the critical documents to be returned, so there's no case.
The feds have offered a limited, sealed disclosure to the Florida court, and the ACLU has vowed to fight to unseal them and carry on with the case.
At issue is the widespread police use of "stingray" devices that spoof mobile phones, tricking them into revealing information about their owners' movements, communications, associations, and identity.
Baroness Jenny Jones, a Green Party councillor, writes in the Guardian about the bizarre smears and tittle-tattle she found about herself in the Metropolitan London Police's secret database of "domestic extremists," such as her tweets from a protest in Trafalgar Square.
Jones is just one of many people who have found themselves placed on the "domestic extremist" watchlist by the Met on the flimsiest of excuses. For example, John Catt, an 89 year old peace and human rights campaigner, is in the database along with a notation about the fact that he sketches demonstrations. The police cast a wide net indeed -- noting, for example, that Green politician Ian Driver organised a meeting in support of marriage equality.
The Met's definition of "domestic extremism" didn't occur in a vacuum. It's part of a wider, more militarised view of dissent and protest in general, reflected around the world in the use of illegal "kettling" tactics against protesters, the deployment of "stingray" surveillance devices used to capture the identities of all attendees at peaceful protests, and other examples of officialdom's pants-wetting terror at the thought of people protesting the decisions made by plutocrats and their tame technocrats.
The Skunk, a drone from South African company Desert Wolf, is billed as the first riot-control drone -- it fires dye-balls, pepper spray and rubber bullets at protesters, blinds them with strobes, broadcasts control messages to them, and records them. Its first customers are South African mine-owners wishing to target striking workers.
Rural counties across Indiana have been purchasing Afghanistan-surplus tanks with gunner turrets and heavy armour; most recently, it was Johnson County, whose Sheriff, Doug Cox, justified the purchase by saying, "The United States of America has become a war zone."
The 55,000lb "mine resistant ambush protected" tank (MRAP) was a steal at $5,000 (original price: $733,000), part of a bizarro-world peace dividend from the Afghanistan and Iraq drawdown, which sees the toolsuite of a military occupying force being flogged at knock-down rates to macho shithead sheriffs across the American heartland for deployment against American civilians.
For example, Johnson County SWAT used their MRAP to break up a fight between two drunks, and in Morgan County, the requisition for their MRAP said it was to be used for a variety of purposes, including "drug search warrants and felony arrest warrants." By and large, counties acquiring these tanks have no formal policy about when and how they can be used.
A student named Chloe Britt was disciplined for violating her school's dress-code by wearing leggings; she was required to fill in a Cultural Revolution-style confessional called a "think sheet" explaining her crime, which she did with a lot of style. "Who was bothered when I broke this rule?" "Mrs Rodgers because she thinks me wearing leggings is more important than me being in class and getting an education." "This is what I could have done instead:" "Nothing. I'm still going to wear leggings." GO CHLOE GO!
(via Seanan McGuire)
In 2012, a winning combination of lobbying and street protests killed ACTA, a secretive, Internet-punishing copyright treaty. Now, protesters are being water cannoned in Brussels as they fight ACTA's successor, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. It seems like the lesson that the powerful took away from ACTA wasn't to conduct trade negotiations with transparency and public feedback -- instead, they're ruthlessly crushing all protest in the hopes of keeping it from growing.
Paris Gray, the 17-year-old class vice president of Mundy’s Mill High School in Georgia was suspended from school for a chemistry joke she ran in the yearbook: “When the going gets tough just remember to Barium, Carbon, Potassium, Thorium, Astatine, Arsenic, Sulfur, Uranium, Phosphorus.” The message is decoded by consulting a periodic table:
Cops across America really don’t want you to jaywalk. In San Diego they doled out 328 tickets (on a single day!), in New York they bloodied an 84-year-old who crossed against a red light, and in Austin they jailed a jaywalking jogger.
Austinites responded to the incident with outrage, and Chief Art Acevedo reacted to their outrage with outrage of his own. “In other cities there’s cops who are actually committing sexual assaults on duty,” said Acevedo. "So I thank God that this is what passes for a controversy in Austin, Texas!”
And sure, jaywalkers in LA get stuck with $200 tickets, and entrepreneur Peter Shankman’s offense of jogging in New York’s Central Park before 6:00 a.m. could cost him as much as a thousand bucks, but it’s important to remember that jaywalking crackdowns are all about keeping pedestrians safe. They definitely have nothing to do with raising revenue.
A suit brought by four Muslim-American men with no criminal records asserts that the FBI put them on the no-fly list in order to pressure them to inform on their communities. Brooklynite Awais Sajjad, one of the plaintiffs, says that he was denied boarding for a flight to visit his sickly grandmother in Pakistan in 2012, and that subsequently, the FBI told him they would remove him from the no-fly list only if he worked as an FBI informant. Sajjad's has tried all the official means of getting himself removed from the no-fly list, without any success. Sajjad's co-plaintiffs tell similar stories.
The case echoes that of Dr Rahinah Ibrahim, the first person to successfully appeal being placed on the US no-fly list. In her case, it emerged that she had been put on the list due to an administrative error (an FBI officer ticked the wrong box on a form) and that subsequently the DHS, Justice Department and FBI conspired to use state secrecy to cover up their error, even though they knew that there was no conceivable reason to keep Ibrahim on the no-fly list.
Sajjad and co will have to overcome the same secrecy privilege and the same culture of ass-covering indifference to innocence from the FBI and its allies in government. I don't like their chances, but I wish them luck.
The LA Times reports that Greg Schiller, a popular high school science teacher, was suspended because two of his students made projects that "appeared dangerous to administrators."
One project used compressed air to propel a small object but it was not connected to a source of air pressure, so it could not have been fired. (In 2012, President Obama tried out a more powerful air-pressure device at a White House Science Fair that could launch a marshmallow 175 feet.)
Another project used the power from an AA battery to charge a tube surrounded by a coil. When the ninth-grader proposed it, Schiller told him to be more scientific, to construct and test different coils and to draw graphs and conduct additional analysis, said his parents, who also are Los Angeles teachers.
A school employee saw the air-pressure project and raised concerns about what looked to her like a weapon, according to the teachers union and supporters. Schiller, who said he never saw the completed projects except in photos, was summoned and sent home. Both projects were confiscated as "evidence," said Susan Ferguson, whose son did the coil project.
One of the most important lessons kids learn in public schools is that school administrators are usually autocratic imbeciles.
San Diego's police chief has recently resigned amid a variety of sex-crime scandals involving his officers, including Christopher Hays, who faces felony charges for groping and illegally detaining women, and Anthony Arevalos who is serving time for his habit of demanding sexual favors from women he pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving.
So it seems like an especially stupid time for SDPD to send ten armed officers to raid a local strip club and take photos of the dancers. Yet that's what the vice squad did earlier this month.
San Diego Police Department officers raided a Cheetahs strip club to bust any dancers who weren’t properly permitted.
"I didn't know if it was a bank robbery or serial killer on the loose the way they had come in like that," said manager Rich Buonantony. "The show of force, show of power was incredible."
The officers spent hours meticulously documenting all 30 dancers’ paperwork and bodies (with cameras, of course!).
"They made me feel like I was a gang member pretty much and they wanted to document every single one of my tattoos," said stripper Katelynn Delorie.
Sarah Harrison, a British journalist who's worked with Wikileaks and the Snowden papers, writes that she will not enter the UK any longer because the nation's overbroad anti-terror laws, combined with the court decision that validates using them to detain journalists who are not suspected of terrorism under any reasonable definition of the term, means that she fears begin detained at the airport and then jailed as a terrorist when she refuses to decrypt her files and grant police access to her online accounts. Under the UK's Terrorism Act of 2000, journalists who write because they hope to expose and halt corruption are liable to being jailed as terrorists because they report on leaks in a way that is "designed to influence the government." And "the government," according to the Act, is any government, anywhere in the world -- meaning that journalists who report on leaks that embarrass any government in the world can be treated as terrorists in the UK.
Nor is this an idle risk: Glenn Greenwald's partner, David Miranda, was detained under terrorism rules when he transited through the UK, and a UK judge subsequently found that the detention was justified on these grounds, even though no one suggests that Miranda is involved in terrorism in any way. As Harrison writes, "Britain is turning into a country that can't tell its terrorists from its journalists."
The final paragraphs of Harrison's editorial sum it up neatly:
Christopher E Smith is the white father of a black, biracial son, and it is through his son's experience of being black in America that he has learned just how pervasive and humiliating and violent officialdom is to black Americans, a fact embodied perfectly through New York City's notorious, racist stop-and-frisk program. Smith describes how his son, interning on Wall Street, has been repeatedly stopped by police, once made to lie face down on the filthy sidewalk in his best suit while police went through his pockets (former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg was a staunch supporter of this program). He describes the experience of his black in-laws, who are stopped by police-cars en route to family gatherings, who have guns aimed at their heads, and who are then released with a shrug and a nonsensical excuse. He describes how driving over the US/Canadian border with his son is totally different from driving on his own, and how the customs guards routinely stop the two of them, and make them wait out of sight of their car while it is searched.
As an aside, I've experienced this myself. I've driven across the US/Canadian border literally dozens of times and the only time I was stopped was when I gave Nalo Hopkinson and David Findlay -- who happen to be black -- a ride to a Clarion reunion at Michigan State University. At both border crossings, the car was searched from top to bottom, with officers taking out books and shaking the pages to look for contraband. It's never happened since. The only difference between that drive and all the others was that there were some brown-skinned people in evidence.
Smith proposes a thought experiment in which stop-and-frisk searches were mandatorily applied in keeping with overall demographics, so for every three black people that the NYPD pull over and humiliate without warrant or suspicion or probable cause, they would have to do the same to ten white people -- and suggests that this would end the program of stop-and-frisk in a heartbeat.