Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. – Benjamin Franklin
We live in a world of competing interests, including the competition between our inherent rights as citizens and the desire to be safe and secure from outside threats. Over the two-plus centuries since Franklin quipped that oft-cited quote, we have seen Liberty losing the competition with Safety. The interplay between the two has existed since time immemorial, but the United States was founded upon the concept that our Liberty was paramount. Due to numerous factors, primary among them apathy and ignorance, the Essential Liberties Franklin and our other Founding Fathers fought for have been diminished in the name of Safety and Security.
It is nothing short of astonishing to me that so many of our fellow citizens are entirely ignorant of what has happened in recent years, the rapidity with which our Liberties have been assaulted in the interest of Safety. More surprising, and appalling, is that many Americans who have heard about these issues have been passive or unconcerned. In short, a large number of our fellows have decided that the need for Safety outweighs the right to Liberty.
In an effort to combat this ignorance, and in a desperate attempt to ‘wake people up,’ I am going to reiterate what some of my major concerns are. This list is not exhaustive, but is intended to be a stepping-stone of sorts, so people may follow up on their own.
1) The USA Patriot Act (Passed in October 2001): This legislation allowed significant expansion of the government’s ability to conduct domestic surveillance and intelligence gathering operations. The powers granted are extensive and too long to be listed here, but Wikipedia has a pretty decent write up on it, including what the various provisions do: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriot_Act Many of these provisions were slated to sunset in 2005, however, the Act has been renewed and these controversial provisions are still in effect today.
2) Indefinite detention provisions of the 2012 NDAA: Sections 1021 and 1022 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act allow for the indefinite detention (that is to say, incarceration without trial) by the military, of not only foreign nationals, but also American citizens. The language in question has been ruled unconstitutionally vague by one Federal District Court, a decision which the current administration has appealed. This appeal is pending before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. If you would like to know more, simply execute a search for ‘Hedges v. Obama.’
3) The erosion, generally, of the First Amendment rights guaranteeing freedom of speech and peaceable assembly. First, the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011, which was signed by President Obama in March 2012. Facially, this Act seems rather innocuous, however it is noteworthy for a few reasons: 1) It expanded the areas covered, which restrict access and ability to protest; 2) It altered the intent requirement from ‘willfully and knowingly’ to simply ‘knowingly;’ 3) It opens the door for a broader use of the law to prevent peaceable assembly. This law in and of itself may not be a harbinger of doom, but it is the first step, legislatively speaking, that has restricted freedom of speech. Coupled with this new law are the court decisions that have significantly curtailed free speech at political events. Several courts around the United States have ruled that restrictions upon freedom of speech are constitutional, even if they restrict protestors to areas where they may not be seen or heard by those attending the political events. The most recent came from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and was the farthest-reaching to date. In short, the government’s ability to limit First Amendment freedoms has increased to the point that it is gutting the entire point of such speech.
4) Fourth Amendment search and seizure protections: The Supreme Court of the United States, and other courts, have ruled that the government is to be held to an ever-less-restrictive standard when it comes to its ability to violate your right to privacy in your person, your home, your office, your vehicle and your belongings. For example, your laptop or other electronic devices can now be searched with much less of a showing of necessity by the government. Similarly, the ‘good faith exception’ has been broadened further. Now, if police are chasing a suspect, and they mistakenly break down *your* door, anything they find is now admissible against you, even if you had no connection to the suspect whatsoever.
We must also look at certain cities that have a policy of the ‘stop and frisk.’ Recently, Philadelphia was censured by a court for such policies, but other major cities, such as New York City, continue to use the program. Stop and frisk is the policy of stopping, questioning and searching someone for any sort of ‘suspicious’ activity. In NYC alone, since the program’s inception, millions of people have been subjected to stop and frisks by the NYPD, with more than 80% of them being innocent of any wrongdoing. Further, the vast majority of those stopped have been minorities. Mayor Bloomberg has argued in favor of the policy, as part of his overall irrational vendetta against personal gun ownership. Recently, some activists who took to filming the police during stop and frisks were targeted by the NYPD, who even went so far as to place ‘wanted’ posters of the activists in police precincts.
5) No knock warrants: How many articles do you remember reading about some poor person being shot and/or killed in their own homes? It seems to be happening with an alarming frequency. One of the common threads many of these incidents share is the use of the ‘no knock’ warrant. In recent memory, the use of such warrants has increased dramatically, and, for obvious reasons, when they are executed they create a much more dangerous situation, not only for the police officers, but, more importantly, for the citizens whose homes are being violated. Examples abound: Jose Guerena, a former Marine, who was gunned down in his own home. Matthew Stewart, another veteran, who ended up shooting it out with law enforcement who he claims did not announce the fact that they were officers. A sixty year old Paulding County, Georgia man was gunned down in his home, allegedly he was holding a can of pepper spray. The list grows longer with every week. In 2012 alone there have been dozens of such incidents, with no end in sight.
6) The militarization of local law enforcement: I have written about this issue before, but it is worth repeating. The Department of Defense has been arming local law enforcement agencies with military hardware, including armored vehicles and weapons, for years now. The pace has picked up considerably, and now, in most major cities and many more smaller municipalities, the police look more like soldiers than constables. This goes hand in hand with the overuse of no knock warrants, as well as generally raising the question of why local law enforcement officers need such heavy equipment.
7) Extrajudicial assassinations: On September 30, 2011, two US citizens, Samir Khan, a journalist, and Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim cleric, were killed by drone strike in Yemen. Both men admittedly had ties to al-Qaeda, but neither had been charged with any crime in the United States. These men never had a day in court and were never convicted, thus they were deprived of several of their Constitutional rights, which include the right to due process of law. On October 14, 2011, al-Awlaki’s sixteen (16) year old son was killed in a drone strike, also in Yemen. The reason these killings are noteworthy is that they resulted from an end run around the judicial system. None of these three were accorded any of their rights, and each was killed by executive decree. Not only the end result of assassination, but the entire process that led to it, are unconscionable in a nation that relies upon the rule of law. The process for selecting such targets is entirely opaque and reminiscent of the old British Star Chamber. Despite numerous efforts for the administration to come clean about the process it has refused to do so. So now the precedent is that an American citizen can be killed by executive fiat without ever being charged with a crime.
8) Targeting veterans: Both the FBI (in 2008) and DHS (in 2009) have noted that veterans are potential extremists/domestic terrorists. Pointing to examples such as Timothy McVeigh, their reports play upon the fears that this group of citizens are highly trained and dedicated, and, thus, can become ‘disgruntled’ and carry out acts of violence. Recently we have seen cases such as that of Brandon Raub, a former Marine, who was targeted for some remarks he made on Facebook. Though he was never charged with a crime, he was detained and forced to undergo a psychological evaluation prior to his eventual release. Raub’s case is far from the only one, and, in a few cases, the targets of government action were either active duty or National Guard personnel.
9) The extended ‘border area’: Tying in with paragraph 4, above, is the issue of searches within a ‘border area.’ US regulations indicate that the government may exercise border searches within one hundred miles of an actual US border. This does not include international airports, etc, which have always allowed for customs inspections, etc. This is a matter of driving down the road within one hundred miles of a border. Border searches are allowed to have a lower threshold for probable cause than regular stops, given their different nature. Now, however, such stops can occur, with those lesser thresholds, even if you NEVER CROSSED THE BORDER. There are entire states, such as Florida, Maine, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut, which are entirely within this extended border area.
This is just a short list, I could certainly add more, but these are my top-tier concerns. If you haven’t been paying attention to what is going on, then now is the time to start. Make sure you share this information with your fellow citizens, as knowledge of these issues is our best defense.