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Abuse of Power

The murder of an unarmed man by the police in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014 highlighted the abuse of power by police. In 1963, the Los Angeles police department adopted the motto 'to serve and protect' but these days the police are certainly not protecting the citizens they are abusing or killing. They are more like serving as the front line troops in a military occupation (like in Iraq). There is a web site the chronicles news reports of police misconduct around the country. The widespread unethical police behaviors are quite disturbing.

Recently John Oliver in his Last Week Tonight show highlighted another abuse of power by police: civil forfeiture, where the police can 'legally' steal from the public, whether money, goods, and even homes. Apparently the practice began during the war on drug traffickers but now it is simply the common practice of police robbing the public. Some of the cases John mentioned were in this news story from last year.

This is accompanied by the continuing militarization of police, with military equipment being passed down from the federal government to the local police departments. In 2014, the ACLU published a report on this situation which also includes the abuse of civil rights.

With the global war being conducted by American troops and special forces, the Department of Homeland Security is essentially making local police forces and extension of the national armed forces. The consequence of this increased war mongering is a need for tighter control on the population, who might not like this waste of resources and people while the domestic economy is in such dire shape.

This abuse of power is somewhat similar to the behavior observed in the infamous Milgram Experiment. When someone is directed by an authority figure to suppress or abuse someone else, there is usually little reluctance. Unfortunately for the populace, a policeman or woman is already an authority figure and, even worse, police departments exhibit an 'us vs them' mentality, where the police are the 'good guys' and those being harassed are the 'bad guys' so this mindset dulls one's normal ethics because as the 'good guys' all the bad behaviors can be justified as the means to the end of keeping peace. This barrier to accountability has been called a 'blue code of silence' (for police typically being portrayed in a blue uniform).

Our society requires accountability for all layers of our social structures. Accountability is now lacking for many of our political leaders (especially at the national level), who know they get their campaigns funded by their supporters and so those are the interests they will sustain in office. These leaders strive to maintain their office (as part of the ruling class, to continue their own enrichment) and to control the electorate who might be inclined to get rid of such corrupt politicians. As a result, the middle and bottom layers of the state bureaucracy are tasked with maintaining 'law and order' or in other words the suppression of dissent. This means a more militarized police in conjunction with the strong prison system (which is the punishment and revenge for unacceptable behaviors, like the unrelenting war on drugs). As the police are tasked with law enforcement, citizens have little recourse when the police are abusing or taking advantage of the laws.

The politicians are unlikely to reform the police departments because the police are necessary to suppress political dissent. This arrangement was prominently displayed for the world during the recent violent suppression by police of the peaceful Occupy Wall Street movement. Our Department of Homeland Security was established at the start of our declared War on Terror. With the passage of the Patriot Act, political dissent can be considered as a threat to the political order, almost like terrorism.

Until the entire political system is reformed, to establish the necessary accountability required in our (supposed) democratic system, this continuing abuse by the police will only get worse, especially as the quality of life for the electorate also continues to degrade and the increasing unhappiness among most voters will foster discord while they seek a more equitable economic policy, counter to that desired by the ruling class.

created - November 16, 2014
last change - 11/16/2014
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