FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Burning the First Amendment

The freedom of assembly “is the individual right to come together with other individuals and collectively express, promote, pursue and defend common interests”. This is a widely recognized human, political and civil right. It is explicitly guaranteed in many international human rights conventions, and many national constitutions, including the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

However, it is often the case that governments see the personal freedoms of their citizens as impediments, liabilities, and threats to its power. This thrust is usually labeled “maintaining order.” To this end, governments will organize specialized units of labor called police into enforcement agencies, equip them with instruments of coercion, and shield them with legal protections. Admittedly, the realities of human nature, and the wide spectrum of observed human behavior justifies some of this effort.

In our capitalist societies, the maintenance of social order has become both an industry and an infrastructure. When these operate to protect and even advance individual freedoms, human rights and personal safety, then they justify their methods and their existences. This is not uniformly the case, as is too painfully obvious to many who have witnessed or endured the abuses of police and prosecutorial powers by careerists advancing their personal agendas. For this reason, society justly demands that there be a rather intrusive oversight of police, judicial and prosecutorial professionals, and many restrictions on the technologies and methods they are allowed to use. The purpose of a justice system of authentic social value is to achieve 100% success at safeguarding the rights of the innocent; it is not to achieve 100% success at ensuring the punishment of the guilty. The latter goal demands a continuous and significant sacrifice of innocent people. Such sacrifice is unconscionable in any justice system that includes capital punishment.

Just where is the boundary between lawful freedom of assembly and the unlawful “right to riot?” (As an aside, we must allow for the logical possibility — and social necessity — of a lawful right to riot). The traditional police technologies for containing unruly assemblies, lawful and unlawful, include: megaphones (public address systems), truncheons (sticks), plastic shields and body armor, deployment on horseback, high pressure jets of water, tear-gas and small arms fire. In more recent times, lightly armored assault vehicles (police tanks) have also been deployed.

Over the years, police responses to public assemblies have caused fatalities of innocents, spurring research to arm police with minimally-lethal technology that is effective at social control. From such efforts came the mechanical technologies of water jets (fire hoses), tear-gas bombs and sprays, rubberized truncheons, and most recently rubber bullets. Also, electrostatics was exploited to devise the Tasers in use today. Viewed from an authoritarian perspective, these are certainly improvements over straightforward military firepower, but still, people have been badly injured and killed by these “softer” forms of coercion.

The conundrum of finding gentle coercive force technologies against public assemblies is now seeking its answer through electronic technologies, specifically microwave and laser broadcast power. The National Institute for Justice, the research arm (or “Q Branch,” in James Bond parlance) of the US Department of Justice, is now testing candidate systems of assembly dispersal and control. Police forces will eventually be equipped with centimeter-wave microwave beam broadcast systems, similar to one devised by the US Army , to heat skin at a distance and elicit a flight reaction.

A second, and better developed device of remote control torture is a bulky “rifle” that combines visible light and infrared lasers to incapacitate people by blinding them for a period of time (“dazzlers”), as well as being able to heat skin uncomfortably.

Obviously, any non-lethal form of coercion is more easily used as an instrument of torture, for example during arrests, interrogations, and in prisons. The surreptitious and deniable misuse of such weapons by rogue law enforcement individuals would be harder to detect because of the minimal aftereffects.

Both the convenience of remote control torture and the absence of lasting physical evidence of its occurrence, make these insidious weapons of authoritarian control over personal freedom as envisioned by the contemporaries of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine.

The best protection against such weapons would be the elevation of the social consciousness and political maturity of the citizens, generally, to achieve a greater sense of community, to both: ensure popular political power over the control and enforcement agencies of government, and to populate those agencies with individuals whose first allegiance is the protection of people’s freedoms rather than the protection of government power and its careerists.

Otherwise, we are burning away the actuality of the First Amendment. We are trimming our right of assembly to self-contained gatherings that cause no political disturbance, to virtual assemblies on the internet that create little notice, that cannot offer the challenge to entrenched power that is carried by the actual massed presence of our physical selves, united.

MANUEL GARCIA, Jr. can be reached at mango@idiom.com

More articles by:

Manuel Garcia, Jr, once a physicist, is now a lazy househusband who writes out his analyses of physical or societal problems or interactions. He can be reached at mangogarcia@att.net

July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail