While Americans argue about how to prosecute foreign terrorists, a mammoth irony is festering among us. We already have home-grown armed terrorists running amok in many of our cities and communities. They operate openly, not in secret "cells." And they wear blue uniforms. Yes, "terrorist" is an accurate description for out-of-control cops who use maximum force in the course of what they insist are routine actions. Because that's what "terrorism" is -- the use of extreme force in order to intimidate and control a population.
Yet our government is doing little to stop this law-enforcement terror war on our citizens.
The raid on a Fort Worth gay bar during Stonewall's anniversary weekend was shocking in itself, because it harked back to the homophobic police actions so common in the 1950s and 1960s. Gay activists are now shouting their outrage that such a thing could happen 40 years after Stonewall. But let's not miss a further point. This raid is a symptom of a deadly growing problem that affects every American's rights, regardless of their sexual orientation.
My good friends in Dallas, activist John Selig and his husband Rodolfo Arredondo, joined the protests and interviewed witnesses of the Rainbow Lounge bar raid. In an email to his news list, John detailed how out-of-control the police were. Clearly this raid was not a routine check for "public intoxication." Nor does there appear to be any basis for the police claim that bar patrons made sexual advances towards the arresting officers. Claims like this are the standard fictions that police often use to justify aggressive arrests.
In other words, this raid -- since it was aimed at a new bar -- was clearly aimed at terrorizing and intimidating the LGBT population of Fort Worth. Indeed, according to John Selig, all the witnesses used the word "terrorize" to describe how they felt.
The city of Fort Worth has been blizzarded with furious demands for investigation of the raid. The police chief has been compelled to promise a full investigation, though he has already backed up his officers' allegations that they were provoked to act when some bar patrons felt them up. His position comes as no surprise -- Texas has long been a hotbed of both police brutality and homophobia.
But wait -- there's more.
That same Stonewall weekend, in San Diego County, a sheriff's task force of eight cruisers and a helicopter raided a Democratic fundraiser for Congressional candidate Francine Busby, held at the home of a lesbian couple. The cops' excuse: an allegation of excessive noise, made by a homophobic neighbor. The police terrorists are said to have roughed up the two hosts and pepper-sprayed the crowd of middle-aged guests, including candidate Busby, who is now all over the sheriff's office, demanding an investigation.
Eight cruisers and a police chopper to investigate a complaint about party noise? Yeah, right. This time, homophobia was clearly not the only motive. After all, it was a Dem fundraiser being held in an area that is very Republican and right-wing.
The fact is, police terrorism is pepper-spraying the social landscape all over the U.S.
This morning my Google search for "police brutality" turned up nearly 2,200,000 links, including so many graphic YouTube videos that I probably couldn't watch them all in a day. Among them is the now-famous recent video of a burly six-foot-two cop tasing a greatgrandmother who had argued with him about a traffic ticket. Now that police presence is standard in our K-12 school system, there are incidents of campus cops tasing or pepper-spraying children. Other incidents feature the callous dumping of quadriplegics or other disabled people out of their wheelchairs. No political agendas there -- just some knothead cop or deputy who went ballistic on another person because he or she had the unchallenged power to do it.
I defy anybody to read through a few dozen of these Google pages, and look at the unvarnished evidence of the videos, and not realize that we have a nationwide problem with growing police terrorism against our own people.
Why is this happening?
Two years ago, USA Today published an alarming special report under the headline POLICE BRUTALITY CASES ON RISE SINCE 9/11. Reporter Kevin Johnson wrote, "Federal prosecutors are targeting a rising number of law enforcement officers for alleged brutality, Justice Department statistics show. The heightened prosecutions come as the nation's largest police union fears that agencies are dropping standards to fill thousands of vacancies and "scrimping" on training. Cases in which police, prison guards and other law enforcement authorities have used excessive force or other tactics to violate victims' civil rights have increased 25% (281 vs. 224) from fiscal years 2001 to 2007 over the previous seven years, the department says."
Johnson also mentioned another alarming fact. He said, "Federal records show the vast majority of police brutality cases referred by investigators are not prosecuted....Last year, 96% of cases referred for prosecution by investigative agencies were declined. The high refusal rates, say law enforcement analysts, result in part from the extraordinary difficulty in prosecuting abuse cases. Juries are conditioned to believe cops, and victims' credibility is often challenged."
Bad cops may have gone over the top since 9/11, but the problem is nothing new. Police terrorism has threatened civil-rights activism ever since our nation launched. Through the 1930s, Americans who weren't blue collar looked the other way as police beat up and even murdered labor organizers. After all, "those agitators could be commies." When the black civil-rights marches started in the 1950s and '60s, American white conservatives tolerated police brutality -- even encouraged it -- because it was being used against marchers with whom they didn't sympathize.
Then, in the '60s and '70s, police brutality diversified itself against other unpopular-with-conservative groups -- hippies, pot smokers, students, feminists, gays, and anti-war veterans and civilians -- all of whom who were swelling the outpouring of protest across the country. These, too, were people that conservatives thought it was okay for police to abuse.
Through the 1980s and '90s, the criminal penalties for peaceful protest were quietly stiffened by conservative forces in government. Meanwhile, police terrorism against any kind of peaceful protest got worse. Americans looked the other way when police used terrorist tactics against protesters who were opposing illegal logging, sweatshop labor and all kinds of newer issues. It culminated in disgraceful episodes like the 2001 beating of Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois) by Navy cops when he was arrested during a peaceful protest in Puerto Rico.
In short, even elected officials became targets, if the political stakes were high enough.
Police Wars on Ethnic Neighborhoods
Beyond its use against protest, police terrorism has maintained a ghastly day-to-day presence in the lives of racial minorities.
African-Americans experience it from out-of-control white cops in their neighborhoods and cities. Police are there with the legitimate reason of dealing with ethnic gang violence. Yet this legitimate reason has been corrupted into the frequent use of excuses for unjustified force. The 1992 L.A. riots were touched off by a jury's failure to convict four police officers who savagely beat a black man, Rodney King, afterwards claiming that he had resisted arrest. Today, though "profiling" is supposedly illegal, you can find thousands of stories online where local cops use what turns out to be unjustified force on a law-abiding black man at a routine traffic stop, even shooting to kill some kid if it suits them.
The same can be said for police terrorism against law-abiding Mexican-Americans, Native Americans and other minorities. Certain cities are hot spots of police terrorism -- like Chicago, which is so notorious for abuses that the city council has tried passing special legislation to control it. In a recent book, Zero Tolerance: Quality of Life and the New Police Brutality in New York City, authors Andrea McArdle and Tanya Erzon detail police terrorism against the Chinese immigrant community in Brooklyn.
Yes, many Americans have actually ignored and tolerated police terrorism, as long as it was directed at somebody they didn't like -- at "the fags" or "the nigras" or "the greasers" or "ragheads" or even "uppity women." But now the terrorism is so out of control that it can happen randomly to anybody and everybody who gets in the way of the blue juggernaut, no matter what the politics or circumstances are. And this terrorism is supposedly being waged in order to "keep us safe."
The new wave of police terrorism has its recession-related dark side too. Any suspect who gets hauled in with a terror-type arrest can be hit with multiple charges of "resisting arrest," "assaulting an officer," or whatever fabricated charges might stick to the wall. As a result, arrestees can get stuck with a huge bail and enormous fines. This is a national trend too, and it's actually a violation of the Bill of Rights, which forbids excessive bails and excessive fines. But guess what -- the out-of-control bails and fines are a source of extra income for local justice systems, to replace the budget cuts that they are experiencing.
Why So Little Media Attention?
The Fort Worth bar raid is getting a lot of mainstream media coverage -- but largely as an isolated incident. In general, police terrorism hasn't gotten nearly the unfriendly media investigative attention that it deserves. Using the yardstick of the 1992 L.A. riots, the whole country should be set on fire by now. There should be massive public resentment at the whopping 96-percent of brutality cases that don't ever get prosecuted. Yet most Americans appear to be curiously unaware that their number could come up next.
Don't get me wrong. I don't think all cops are goons. I don't think that having a police force is a bad thing. When our homes are burglarized, or someone we love is harmed, we want the guys in blue to show up.
But police have to obey the same system of law that they expect all other citizens to obey. So the Fort Worth gay-bar raid isn't just a "gay problem." It's also an "everybody problem."
Non-gay Americans need to wake up and smell the pepper spray. They may not give a hoot if a gay bar gets raided. And they may feel comfortable with denying "equality under the law" to LGBT people. But they will find that they're not equal under the law either, in that horrible moment when they're finally facing a few rogue law-enforcement personnel who are armed to the teeth.
So when will Congress do something about it? When will juries stop believing the fabricated stories that cops tell to justify their routine use of maximum force? When will local prosecutors start prosecuting every case of police brutality to the fullest extent of the law? Police terrorism has grown because cops know that they'll get away with it.
As the new Democratic administration tries to reel our country back from U.S. Patriot Act excesses, it's time for this issue to be put on the list of things to fix, right next to how we can legitimately prosecute "foreign terrorists." After all, America's out-of-control police are just as bad for the country as Al Qaeda. President Obama, please take note.
Facebook members can find an informative and growing page about this Fort Worth story. Just search for "Rainbow Lounge raid."