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Randy Alcorn: Ferguson Proves Need to Stop the Spread of Mad-Cop Disease

The recent events in Ferguson, Mo., may have finally awakened the American public to a disturbing development beyond blatant racial profiling by police. The shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a Ferguson police officer that ignited street protests to which the local police response was like that of a military dictatorship have many Americans uneasy about the mad-cop disease infecting many of the nation’s police departments.

While America has never been entirely free of police excess, the growing police-state mentality of law enforcement and the blatant abuse of police power have become alarming. Beginning with the futile war on drugs and accelerating with the panicked war on terror after the 9/11 attacks, police powers have been steadily increased at the expense of constitutional civil rights.

America’s wars on drugs and on terror are mostly wars on its own citizens. And, as with all wars there is terrible collateral damage, especially from the war on drugs, which has confiscated the property of, injured, and even killed many innocent people.

To aid in fighting these wars, local police departments have been armed by the federal government with more than $4.3 billion in military equipment. It now seems every town and village needs armored vehicles, grenade launchers, assault rifles, Kevlar body armor and camouflage combat uniforms to enforce traffic laws and serve search warrants.

While it is undeniably true that racial minorities have long taken the brunt of police power abuse, no one in America is safe from the excesses of law enforcement. Being white does not shield you from police thuggery. Read Michael Bell’s account in Politico.com of the shooting death of his white, 21 year-old son by police in Kenosha, Wis. Recall the savagely lethal beating by Fullerton police of a young white mentally disturbed man. There is no shortage of such incidents occurring throughout the United States. No one is safe.

Expanded police power and the concomitant erosion of civil rights have unleashed the darker side of law enforcement. Police have copped an attitude of immunity for their excesses because they usually get away with them.

However, the arrival of social media and smart phone cameras is exposing the extent of police thuggery — to the consternation of some police. Law enforcement seems to have no problem with surveillance unless it is they who are being watched. Police have confiscated the cameras of bystanders who are filming police encounters. The Los Angeles Police Department, notorious for enforcement excesses, has for 10 years now, conveniently delayed installing cameras on its patrol cars.

Inasmuch as a peaceful, cohesive society requires an honorable, impartial and reasonable justice system, America is threatened not only by law enforcement’s police-state mentality, but also by excessive criminalization. Anyone who says ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it is delusional. Of course it is an excuse. The federal criminal code alone is more than 27,000 pages long with more than 10,000 criminal offenses. The federal tax code totals about 40,000 pages. IRS staff won’t even stand by their interpretations of those volumes of confusing gobbledygook, but you are expected to get it right.

In the course of just living their lives, it is nearly impossible for Americans to avoid being guilty of breaking some law. Many laws are passed not to protect the public, but to benefit narrow economic interests. For example, until just recently, Americans could be jailed for unlocking their own cell phones. This is not justice.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens are incarcerated for having made victimless personal choices, most frequently, drug use. Meanwhile, conniving Wall Street bankers who have defrauded millions of people and nearly wreaked the economy go unpunished. This is not justice.

When law becomes so suffocatingly prohibitive that nearly everyone is eventually guilty of something, law enforcement can become arbitrary, picking and choosing who to go after and how severely to punish the guilty. Far from serving and protecting the public, the police state perspective is that everyone is a suspect — they just haven’t been caught yet.

The increased police powers and eroded civil rights that ill-advised domestic “wars” have inflicted on Americans, along with a bloated criminal code, create an imperious mentality among law enforcement that manifests into an attitude of general disrespect for and suspicion of citizens. You can see it on the stern faces of surly TSA agents who motion passengers from the queue with a crook of the index finger and impatiently growl out commands. You’ll find it at heavily policed sobriety check points where freedom of movement is curtailed and drivers must prove their innocence before being allowed to proceed. It’s there when in violation of Fourth Amendment rights, police bullies demand to see your ID or conduct a warrantless search of your person, home, or car.

There is reason for alarm and outrage, not only in Ferguson but everywhere in America.

— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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