“When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”
Protect and serve; that is the responsibility of police officers throughout our country. Law enforcement is meant to keep those who would impose upon the safety and freedom of others off the streets. But what happens when police officers are the ones perpetrating crimes against American citizens? When law enforcement becomes militarized and decides to play G.I. Joe, when our guardians become our assailants, what hope do we have? It would seem that the answer is “none”.
Widespread abuse of power from local police departments is raising many questions about the justifications for the use of physical aggression, SWAT raids, and lethal force. Within the past month, there have been dozens, if not hundreds, of cases of inappropriate police activity nationwide, often with tragic outcomes.
Let’ start with an incident in Houston, TX on the morning of September 22nd, when a wheelchair-bound, double-amputee was shot in the head by police when he attempted to attack an officer using a ballpoint pen… I’ll give you a moment to re-read that and confirm the total absurdity of this scenario… Brian Claunch, who lost and arm and a leg in a train accident, was a middle-aged schizophrenic who received treatment at a local facility for the mentally ill. When officers arrived to address reports of aggressive behavior from Claunch, the scene quickly turned deadly. Now, obviously violence toward the police is not to be taken lightly. But just how much of a threat did a man in a wheelchair, with one arm, and an ink pen really pose to the officers? With multiple officers present, was there no other logical course of action than to shoot Claunch in the head? And what responsibility does law enforcement have to practice restraint when dealing with the mentally ill? But why ask such silly questions? It’s not every day that police get to take such a dangerous criminal off the streets permanently, right? Officer Matt Marin, who shot Claunch, was placed on administrative leave.
Moving on chronologically, we find ourselves in New York on October 8, where two officers reported to a local synagogue to deal with an apparent case of trespassing. The problem was, Ehud Halevy was not actually trespassing. Halevy had been sleeping at the synagogue every night for a month, with permission, when a volunteer security guard (unaware of this arrangement) called the police. When the officers arrived, Halevy attempted to explain that he was allowed to be there and pulled his arm away when the police attempted to usher him out of the building. Apparently this was enough to constitute “assaulting an officer, obstructing governmental administration, criminal trespassing, resisting arrest, harassment” and possession of marijuana (charges which were later dropped) and warrant a brutal two minute beating from the officers using fists and a baton, all caught by a surveillance camera. If you watch the video, you will see how quickly this attack stops once no less than ten additional officers show up to the scene. Thus far, the only charge against the officers being considered is a misdemeanor for making false statements that Halevy had attacked them. Now that’s what I call justice!
Fast-forward 24 hours to October 9 in Billings, MT. After some thorough investigating, a SWAT team was sent to raid a home suspected of housing a meth lab. Apparently the investigation wasn’t quite thorough enough, as the police ended up at the wrong home. To make matters worse, an officer who admittedly did not understand how a flash-bang grenade functions dropped the explosive through the bedroom window of an unsuspecting 12-year-old girl. The girl’s mother, Jackie Fasching, who was also home during the raid, says that her daughter was treated for “first and second degree burns” and that the traumatic experience will likely require that she bring her daughter to counseling. She added that, “a simple knock on the door and I would’ve let them in.” But who has time to knock on a door when trying to shut down a meth lab? Don’t you know that narcotics manufacturers build their labs beside the toilet so that they can quickly flush the entire setup in an instant? …That’s sarcasm for those of you who are not familiar with the finer points of meth production. A claims process has been started to address the incident and Police Chief Rich St. John has stated that, “if we’re wrong or made a mistake, then we’re going to take care of it, but if [the claim process] determines we’re not, then we’ll go with that.” If you’re wrong? Please Mr. St. John, tell us what information you require to gain clarity on the situation.
Finally, we examine the fatal shooting of 31-year-old Michael Nida in Los Angeles in October of last year. It has just been decided that Officer Steve Gilley will not be facing any charges concerning the incident. Did I mention that Gilley opened fire on Nida with a submachine gun? Granted, police were pursuing Nida as a suspect in a robbery, the details of the incident show that Nida was warned that Gilley would “blow his head off” if he continued to act aggressively, and Nida did run from the police and resist arrest. But in the end, it turns out that Nida was not the robbery suspect that the police were after and was unarmed, leading one to wonder why he behaved in the way he did. Only Nida knows the answer to that question, and he is no longer around to explain his actions. However, there are plenty of people who be questioned as to why local police officers are wielding high-powered, automatic weapons in the first place. In the words of Officer John McClane, “Yippee-ki-yay mother%#*er!”
This pattern of police behavior certainly helps me to feel secure as a law-abiding citizen. I now know that I can rest assured that law enforcement will continue to act in the best interest of those that they protect, by beating, burning, and shooting their way to a safer world for everyone. In addition, it’s good to know that, when an officer does step over the line, they will face swift and appropriate justice, just as I would if I were to do something reckless and violent such as shooting a schizophrenic cripple, throwing an explosive at a child, or mercilessly bludgeoning an unarmed man… Oh, wait a minute, I guess not… Welcome to the police state.
Well, last night’s Third Party Debate on C-SPAN was certainly a breath of fresh air compared to the “debates” that we have seen between representatives of the bipartisanship this year. We saw candidates with real alternative ideas of the direction in which our country should be heading speak fearlessly on topics that their political peers wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. While there were some criticisms to be made, I was happy to see a discussion that was more than a rhetorical exercise in tiptoeing around the issues.
One of my complaints about the debate was with moderator Christina Tobin. While her enthusiasm and passion are certainly appreciated, her inexperience in running this kind of event led her to come off as a bit over eager and to fit the part of the “giggling schoolgirl” at times, detracting from the seriousness of the debate. Also, her opening question concerning “top-two primaries” seemed arbitrary and took up valuable time that could have been better spent addressing much more pressing issues.
My second gripe stems from the way in which the candidates approached their responses to the debate questions. Answers from all of the candidates often strayed a bit from the issue in question and it was rare that anyone directly addressed another candidate or challenged their opponents’ responses head-on. The candidates certainly each laid out their own unique policy ideas and, while I can appreciate their avoidance of the endless quibbling we saw in the mainstream debates, I have to say that I would have loved to have seen a bit more direct disagreement on stage. I suppose it should be noted that, with the limited exposure these candidates have received from the media, they needed to take this opportunity to really lay out their platforms on stage, which likely contributed to the lack of confrontation. That being said, there was certainly a lot more positive takeaway from the evening than negative. Each candidate had something to offer that gave this debate a broad appeal for those who tuned in.
Jill Stein came into the night as one of the two candidates who provided the most draw to the event (the other being Gary Johnson). She continued to bolster the ideals that garnered the support of the Green Party faithful and, while I personally think she is the most socialist leaning candidate in the race, she managed to make some good points. My favorite moment from Stein in the debate came during her discussion of higher education. I am not a supporter of federal bailouts, but I enjoyed the sentiment behind her suggestion that, rather than bailing out Wall Street for a 4th time with QE3 to the tune of $40 billion a month, maybe we should bail out students buried in debt so that they can invest their income back into our failing economy. As far as bailouts go, I guess this one at least makes more sense than throwing money into a flaming barrel. Her biggest shortcoming of the night was her inability to distinguish herself as being different from the man who stood to her left, Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson.
Speaking of good old Rocky, where the hell did he come from last night?! Wow! He was the biggest surprise of the night to me, speaking with confidence and professionalism that likely made a lot of viewers take notice. While his economic views sprang predominantly from a leftist stance, quite parallel to Stein’s socialist positions, his social views on curtailing government encroachment into our personal lives were great to hear and often aligned nearly seamlessly with the Libertarian platform. While similar to Stein in probably 90% of his positions, Anderson set himself apart through his ability to clearly present his message in a succinct and proficient fashion that made him seem, dare I say, presidential. However, I’m not so sure that the same can be said for the Constitution Party’s Virgil Goode.
Goode’s greatest success lay in his ability to distance himself from the rest of the pack by distinguishing his platform as radically different on many issues. He openly instructed the crowd that, if they supported the legalization of marijuana or other drugs, they should not vote for him (a stance that garnered a fair amount of disapproving murmurs from the crowd). Unfortunately for Goode, his efforts to differentiate himself from his opponents often came off as abrasive and snarky, ultimately negating much of the payoff that he might have gotten for being the alternative to some of the more liberal social platforms that were present on stage. On the bright side, our friend Virgil’s thick, drawling accent and eccentricities made him seem quite likeable… In an I-wouldn’t-mind-having-a-beer-or-two-with-this-guy sort of way. The other participant that I felt came across strongly as an “everyman’s” candidate, was Gary Johnson.
Now, I won’t address you as though you are oblivious to bias, and will therefore restate that I am a Libertarian, this is a Libertarian blog, and I am a Gary Johnson supporter. That said, I had mixed feelings about Johnson’s performance, but felt that he was quite effective overall. Apparently, the former New Mexico governor was quite sick during the debate, which showed at times through his somewhat subdued body language and clammy visage. But at other times throughout the night, he seemed to be the most energized candidate on the stage, addressing the crowd with tangible passion and vehemently promoting the Libertarian platform of fiscal responsibility and social tolerance. It should be noted that Johnson likely had the most supporters of the four candidates going into the debate, and the crowd response reflected this and seemed to aid in reinvigorating him in spite of his illness. He spoke in no nonsense terms that really appealed to the audience and managed to slip in the occasional “zinger” without out-and-out attacking his opponents. Perhaps the most well received retort of the night came in response to Stein’s suggestion that our country should provide a free college education, to which Johnson responded, “free comes with a cost”, in reference to the burden that would inevitably be shouldered by taxpayers to provide free higher education. Johnson’s biggest shortcoming last night, in my opinion, was his somewhat tangential responses that attempted to showcase the Libertarian platform in its entirety even at times when it did not seem directly relevant to the current issue. Also, of the four candidates, Johnson was the least compliant with the time restrictions, talking over moderator Larry King’s attempts to move forward in several instances. Disrespectful or overenthusiastic, you can be the judge; either way, I think this was a solid performance for Gary Johnson and places him solidly in the top two of the night, if not as the overall winner.
I look forward to next Tuesday when the top two vote getters at freeandequal.org will square off in a head-to-head debate. Most likely, this will be a debate between Johnson and Stein, who had the most momentum coming into the debate, but I would swap Anderson in for Stein in a heartbeat after his performance. I think he is the more deserving of the two, but we will see how the viewers felt about that soon enough.
I’m a bit confused by VT State Senator Jane Kitchel’s claim from last night’s candidate forum in Ryegate that “unemployment claims in Vermont are down from 28,000 to 14,000”.
It would be great if we could celebrate a 50% drop in unemployment claims, but according to the Vermont Department of Labor, as of September 2012, there are still nearly 20,000 people filing unemployment claims (19,400 is the figure they provide).
So Jane, why do your figures differ by almost 39% from those reported by the state?
I’m not sure when unemployment claims were at 28,000, but we are only down 400 claims from this time last year and we are actually experiencing 3000 more unemployment claims than we were in May, when there were 16,400 claims filed according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Please, don’t try to tell me we are making non-existent progress in battling unemployment and entitlements, it’s just downright insulting.