John Whitehead's Commentary
You’re Under Arrest: How the Police State Muzzles Our Right to Speak Truth to Power [SHORT]
We live in an age in which “we the people” are at the mercy of militarized, weaponized, immunized cops who have almost absolute discretion to decide who is a threat, what constitutes resistance, and how harshly they can deal with the citizens they were appointed to “serve and protect.”
As such, those who seek to exercise their First Amendment rights during encounters with the police are increasingly finding that there is no such thing as freedom of speech.
This is the painful lesson being imparted with every incident in which someone gets arrested and charged with any of the growing number of contempt charges (ranging from resisting arrest and interference to disorderly conduct, obstruction, and failure to obey a police order) that get trotted out anytime a citizen voices discontent with the government or challenges or even questions the authority of the powers-that-be.
Merely daring to question, challenge or hesitate when a cop issues an order can get you charged with resisting arrest or disorderly conduct, free speech be damned.
In fact, getting charged or arrested is now the best case scenario for encounters with police officers who are allowed to operate under the assumption that their word is law and that there is no room for any form of disagreement or even question.
The worst case scenario involves getting probed, beaten, tasered, tackled, searched, seized, stripped, manhandled, shot, or killed by police.
This mindset that anyone who wears a government uniform (soldier, police officer, prison guard) must be obeyed without question is a telltale sign of authoritarianism goose-stepping its way towards totalitarianism.
Be warned: there can be no free speech for the citizenry when the government speaks in a language of force.
What is this language of force?
Militarized police. Riot squads. Camouflage gear. Black uniforms. Armored vehicles. Mass arrests. Pepper spray. Tear gas. Batons. Strip searches. Surveillance cameras. Kevlar vests. Drones. Lethal weapons. Less-than-lethal weapons unleashed with deadly force. Rubber bullets. Water cannons. Stun grenades. Arrests of journalists. Crowd control tactics. Intimidation tactics. Brutality. Contempt of cop charges.
This is how the government at all levels—federal, state and local—now responds to those who choose to exercise their First Amendment right to speak freely.
Just recently, in fact, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling protecting police from lawsuits by persons arrested on bogus “contempt of cop” charges (ranging from resisting arrest and interference to disorderly conduct, obstruction, and failure to obey a police order) that result from lawful First Amendment activities (filming police, asking a question of police, refusing to speak with police).
In Nieves v. Bartlett, the Court ruled 6-3 to dismiss the case of Russell Bartlett, an Alaska resident who was arrested at an outdoor festival for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after he refused to be interrogated by police and then intervened when police attempted to question other attendees about their drinking.
Another case currently before the Supreme Court, Ogle v. State of Texas, involves the prosecution of a Texas man who faces up to one year in jail and a $4000 fine for sending emails to police criticizing them for failing to respond to his requests for assistance.
In yet another case, a rapper was charged with making terroristic threats after posting a song critical of police on Facebook and YouTube. In refusing to hear the case of Knox v. Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court paved the way for individuals who engage in controversial and unpopular political or artistic expression, by criticizing the police for example, to be labeled terrorists and subject to prosecution and suppression by the government.
These cases reflect a growing awareness about the state of free speech in America: it’s all a lie.
Protest laws, free speech zones, bubble zones, trespass zones, anti-bullying legislation, zero tolerance policies, hate crime laws, and a host of other legalistic maladies dreamed up by politicians and prosecutors are aimed at one thing only: discouraging dissent and reminding the populace that resistance to the tyranny of the police state is futile.
Weaponized by police, prosecutors, courts and legislatures, “contempt of cop” charges have become yet another means by which to punish those individuals who refuse to be muzzled.
This is the unfortunate price of exercising one’s freedoms today: you may have distinct, protected rights on paper, but dare to exercise those rights and you put yourself at risk for fines, arrests, injuries and even death.
In theory, of course, “we the people” have a constitutional right to talk back to the government.
The Constitution does not require Americans to be servile or even civil to government officials.
Neither does the Constitution require obedience (although it does insist on nonviolence).
In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded as much in City of Houston v. Hill when it struck down a city ordinance prohibiting verbal abuse of police officers as unconstitutionally overbroad and a criminalization of protected speech.
Unfortunately, the brutal reality of the age in which we live is far different from the ideals set forth in the Bill of Rights: talking back—especially when the police are involved—can get you killed.
The government does not want us to remember that we have rights, let alone attempting to exercise those rights peaceably and lawfully. And it definitely does not want us to engage in First Amendment activities that challenge the government’s power, reveal the government’s corruption, expose the government’s lies, and encourage the citizenry to push back against the government’s many injustices.
We’re in deep trouble, folks.
Freedom no longer means what it once did.
Not only do we no longer have dominion over our bodies, our families, our property and our lives, but the government continues to chip away at what few rights we still have to speak freely and think for ourselves.
Yet as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, if the government can control speech, it can control thought and, in turn, it can control the minds of the citizenry.
Protest laws, contempt of cop charges, and all of the other bogus violations used by cops and prosecutors to muzzle discontent and discourage anyone from challenging government authority are intended to send a strong message that in the American police state, you’re either part of the herd, marching in lockstep with the government’s dictates, or you’re a pariah, a suspect, a criminal, a troublemaker, a terrorist, a radical, a revolutionary.