I remember reading about the old Soviet Union. How protesters would show up in Red Square and get hauled away by the police just for being there. How the official press only carried the official story and how anybody with a different viewpoint had to pass literature from hand to hand. I remember reading about the Gulags. And I never thought that I would see the day when America would start to look like that.
But it does. Are we as bad as the Soviets were? Well, I guess it depends who you are. If you are in Guantanamo or one of the other secret prisons maintained by the US intelligence services, possibly tortured and held indefinitely without trial, you might find it hard to tell the difference. If the federal government is spying on you because you exercised your First Amendment rights, you might wonder. Or if you are a non-violent demonstrator violently attacked by the police, what are you supposed to think? If you are a journalist detained to keep you from covering a story, you might be justified in making a comparison. On the other hand if you keep quiet and do as you are told, you will probably be OK, but then the same could be said of the Soviet Union. Seriously, I know that things aren't as bad here, now, as they were over there, back then, but it seems more a matter of degree than anything else.
These abuses are not isolated instances. They happen with startling frequency all over the country. It is not just a few bad cops taking off their identification and suppressing dissent; there is a pattern of systematic abuse. And I don't think it is a coincidence that police in riot gear no longer wear any identification. Without a way to identify them, they can't be held accountable.
Now you may say that this is nothing new. Police have been busy breaking up union meetings and arresting "subversives" for years. The Nixon Administration brought phony conspiracy charges against activists. They infiltrated, spied on and actively tried to destroy opponents with programs such as Cointelpro. Japanese Americans were interned in violation of their Constitutional rights during WWII. Conscientious Objectors to war have been, and still are, imprisoned for their beliefs. During the McCarthy era, witchhunts against so called "Communist Front organizations" were rampant. So, no, it isn't new. It is sad and it is infuriating.
Attacks on the media:
Amy Goodman & Two Democracy Now! Producers Arrested at RNC Protest (9/2/08 Democracy Now)
I-Witness Video Members Detained En Masse by St.Paul, Minnesota Police in Advance of the 2008 Republican National Convention
Videographer Joe Le Sac's video of his own detention for documenting a demonstration in Tacoma, WA. Joe was also arrested at the Republican Convention in St Paul for the same "crime".
"Film is Not a Crime"
Government surveillance of protesters and "pre-emptive detentions".
Massive police raids on suspected protesters in Minneapolis (salon.com)
Federal government involved in raids on protesters (salon.com)
Exposing Bush's historic abuse of power (salon.com)
This article talks about widespread and systematic government spying on Americans.
ACLU page on Unchecked Government Surveillance
Police Spied on Activists In Md. (Washington Post)
Police Violence against demonstrators
Police use Pepper Spray at point blank range against Port Militarization Reisitance demonstrators blocking the street in Olympia, WA. Note the total non-violence even in response the the police brutality. After the assault began, onlookers did use some "bad" language.
Testimony to Olympia WA City Council on police violence against protesters
As Democratic Convention Kicks Off, Massive Security Presence Clamps Down on Dissent in Denver
Denver Police Arrest 91, Fire Pepper Spray & Pepper Balls at Protesters
Critical Mass Bicyclist Assaulted by NYPD (youtube)
Do I need to mention that the bicyclist was then arrested for assault on an officer? This is standard procedure. The police generally justify their unprovoked attacks by arresting the victim.
without video like this they often get away with it.
Democracy Now! interview with video activist and archivist Eileen Clancy about the Critical Mass incident and why the city is subpoenaing her organization, I-Witness Video, for hundreds of protest videos shot during the 2004 Republican National Convention.
Police Violence Shocks Activists, Others at Port of Oakland Protest
Have Taser, Will Torture, by Pierre Tristam
Overkill: The Latest Trend in Policing (Washington Post)
Testimony of Police Brutality Across the Nation
And For a little history
We now know about the details of the Cointelpro program from the 60s and 70s.
However, you can bet that this sort of thing still goes on. We don't usually find out about these things until after the fact. Then we are supposed to rest assured that it just happened in the bad old days, not now. A few years later, another scandal reveals a bit more, but again we get the same old spin. It never goes away, just sometimes it gets more blatant, like it is now.