by Alexander Cockburn
Elian Gonzalez will have achieved a miracle after all, alerting mainstream America to the fact that the Bill of Rights have disappeared, restrictions on the role of the military in domestic affairs have been thrown overboard, and all the appurtenances of a police state are in place. Twenty-five years after the war ended in Vietnam, we see what happened when that war came home. We lost abroad. And at home, we've lost, too.
For blacks and Hispanics, the reactions to that famous photograph of the Elian snatch by the INS team have been comic in a macabre sort of way. After all, they've been putting up with these no-knock forcible entries by heavily armed cops or INS agents for decades. On the religious right, fears about the onrush of tyranny hardened into certainty back at the time of Waco, in the dawn of the Clinton era.
The week before the Elian raid, the left saw the state in action against their demonstrations in Washington D.C., against the World Bank and WTO. Here's how Sam Smith, longtime Washington reporter and editor of The Progressive Review, evoked the events unfolding in the capital: "Illegal sweep arrests. Print shops intimidated into closing by police. Universities canceling public forums under pressure from officials. Homes of opposition leaders broken into and ransacked. Headquarters of the opposition raided and closed by police. These were the sort of things by which we defined the evil of the old Soviet Union. And now, they have become characteristics of the federal government's handling of the current protests."
It should be added that in Washington, the treatment of arrested people (some of them delegates swept up in the cop rampage) makes for hair-raising reading, with random beatings, denials of food and water for 24 hours, racial abuse, threats of rape and refusals to allow consultations with attorneys. As in the 1960s, white, middle-class demonstrators (and their parents) are learning what happens to poor people all the time.
There's no sign that mainstream politicians were a whit perturbed by police conduct in Seattle or Washington D.C. The picture of the Elian snatch did elicit some reaction. Illinois Rep. and House Speaker Dennis Hastert proclaimed sternly that "our government has invaded the home of American citizens, who deserve the protection of our laws and a certain respect for their rights."
Will Congress take a serious look at the rise and rise of our jackboot state? On the evidence of the last 30 years, no. Both parties have eagerly conjoined in militarizing the police, extending police powers, and carving away basic rights. Very often, the Democrats have been worse. It was Republican Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois who led the recent and partially successful charge against asset seizure. It was Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York who was the factotum of the U.S. Justice Department in trying to head off Hyde and his coalition.
The rise of the jackboot state has marched in lock step with the insane and ineffective "War on Drugs," and this has been a bipartisan affair. Its consequences are etched into the fabric of our lives. Just think of drug testing, now a virtually mandatory condition of employment, even though it's an outrageous violation of personal sovereignty, as well as being thoroughly unreliable. In the era when America has been led by two self-confessed pot-smokers -- Clinton and Gore -- the number of people held for drug crimes in federal prisons has increased by 64 percent.
No-knock raids -- a prime feature of any police state -- are becoming more common as federal, state and local politicians and law-enforcement agencies decide that the War on Drugs justifies dumping the Fourth Amendment. Even in states where search warrants require a knock on the door before entry, police routinely flout the requirement.
The Posse Comitatus Act forbidding military involvement in domestic law enforcement is rapidly becoming as dead as the Fourth Amendment. Because of drug-war exceptions created in the Posse Comitatus Act, every region of the United States now has a Joint Task Force staff in charge of coordinating military involvement in domestic law enforcement.
In many cases, street deployment of paramilitary units is funded by "community policing" grants from the federal government. The majority of police departments use their paramilitary units to serve "dynamic entry" search warrants. The SWAT team in Chapel Hill, N.C., conducted a large-scale crack raid of an entire block in a predominantly African-American neighborhood. The raid, termed "Operation Redi-Rock," resulted in the detention and search of up to 100 people, all of whom were African Americans. (Whites were allowed to leave the area.) No one was ever prosecuted for a crime.
There are signs of popular unrest and mutiny. The ACLU and the National Rifle Association have jointly called for President Clinton to appoint a commission to investigate lawlessness in law enforcement. States with democratic processes such as ballot initiatives have seen brave efforts to curb the war on drugs. California has a medical marijuana law, and Hawaii's legislature just passed one. Oregon and Arizona have also moved to decriminalize personal use. The feds' reaction has been to attack these states by threatening to withold highway funds, the usual mode of persuasion.
Let's see what those legislators indignant about the INS snatching of Elian do next. Right now, the swelling police state is an expression of the War on Drugs. No politician who does not call for a cease-fire and a rollback in that cruel, futile war -- our domestic Vietnam -- has any standing to bewail the loss of our freedoms.
May 8, 2000 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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