Sunday, March 18, 2007

Guerrilla War on the Streets of America??

Images of Police in Virginia... A Threat to Democracy

The Coalition for the Homeless passed a resolution four years ago in opposition to the war. The NEOCH board at the time felt that without proper justification for the war, we could not justify spending $200 billion on a war with so many glaring domestic needs. Boy, did we underestimate the cost of the war in 2003. Over the weekend, we saw some alarming images from the Pentagon anti-war protests. All the images of police showed masked, heavily armed and body armored, storm trooper type men all with the words "State Police" and no other identifying marks. This frightening image should be illegal in the United States. The police surrounded the Pentagon with shields and gas masks and overwhelming force against a bunch of loud but non-violent demonstrators. Those that enforce the laws of the United States during an act of peaceful assembly against the government should have their faces visible and should be clearly identifiable with their names or badge numbers in big bold letters.

NEOCH has staged many demonstrations in the past, and we always had a far too many police officers babysitting us, but never any in riot gear. The issue is that anonymous police can easily venture into excessive force with peace of mind of any possibility of consequences. How do you complain about an officer hitting you with a night stick if there are 400 officers who all look the same in front of you? This is a sure sign of the growth of the police state when we see anonymous riot police defending government buildings during a protest.

There is no reason for the police to not be clearly identified except to protect themselves from individual accountability. It is not the case that police officers are targeted like in Mexico or Columbia by death squads. There is at most the possibility of minor vandalism from demonstrators, but Riot police are a threat to our democracy and the ability for "we the people" to exercise our rights to assemble, speak, and petition the government. We have seen plenty of video from Tacoma, Washington and San Francisco and many other places where police use excessive force on demonstrators and then chuckle about it afterwards. We need to take back control over the heavily armed police and make them subject to civilian oversight. Most of the time it is the police that cause the escalation in violence and not the demonstrators.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

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