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A Pandemic of Police Brutality



Bush’s “war on terror” quickly became Bush’s war on Iraqi civilians. So far over one million Iraqi civilians have lost their lives because of Bush’s invasion, and four million have been displaced. Iraq’s infrastructure is in ruins. Disease is rampart. Normal life has disappeared.

Self-righteous Americans justify these monstrous crimes as necessary to ensure their own safety from terrorist attack. Yet, Americans are in far greater danger from their own police forces than they are from foreign terrorists. Ironically, Bush’s “war on terror” has made Americans less safe at home by diminishing US civil liberty and turning an epidemic of US police brutality into a pandemic.

The only terrorist most Americans will ever encounter is a policeman with a badge, nightstick, mace and Taser. A Google search for “police brutality videos” turns up 2,210,000 entries. Some entries are foreign and some are probably duplications, but the number is so large that a person could do nothing but watch police brutality videos for the rest of his life. A search on “You Tube” alone turned up 2,280 police brutality videos. PrisonPlanet has a selection of the most outrageous recent cases.

Police brutality has crossed the line from using excessive force against a resisting Rodney King to unprovoked gratuitous violence against persons offering no resistance, such as the elderly, women, students, and elected officials. Americans are not safe anywhere from police. Police attack Americans in university libraries, in public meetings, and in their own homes.

Last week we had the case of the University of Florida student who was repeatedly Tasered without cause for asking Senator Kerry some good questions in the question and answer period following Kerry’s speech. Two days after the Florida student was gratuitously brutalized, Senate Republicans defeated Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy’s bill to restore habeas corpus protection.

A UCLA student was Tasered by police without cause for studying in the university library without having having his student ID on his person. Following police orders to leave, the student was walking toward the door when police grabbed him and repeatedly Tasered him.

On September 19, 2007 a young woman was repeatedly Tasered without cause by a large brutal cop in a parking lot outside a night club in Warren Ohio.

On September 14, 2007, Roseland, Indiana, city council member David Snyder was ejected from a council meeting by dictatorial council chairman Charlie Shields. Snyder had protested being limited to one minute to speak. Police goon Jack Tiller escorted Snyder out, and as Synder exited the building, Tiller, following behind, pushed Snyder to the ground and without cause began beating Snyder in the head with a nightstick. Snyder was hospitalized.

Local TV news stations throughout the US offer an endless stream of police brutality videos, which are then posted on the stations’ web sites, often with an opportunity for citizens to express their opinion of the incidents.

There are many disturbing aspects to police brutality cases.

One disturbing aspect is that the police always arrest the people that they have gratuitously brutalized. There was no justification whatsoever to arrest councilman Snyder, or the UCLA student, or the University of Florida student. The cops committed assault against innocent citizens. The cops should have been arrested for their criminal acts. Instead, the cops cover up their own crimes by arresting their victims on false charges that are invented to justify the unprovoked police violence against citizens.

Another disturbing aspect is that no one tells the police to stop the brutality. “Free” Americans are so intimidated by police that on February 19 of this year male customers in a Chicago bar stood aside while a drunk cop weighing 251 pounds beat a 115 pound barmaid, knocking her to the floor with his fists and repeatedly kicking her, for enforcing the bar rules and not serving him more drinks.

Yet another disturbing aspect is that a minority of citizens will justify each act of police brutality no matter how brutal and how unprovoked. For example,’s poll of its viewers found that 64.2% agreed that Snyder was a victim of police brutality, but 27.8% thought that Snyder got what was coming to him. “Law and order conservatives” and other authoritarian personalities invariably defend acts of police brutality. Perhaps the police brutality pandemic will bring the day when we will be able to say that a civil libertarian is a law and order conservative who has been brutalized by police.

The most disturbing aspect is that the police usually get away with it.

I remember decades ago when civil libertarians in New York City tried to stop police brutality by establishing civilian review boards to introduce some accountability into the police’s interaction with civilians. Law and order conservatives at William F. Buckley’s National Review went berserk. Accountability was “second-guessing” the police. The result would be a crime wave. And so on.

Police forces have always attracted bullies with authoritative personalities who desire to beat senseless anyone who does not quake in their presence. In the past police could get away with brutalizing blacks but not whites. Today white citizens are as likely as racial minorities to be victims of police brutality.

The police are supreme. The militarization of the police, armed now with military weapons and trained to view the general public as the enemy, against whom “pain compliance” must be used, has placed every American at risk of personal injury and false arrest from our “public protectors.”

In “free and democratic America,” citizens are in such great danger from police that there are websites devoted to police brutality with online forms to report the brutality.

Nine years ago Human Rights Watch published a report entitled, “Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States.” The report stated:

“Police abuse remains one of the most serious and divisive human rights violations in the United States. The excessive use of force by police officers, including unjustified shootings, severe beatings, fatal chokings, and rough treatment, persists because overwhelming barriers to accountability make it possible for officers who commit human rights violations to escape due punishment and often to repeat their offenses. Police or public officials greet each new report of brutality with denials or explain that the act was an aberration, while the administrative and criminal systems that should deter these abuses by holding officers accountable instead virtually guarantee them impunity.

“This report examines common obstacles to accountability for police abuse in fourteen large cities representing most regions of the nation. The cities examined are: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, Providence, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Research for this report was conducted over two and a half years, from late 1995 through early 1998.

“The brutality cases examined, which are set out in detail in chapters on each city, are similar to cases that continue to emerge in headlines and in survivors’ complaints. It is important to note, however, that because it is difficult to obtain case information except where there is public scandal and/or prosecution, this report relies heavily on cases that have reached public attention; disciplinary action and criminal prosecution are even less common than the cases set out below would suggest.”

There is no way to hold police accountable when the president and vice president of the United States, the attorney general, and the Republican Party maintain that the civil liberties and the separation of powers mandated by the US Constitution must be abandoned in order that the executive branch can keep Americans safe from terrorists.

Even before the “war on terror,” federal police murdered 100 people in the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, and no one was held accountable.

Who is a terrorist? If the police and the US government have the mentality of airport security, they cannot tell a terrorist from an 86-year old Marine general on his way to give a speech at West Point. Retired Marine Corps General Joseph J. Foss was delayed and nearly had his Medal of Honor confiscated. Airport security regarded the pin on the metal as a weapon that the 86-year old Marine general and former governor of South Dakota could use to hijack an airliner and commit a terrorist deed.

In America today, every citizen is a potential terrorist in the eyes of the authorities. Airport security makes this clear every minute of every day, as do the FBI and NSA with warrantless spying on our emails, postal mail, telephone calls, and every possible invasion of our privacy. We are all recipients of abuse of our constitutional rights whether or not we suffer beatings, Taserings, and false arrests.

The law makes it impossible for Americans to defend themselves from police brutality. Law and order conservatives have made it a felony with a long prison sentence to “assault a police officer.” Assaulting a police officer means that if a police thug intends to beat your brains out with his nightstick and you disarm your assailant, you have “assaulted a police officer.” If you are not shot on the spot by his backup, you will be convicted by a “law and order” jury and sent to prison.

No matter how gratuitous and violent the police brutality, a “free” American citizen can defend himself only at the expense, if not of his life, of a long stay in prison. Osama bin Laden must wish that he had such power over Americans.

PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at:


Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. Roberts’ How the Economy Was Lost is now available from CounterPunch in electronic format. His latest book is The Neoconservative Threat to World Order.

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