in an era of national security that started a few decades ago and
has progressed full-speed throughout the country. Now,
it’s reached down into the cities and suburbs - municipal security.
it will be complete. Citizens will not be able to walk down a street
or do a simple business transaction without being recorded in some
way - credit card records, utility company records, retail sales
records, bank video cameras, and supermarket cameras and good-customer
cards, to name a few.
now, most young persons don’t even know these systems exist and
few of them notice or are concerned about the cameras in the banks
or retail check-outs. They’ve been part of daily life, all of their
obsession with security has made life more like the Truman Show
than we’d like to believe. Most of our activities can be - and often
are - recorded somewhere.
one aspect of our lives that is being closely watched is our expression
of our rights under the Bill of Rights - the First Amendment quickly
comes to mind, and our rights under that amendment were right up
front in the law enforcement practice session that was the G-20
meeting in Pittsburgh recently.
have had “free speech pens” for several years. At the sites of events
like political conventions, at anti-war rallies in Washington
D.C. and other places, and at meetings like
the recent Pittsburgh G-20, law enforcement authorities set aside
chain-link-fenced areas where citizens were “allowed” to rally and
the pens were located in such places that the objects of the protest
or rally (or petition, to be constitutionally correct) never had
to even see the gathered protestors, let alone hear them and their
complaints against the government.
use of such pens reached their peak - so far - in the time of the
second Bush Administration, when neither George W. Bush, nor Dick
Cheney suffered any loud critiques of the rabble citizenry. America
had been moving in that direction for many years, but the authoritarianism
of that administration was epitomized by those pens, in which you
could speak, but you were not allowed to be heard.
the gathering of citizens was too big to contain in such a manner,
as at the meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle
several years ago. Authorities were going to make sure that such
an event did not happen again.
though the Pittsburgh gathering of citizens was not as large,
the government and all of its various law enforcement organizations
were not going to take any chances. There had been much “research
and development” into so-called non-lethal crowd control since Seattle
and they intended to use the various instruments and methods. It
would be a good training exercise, even though the crowds of protestors
were small and, in some reported incidents, were not even present.
Ferner, president of Veterans for Peace, a Vietnam Navy corpsman
and a former Toledo city council member, described a few moments of the Pittsburgh
action involving a long range acoustic device (LRAD):
Mounted in the turret of an Armored Personnel Carrier
(APC), I saw the LRAD in action twice in the area of 25th, Penn
and Liberty Streets of Lawrenceville, an old Pittsburgh neighborhood. Blasting a shrill, piercing noise like a high-pitched
police siren on steroids, it quickly swept streets and sidewalks
of pedestrians, merchants and journalists and drove residents
into their homes, but in neither case were any demonstrators present.
The APC, oversized and sinister for a city street, together with
lines of police in full riot gear looking like darkly threatening
Michelin Men, made for a scene out of a movie you didn’t want
to be in.
are many other “non-lethal” devices that are available for use in
combat zones and in crowd control for local police or other law
enforcement. One of them can make the surface of arms or face or
other parts of the body feel as if hot metal had been being applied,
and it works at considerable distance.
these may be non-lethal, there is always the danger that an individual
may have a bad reaction and could have permanent damage to hearing,
sight, balance, or may suffer emotional or mental distress.
non-lethal weapons of the past, such as tear gas, are used as if
they are not capable of doing harm, but for people with respiratory
problems or diseases, such an assault on the lungs can be dangerous
or lethal. They are still in use, because such a response is considered
rare. Besides, the authorities feel that protestors who go to the
scene of a rally or speech should consider that they might be endangering
their own health by attending - they’re putting at least some of
the blame on the citizen.
LRAD is said to be able to bring people to their knees and could
cause instant headaches and that one is not protected by covering
one’s ears. It also can cause permanent hearing damage.
the national security state becomes more finely tuned, it will be
interested in using more of these weapons, because nobody wants
to deal with any more Kent States. In that case, during the Vietnam
War, one of the victims was just passing by the demonstration on
campus and suffered the same fate as the protestors.
the same manner, today’s enforcers will not be able to tell the
difference between those involved in a rally or protest and those
who are passers-by. Even if the machine can be directed to an individual,
how will the user of the weapon know the intent of the citizen?
pain can be intense and the damage permanent. It
amounts to torture and no amount of training can allow the holder
of the weapon to know what is in the heart or mind of the targeted
citizen, who, until recently, had a right in America to petition the government
for a redress of grievances.
many ways, these weapons are punishment (without arrest, indictment,
or trial) for lawful acts, things that every one in America
has a constitutional right to engage in: to assemble, protest, march,
demand changes in policy or law. The new weapons may not even be
lawful for use in crowd control in combat zones, since the international
community does not appear to have considered their use in war zones.
thing is certain. The companies that manufacture these weapons -
using the scientific research that comes from some of our finest
institutions of higher learning - stand to make millions, if not
billions, in selling these “systems” to everyone from the Secret
Service to the town constable. You can be sure that a large percentage
of the product that is sold in the coming years will be used by
people who will have little training in their use. Judgment does
not come in the package, either.
the danger of the use of the Taser, another “non-lethal” weapon,
and the fatalities and injuries that have resulted from their indiscriminate
use, we can look forward to a long period of experimentation in
which the American people are used as guinea pigs by authorities
who are trying desperately to control them without seriously injuring
or killing too many of them.
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union organizer.
His union work started when he became a local president of The Newspaper
Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers
in New York State.
In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they
struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory
food producers and land developers. Click here
to contact Mr. Funiciello.