As we witness the brutal beating of a retired school teacher, come to New Orleans to contribute his share to the rebuilding of a broken city, some of us dare wonder what the citizens of Tikrit, Fallujah, Ramadi and other targeted communities of Iraq must endure on a daily basis, where there are no civil authorities, no cameras (except the embedded kind), no civilian oversight and no judicial recourse.
Police abuse, bias and corruption are serious problems not only in New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York but in every city, town and village in America where otherwise ordinary people become enamored with the power of the badge.
How dare these New Orleans cops use the Katrina disaster as an excuse to beat a man senseless, whose worst conceivable crime was indifference to the almighty authority of the New Orleans police? The same District Attorney, who threw the book at the owners of a nursing home for abandoning their clientele in an unimaginable catastrophe, had better throw the book at the cops who capitalized on that same disaster to institute a policy of unrestrained brutality.
It is the history of police lawlessness, from Boss Tweed and the Daley machine to Serpico, that in the absence of civilian review, it occurs universally and even when it is addressed it recycles every ten to twenty years. Law enforcement agencies require constant civilian oversight or the law of natural corruption will inevitably apply: Without vigilant and ongoing accountability, power corrupts.
This nation is long overdue for a comprehensive review of police practices but in a pervasive climate of fear, it is considered unpatriotic to question authority. Let there be no doubt: If the incident in New Orleans were not recorded on tape, despite the testimony of multiple witnesses, there would be no accountability. The beaten man would never appear on camera, his story would be never be heard beyond the courtroom, and he would be victimized again.
What is true of civilian law enforcement is doubly true of military personnel. The day we yield civilian authority in our cities and towns is the day we sacrifice freedom forever. Who polices the police? Who holds the military in check? It would be a monumental mistake to believe that a military takeover could not happen here. It can happen anywhere that fear becomes the overriding sentiment. Why did they disarm the people of New Orleans? If there was disorder in the early days of the disaster, did this action help or hinder? Why did they shoot dogs and disarm citizens before they delivered food or water?
When we hear government proposals for martial law in the event of terrorist attacks, natural disasters or flu pandemics, it should chill every freedom-loving citizen to the bone. The government failed in the Gulf Coast not because civilian authorities were in control but because federal agencies were under-funded, indifferent and unprepared.
To the advocates of the Second Amendment, the actions of the government in New Orleans should have been alarming. It is also a reminder that the government you have supported for decades has failed its first and most critical test of second amendment rights. The rightwing Republicans have played you for fools. The right to bear arms was specifically designed to confront the excesses of government. While I am not such an advocate and I believe that weaponry should be strictly controlled and regulated, the events of New Orleans present a clear case for a well-regulated citizen militia to uphold public order and restore law.
The parallels to Iraq are striking. There is clearly no commitment to citizen militias in that war torn region. Why? Are the people we call the insurgents really the peopleís last line of defense against a foreign invader? Are they not the civilian defenders of liberty constitutionally protected by our second amendment?
As difficult as it may be, place yourself in Iraqi shoes. Try to imagine what you would have done if you were a citizen of Iraq when the Americans invaded. Given a choice, you would not fight for Saddam, the great oppressor of your people, but would you fight against the invaders? When the dictator fell, perhaps you would wait to see what the Americans would do. As an informed citizen, you would know the history of destruction and contempt for your people the invaders represented. When the Americans arrested masses on nothing but the thinnest veil of suspicion, sent them to Abu Ghraib and tortured them, would you grow tired of waiting? When the invaders built one after another massive military installations, belying their promise that they would not remain in your country indefinitely, would you accept that they had no intention of leaving?
Maybe I am naÔve but I believe that many of us would fight the occupation. We would be branded terrorists and enemies to freedom but we would fight.
No man or woman knows with certainty what he or she would do in a land that offers only one form of employment: collaboration with the occupiers. Maybe I am naÔve to think that I would fight when to do so would endanger my family, friends and associates. Maybe it is naÔve to think that my family and friends would stand by me in such a fight. What is the price of life in Baghdad? What is the price of justice in New Orleans?
It is not inconceivable that the untenable choices we have forced upon the citizens of Iraq may one day come home to our cities, towns and villages. Perhaps then we will understand the gift of liberty and democracy we have delivered to Iraq and Afghanistan.
We must fight tyranny over there so that we do not have to fight tyranny here at home.
Do not believe it is impossible. When fear is the dominant motif, tyranny is always possible.
Jack Random is the author of Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press) the Jazzman Chronicles, Volumes I and II (City Lights Books). The Chronicles have been published by CounterPunch, the Albion Monitor, Buzzle, Dissident Voice and others. Visit his website: Random Jack.
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