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September 01, 2004

Police State USA

It was quite a transition. I spent the early part of the evening doing legal observing in Herald Square, where hundreds of police locked down all the corners, blocking all pedestrian traffic, in order to prevent civil disobediance in the streets. They definitely proved that police state tactics work-- having shut down the heart of midtown, including simple access to the PATH train for commuters heading to New Jersey, they blocked the protesters from interfering with traffic.

Of course, they interfered with it a bit themselves, but on balance, their basic tactics worked. I was always skeptical that the direct action folks could have that much impact against the police force likely to be deployed; when confronting police, you either have the vast numbers we saw on Sunday, or the police will largely shut you down.

Which brings us to the RNC and specifically, Arnold's speech. which I watched from the cheap seats in the media section of Madison Square Garden last night, all the better to see the pumping of arms and chants of "USA" from the crowd. Meant to be a sunny tribute to the welcome for immigrants in America, Arnold contrasted it with Soviet actions back home in Austria when the Russians controlled part of town:

It was a common belief that Soviet soldiers could take a man out of his own car and ship him off to the Soviet Union as slave labor.

My family didn't have a car - but one day we were in my uncle's car. It was near dark as we came to a Soviet checkpoint. I was a little boy, I wasn't an action hero back then, and I remember how scared I was that the soldiers would pull my father or my uncle out of the car and I'd never see him again. My family and so many others lived in fear of the Soviet boot.

Such a contrast to the treatment of immigrants in the United States in our post-911 world, as detailed by Human Rights Watch:
The total number of persons detained in connection with the September 11 investigation may never be known. The withholding of the identities of those charged with immigration violations in the context of the September 11 investigation-called "special interest" cases in government documents-makes it impossible to check the accuracy of the numbers released by the Department of Justice, but there are indications that more people have been arrested than the government has recognized. In addition, the Department of Justice has refused to say how many individuals have been held as material witnesses and has stated that it does not maintain records of those initially detained as part of the September 11 investigation and then held on state or local criminal charges.
And add in secret trials and you kind of have the classic police state trial system:
On September 21, 2001, pursuant to direction from the attorney general, Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy sent an internal memorandum to all immigration judges and court administrators detailing special, additional security procedures for certain cases. Under these special procedures, immigration judges are required to close hearings to the public, including family, friends, and the media.
The whole game was to use immigration proceedings to pursue criminal investigations, thereby denying detainees of the right to counsel:
In practice, the FBI has used administrative proceedings under the immigration law as a proxy to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects without affording them the rights and protections that the U.S. criminal system provides.
Most Americans feel the post-911 loss of liberty in small ways-- the roadblocks, the military used as police, searches at airports--but the fear of the knock on the door in the middle of the night is ever present for many immigrants in the US.

Maybe Bush and company can make the case that this is necessary for our security, but they then can't say we are safer and freer than when Bush came into office. For large numbers of people in the US, they live under the exact police state that Arnold described in his speech.

Posted by Nathan at September 1, 2004 07:12 AM