It’s not about the money, it’s about sending a message

The Joker said it best in The Dark Knight. Destroying something that people care deeply about wakes them up. Gets them to pay attention. I think the recent events have woken people up in a lot of ways because it’s driven something home that would have otherwise been a misunderstood topic. A few days ago I wrote a blog about the militarization of police in that blog I compared a positive and a negative example of this (Boston and Ferguson). This has been getting a lot of interest lately because of the seeming disconnected in the amount of force actually required and the display of force on hand (especially considering the US government doesn’t think displays of force like this are effective for de-escalating situations). I do think that the protests would have started to draw less attention as time went on – in a similar fashion to the Occupy Wall Street protests fizzled out, however, the fact that the Police started to threaten and arrest a large number of journalists, made the news because the news itself was being threatened.

If we’re honest with ourselves we have to admit that the police killing a young blackman really isn’t news. It happens so often in the US that we rarely see it at a national level. We’d hear about it if it was a white guy (unless he was a drug user) or a white woman. Since it’s just another black kid, we don’t hear about it. However, attention stayed in the area because first amendment rights started to be restricted by the government. I know that a judge ruled that it was a special area which allowed some restrictions on where the press could go, but that’s exactly what the first amendment was supposed to defend the press against. It’s a type of prior restraint.

The press helped make this story bigger than it normally would have been by getting targeted by police. The fact that the news itself became the news to many of the people watching on Twitter rather than the message of the protesters is sad, but I’m glad that it was able to keep the attention on the protests in a way that have been some what constructive. It’s starting to force us to actually have a conversation about what sorts of equipment our police officers need. In an interview with the former Seattle Police Chief that oversaw a similar sort of confrontation in 1999 over the World Trade Organization, he argued that what needed to happen was a reduction in arms on the police side. He further argued that there is a great deal of racism in our police forces, not initially intentionally, but through learned fear and through common language in the departments. This is partially a result of the “Us vs. Them” mentality that results whenever two groups are continual conflict – anyone that might be part of the other group is part of that group. Because the War Against Drugs has primarily impacted the black communities, this has pitted the police against the black communities. It is likely part of the reason we have a lack of diversity in our police forces.

We’re finding in other portions of our society similar sorts of either intentional or accidental bias. Looking at the populations of the largest tech companies in the world we see the same sort of biases and segregations. In many cases it is because these selections become path dependent. People end up hiring friends and pulling in more people that look like them. Creating a larger problem and then HR has to step in and it’s a forced issue and people might question why a person was hired in appropriately.

The police have shined this light on themselves through their brutal responses where they show a clear lack of understanding of the people they are expected to be protecting and serving. Their actions, which should be protecting the press as well, have made sure that the press is going to be paying very close attention to all of their actions in the next few years. Furthermore, anything like the killing of another black man in the St. Louis area will result in extra scrutiny.

I think that killing that man ended up sending a message as much as taking away the rights of the protesters and press (both first amendments). The police don’t care and can act with impunity against the black community. They don’t care what the press does they will block Freedom of Information requests, prevent the press from filming their actions, and arrest anyone that gets in their way. A message has been sent. How we react is important to the future health of our press, our communities, and our freedom.

Militarized Police

In a little over a year we’ve seen two amazing examples of how militarized our police forces have become. One was a “best case” scenario and the current one is just about as much of a worse case scenario as you can get. In 2013 the Boston Marathon was bombed by a pair of radicals. What happened afterwards was a combination of the full capabilities of the surveillance state, investigation, and militarized police. Through a series of cameras blanked across the area, the Boston PD and other law enforcement offices were able to identify the pair of bombing suspects. Eventually this turned into a chase, shoot out, and then a stand off. During the stand off we saw some pretty amazing pieces of equipment being deployed, including fully body armored SWAT teams, armored personnel carriers, infrared cameras, and other pieces of technology. All deployed to find one man huddled in a boat. Furthermore, the officers conducted full house searches without consent of the homeowners. All of these amounted to some pretty incredible uses of power by the city of Boston and the state of MA. All to find a terrorist.

Now, we’re seeing something similar playing out in Ferguson MO, where the police allegedly shot an unarmed black man in the suburb of St. Louis. This town has 21,000 people and has nearly identical pieces of equipment deployed to prevent protests over what’s clearly a case of perceived police overreach, brutality, and murder. According to Paul Szoldza of Business Insider, vets of the Afghan and Iraq war argue that they had less capable equipment when they were in their actual war zones. This is rather appalling. These are citizens that are essentially delegitimizing the rule of law because of the illegal actions of the police force. In response, the police force essentially sends in an improperly trained military force.

This is abhorrent. In the United States we should never see this type of behavior. We’d condemn these actions if it happened in Russia or a similar regime, yet here in the United States it’s acceptable. Furthermore, the FAA is complicit by enforcing a no fly zone thus restricting free speech – as it prevents any news helicopters from recording or reporting on the story as it unfolds. This isn’t an instance of a free press. It’s free as far as the military police allow it. I’m extremely concerned by these turn of events. I have no idea what we can do about this. It’s continually spreading and will likely only get worse.

Occupy Wall Street

Since September 17th people have been having a live in protest on Wall Street in New York City. The protests are attempting to bring attention to the inequities between Wall Street, CEOs and the rest of the US and world. There has been a media blackout since it started until recently. The Daily Show has covered it twice (Here and Here). There were two reasons for this. First the media didn’t know how to deal with the protests. They act differently, the people protesting aren’t grandmothers yelling about the government, instead it’s a bunch of hippie like people that are protesting corporations. Another problem was that there was no cohesive voice coming out from the movement. However yesterday there was an actual list of “demands” released. Basically these demands explain the need for changes at all levels of government and how corporations behave towards both workers and the environment.

The protests are in their third week now. They have been growing every week. Initially, there were only a few hundred protesters now it’s been reported that up to 20,000 people have started to protest in NYC. The occupy movement has spread from only being in NYC to Boston, LA, DC, and several other cities as well. While the Daily Show is right that these protests are very similar to the Tea Party protests the problems they hope to address the end goals and the means are very different. Both groups also had a lot of uninformed people, for example you had the old lady saying keep the government out of my healthcare when she had medicare (government healthcare), and here you have people just saying they want Wall Street to take less money. These protests have gone beyond just the hippies, unions in NYC have also joined the protesters as well as more “responsible” people from other walks of life.

I think these protests could eventually make a difference. I don’t think it will happen in time for the next presidential election. The changes that they are demanding are structural changes that require socio-economic changes. They require complete changes in our ethics and our goals in lives. These are not changes that happen over night. There are some changes that we can do that will have immediate impacts though, and these aren’t popular among policy makers. We need to get money out of politics, we need to limit how politicians can make money off the laws they pass and we need to use public funds for elections (as well as have elections on the weekend or a holiday). Removing the money by creating public funds will eliminate the leverage that lobbyists can use on politicians. Preventing politicians from making money off the laws through stock purchases will prevent tit-for-tat behavior with lobbyists as well. Making it easy as possible to vote will increase the immediate participation in the government.

The reaction to OWS in NYC has been horrifying. The cops have been brutal towards the protesters and really show that the indignation our leaders displayed during violent responses to protest are just words. If US politicians cared about freedom and democracy they would support the protesters. Protesting is part of being American. It’s part of our constitution because it drives conversation and it drives democracy. Protesting is a form of participation. If we aren’t able to participate we don’t have a democracy. Arresting 700 people for going to the protest isn’t acceptable. Pepper spraying women that were corralled is not acceptable, it’s not how a democracy deals with protests. The right way to deal with these protests is to invite them into the conversation and really take a look at what they have to say. We aren’t doing that in the US. The 99% don’t have the same voice as the 1%. As can be seen from Fox News, that 1% is trying to divide the 99%.