The government is waging war, not against some foreign foe and not primarily against gun-owning patriots, but against its own dangerous classes the poor, immigrants, ethnic minorities, youth, and dissidents. A government arsenal of legislative and legal reforms attacking welfare, affirmative action, access to health care, and civil liberties is laying waste an already devastated population. At the same time, Congress is entertaining proposals such as tort law revisions and environmental rollbacks. These reforms are designed to make life even easier for a class of people who if the protection of civil rights and the promotion of a just society were the goals of the criminal justice system would be categorized as criminals.
As it is, the very definition of criminal activity reflects a bias so ingrained it passes almost unnoticed. A poor kid who peddles a few grams of crack faces years behind bars while a corporate officer who authorizes spending millions in advertising to entice teenagers to smoke gets rich. A man who climbs a tower and fires an automatic weapon into a crowd is charged with murder if someone dies; an executive who does a risk assessment and knowingly markets a fatally defective product faces, maybe, a civil suit against his corporation.
There is a growing awareness that justice in this country is unjust, and that the agencies that enforce it are often repressive. The left has been making this point for a long time. It denounced earlier bombings one which killed seven black children in a church in Birmingham, and the dozens that have terrorized abortion clinics. Progressives have decried official murder when the FBI shot Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in their beds in Chicago, and when the death penalty, now a well-oiled assembly line, selectively targets the poor and the non-white.
Recently, loud denunciations of law enforcement abuses are heard from a right wing so self-pitying it can see no victims beyond itself. Still, the protests of such odious types as the militias and the NRA must not be swept away with the rubble from the federal building in Oklahoma City. The stakes are too high and the number of people affected too great to cede ground because the lunatic fringe has moved in next door.
A year and a half ago, the NRA, the ACLU, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers unsuccessfully requested a broad hearing on abusive federal policing. Outlandish as this alliance is, it reflects the breadth of public outrage. And after the Oklahoma bombing brought the message home, some Congressmembers agreed to an inquiry.
It is probable that any such hearing would be chaired by Hang 'em High Orrin Hatch a man who describes the U.S. as the freest country in the world. It would be held by Congressmembers largely self-serving millionaires, on-the-take from special interests who are pompous, cynical, or dimwitted enough to claim they represent the common good. Likely, it would concentrate on the pet causes of the right the role of the FBI and ATF in the siege of the Branch Davidians at Waco and the assault on Christian Identity adherent Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. While the hateful politics of Weaver and the apocalyptic cultism of David Koresh deserve no sympathy, these groups were victims of provocative and murderous behavior by the FBI-ATF. And it is even possible that hearings will condemn official actions in these two standoffs. Then, the mass media can chant once again that the system works.
But what hearings are unlikely to expose or document is a pattern of abuse rooted in the structure of the system itself. The enforcement and investigative apparatus of the state from the CIA to the FBI, from the inner city precinct to the rural sheriff's office is protected from real accountability. The pattern of misconduct is extensive. For the last decade, the FBI has investigated only one-third of the approximately 8,000 excessive force complaints reported every year. And of these, on average only 35 cops per year have been convicted of brutality. At the same time, DEA agents have virtual carte blanche to terrorize, while the Border Patrol rampages against undocumented border-crossers.
After the Rodney King beating, an L.A. shopkeeper said The baddest gang in town wears blue and carries badges. He was making the same mistake as the militia members. Bad or not, the police, FBI/ATF agents, and other law enforcement and investigative agencies are servants. Their master, is not, as many naively believe, the public. Like those people writing increasingly repressive legislation and reforms in the back rooms of Congress, the cops and feds serve and protect the power, property, and privilege of corporate and state elites.
That is nothing new in this country. The civil and human rights of the people have been at odds with the property rights of the landed gentry for over two centuries. And in this defining struggle, the FBI, police, et al. are merely the enforcers for those who write the laws to make their activities legal and hire the guns to keep the dangerous classes at bay.
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