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

Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail