By: Kenan Kabbani
“Congress shall make no law… prohibiting… the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” — Constitution of the United States of America, Amendment 1.
“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened” — President John F. Kennedy.
Tear gas fogs up the streets and rubber bullets fly indiscriminately, hitting pedestrians and protesters alike. Flashbangs boom and light up the dark city, explosions of fear and anger. The roar of furious people demanding their rights and freedoms can be heard on the streets far from the scene of the protests and well into the night. Armed men in riot armor beat civilians with batons, sticks, and shields. They attack and arrest journalists and members of the press. They shoot medics and arrest them. They haul the demonstrators away in cuffs, stuffing them in cramped holding cells for hours. Even elected representatives of the people are not exempt from the repression. Meanwhile, the Head of State is threatening to send in the armed forces to forcibly disperse the crowds gathered in justifiable anger, going so far as to say that protestors are domestic terrorists and that they should be shot.
A few months ago, the scenario described above would have elicited images of Hong Kong’s skyrises towering over scenes of police violence, naked Chinese Communist Party power trying to destroy the longstanding democratic traditions of a proud city. Alternatively, perhaps a scene from Tehran, Baghdad, or Beirut, where government corruption and harsh economic conditions so angered the people of those countries that they defied instincts of self-preservation to speak their mind. No, this scene was not in Tehran, Iran, under the repressive regime of the Ayatollah. This was not in Hong Kong, whose brave citizens fought tooth and nail against Beijing’s oppression. The scene described above was a scene gathered from various American cities: straight from major metropolitan areas like New York, Minneapolis, Austin, and Los Angeles.
In American cities, in American streets, American citizens are being denied their constitutional right, as outlined by the First Amendment’s free speech and protest provisions, to voice their opinion. They are met with tear gas, rubber bullets, and blood. Reporters, fulfilling their moral duty to report and document, are being arrested, harassed, or shot. Medics and good samaritans have been assaulted by police as they tend to wounded people on the streets. Citizens of the United States, that land that prides itself on the ideals of freedom, liberty, justice, and democracy, are being denied their God-given rights. Why all this violence? Because someone dared to question police brutality, because someone who was wronged demanded their rights back.
Then the icing on this proverbial cow patty: the President of the United States, with the support of Republican congressmen such as Matt Gaetz and Tom Cotton, has not only criticized these protests but also threatened even more violence against them. In response to rioting at the outbreak of this event, the President referenced Miami Police Chief Walter Headley saying, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Presidential Candidate George Wallace was also a fan of Chief Headley’s quote. Then, in a press briefing at the White House, as the explosions of flash bangs rang off in the distance, the President accused the protestors of belonging to Antifa, despite the FBI stating otherwise, and labeled them “domestic terrorists.” He threatened governors, already overworked in trying to deal with the unrest, that if they are unable to restore order, he will bring in the Army to deal with the protestors.
In one swift move, not only did he not address the brutal response police have employed on U.S. Citizens, but he threatened to march troops down American streets, something that would throw this country into a constitutional crisis. The President’s authoritarian power trip represents an existential threat to democracy. If this were another country anywhere else in the world, the U.S. would have called for its executive to step down peacefully. With busloads of American troops sitting outside Washington D.C., waiting for the order to invade American cities, perhaps we will finally see firsthand what is on the other end of a “peacekeeping” operation. What irony that would be if it turned out to be a mercy, as American soldiers of 18 to 20 years old have stricter Rules of Engagement, Codes of Conduct, and are held to a higher standard of accountability in warzones than American police officers are held to when dealing with US citizens. In fact, military veterans who join the force are often cooler under stress, and are less likely to shoot in the field than their non-veteran counterparts.
The instances of police brutality in the past days highlight the systematic nature of this issue. It truly is a nation-wide problem. From large metropolitan police departments to small sheriff’s departments and everything in between, the police are exposing their true colors. The facade of civility and enlightenment ideals that this nation so strongly prided itself on has been peeled back to reveal a barbaric, rotten, and ignorant core. The police sure exist to “serve and protect”, just not American citizens and their interests. They are under no constitutional obligation to protect American citizens, according to multiple rulings by American judges.
The militarized equipment and training employed by police departments are wholly disproportionate to the situations that they are policing. The complete ignorance, willful or not, of the law by the American police force has cost American citizens their property, their rights, and their lives. The wholesale absence of accountability and oversight emboldens abusive and corrupt behavior. The nonexistence of qualification requirements leads to psychopaths, racists, and otherwise ill-tempered and ill-suited individuals leeching themselves to the force where they become a danger to the community they are supposed to serve. The toxic culture of shielding corrupt members of the force prevents victims from getting the justice they deserve and hides thugs in uniform from their rightful punishment.
This goes beyond race, socio-economic class, and political beliefs. Everyone is affected by this wanton aggression towards civil liberties and constitutional rights, from the child living in the inner city ghetto to the humble farmer in rural America. Yes, even rural folk are not safe from this aggression. Where do you think those federal agents in the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) start their careers? They (typically) start as officers in large municipal police departments. Unaccountable people, law enforcement, or not, with firearms, is a recipe for abuse and corruption, and it does harm everyone. Unless serious reform is undertaken, people will continue to be harmed. As long as this systemic issue remains unaddressed, we will never live up to the ideals that we have enshrined in our founding documents and which we have etched into our halls of government.
As the saying goes: a few bad apples spoil the bunch. By the looks of it, this barrel is entirely rotten. Those that deny this issue’s existence might as well be pulling the trigger themselves, for they will condemn everyone to suffer under the boot of oppression.