Posts Tagged ‘First Amendment’

Authored by John Whitehead

I tell you, freedom and human rights in America are doomed. The U.S. government will lead the American people in — and the West in general — into an unbearable hell and a choking life.”—Osama bin Laden (October 2001)

Ironically, we mark the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the same week we celebrate the 230th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.

While there has been much to mourn since 9/11, there has been very little to celebrate.

 

Here is what it means to live under the Constitution today.

The First Amendment is supposed to protect the freedom to speak your mind (the media, as well), worship, assemble, and protest nonviolently without being bridled by the government. Despite the clear protections found in the First Amendment, Americans continue to be censored, silenced and prosecuted for challenging government misconduct and corruption.

The Second Amendment was intended to guarantee “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Essentially, this amendment was intended to give the citizenry the means to resist tyrannical government. Yet while gun ownership has been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as an individual citizen right, Americans remain powerless to defend themselves against SWAT team raids and militarized government agents armed to the teeth.

The Third Amendment prohibits the military from entering any citizen’s home without “the consent of the owner.” Yet with the police increasingly training like, acting like, and arming themselves like military forces, we now have what the founders feared most—a standing army on American soil.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits the government from conducting surveillance on you or touching you or invading you, unless they have some evidence that you are guilty of a crime. Unfortunately, the Fourth Amendment has been all but eviscerated by an unwarranted expansion of police powers that include strip searches, surveillance and home invasions.

The Fifth Amendment and the Sixth Amendment work in tandem. These amendments supposedly ensure that you are innocent until proven guilty, and government authorities cannot deprive you of your life, your liberty or your property without the right to an attorney and a fair trial before a civilian judge. However, in our suspect/surveillance society, these fundamental principles have been upended.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees citizens the right to a jury trial. Yet when the populace has no idea of what’s in the Constitution, that inevitably translates to an ignorant jury incapable of distinguishing justice and the law from their own preconceived notions and fears.

The Eighth Amendment is supposed to protect the rights of the accused and forbid the use of cruel and unusual punishment. However, the Supreme Court’s determination that what constitutes “cruel and unusual” depends on the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society” leaves us with little protection in the face of a society lacking in morals altogether.

The Ninth Amendment provides that other rights not enumerated in the Constitution are nonetheless retained by the people. Popular sovereignty—the belief that the power to govern flows upward from the people rather than downward from the rulers—has been turned on its head by a centralized federal government that sees itself as supreme.

As for the Tenth Amendment’s reminder that the people and the states retain every authority that is not otherwise mentioned in the Constitution, that assurance of a system of government in which power is divided among local, state and national entities has long since been rendered moot by the centralized Washington, DC, power elite—the president, Congress

and the courts. Through its many agencies and regulations, the federal government has stripped states of the right to regulate countless issues that were originally governed at the local level.

If there is any sense to be made from this recitation of freedoms lost, it is simply this: our individual freedoms have been eviscerated so that the government’s powers could be expanded.

Yet those who gave us the Constitution and the Bill of Rights believed that the government exists at the behest of “We the People.” We have the power to make and break the government.

Still, it’s hard to be a good citizen if you don’t know anything about your rights or how the government is supposed to operate.

Americans are constitutionally illiterate.

Most citizens have little, if any, knowledge about their basic rights. And our educational system does a poor job of teaching the basic freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Thirty-five percent of Americans cannot name a single branch of the government. Only a quarter of Americans know it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto. One in five Americans incorrectly thinks that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is sent back to Congress for reconsideration. And more than half of Americans do not know which party controls the House and Senate.

Only one out of a thousand adults could identify the five rights protected by the First Amendment. Teachers and school administrators do not fare much better. One study found that one out of every five educators was unable to name any of the freedoms in the First Amendment. In fact, while some educators want students to learn about freedom, they do not necessarily want them to exercise their freedoms in school.

Government leaders and politicians are also ill-informed.

So what’s the solution?

Thomas Jefferson recognized that a citizenry educated on “their rights, interests, and duties” is the only real assurance that freedom will survive. As Jefferson concluded in 1820: “This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

From the President on down, anyone taking public office should have a working knowledge of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and should be held accountable for upholding their precepts. I’d go so far as to require students to pass a citizenship exam before graduating from grade school.

Here’s an idea to get educated and take a stand for freedom: anyone who signs up to become a member of The Rutherford Institute gets a wallet-sized Bill of Rights card and a Know Your Rights card.

If this constitutional illiteracy is not remedied and soon, freedom in America will be doomed.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we have managed to keep the wolf at bay so far. Barely.

Our national priorities need to be re-prioritized.

For instance, Donald Trump wants to make America great again.

I, for one, would prefer to make America free again.

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By Steve Lendman

First Amendment rights are too precious to lose. Without them, all others are at risk.

 On January 20, six independent journalists were arrested in Washington for doing their jobs – covering protests during Trump’s inauguration.
They committed no crimes, yet face possible prosecution and imprisonment. The affected journalists include documentary producer Jack Keller, independent photojournalist Shay Horse, independent journalist Matt Hopard, free lance reporter Aaron Cantu, Vocativ journalist Evan Enger, and RT America’s Alexander Rubinstein.
RT International reported the story, explaining Rubenstein was wrongfully charged with inciting a riot. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years imprisonment and can be fined as much as $25,000. RT’s press office blasted what happened, issuing a statement, saying:

“The arrest and subsequent felony rioting charge against our reporter, Alexander Rubinstein, simply for doing his job – covering inauguration protests in Washington DC – is an absolute outrage.”
“Such acts represent an egregious violation of journalistic freedom, and are particularly disheartening to witness in the country that positions itself as the global champion of free press.”
“RT will apply the full weight of its legal team in support of our journalist and we are confident that a thorough review by the US Attorney’s office will confirm that Alexander, who wore his press credentials at all times, was wrongfully arrested.”
Brutalizing protesters is commonplace in US cities, notably against global justice, anti-war, and Occupy Wall Street activists in recent years – flagrantly violating constitutional and international law.
On inauguration day, police made over 200 arrests. A DC National Lawyers’ Guild statement on its web site said police “indiscriminately targeted people for arrest en masse based on location alone.”
office blasted what happened, issuing a statement, saying:

“The arrest and subsequent felony rioting charge against our reporter, Alexander Rubinstein, simply for doing his job – covering inauguration protests in Washington DC – is an absolute outrage.”
“Such acts represent an egregious violation of journalistic freedom, and are particularly disheartening to witness in the country that positions itself as the global champion of free press.”
“RT will apply the full weight of its legal team in support of our journalist and we are confident that a thorough review by the US Attorney’s office will confirm that Alexander, who wore his press credentials at all times, was wrongfully arrested.”
Brutalizing protesters is commonplace in US cities, notably against global justice, anti-war, and Occupy Wall Street activists in recent years – flagrantly violating constitutional and international law.
On inauguration day, police made over 200 arrests. A DC National Lawyers’ Guild statement on its web site said police “indiscriminately targeted people for arrest en masse based on location alone.”
“These illegal acts are clearly designed to chill the speech of protesters engaging in First Amendment activity.” They reflect how police states operate.“These illegal acts are clearly designed to chill the speech of protesters engaging in First Amendment activity.” They reflect how police states operate.

By John W. Whitehead

“Our carceral state banishes American citizens to a gray wasteland far beyond the promises and protections the government grants its other citizens… When the doors finally close and one finds oneself facing banishment to the carceral state—the years, the walls, the rules, the guards, the inmates—reactions vary. Some experience an intense sickening feeling. Others, a strong desire to sleep. Visions of suicide. A deep shame. A rage directed toward guards and other inmates. Utter disbelief. The incarcerated attempt to hold on to family and old social ties through phone calls and visitations. At first, friends and family do their best to keep up. But phone calls to prison are expensive, and many prisons are located far from one’s hometown… As the visits and phone calls diminish, the incarcerated begins to adjust to the fact that he or she is, indeed, a prisoner. New social ties are cultivated. New rules must be understood.”—Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic

In a carceral state—a.k.a. a prison state or a police state—there is no Fourth Amendment to protect you from the overreaches, abuses, searches and probing eyes of government overlords.

In a carceral state, there is no difference between the treatment meted out to a law-abiding citizen and a convicted felon: both are equally suspect and treated as criminals, without any of the special rights and privileges reserved for the governing elite.

In a carceral state, there are only two kinds of people: the prisoners and the prison guards.

With every new law enacted by federal and state legislatures, every new ruling handed down by government courts, and every new military weapon, invasive tactic and egregious protocol employed by government agents, “we the people”—the prisoners of the American police state—are being pushed that much further into a corner, our backs against the prison wall.

This concept of a carceral state in which we possess no rights except for that which the government grants on an as-needed basis is the only way I can begin to comprehend, let alone articulate, the irrational, surreal, topsy-turvy, through-the-looking-glass state of affairs that is being imposed upon us in America today.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we who pretend we are free are no different from those who spend their lives behind bars.

Indeed, we are experiencing much the same phenomenon that journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates ascribes to those who are banished to a “gray wasteland far beyond the promises and protections the government grants its other citizens” : a sickening feeling, a desire to sleep, hopelessness, shame, rage, disbelief, clinginess to the past and that which is familiar, and then eventually resignation and acceptance of our new “normal.”

All that we are experiencing—the sense of dread at what is coming down the pike, the desperation, the apathy about government corruption, the deeply divided partisanship, the carnivalesque political spectacles, the public displays of violence, the nostalgia for the past—are part of the dying refrain of an America that is fading fast.

No longer must the government obey the law.

Likewise, “we the people” are no longer shielded by the rule of law.

While the First Amendment—which gives us a voice—is being muzzled, the Fourth Amendment—which protects us from being bullied, badgered, beaten, broken and spied on by government agents—is being disemboweled.

For instance, in a recent 5-3 ruling in Utah v. Strieff, the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door for police to stop, arrest and search citizens without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, effectively giving police a green light to embark on a fishing expedition of one’s person and property, rendering Americans completely vulnerable to the whims of any cop on the beat.

In a blistering dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor blasted the court for holding “that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.” Sotomayor continued:

This Court has allowed an officer to stop you for whatever reason he wants—so long as he can point to a pretextual justification after the fact. That justification must provide specific reasons why the officer suspected you were breaking the law, but it may factor in your ethnicity, where you live, what you were wearing, and how you behaved. The officer does not even need to know which law you might have broken so long as he can later point to any possible infraction—even one that is minor, unrelated, or ambiguous.

The indignity of the stop is not limited to an officer telling you that you look like a criminal. The officer may next ask for your “consent” to inspect your bag or purse without telling you that you can decline. Regardless of your answer, he may order you to stand “helpless, perhaps facing a wall with [your] hands raised.” If the officer thinks you might be dangerous, he may then “frisk” you for weapons. This involves more than just a pat down. As onlookers pass by, the officer may “‘feel with sensitive fingers every portion of [your] body. A thorough search [may] be made of [your] arms and armpits, waistline and back, the groin and area about the testicles, and entire surface of the legs down to the feet.’”

If you still can’t read the writing on the wall, Sotomayor breaks it down further: “This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants—even if you are doing nothing wrong… So long as the target is one of the many millions of people in this country with an outstanding arrest warrant, anything the officer finds in a search is fair game for use in a criminal prosecution. The officer’s incentive to violate the Constitution thus increases…”

Just consider some of the many other ways in which the Fourth Amendment—which ensures that the government can’t harass you, let alone even investigate you, without probable cause—has been weakened and undermined by the courts, the legislatures and various government agencies and operatives.

Breath tests, blood draws: Americans have no protection against mandatory breathalyzer tests at a police checkpoint, although mandatory blood draws violate the Fourth Amendment (Birchfield v. North Dakota).

Ignorance of the law is defensible if you work for the government: Police officers who violate the law can be granted qualified immunity if they claim ignorance of the law (Heien v. North Carolina). That rationale was also applied to police who clearly used excessive force when they repeatedly tasered a pregnant woman during a routine traffic stop and were granted immunity from prosecution (Brooks v. City of Seattle).

High-speed car chases: Police officers can use lethal force in car chases without fear of lawsuits (Plumhoff v. Rickard).

No-knock raids: Police can perform a “no-knock” as long as they have a reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing their presence, under the particular circumstances, would be dangerous or futile or give occupants a chance to destroy evidence of a crime (Richards v. Wisconsin). Legal ownership of a firearm is also enough to justify a no-knock raid by police (Quinn v. Texas).

Warrantless searches by police: Police can carry out warrantless searches on our homes based on a “reasonable” concern by police that a suspect (or occupant) might be attempting to destroy evidence, fleeing or hurt, even if it’s the wrong house (Kentucky v. King). Police can also, without a warrant, search anyone who has been lawfully arrested (United States v. Robinson) as well as their property post-arrest (Colorado v. Bertine) and their vehicle (New York v. Belton), search a car they suspect might contain evidence of a crime (Chambers v. Maroney), and search a home when the arrest is made on its premises (Maryland v. Buie).

Forced DNA extractions: Police can forcibly take your DNA, whether or not you’ve been convicted of a crime. Innocent or not, your DNA will then be stored in the national FBI database (Maryland v. King).

Strip searches: Police can subject Americans to virtual strip searches, no matter the “offense” (Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington). This “license to probe” is now being extended to roadside stops, as police officers throughout the country have begun performing roadside strip searches—some involving anal and vaginal probes—without any evidence of wrongdoing and without a warrant.

Seizures: For all intents and purposes, you’re “seized” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment from the moment an officer stops you (Brendlin v. California).

Search warrants on a leash: Police have free reign to use drug-sniffing dogs as “search warrants on leashes,” justifying any and all police searches of vehicles stopped on the roadside (Florida v. Harris), but the use of a K-9 unit after a reasonable amount of time has passed during a stop does violate the Fourth Amendment (Rodriguez v. United States).

Police and DUI Checkpoints: Police can conduct sobriety and “information-seeking” checkpoints (Illinois v. Lidster and Mich. Dep’t of State Police v. Sitz).

Interrogating public transit passengers: Police officers are free to board a bus, question passengers, and ask for consent to search without notifying them of their right to refuse (U.S v. Drayton).

Warrantless arrests for minor criminal offenses: Police can arrest you for minor criminal offenses, such as a misdemeanor seatbelt violation, punishable only by a fine (Atwater v. City of Lago Vista).

Stop and identify: Refusing to answer when a policeman asks “What’s your name?” can rightfully be considered a crime. No longer do Americans, even those not charged with any crime, have the right to remain altogether silent when stopped and questioned by a police officer (Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of the State of Nevada).

Traffic stops: As long as police have reasonable cause to believe that a traffic violation occurred, they may stop any vehicle (Whren v. U.S.). If probable cause justifies a vehicle search, then every part of the vehicle can be searched (U.S. v. Ross). A vehicle can be stopped even if the driver has not committed a traffic offense (U.S. v. Cortez).

Anonymous tips, careful driving, rigid posture and acne: Police officers can stop cars based only on “anonymous” tips (Navarette v. California). Police can also pull you over if you are driving too carefully, with a rigid posture, taking a scenic route, and have acne (U.S. v. Westhoven).

What many Americans fail to understand is the devastating amount of damage that can be done to one’s freedoms long before a case ever makes its way to court by government agents who are violating the Fourth Amendment at every turn. This is how freedoms, long undermined, can give way to tyranny through constant erosion and become part of the fabric of the police state through constant use.

Phone and email surveillance, databases for dissidents, threat assessments, terror watch lists, militarized police, SWAT team raids, security checkpoints, lockdowns, roadside strip searches: there was a time when any one of these encroachments on our Fourth Amendment rights would have roused the public to outrage. Today, such violations are shrugged off matter-of-factly by Americans who have been assiduously groomed to accept the intrusions of the police state into their private lives.

So when you hear about the FBI hacking into Americans’ computers without a warrant with the blessing of the courts, or states assembling and making public terror watch lists containing the names of those who are merely deemed suspicious, or the police knocking on the doors of activists in advance of political gatherings to ascertain their plans for future protests, or administrative government agencies (such as the FDA, Small Business Administration, Smithsonian, Social Security, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Mint, and Department of Education) spending millions on guns and ammunition, don’t just matter-of-factly file it away in that part of your brain reserved for things you may not like but over which you have no control.

It’s true that there may be little the average person can do to push back against the police state on a national level, but there remains some hope at the local level as long as we retain a speck of our independence and individuality—as long as we can resist the defeatist sense of double-consciousness (a phrase coined by W. E. B. Du Bois in which we view ourselves as inferior through the prism of our oppressors)—as long as we continue to cry out for justice for ourselves and those around us—as long as we refuse to be shackled and made prisoners—and as long as we continue to recognize that the only way the police state can truly acquire and retain power is if we relinquish it through our negligence, complacence and ignorance.

Unfortunately, we have been utterly brainwashed into believing the government’s propaganda and lies. Americans actually celebrate with perfect sincerity the anniversary of our independence from Great Britain without ever owning up to the fact that we are as oppressed now—more so, perhaps, thanks to advances in technology—than we ever were when Redcoats stormed through doorways and subjected colonists to the vagaries of a police state.

You see, by gradually whittling away at our freedoms—free speech, assembly, due process, privacy, etc.—the government has, in effect, liberated itself from its contractual agreement to respect our constitutional rights while resetting the calendar back to a time when we had no Bill of Rights to protect us from the long arm of the government.

Aided and abetted by the legislatures, the courts and Corporate America, the government has been busily rewriting the contract (a.k.a. the Constitution) that establishes the citizenry as the masters and agents of the government as the servants. We are now only as good as we are useful, and our usefulness is calculated on an economic scale by how much we are worth—in terms of profit and resale value—to our “owners.”

Under the new terms of this one-sided agreement, the government and its many operatives have all the privileges and rights and “we the prisoners” have none.

As Sotomayor concluded in her ringing dissent in Utah v. Strieff:

By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged. We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.