December 14, 2011

Police brutality as a consequence of the war on terror

In a comment to an earlier post on the increasing paramilitarization of the police, reader Steve raised the question of the connection between the rise of such policing in the US and the work of the ominously named Department of Homeland Security that was formed in the wake of the events of 9/11.

He is of course absolutely right. At the time that the Orwellian USA PATRIOT Act was rushed through in October 2001 with almost unanimous support in Congress (357 to 66 in the House and 98 to 1 in the Senate, with Russ Feingold being the lone holdout), many of us warned that this was a Trojan horse that would be used to undermine the rule of law and the constitutional protections that had, with a few exceptions, been followed for much of its history. What exceptions had been made were at times of great stress (the Civil War and World War II) and were seen as temporary measures.

The USA PATRIOT Act institutionalized these abuses and made them part of the new normal. Under the guise of fighting the 'war on terror', a threat that is increasingly being revealed as bogus, the DHS was created under the act and has, along with the National Security Agency and the CIA and FBI, been the vehicles that have been used to create a Big Brother state that now routinely violates the rights of Americans in the permanent war on terror.

Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi both look at the roots of the increased use of pepper-spraying as standard procedure, even as concerns are being raised about whether they are as non-lethal as claimed.

One consequence has been that the spread of so-called non-lethal weapons, such as the various gases, tasers, rubber bullets, concussion grenades, water cannons, ear-splitting sound emitters, etc., have had the effect of actually increasing the violence used by police, since the innocuous term 'non-lethal' for weapons that can still cause serious harm actually encourages their indiscriminate use against people. We seem to have reached the stage where we think that as long as people are not killed or dismembered, then whatever is done to them in the name of law and order is acceptable. This is the same kind of mentality that enables people to condone torture.

Two factors are leading to a proliferation of new anti-civilian weapons. One is that massive funding for the so-called 'war on terror' has enabled the DHS to shower military-style equipment on even small police forces that transform them into paramilitary units. While the equipment has been given away freely to local units, the heavy expense of maintaining them is the responsibility of local agencies and is draining police resources away from traditional police work. The other factor at play in driving this is that the huge amounts of money now available for 'anti-terrorism' has created an incentive for companies to come up with new ways of disabling and dispersing crowds. As a result, pepper spray may soon become one of the milder forms of brutality.

James Wolcott describes how ear-splitting sound devices known as LRADs (Long Range Acoustic Devices), more popularly known as 'sound cannons' and used on the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, can cause severe damage on the human body. He quotes an ACLU report that describes what happened to Karen Piper who was present at the scene of G-20 protests in 2009.

On September 24, 2009, Piper, then a visiting professor at Carnegie Mellon University, decided to observe G-20 protests in Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood as research for her book on globalization issues and the responses of bodies like the G-20 to protest activity. She arrived at Arsenal Park around 10 a.m. and saw protestors calmly and peacefully milling around the area. After the protest began, Piper walked on the sidewalk a short distance from the marching protesters, in the company of other curiosity seekers and journalists. When Piper became concerned about rapidly increasing police activity, she tried to leave the area. As she was walking away, police officers activated, suddenly and without warning, an LRAD a short distance away from her. It emitted a continuous piercing sound lasting several minutes.

Piper immediately suffered intense pain as mucus discharged from her ear. She became nauseous and dizzy and developed a severe headache. Since then, Piper has suffered from tinnitus (ringing of the ears), barotrauma, left ear pain and fluid drainage, dizziness, and nausea. She still suffers from permanent nerve damage.

"The intensity of being hit at close range by a high-pitched sound blast designed to deter pirate boats and terrorists at least a quarter mile away is indescribable. The sound vibrates through you and causes pain throughout your body, not only in the ears. I thought I might die," said Piper, now an English professor at the University of Missouri. "It is shocking that the LRAD device is being promoted for use on American citizens and the general public."

Now come reports of the development of lasers that 'temporarily' blind people being tested as riot control weapons in England. Rest assured that they will come here soon, to be followed by 'accidents' in which people end up being permanently blinded because of equipment malfunction or improper use.

We also have the first reports of the predator drones that are being used around the world to spy on and kill people now being deployed in the US.

I remember how, when I first came to the US in 1975, I was unnerved to see police walking around with real guns. Sri Lanka at that time had a civilian unarmed police force, with weapons used only in the most extreme cases. Now it has a highly militarized police with powerful guns, armored vehicles, and checkpoints becoming routine sights. The militarization of the police in the US is now also well underway and soon it will seem normal to see police in riot gear armed to the teeth stationed with armored vehicles at various places in cities.

We should never forget that the prime role of a country's military nowadays is almost always to protect government leaders and the oligarchy from its own people, not from external threats. The external threat is an excuse to intimidate and cow its own people into acquiescence.


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I am not surprised that a Long Range Acoustic Device caused tinnitus. I would recommend that Piper takes advice from a lawyer and considers suing the Police for damages. I would have thought this was a recognised risk of deploying a Long Range Acoustic Device and if Piper can prove that her tinnitus is a direct consequence then damages may follow.
Also, it is possible to cure tinnitus. She should not give up on that either!

Posted by Simon on January 11, 2012 03:33 PM