Sunday, June 22, 2008
Martial Law: A License to Loot, a Permit to Plunder (Updated)
Breaking and entering: Where does this fit under the heading "To protect and serve"? A paramilitary "strike team" commits a felonious break-in of a home in the flood-ravaged Midwest.
Digging up the planted axioms that litter our ordinary conversations can be a revealing exercise. We learn how deeply rooted our supposedly free society has become in collectivist and militarist assumptions.
For example: How often do we hear or read language that draws a distinction between "police" and "civilians"?
Our republican framework of government supposedly prohibits the use of the military in domestic law enforcement. Yet if a police officer isn't a civilian, he of necessity must be considered some variety of soldier: He bears arms, belongs to a force organized in a military hierarchy, issues orders, and expects immediate obedience to his demands.
Police are supposedly civilian "peace officers," distinguished from the rest of the citizenry (to paraphrase Robert Peel) only by the fact that they are specially charged to protect the rights and property of the innocent as a permanent assignment, rather than an occasional necessity.
Yet when non-professional police officers are given "law enforcement" duties by local governments -- as in Gilbert, Arizona, where such people are part of a unit that can issue traffic citations and investigate accidents -- they are referred to as "civilian auxiliaries" of police departments. Again we see the critical distinction: The regular police are something other than civilians.
Roughly a year ago, USA Today reported that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had created a shortage of ammunition, leaving police and "civilians" at the back of the line. Annual police awards ceremonies across the country routinely honor not only law enforcement officers but "civilians" for various distinguished acts.
Cultivating a new crop of "law enforcement" officers: Teenagers participating in a summer police training program receive instructions from SWAT operators at a firing range.
And, significantly, it is very common for "civilians" to be charged with "disobeying an officer" even when no other alleged offense is involved. That charge makes little sense unless it is assumed not only that police exercise authority akin to military personnel, but that common civilians are at the bottom of the hierarchy. Were this actually a country in which governments and their enforcement agencies derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, wouldn't it be possible to charge a police officer with "disobeying a citizen"?
As I mentioned above, these assumptions are usually buried and carefully ignored. But they are rudely exposed whenever crisis descends on a community and the familiar pretenses are blown away. Catastrophic natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina or this year's Midwestern floods are eagerly embraced by law enforcement agencies as a pretext for overtly exercising the kind of power that many of them covertly lust to employ all the time -- the power to regiment their communities at gunpoint under a form of martial law.
Think, once again, of the roots of that expression: "Martial" has its origin in the proper name Mars, referring to the pagan deity of -- what activity?
The term unmistakably refers to a military posture, or a state of war. It is the suspension of normal life via force majeure, resulting in rule by unalloyed force. And the capacity for rule of this kind is embedded in every law enforcement body in every community across the country, simply waiting for an excuse to manifest itself.
Many who reside in our flood-ravaged Midwest are learning, as residents of New Orleans did before them, that our paramilitary "protectors" will eagerly exploit disasters in ways that compound the suffering inflicted by a natural disaster. Many citizens in such circumstances prefer to stay in their homes, running their own risks in order to protect what is theirs. But it is
standard operating procedure for police -- aided, at times, by National Guardsmen -- to force such people out of their homes, and to use the force of arms to prevent those who have left from returning.
In the wake of the floodwaters in Iowa came all of the impedimentia of military occupation -- armed guards, checkpoints, detention areas. These strictures were imposed on communities already reeling from a deadly caprice of nature. Rather than permitting people to inspect their own property, "strike teams" that included armed police broke into locked homes, including the occasional occupied dwelling.
One Cedar Rapids homeowner, understandably outraged that a "strike team" had broken into his otherwise undamaged home, confronted them and made his feelings known in forceful but measured terms. This prompted police officer Josh Bell to threaten the homeowner with arrest for "harassing" the "strike team."
The business end of government "compassion": Armed "protectors" arrest Cedar Rapids homeowner Ricky Blazek at gunpoint (left, below).
That aggravated homeowner was relatively fortunate.
Fellow Cedar Rapids resident Ricky Blazek, one of several thousand flood victims reasonably infuriated by "checkpoints" preventing them from returning to their homes, tried to circumnavigate one such roadblock in his automobile. This resulted in Blazek being forced out of his car at gunpoint and arrested.
While the armed "strike teams" had unfettered access to homes of flood victims, and the media was given limited access in order to chronicle the supposed heroism of the government functionaries, homeowners basted in a seething broth of frustrated suspicion.
After all, would any thinking person feel secure knowing that government agents, freed by a natural disaster from the constraints of the pesky Fourth Amendment, had free rein to break into their homes and help themselves to anything they found therein?
Last year, the small town of Greensburg, Kansas was all but obliterated by a tornado of a ferocity not seen in the region since Dorothy Gale's house was rapted away to Oz and deposited rudely on top of Hillary Clinton's long-forgotten sister.
That's certainly more than enough for any town to suffer. However, the police establishment, displaying government's infallible gift for compounding tragedy, made matters immeasurably worse by barring residents from their homes and then selectively looting them for firearms (and, in some cases, jewelry and other valuables).
Gun Week reports that these thefts were made possible because officers "from various agencies" -- local and state police, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, FEMA, and the ATF -- "allegedly claimed that martial law had been imposed when it had not, and ordered all residents to leave the town."
Those residents who discovered the thefts and demanded the return of their firearms found them, in many cases, damaged to the point of being useless. A few opened gun cases only to discover that their firearms had been replaced with guns of inferior quality.
Bob Martin, an 83-year-old trap shooter, returned to his home the morning after the tornado to discover that several of his guns were missing. Like Ricky Blazek, Martin was originally barred access to his home by officers who claimed, falsely, that martial law had been declared by the municipal or state government. He was forced to take a circuitous route to his home; by the time he got there, his gun safe had been plundered.
After getting back several -- but not all -- of his guns (which had been damaged in police custody, Martin, along with his wife, moved out of Greensburg. He now regrets not shooting his way through the police barricade that kept him from defending his home and property.
"If I'd have known [that the martial law claim was a ruse, and the police were looting his gun collection], I had a gun of my own in the car, and I'd [have] loaded it and gone in," Martin says. "Ain't nobody going to keep me off my property."
Whatever it is that prompts a man in his ninth decade to take such a commendably militant stance toward the looters in blue, I earnestly hope it's contagious.
Provoked by the police crime wave that descended on tornado-ravaged Greenburg, the Kansas state legislature this year enacted HB 2280 (.pdf), a law that (per the official summary) "prohibits officials, during a declared state of emergency, from forcibly dispossessing an owner of any firearm not otherwise prohibited by law, or from requiring registration of firearms not required to be registered under state law."
Now, that bill was pockmarked with troubling qualifications (for instance, no peaceful and law-abiding citizen can properly be "prohibited by law" from owning any weapon he has the means to purchase and the skill to operate, "laws" holding otherwise notwithstanding). But the fundamental point here is of the "Well, duh" variety: Police shouldn't take advantage of natural disasters to steal firearms from citizens, any more than street crooks should capitalize on the opportunity to swipe consumer electronics from undefended retail stores.
Thus it is hugely significant that HB 2280, which only prohibits police from doing something they weren't authorized to do in the first place, was opposed by the Pratt County (Kansas) Sheriff, the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
From their point of view, it's just not worth the trouble of having a natural disaster if the event can't be exploited to regiment local civilians and confiscate their firearms.
UPDATE: Submit or die....
Justin Raimondo of AntiWar.com offers the following capsule summary of the unpunished massacre of dozens of Iraqi civilians by a U.S. Marine unit in Haditha:
"When an IED killed one of his Marines, [SSgt. Frank] Wuterich and company shot everyone in the vicinity – including five unarmed men who were getting out of a taxi. Wuterich claims that the Iraqis disobeyed orders to stop and raise their hands over their heads, but others on the scene testify that they were complying and were shot anyway. Yet, whatever happened, Wuterich's working assumption – that the five harbored hostile intent toward him and his men – was and is undoubtedly correct. Because that's what imperialism is all about: occupying countries where you're hated by the locals, who are constantly trying to kill you. So naturally you get nervous and trigger-happy, and mistakes are made. That's the sort of war we're fighting and have to fight as long as we're in Iraq." (Emphasis added.)
Here we see how Iraqis living under an undisguised military occupation are expected -- on pain of summary execution -- to obey the orders of a foreign soldier. A variant of that mindset can be seen anytime an American citizen is arrested and charged with the supposed offense of "disobeying an officer's orders." And during periods of emergency rule, whether or not the condition is referred to as "martial law," those referred to as "civilians" in post-Katrina America can expect that they'll be treated with just a little bit more solicitude than Iraqis -- but not much.
Martial law, after all, is merely a military occupation conducted within our borders, rather than outside them.
And we should entertain no illusions about the fact that police agencies are deliberately re-tooling themselves into overtly military bodies. This can be clearly seen in -- among other things -- recruitment pitches like this one (courtesy of Radley Balko) from a SWAT team in Rome, Georgia.
Dum spiro, pugno!