JR'S Free Thought Pages
Serve and Protect Who?
By JR, December 2019
In a speech delivered in 1902 titled “The Tramp”, Jack London described the police as “the right arm of corporate power in our great cities…” Their job, he declared, was to keep despised minorities, including dissenters and the poor, the unemployed and homeless out of sight and out of the way of capital.  What Jack London claimed back then is even more valid today as cops have been granted almost blank checks of arbitrary power to serve and protect the interests of wealthy corporate elites and billionaire oligarchies throughout the world.  Failing the cops to do their job, there’s always the military. 
Following the massive multi-trillion dollar government bailouts of global financial hucksters and con men in 2008, does anyone continue to deceive themselves regarding the magnitude and depths of depravity of neo-liberal casino capitalism? The get out of jail free cards and aforementioned taxpayer funded golden parachutes to corporate criminals worldwide were arguably the biggest swindle and heist of public wealth in the history of the planet. And the pillage and plunder of the commons by the corporate mafia vulture’s picnic continues unabated.
From my personal experience, and from my discussions with others about the purpose of police forces, their general attitude toward citizens and my own deliberations and passing observations, I’ve discovered that most people don’t like cops, avoiding them as much as is humanly possible. Over the years I’ve personally known policemen who were decent people when not in uniform and perhaps joined the force for what they thought were lofty motives, but in my dealings with them on an official basis as enablers and protectors of the powerful, I’ve discovered them to be intellectual mediocrities and, in many cases crass, obtuse and, I hesitate to say, plain stupid.
I’ve always thought police forces and especially Canada’s state police, the infamously racist, misogynist and corrupt RCMP, to be unnecessary given a just civilized genuinely democratic society. But of course it’s patently obvious that we do not live in a democratic just and civil society. At the very least, in an idealized future self-managed economy and direct democracy, standing military and cops would for the most part, be superfluous. If they were to exist at all, they ought to be locally created and controlled (not state police) and not permitted to carry firearms. The issue of the existence of the state as an instrument for elite power is another matter. A standing military and their obscenely expensive killing machines are a national scandal and yet our smiling Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is planning to waste billions of our tax money by increasing the military budget by 70%, a wasteful squandering of much needed public funds to buy more multi-million dollar killing machines demanded by our compliant vassal state status with The United States. When the right people need money as in 2008, it suddenly and miraculously appears out of nowhere in limitless supplies.
Other than the attraction of a well paid unionized career with lucrative benefits and pension, I’ve never understood why anyone would want to be a cop or a soldier, who I consider nothing more than hired goons and killers for the capitalist state.
My most recent contact with a cop was a not untypical entrapment by a traffic officer in a speed zone on the opening day of school. I was ostensibly guilty of speeding since I was clocked at 15 km/h over the posted school zone speed of 30 km/h.
Many years ago when I was still toiling at South Delta Senior Secondary School, I was returning home from playing hockey driving along a deserted Highway 10 late at night. I was anxious to get home since I had to work early the next day. The only other vehicle I observed along the highway was a police highway patrol car following me, light flashing and ultimately pulling me over. This time it was 10 km/h over the speed limit, a quite arbitrary number like many rules enforced by dubious numbers, vulnerable to error by at least as much as 10% on a cop’s radar gun and my own speedometer. And then there is human error.
I was angered by this uninvited intrusion and informed the cop I thought it was not a productive use of police time. He, after all, not unlike me (a math teacher), is a public servant and ought to use discretion and a little contextual independent judgement in such cases. After all, I said, if it’s a criminal you are after, there is a large supply of candidates at your local bank, brokerage house, corporate headquarters, political office or city hall. He was not amused, handed me my traffic citation, and took off, clearly indignant and not impacted in the slightest by my remarks.
Like one previous occasion, I fought this inane speeding ticket in court and won by default when the cop never showed.
If anyone wants to acquire some understanding of police intelligence and behaviour, I suggest you watch any one of the hilarious movies in the “Police Academy” series 1-5 from about thirty years ago. I consider these realistic documentaries rather than satirical comedies. Some of you may recall the Mad Magazine spoof of the mindless 1977-83 TV motorcycle cop show CHiPS which it appropriately branded CHiMPS (or was it CHuMPS?)
Last night once again I got hooked into watching the great Sidney Lumet movie Dog Day Afternoon, a 1975 movie based loosely on the events of a botched Brooklyn, NY bank heist in 1972. This flick will give the viewer some valuable insights into deep-rooted poverty, social and psychological dysfunction, erratic appalling police behaviour and the absurdities, discrimination and unfairness of the so-called “justice” system. I hesitate to use the word “justice” in the context of our legal system of laws crafted by wealthy power elites to serve their interests, because it has become, like everything else in our uncaring atomized hyper corporate capitalist dystopian oligarchy, a mere commodity for sale to the highest bidder.
Al Pacino is brilliant in Dog Day Afternoon, as he was in Serpico (1973), another excellent Lumet movie, this another historical movie about systemic corruption in the New York Police Department. Pacino plays NY cop Frank Serpico who refuses to take bribes and when he blows the whistle on the police scams and rampant corruption, is threatened with serious harm and arranged assassinations by his own police colleagues.
Sidney Lumet (1924-2011), based on the many excellent movies such as 12 Angry Men, The Hill, The Pawnbroker, Network, The Verdict and The Hill I have seen over the years is a quite clearly a freedom loving anti-authoritarian. He’s my kind of guy who, growing up during the Great Depression, witnessed the grinding poverty, injustices and corruption, not only during the 1930s, but within the continuing capitalist culture of greed and exploitation in the decades that followed. Today it is worse than ever. His 1964 movie The Hill, starring Sean Connery and Ozzie Davis is one of my favourites, depicting the brutality, demeaning master slave hierarchy and idiocy of the military (in this case the British with their class prejudices and divisions, jack boot culture, heel clicking, yes sir, no sir hierarchical rituals, mindless heel clicking, racism, rigidity and intolerance and senseless robotic marching. It’s a must see, with brilliant performances by Connery, Davis and others. Needless to say, as a naive youth of 15 I lasted one day in the Army Cadets after one day of a doltish staff sergeant with the IQ of a baboon yelling at us ad infinitum. After telling him to fuck off, my brief experimental military experience was over. Watching Lumet’s The Hill provides the viewer with an apt depiction of the sort of mind destroying cruel military culture to which I have described and ought to cure any young man from ever entertaining the idea of becoming a gangster for capitalism, as Major Smedley Butler aptly put it.
By the way, Frank Serpico is still alive. During the Colin Kaepernick crucifixion by red necks and neo-fascists in the NFL, he wrote a piece on the incident here:
 Why do police and the military exist? Simply ask, cui bono? As Jack London rightly claims, they exist to serve and protect private property and capital in whatever its formation, from feudalistic monarchies, to dictatorships and the corporate capitalist state oligarchies throughout the world today. Lately I have been reading about the horrors of colonialism and imperialism in Latin America, considered by the United States as their own back yard with a divine right to control and pillage at anytime according to the infamous Manifest Destiny. In 19th century El Salvador, the wealthy landowners created an army and a rural police force to control the countryside with as much brutality and killing as deemed necessary. French advisers assisted them to create a modern military. The entire state was originally created to enslave and dispossess the majority of its own indigenous people. In the United States the military had been created to carry out genocide and dispossess native people of their land and resources while the police forces had their origins in slave patrols to hunt down runaway slaves. The plunder and enslavement of El Salvador resulted in a tiny plutocracy of 14 families who became incredibly wealthy from the pillage. Naturally, to justify the barbarism and theft they engaged in rationalizations and cognitive dissonance by considering the indigenous people as subhuman brutes who needed to be subdued and controlled and failing that, genocide. The natives of course fought back again and again with five major revolts during the 19th century; but they were always spontaneous, poorly organized, without effective arms, isolated so easily crushed. The police and military kept the countryside under a constant state of martial law and anyone who dared to resist risked torturer, imprisonment or death. As the great French novelist Honore de Balzac rightly asserted, “Behind all great wealth is an even greater crime”. This statement is as true today as it has been throughout human history.
 Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), in his fascinating 2-volume autobiography (1967-68) wrote about many of his lifetime forays as a public intellectual and dissident for radical/progressive causes. The first incident occurred in 1907 when he was campaigning as a member of parliament for Wimbledon and delivering a speech at a rally in support of a British women’s right to vote. As he began his speech, he was rudely interrupted by hecklers and bigoted goons who, armed with thick boards studded with rusty nails, disrupted and terrorized the audience, particularly targeting women. The police merely stood by and watched as people scattered to protect themselves. A similar incident occurred at another meeting ten years later as he spoke at a meeting celebrating the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. This time the reactionary thugs went after Russell while London cops simply watched, refusing to intervene. Many of his cohorts were aghast that a man of his reputation and stature as one of the greatest mathematicians, logicians and philosophers of the 20th s century would not be protected by the police.
Here is how he explained the incident in his autobiography. It is a testament to the notion that cops exist for the reason I supplied above:
“Two of the drunken viragos began to attack me with their boards full of nails. While I was wondering how one defended oneself against this type of attack, one of the ladies among us went up to the police and suggested that they should defend me. The police, however, merely shrugged their shoulders. ‘But he is an eminent philosopher’, said the lady, and the police still shrugged. ‘But he is famous all over the world as a man of learning’, she continued. The police remained unmoved. ‘But he is the brother of an earl’, she finally cried. At this, the police rushed to my assistance. They were, however, too late to be of any service, and I owe my life to a young woman whom I did not know, who interposed herself between me and the viragos long enough for me to make my escape. She, I am happy to say, was not attacked. But quite a number of people, including several women, had their clothes torn off their backs as they left the building.”
Incidentally, Russell went on to protest the barbarity of World War I, protesting the draft and imploring young men to not join the insanity and slaughter. He was very much against the Vietnam War and wrote an excellent expose of American crimes. During World War I Russell was arrested and sentenced to six months in prison but it would not be the last time. He ended up in jail at the age of 89 for demonstrating against nuclear weapons during the Cuban Missile Crisis. What would Russell think of the dysfunctional undemocratic neo-fascist world today threatened by ecocide and endless imperialist wars? In the early 20th century Russell wrote about the possibilities of a glowing egalitarian future of peace, compassion, solidarity and community when work would be reduced to 10-20 hours a week and many would be paid to stay home.
Serve and Protect Squads
The “Officer Friendly” Police Fantasy
By James Bovard, November 16, 2019
Police in Tempe, Arizona, announced plans in July for a “positive ticketing” campaign to pull over drivers who had violated no traffic laws. A Phoenix TV station reported that the police would give the people they targeted free soft-drink coupons for Circle K as a reward for their “good driving behavior.” Police in other areas have run similar programs in recent years but the TV news report on Tempe’s plan spurred a torrent of testy Tweets:
“Keep your hands on the wheel and don’t make any sudden moves while you are being rewarded, it could cost you your life.”
“We gunned him down…. well, he refused to stop for his coupon. Self defense. Case dismissed.”
“Um, WHAT?!? They better not stop me for driving legally cause that’s illegal! #harassment”
“What if you don’t stop?”
“Cops to profile for illegal immigrants under the guise of campaign to promote good driving.”
“There goes probable cause right out the window. Police state 101.”
“I would get a panic attack. My reward for driving well is not dying. That’s all I want.”
“Unless it’s a ruse to illegally search your vehicles. And if they notice anything out of line during the mock pullover you’ll be arrested.”
“What’s next? Are they going to start walking into people’s houses to congratulate them for not breaking the law?”
One commenter suggested he could be fined for “resisting a coupon” for free drinks.
A few months before its “positive ticketing campaign” announcement, Tempe police were harshly criticized after one of their officers shot a 14-year-old boy in the back, killing him as he was running away while holding a replica air soft pistol. An Arizona ACLU employee summarized the situation on Twitter:
“Tempe cops: the community doesn’t trust us after we shot and killed an unarmed teen (sic) what do we do
Community: stop killing us
Tempe cops: FREE THIRSTBUSTERS AND UNREASONABLE STOPS”
The Tempe Police Department responded to the uproar by issuing a statement stating that they never intended to pull over motorists without good cause. Instead, the free-coupon program would be targeted to pedestrians, bicyclists, and skateboarders. But the furious reaction of people across the nation signaled the profound distrust of police.
This is presidential campaign season, and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg claims that he will be able to end the pervasive distrust of the police. In one of the first candidate debates, he said he is “determined to bring about a day when” any driver, white or black, has “a feeling not of fear but of safety” when he sees a police officer approaching.
And how would Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, achieve this profound change? He has not yet detailed his panacea. Perhaps he believes that sensitivity training or racial consciousness-raising classes could do the trick. But Buttigieg has ignored the real source of the problem: politicians have given police so much power that citizens naturally fear them.
In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled that police can justifiably arrest anyone believed to have “committed even a very minor criminal offense.” That case involved Gail Atwater, a Texas mother who was driving slowly near her home but, because her children were not wearing seatbelts, she was taken away by an abusive cop whose shouting left her children “terrified and hysterical.” A majority of Supreme Court justices recognized that “Atwater’s claim to live free of pointless indignity and confinement clearly outweighs anything the City can raise against it specific to her case” — but upheld the arrest anyhow.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor warned that “such unbounded discretion carries with it grave potential for abuse.” Unfortunately, there are endless pretexts for people to be arrested nowadays because federal, state, and local politicians and officials have criminalized daily life with hundreds of thousands of edicts. Capt. Steve Powell of the Colorado State Patrol commented, “Ninety percent of the cars out there are doing something that you can pull them over for. There are a jillion reasons people can be stopped — taillights, windshields cracked, any number of things.” Gerard Arenberg, executive director of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, told me in the 1990s, “We have so damn many laws that you can’t drive the streets without breaking the law. I could write you a hundred tickets depending on what you said to me when I stopped you.”
Justice O’Connor noted in her dissent that the Fourth Amendment “guarantees the right to be free from ‘unreasonable searches and seizures.’” But when politicians have enacted endless laws that make almost everyone a criminal, then the Fourth Amendment is practically null and void.
Asset-forfeiture laws give police sweeping arbitrary power over Americans’ wallets, cars, and homes. Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher told the Supreme Court in 2018 that the government is entitled to confiscate cars that exceed speed limits by 5 miles per hour — a standard that would justify seizing most vehicles. Between 2001 and 2014, lawmen seized more than $2.5 billion in cash from 60,000 travelers on the nation’s highways — with no criminal charges in the vast majority of cases, the Washington Post reported.
Police have been trained to confiscate private property of drivers by absurdly claiming that “trash on the floor of a vehicle, abundant energy drinks, or air fresheners hanging from rearview mirrors” are signs of criminal activity. Blacks and Hispanics have been victimized far more often by such laws. Tenaha, Texas, police ran an operation that stopped and plundered almost anyone passing through their East Texas locale. The names of the court filings capture Tenaha’s voraciousness, such as State of Texas v. One Gold Crucifix. “The police had confiscated a simple gold cross that a woman wore around her neck after pulling her over for a minor traffic violation. No contraband was reported, no criminal charges were filed, and no traffic ticket was issued,” the New Yorker noted. If drivers “refused to part with their money, officers threatened to arrest them on false money laundering charges and other serious felonies,” an ACLU lawsuit charged. Tenaha police stopped a 27-year-old black man who worked as a chicken slicer in a Tysons plant in Arkansas and fleeced him of $3,900 after detecting him “driving too close to the white line.”
Subverting the Fourth Amendment
Police have gutted the Fourth Amendment with dogs that will give them a positive alert almost any time they seek a pretext to forcibly search someone’s vehicle. The fact that canines are sometimes trained to give false alerts is irrelevant as long as the government always wins. Canine alerts to currency are routinely used to justify seizures even though most U.S. currency has trace amounts of drug contamination. For 30 years, the courts have condemned the abuses based on currency seizures due to dog alerts. But the official robberies continue.
There is a long history of federal, state, and local officials partnering to fabricate pretexts to stop drivers. From 1992 through 2013, the Drug Enforcement Administration illegally commandeered the phone records of all Americans who called most of the foreign nations in the world, as USA Today revealed in 2015. To keep its phone-record seizures secret, the DEA partnered with local police to concoct phony reasons for traffic stops that sometimes included staging fake auto accidents and even car thefts. Why should citizens trust law-enforcement agencies that engaged in decades of systemic fraud? If bureaucrats and cops gave themselves an unlimited right to lie regarding the source of their evidence, what other lies have they permitted themselves in the war against any American who possesses substances of which politicians disapprove?
Uncle Sam has brought the surveillance state to the nearest police car dashboard. Federal grants have enabled many states and localities to equip police cars with license-plate scanners that provide plenty of bogus pretexts to harass hapless drivers.
License-plate readers often misread plates. Brian Hofer was pulled off Interstate 80 in California and handcuffed and held at gunpoint after his rental vehicle was misreported as stolen. Hofer commented in 2019, “I’m sitting ice-cold and saying nothing because I do not want any itchy trigger fingers.” With an error rate approaching 10 percent, license-plate readers effectively generate potentially thousands of false accusations each day.
Subverting the Second Amendment
Local officials exploit surveillance data to subvert the Second Amendment. John Filippidis was driving with his family through Maryland when he was pulled over by a Maryland transportation policeman outside a Baltimore tunnel. The policeman ordered Filippidis out of his car and angrily demanded to know where his gun was. Filippidis has a Right to Carry (RTC) permit from Florida — where he had left his firearm. Police spent hours questioning him and searching his minivan before permitting him to move on, leaving his wife and daughters utterly distraught. Maryland police have targeted and rigorously searched other out-of-state drivers with RTC permits (which Maryland does not recognize). Federal grants enabled Maryland to equip hundreds of police cars with license-plate scanners that create almost 100 million records per year detailing exactly where and when each vehicle travels.
The war on drugs and its endless crackdowns and intrusions spurred far more distrust of police but politicians learned nothing from its debacles. Sixteen states have raised the smoking age to 21, and there is a push (supported by Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) to dictate a federal smoking age of 21. Why not simply issue a federal mandate for an annual additional 10 million unnecessary confrontations between police and youth? Criminalizing private vices is the surest way to make law enforcement a public menace.
Citizens are wary of police cars in their rear-view mirrors because politicians and judges made average Americans legally inferior to anyone with a badge and a gun. Police almost always receive legal immunity when they unjustifiably shoot people — it is practically a perk of their job. The existence of video footage from dashboard cams and police cameras is helping to ravage the final remnants of police credibility in many areas. The pervasive cover-ups and lies that follow dubious killings by police do more to spur wariness than a million “Officer Friendly” public-service announcements can counteract.
The best way to encourage citizens to have “a feeling not of fear but of safety” when they see a cop is to repeal legions of laws empowering police to unjustifiably accost and wrongfully subjugate peaceful citizens. But that is unlikely to happen as long as most politicians are more interested in power than in domestic tranquility.