It seems sadly fitting the USA Patriot Act turned ten years old the day after police in Oakland, California assaulted peaceful demonstrators with tear gas and rubber bullets. While police violence had been already rampant in New York in Zuccotti Park, Oakland marked one of the first major violent confrontations with Occupy demonstrators. Soon after, police in cities across American began raids on Occupy camps, many of which culminated in the use of pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets and sonic weapons. The evidence that such raids were coordinated by city mayors continues to mount, even though they vehemently deny any collusion. Most recently, police at UC Davis in California nonchalantly pepper sprayed peaceful students sitting on a plaza.
For ten years, we’ve watched one of the most draconian laws passed with incredible haste systematically destroy the freedoms that were supposedly under attack by terrorists and the “axis of evil.” In the name of national security, the Patriot Act has allowed our government – one that touts itself as the freeist in the world – the ability to spy on its citizens without justification, search their homes without warrants, and even penalize them for speaking a word of such actions.
Its recent anniversary in October however, also highlights something equally as insidious now embedded in the American national psyche: The Patriot Act has further cemented the normalcy of bloated security culture and the abuse of civil liberties in exchange for a supposed sense of safety. Its passage was the first nail in the coffin we’ve constructed for our constitutional rights, and paved the way for a security state that Orwell’s Big Brother would eventually be envious of. Between the FBI creating and then capturing terrorists, an incredible nexus of national security organizations, the militarization of our civil police forces and a mostly complicit mainstream media all too willing to act as a mouthpiece for whatever administration happens to hold the White House, we have wrapped ourselves in an increasingly fascist looking flag.
Now, we see the application of this security state in the streets of many cities that contain Occupy movements. In the name of “public safety,” elected officials, right leaning media, and police have justified the use of excessive force and arrests when confronting Occupy activists. At one time, we looked at images of activists assaulted and arrested in the streets as a dark time in our history. We see state sanctioned violence towards peaceful protest in other countries across the globe as a violation of basic human rights. However, when our nation holds the baton in hand today, we justify it by reducing our citizens with demonizing descriptors. Occupy protesters are called troublemakers, anarchists, lazy hippies, a clueless collegiate of criminals, and sometimes even equated with terrorists.
Various law enforcement agencies have always snooped on, harassed, arrested, and openly attacked political activists. Whether anti-corporate globalization protesters or environmental activists, anti-war activists, the victims of COINTELPRO operations, or the targets of the red scare – United States law enforcement has always done what it can to disrupt dissent. Now however, we live in an age where one need only raise a single suspicious eyebrow to an organization before every facet of the national security state begins bringing the hammer down. With a multitude of both national and local politicians in the back pockets of corporations and Wall Street, it was only a short matter of time before reactions to a major resistance of the status quo – Occupy movements – became violent.
Unfortunately, instances of both violence and harassment via the justice system continue to rise. The louder the chorus of criticism against corporations which have bought and sold our political system gets, the scarier the response to it becomes. However, as the movement does its best to maintain a peaceful stance in the face of such overwhelming opposition, it strengthens itself and brings new sympathizers and activists in each day. In just two short months, Occupy movements have been able to change the national conversation from apathetic complaining of nebulous economic policy to one of active engagement for economic justice for all. Given enough time, Occupy movements could hopefully erode our creeping march towards a police state.