Federal, state and local governments had no hesitation in tearing down civil liberties after 9/11, as that hideous idea of “giving up freedom to gain security” cemented itself in America. Only, the security part was a ruse – it was neatly packaged and sold to the American public. It’s a great cover story for two real and desired consequences of the War on Terror–State power and profiteering in the industries of death, destruction, and surveillance.
Declaring war on a tactic meant that anyone, anywhere, could be an instant target. The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which gives the president near-dictatorial powers, is the umbrella for all of the obliteration of rights carried out by the executive and legislative branches since that horrific day.
The power and thirst for death became so great that it ultimately resulted in the assassination–by order of a single man–of an American citizen overseas, along with his 16-year-old son. At home, law enforcement is increasingly militarized and the surveillance state has burgeoned to massive proportions.
The AUMF is still in place 14 years later, and does not appear to be going anywhere.
The Praetorian Guard (aka mainstream media), after parroting government lies to advance war and dismantle rights, gave a brief, token glance to the devastating revelations of Snowden and other brave whistleblowers.
We’re left with the fact that our Bill of Rights, that fabled document that supposedly set us apart from all other nations, now exists only in history books.
Special freedoms are now limited to a noble class of government that includes the security state and its foot soldiers, the police officers.
Most states have a Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBoR)—codified into law or in contracts with police unions—that grants special privileges to police officers when they are investigated. There are constant attempts to make a national LEOBoR, with a bill currently pending in Congress. Other states are considering their own versions, which will likely be accelerated with the false notion of a “war on cops” currently being perpetrated.
Maryland and Rhode Island seem to be tied for first place in the most extensive set of privileges for their men and women in blue. Maryland’s LEOBoR, which was established in 1972, includes the following provisions:
- Officers can wait 10 days before talking to investigators
- Investigators must be fellow officers and no more than two can conduct questioning at the same time
- Time of questioning is limited and breaks are numerous
- Lying to obtain an admission of guilt is forbidden (this is standard procedure for non-police suspects)
- Harassing, threatening or offering rewards is forbidden
- A union representative can be present during questioning
- A 3-month statute of limitations on people filing complaints against officers, even if the person is hospitalized
- Complaints and investigations against an officer may be purged after three years
- May appeal his case to a “hearing board” of fellow officers, whose decision is binding, before a decision on discipline is made
In Rhode Island, the officer being investigated can choose one of the three members on the hearing board.
Imagine if we common folk had these kinds of rights when facing the long arm of the law, which more often than not pursues people for unjust reasons and victimless crimes.
Police union spokesmen seem to think these are just ordinary things that should be guaranteed to law enforcement.
“All this bill of rights does is provide basic due process for our officers, who are covered by the Constitution just like anyone else.” said Vince Canales, president of Maryland’s Fraternal Order of Police.
Not so, says Samuel Walker, an expert on law enforcement accountability. LEOBoR adds a “special layer of due process” which “impedes accountability, and truly is a key element of our lack of responsiveness to these cases” of excessive force. “But even though all of this has been on our minds, lately, we haven’t been talking about the LEOBoR. It’s a scandal, really.”
Peter Neufeld, an attorney who successfully fought against some of New York’s blue shield of protections, said the waiting period before questioning is particularly insidious.
It “allows these officers to wait until the forensics come in before constructing a narrative. Sure, even if you were able to question them earlier in the process, you wouldn’t get many cops who would confess. But you would get some who’d make false exculpatory statements, and that’s a big deal.”
2015 is shaping up to witness the most killings carried out by U.S. police in 40 years. An unarmed civilian is killed every three days, sometimes in cold-blooded fashion, and there is hardly ever a serious investigation into these acts. In Baltimore, it took historic protests and riots to get investigators interested in finding out what happened to Freddie Gray.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake named Maryland’s LEOBoR as a specific reason city officials could not fully engage with the officers in the case. The mayor tried to get the LEOBoR modified in the Maryland legislature even before the Gray incident, but it never got anywhere, and she was met with hostility.
“When I went down to Annapolis to try to fight for reform, simple reform of the enforcement bill of rights, people looked at me like I had three eyes,” said Rawlings-Blake.
The special privileges apply only to internal investigations, but this is usually the only investigation that is carried out. All the special rules and regulations make it so time-consuming and cumbersome that departments will not even take the trouble to do it. This allows an officer to continue bad behavior and remain on the force until something really bad happens, like in the case of Officer Kenton Hampton, who helped five other officers beat a homeless man to death.
Lobbyists with the Fraternal Order of Police began introducing LEOBoR into legislatures in the 70’s and 80’s, as a reaction to civil rights activists demanding greater police accountability. Activists managed to establish civilian review boards, but these were effectively nullified when LEOBoR allowed internal investigations to preempt the civilian review boards.
For four decades, special layers of privilege have been granted to the noble class of blue-uniformed, badge-wearing law enforcers, shielding them from punishment for excessive force and murder. Police brutality and militarization are on the rise, and more states are trying to get their own LEOBoR. Forces in federal government are trying to get a national version.
However, that same brutality that has flourished under these special privileges is now causing another wave of protest and civil rights actions. The death of Freddie Gray propelled LEOBoR into the spotlight. We have the power to tear down this wall of protection so cops can be subject to the same system of justice under which we must live.
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