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by Ritt Goldstein
Friday, Dec. 26, 2003 at 10:04 AM
Investigative journalist Ritt Goldstein's chronicle on the rise and ramifications of police power...from both journalistic and deeply personal perspectives.
On the 4th of July I wrote ”Welcome to the 1930’s” as a birthday present for America.
And what follows has been described as my Christmas Message to all…
This first segment - an article about the growth of US police power - I wrote about the time of 11 September, doing so as to explain what America had become, and what I perceived America becoming. I regret to say (particularly in light of the FTAA abuse) that it appears I was all too right.
Laws Angels (title, subtitle, background, and captions by Expressen - one of Sweden’s four large national papers - published in Expressen 24 September 2001)
Today’s America is a police state on the loose
by Ritt Goldstein
BAKGRUND (background)/Ritt Goldstein
On the fourth of July 1997, the American businessman Ritt Goldstein landed at Arlanda. But he didn’t come on business, he came to seek political asylum.
For a man coming from ”freedom’s place of origin on earth” his story was remarkable. As a leader of a non-violent campaign for police reform he had been exposed to repeated assault, sabotage, and attempted murder - first in his homestate, Connecticut, later in the states he fled to.
Hard to believe? Yes, his asylum application was denied with the reasons that ”the USA is a recognized democracy with a just legal system”, and that the harassments could be qualified as ”criminal acts committed by individuals, policemen or others”. Today, over four years later, Goldstein still hides in a secret location in Sweden. The EU Parliament Committee for Citizens Freedoms and Rights has recognized his case, and questioned the Swedish decision.
His story is doubly timely. In the USA the terror acts will certainly lead to increasing powers for police and security services, both within and without the borders of the Country. But after the riots in Gothenburg there’s also a reason for us to recognize what could happen when the police are exposed to difficult pressures.
In the middle of the fiery summit our Prime Minister reacted by contemplating more powers for the police. Large parts of public opinion - and the media - favored the police over the demonstrators. The police authorities became a part of a political conflict. In this article Ritt Goldstein describes what this can lead to.
The tragedy of airliners slamming into the World Trade Center has been forever burned into our consciousness, a smoldering reminder of a democracy’s vulnerability. As calls for action echo through America, an inevitable effort to expand the powers of security forces will occur, the acrid smoke of terrorism blinding many to the darkness this seductive embrace provides. Though the anguish of grief cries for answers, perhaps those answers provided by America’s ”War on Crime” must be examined, as well as those of another conflict, one few realize is occurring.
Today there is a secret war being fought in America - though only one side is violent - a war between those who believe police need to control their communities, and between those who equally believe communities need to control their police. I was of the latter group, and a large portion of my effort was within the state where I lived, Connecticut.
Connecticut is a state which typifies many in the US, where most communities have under 75,000 people, reasonable schools, elected leaders, good living standards, and police problems. Negative headlines regarding police run from those of the occasional officer arrested for drug charges to those hoping for police accountability. They also highlight that the police problems are two: the first spawned by corruption which has long permeated elements of US police, the second from issues which evolved as police increasingly pursued a social and political agenda advancing their interests. But we were not always this way.
There was a time when the bonds between America’s police and communities were fairly strong in many parts of the Country. The ”us vs. them” mentality which came to color much of today’s policing did not exist there and then. Police were an integral part of the communities they policed, true community leaders, particularly active in youth, religious, and assorted civic activities. These officers lived in their communities, and the informal bonds which developed between police and policed served to both limit crime and police excesses.
The Community Policing programs the US has recently invested in are an effort to restore these lost community ties, but the results have been questionable. Many officers now live outside the areas they serve, and a ”hired gun” mentality is said to have come to exist as officers’ only community ties are through their work.
As the fabric of the social contract between America’s police and communities frayed, groups within our police forces evolved to ”take charge”. These officers believe that it is upon them to ”bring order”, feeling it their ”necessary duty”. Then, looking down from those heady blue heights, laws and individuals, elected officials, and anything that stands in their way appears small and insignificant, ”things” to be squashed in achieving a ”greater good”, as they see it. Some of these groups even had names: in the city of New Haven they were called the ”Beat Down Posse”, named for their tactic of beating those targeted until they dropped from sight.
While tactics of intimidation were initially confined to individuals within a minority or disenfranchised group, I recall how the State’s Governor (in the mid-90’s) fled out the back door of a restaurant rather than face law enforcement intimidation. I also remember well an attack on the mayor of Norwalk’s home.
I, myself, was shot at, had the steering unscrewed on my car, had my home destroyed, and faced daily assaults. As the mayor of Norwalk testified regarding the attack on his home, ”it was meant to show even the chief elected official of the town that - who’s in charge - it isn’t him, it’s the members of the police department”. As one such officer from a neighboring region put it, ”we’d just beat people in general…to show who was in charge”.
And so laws came to be ignored, elected officials intimidated, activists eliminated, and community leaders targeted for retribution by the Beat Down Posses of America.
If the origins of such police problems can be traced back, they appear to date from shortly after our mayhem of the sixties. The Viet Nam era divided our society, and the violent confrontations it precipitated tore away at community/police bonds. We might have recovered, except that almost concurrent with this came the decline of America’s traditional trade, service and manufacturing unions, and the decline of their ability to influence the US social and political agenda. The rise of police union power in the US began.
From the 1940’s, America’s traditional unions exerted their considerable political influence to advance American society. Theirs were the same social objectives many unions still pursue: better housing, health care, and educational opportunities. Perhaps crime was not so much of a US issue once as the nature of our society served to minimize its occurence. These unions helped ensure a more inclusive America; then came their wane, a power vacuum was created.
Almost simultaneous with this wane crime seemed to escalate, increasingly capturing the Country’s attention. With police union backing, ”Get Tough” programs came into vogue, and increasingly larger budgetary allotments were made to law enforcement. We launched America’s ”War On Crime”, making heroes of those in blue who were ”our defenders”. Ever more resources were cut from social programs and provided to law enforcement. By 1990 police union power in the US had made them the most influential national labor group; but, far more than the power they would have by virtue of their size alone, the police unions had the power of their word - they had the public’s trust.
Through the media we made our police almost infallible guardians. While we knew they had their limitations, we believed their integrity was beyond question. Then, the infamous Rodney King video provided a horrific revelation, and not for its contents.
Subsequent to King’s beating, four officers involved were brought to state trial. The world famous video of the beating was shown extensively to the trial jurors. However, the officers involved said they believed King a danger to them, pointing to items such as a twitch of his leg after a blow, saying this was seen as an agressive act, not a reflex reaction to their assault. The jurors believed them, acquitting them of all charges. We had become effectively blind to police misconduct, and the following LA riots provided the wake to mourn the death of our objectivity. We stood blinded by our trust.
In 1998, the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report on US police misconduct, Shielded from Justice. In it they highlight that, ”efforts to improve police accountability are undermined by the actions of some police unions…these groups publicly deny all allegations against police officers, even those they know are brutal; encourage noncooperation with investigators and the ‘code of silence’”.
The police union vision of crime fighting relies upon the use of increasingly repressive measures, as well as increasing license for their membership. For a politician to challenge them invites police union accusations of being ”soft on crime”, of ”tying the hands of police”. With such accusations none but the very strongest have a hope to be re-elected. And so there exists a process of effective political blackmail, a process which has changed America and is changing it still.
Power is useless unless it is used. For police unions that meant influence to facilitate their growth and enact their vision of America. Better housing was replaced by better prisons, better health care with more diversified and deadlier weaponry, better education with zero tolerance. It is a question of vision, or perhaps blindness.
And now, as the cold war effectively ended in 1990 and corporations sought new markets for their confrontational products, the rise of a US Police/Prison Industrial Complex provides an answer. As to America’s fate, George Orwell once described his vision of the future as ”a boot smashed forever into a human face”…let us hope he was wrong.
Översättning/Translation Nils Schwartz
In March 1991 Rodney King was severely beaten by police. When the policemen were acquitted one year later, violent riots broke out in Los Angeles. ”We had become blind to police misconduct and the riots in Los Angeles provided the wake to mourn the death of our objectivity”, writes Ritt Goldstein. Later two of the four police officers were convicted in a new trial.
And now, I hope I have been able to share something of what I have seen with you, but there’s more…
I write as an investigative journalist, but one who once had written laws before he began writing articles. That was before 1997, the year I was forced to flee the States. And I am also writing this while still enduring an underground existence in Sweden - I am an American refugee, though, one with a story European papers saw fit to tell. But, it wasn't very often that torture and attempted murder forced an American into exile, though, I fear that too may change...
If my name sounded familiar, it’s probably because since 2001 I have been able to publish some articles of my own, though, not about myself. The news I broke with a report revealing the Bush administration’s Operation TIPS is still remembered by many.
Since TIPS, there was a series of articles devoted to the Bush administration’s Oil Agenda, with ”Defence redefined means securing cheap energy” explicitly revealing a widely held Department of Defense/Administration belief in the acceptability of lying to promote oil war. The other articles were equally noteworthy, links to them allowing you to appreciate why…and also, to remember that Iraq was not the ”humanitarian intervention” the Administration is presently attempting to cast it as.
"Oil has always been top of Bush's foreign-policy agenda"
"Defence redefined means securing cheap energy"
Oil wars Pentagon's policy since 1999
In light of Tommy Franks’ recent revelations foreseeing an America minus the Constitution and with military government, it might also be worthwhile to read ”Foundations in place for martial law in the US”, a piece I did in July 2002. It preceded the later warnings of possible internment camps by journalists of the Los Angeles Times, Detroit Free Press, and Village Voice. And now, as troops patrol a number of American cities, my piece might indeed be worth reading. It’s presently the world’s leading article on martial law.
Tommy Franks article
Detroit Free Press On Internment
Foundations Are In Place For Martial Law In The US
LA Times on Internment Camps
The laws I, myself had once written were regarding police accountability, and those who forced me to flee or die were police. And while that may sound extreme, when you are threatened, then find your home and offices destroyed, are attacked daily, and endure regular torture …well, the choice to flee does become simple, doesn’t it. But unlike most victims of police abuse, my story did make headlines, though, apparently not enough of them to inspire the protection which the European Parliament urged, and to which both international and Swedish law entitled me.
There was little public outcry, with the upshot being that a precedent was set which - if allowed to stand - will effectively prevent Americans from seeking sanctuary in the EU. Of course, if I had been awarded protection, it might also have made enough headlines to provide a much needed wake up call, and maybe a lot of what’s happening today wouldn’t be.
Of course, how can one ask: "Where were all those who have so often proclaimed their commitment to justice and all that’s right?" And though I would be reluctant to say that apathy has its price, even in moments when hypocrisy does reign, the truth is that it does.
Unfortunately, this is my seventh Christmas underground. And as was once common with rape victims, I am forced to live with the constant, but silent accusations that I have indeed done something to ”deserve it”. But unlike a rape victim, enduring underground means facing the daily violation that comes with such an existence. There is no end, no moment when one’s violation ceases.
It is the way it is.
When I first came to Sweden, staying in refugee camps at Carlslund and Flenn, others who had tried existing underground said that they had found it extraordinarily difficult. They had said it was impossible to do so for more than a matter of months. And now, it’s been 6 and a half years for me.
At times, I have been forced to move every few days, on occasion actually sleeping in a closet. And, in spite of the laws which entitle me to protection (as per The Guardian’s article, ”European Parliament Committee Urges Swedes to ‘Re-think’”) those laws were not followed, they still have not been, and circumstances do indicate that I may indeed be approaching my own end.
Over the last few months, ”pressures” have been brought to bear upon me. As usual, there are those who don’t like the truth, and they like those with the courage to tell it even less.
If I am able to continue, I will; but, if I cannot, at least I have tried to do what I could - first as a concerned American, then as an honest investigative journalist…but what about you?
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