The past few weeks saw the coordinated attacks on the students and other protester by police in multiple jurisdictions. These seem to have “saddened an shocked” media pundits from coast to coast and across the globe. For those of us who follow the law it was not a shock.
Even before 2001 we witnessed an erosion of the bill of rights in favor of expediency on a mind numbing level even since I graduated from law school. Case after case. One of the first major frontal attacks was the ‘On-line Decency Act of 1997”. Although the Judge in the ruling admitted that he was deciding the case based on law and not his gut feeling to imminently protect children, it was one of the last times I can remember the first amendment being preserved. After the World Trade Center Attacks 66% of Americans in an ABC poll admitted that they would be willing to give up personal freedom in order to fight terrorism. Even then I clung to the Ben Franklin quote “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” We as a nation have done just that and now we have given ourselves over to a police state.
Police act with total impunity thinking that they are untouchable. The Courts have given law enforcement more and more leeway in warrantless searches. In criminal law people have fewer and fewer protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Not only at the airport but also in our home, cars and even on-line. In US v. Antoine Jones, If the Supreme Court gave a green light [to warrantless GPS tracking, then] any officer can install any GPS device for any reason on anybody’s car, even if the officer thinks it would be interesting to know where Supreme Court justices go at night when they leave the courthouse. No one would be immune from having a GPS device installed on his or her vehicles. You might not see the connection between the OWS attacks and this case but the reality is that since the passing of the Patriot Act the police in particular and the government in general has become less constrained by the rule of law. The police now act without restraint. Those who challenge are left in the hospital or worse.
I can only hope that the series of videos have created an environment for change. There are however a series of laws different states and cities have pushed and passed that would have criminalized the taking of videos while police are engaged in an arrest. That would have criminalized the Rodney King beating tape as well as the UC Davis and NYC-OWS videos. We must be vigilant and fight these at every step. They are, for the time being, our only tool against excessive police force. So far the First Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that it is not illegal for citizens to videotape police officers when they are on public duty. The most important thing we can do is to know and demand our right. And don’t back down.