Category Archives: Civil Liberties

The war comes home

Protestors outside One Police Plaza, 5/7/08

It’s easy to forget about how many Iraqis and Afghans are killed by the U.S. military each day – they’re halfway around the world and we can always change the channel if some nasty images pop up on TV.

Doing so is a bit harder when the chaos occurs in your own backyard, and is caused by the very people sworn to uphold the law and protect you. To add injury to insult, these same people can and do get away with murder.

On April 25, the three New York Police Department detectives whose 50 shots killed Sean Bell and wounded two of his friends were acquitted of all charges by a judge, having waived their right to trial. Although there was ample evidence to convict these detectives, the Queens District Attorney gave a sterling example of the courts’ complicity in police misconduct, subjecting dubious witnesses to cross-examination by the defense while refusing to call the three detectives to the stand for the same treatment.

There have been large, vociferous, and peaceful protests across the city following the verdict, and more are expected throughout a long, hot summer. There is a movement to press Albany to appoint an independent prosecutor for cases of police misconduct, and the Justice Department is deliberating a civil rights suit against the NYPD.

Some have argued it will be hard to prove the police intentionally set out to violate Sean Bell’s rights. Last time I checked, racial profiling was a violation of said rights, and the record number of stop-and-frisks conducted by the NYPD in the first quarter of 2008 back that record up.

Of course, Sean Bell’s murder does not exist in a vacuum. The increased militarization of American law enforcement, begun during the Reagan era as part of our failed War on Drugs (anyone who debates this point, please watch The Wire), has exacerbated this country’s long history of racism and placed minority communities in the firing line.

Take, for example, the beating of three unarmed black men by Philadelphia cop last week. Though not as close up as the Rodney King footage,  the events are no less savage. Police say they were suspects fleeing the scene of a drug-related shooting. No gun was found in the car and the men have yet to be charged with any crime, though officers claim a “fourth man” bailed out of the vehicle prior to their arrival (anyone remember the NYPD pulling the same stunt in court this winter?)

We get this sort of profiling and hair-trigger response coast-to-coast as well. Last Sunday, LAPD officers shot two unarmed 19-year-old black men in Inglewood whom they suspected of being involved in a nearby shooting. One, Michael Byoune, died. As it turns out, neither Byoune nor his wounded friend were involved in any such incident, nor was a gun found.

This is the end result when you combine America’s draconian attitude towards drug policy and the plight of its post-industrial working class with the post-9/11 decimation of our civil liberties. When the LAPD’s abuse of Rodney King aired in 1992, there were riots. If anyone tried the same thing today, the Air Force would drop cluster bombs on Queens or South Central. Something has got to give.

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Taxi to the Dark Side

An in-depth look at the torture practices of the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, focusing on an innocent taxi driver in Afghanistan who was tortured and killed in 2002 – Get Informed.

Taxi to the Dark Side received an Oscar for Best Documentary/Features in  2008.

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Zeitgeist: Tactical Myths That Control the World

A compilation of the most prominent myths that have misled our culture for centuries. An in-depth look at the world, exposing the abuse of power from the time of the Egyptians to the war in Iraq.

For more information visit www.zeitgeistmovie.com

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Filed under Civil Liberties, Economics, Education, Environment, Health, Mental Environment, Politics, Social Justice, Surveillance

This is what democracy looks like

It’s hard to keep faith in representative democracy after days like today.

This afternoon, the United States Senate voted to preserve retroactive legal immunity for telecom companies who cooperated with intelligence agencies in the wake of September 11, 2001.

What’s more, the Senate also permitted the government to conduct wiretaps without a warrant by reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act without any additional protection for the privacy of Americans.

Here’s Senator Russ Feingold setting forth the implications of this bill in layman’s terms.

You can prove the United States conducts torture, but you still can’t hold anyone accountable. The same goes for tearing asunder U.S. domestic laws regarding privacy and protections against self-incrimination. The same goes for the 24/7 surveillance society that has sprung up over the past seven years.

There was a lot of empty talk about “change” during the ’06 elections. In the ’08 Presidential campaign, that catchphrase has been substituted for genuine discussion of the disaster that is the Global War on Terror, record inequality, the creeping re-segregation (class or racial, take your pick) of American society, and the decrepitude of a bicameral political system beholden to banking and military-industrial institutions that have driven the United States into needless wars and a looming economic catastrophe.

To quote a certain Washington native, “regime change starts at home.”

written by Ali Winston

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Filed under Censorship, Civil Liberties, Economics, Politics, Surveillance

Criminal neglect

Lost amidst the tumult of primary fever was the ninth anniversary on Monday of Amadou Diallo’s infamous shooting by the NYPD’s street crime unit.

On the morning of Feb. 4, 1999, the Guinean immigrant was cut down by a hail of 41 bullets in the doorway of his Bronx home. Was he carrying a Glock? A Desert Eagle? A live grenade?

Diallo was holding his wallet in his hands. The officers had mistaken him for a serial rapist and panicked when Diallo reached inside his jacket to produce identification. All four cops were acquitted in a jury trial that had been moved Upstate because Bronx residents, in the eyes of the court, were biased against the NYPD.

 Although the incident caused nation-wide outrage and touched off days of heated protest in front of One Police Plaza, not one New York or national news outlet opted to cover the anniversary. For many New Yorkers, particularly black and Latino residents, the Diallo case is a shining example of NYPD over-policing in minority neighborhoods.

Moreover, Diallo’s death is frequently invoked in the discussion of another high-profile NYPD shooting of a 23-year-old black man, that of Sean Bell in November 2006. Bell’s trial is set to begin later this month, and although the trial will remain in queens, the three detectives accused of his murder will be tried by a judge instead of a jury.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. 

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Panopticon U.S.A.

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A just-released report by Privacy International and the Electronic Privacy Information Center has classified the United States as one of the worst “Endemic Surveillance Societies” in the developed world, on par with Russia, China, and the United Kingdom.

Among other factors, the report highlights the rising use of CCTV and a highly profitable surveillance industry, presidentially-approved wiretapping of international communications, the absence of constitutional protections for privacy, and the FBI’s impending plan to develop the largest biometric database known to man as root causes of surveillance creep in the “Land of the Free.”

[Source: Privacy International & the Electronic Privacy Information Center]

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Who Owns Americans?

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