Tag Archives: terrorism

The IRS Intentionally Targeted Innocent Small Business Owners in Order to Steal Millions Via Forfeiture Laws

IRS Asset Forfeiture Theft Small Business Revenue Generation

The Internal Revenue Service used deposit restrictions intended to detect profits from illegal activities to steal from innocent legal business owners.

Earlier this month, a report from the Treasury Department’s Inspector General detailed how the Internal Revenue Service used a restriction on deposits to bilk otherwise law abiding individuals and businesses of millions of dollars using asset forfeiture laws. Those restrictions require that any deposits made to a bank above $10,000 be reported to the IRS. The stated intention of that restriction is to draw attention to profits generated by illegal acts, such as terrorism and the violation of drug prohibitions.

In order to escape that scrutiny, many of those involved in such activities employ what is called “structuring,” which consists of splitting large deposits into multiple smaller deposits that are below that $10,000 threshold. However, many others involved in completely legal activities also do the same thing for various innocent reasons. Those reasons include a lack of awareness of those restrictions, insurance policies that limit coverage of deposits to less than that amount, and simply an effort to avoid extra paperwork (often on the advice of bank employees).

While structuring is illegal under the federal Bank Secrecy Act, according to the Inspector General it is really just a technicality that is intended to allow the initiation of an investigation into whether the deposits in question were derived from illegal activities. Instead, the IRS often used the practice of structuring alone as a justification to seize those deposits, via civil asset forfeiture. They also intentionally targeted small businesses and individuals engaged in legal activities due to the fact that they were less likely to be able to fight the forfeitures and in order to avoid “time consuming” investigations of actual criminals.

Via the Washington Post:

They “were not put in place just so that the Government could enforce the reporting requirements,” as the IG’s report puts it.

But according to the report, that’s exactly what happened at the IRS in recent years. The IRS pursued hundreds of cases from 2012 to 2015 on suspicion of structuring, but with no indications of connections to any criminal activity. Simply depositing cash in sums of less than $10,000 was all that it took to arouse agents’ suspicions, leading to the eventual seizure and forfeiture of millions of dollars in cash from people not otherwise suspected of criminal activity.

The IG took a random sample of 278 IRS forfeiture actions in cases where structuring was the primary basis for seizure. The report found that in 91 percent of those cases, the individuals and business had obtained their money legally.

“Most people impacted by the program did not appear to be criminal enterprises engaged in other alleged illegal activity,” according to a news release from the IG. “Rather, they were legal businesses such as jewelry stores, restaurant owners, gas station owners, scrap metal dealers, and others.”

More troubling, the report found that the pattern of seizures — targeting businesses that had obtained their money legally — was deliberate.

“One of the reasons why legal source cases were pursued was that the Department of Justice had encouraged task forces to engage in ‘quick hits,’ where property was more quickly seized and more quickly resolved through negotiation, rather than pursuing cases with other criminal activity (such as drug trafficking and money laundering), which are more time-consuming,” according to the news release.

In most cases, the report found, agents followed a protocol of “seize first, ask questions later.” Agents only questioned individuals and business owners after they had already seized their money.

In many cases, the property owners provided plausible explanations for their pattern of deposits. But these explanations appeared to have been disregarded or ignored.

“In most instances, we found no evidence that attempted to verify the property owners’ explanations,” according to the report.

It probably shouldn’t be that surprising that the Feds’ official revenue generators at the IRS jumped on an opportunity to go the extra mile and generate even more cash to fund our disfunctional, violent uncle’s war machine. Nor should it be particulary shocking that they avoided the tedious work of investigating actual criminals in favor of preying on innocent people that lack the ability to fight back.

Incidentally, it’s unknown exactly how much money the IRS stole from innocent businessmen, because they don’t voluntarily disclose those figures and refused to honor Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests for that information even after those requesting it said pretty please.

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Update: Sister Megan Rice, “Transform Now Plowshares” Members Released

Sister Meghan RiceLast week, I posted about the 6th U.S. Circuit Court’s ruling (see below) that overturned the sabotage convictions of the “Y-12 Three” and ordered resentencing for their convictions on the charge of “injuring government property.” This created hope that “Transform Now Plowshares” members Sister Megan Rice, Michael Walli, and Greg Boertje-Obed would be released as a result, since their sentences were largely based on that higher charge of sabotage. On Saturday May 16th, those hopes were realized after the government stated that they would not fight their release:

“All three peace activists who vandalized Y-12 are out of prison. Attorney Marc Shapiro said Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed were released from prison Saturday afternoon. Sister Megan Rice, 85, was released a several hours later…

On Friday, the government responded that it did not object to their release pending the July hearing, if the court ‘determines that the potential risk of the defendants over-serving their likely guideline sentences on their remaining convictions constitutes ‘exceptional reasons” under federal law.”

At this point, from everything I’ve heard it appears that they will be sentenced to time served on July 8th. Therefore, they will remain free, having already served more time than what is typical for the lesser crime for which their convictions were upheld:

The trio will still be re-sentenced on the lesser charges, but it could mean they are out of prison for good for the time already served. Quigley (their lawyer) says they are thrilled with the decision and still stand by their actions.

Excerpt from the previous post:

Transform Now Plowshares Members’ Convictions Overturned

Transform Now Plowshares Y-12 Sister Megan RiceOn May 8th, an appeals court overturned the convictions of Sister Megan Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli, members of the “Transform Now Plowshares” movement, on sabotage crimes relating to their acts of civil disobedience against nuclear war and in favor of peace. They also ordered that they be re-sentenced for a lesser crime of “injuring government property,” which was upheld.

Via the NY Times:

An anti-nuke nun may soon be blessed with freedom.

An appeals court has overturned the sabotage convictions of an 85-year-old nun and two fellow Catholic peace activists who broke into a weapons-grade uranium facility and splashed blood on the walls.

But Sister Megan Rice, locked up in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn for the past two years, 66-year-old Michael Walli, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 59, are not totally in the clear yet.

A panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision Friday that the three did not injure national security when they cut through several fences and broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., in July 2012.

But the court upheld a less serious conviction for injuring government property. “If a defendant blew up a building used to manufacture components for nuclear weapons . . . the government surely could demonstrate an adverse effect on the nation’s ability to attack or defend,” the opinion said. “But vague platitudes about a facility’s ‘crucial role in the national defense’ are not enough to convict a defendant of sabotage.”

The trio, known as the Y-12 three, hung banners, prayed and hammered on the outside wall of the bunker in Oak Ridge to symbolize a Bible passage that refers to the end of war: “They will beat their swords into ploughshares.”

Their aim was to bring the dangers of unimpeded nuclear proliferation to people’s attention.

The Appellate Court’s ruling determined that “Congress never intended to punish individuals whose sole intent was to spread a message of peace, which is far from trying to disrupt nuclear defense systems.”

The government had 14 days (as of May 8, 2015) to file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to have the convictions reinstated. I don’t have a lot of faith in the government in general or in their willingness to back down rather than fight to the bitter end to force compliance with their authority, but I have some personal reasons (read below for more on that) to hope they will, since I actually know Sister Meghan and consider her a friend.

Sister Meghan and the others convicted with her are nothing short of political prisoners, who (as the appeals court acknowledged) were given inflated charges based on the political messages they expressed with their protest and the defiance they displayed in the process, as well as the embarrassment the ease with which they carried it out caused to those tasked with guarding America’s war machines. They should be released immediately.

Sister Meghan RiceSister Megan Rice – an Unofficial Saint

Sister Megan Rice, a Catholic nun and long time member of the Catholic Worker movement, is one of the nicest, kindest, most soft-spoken people you would ever meet. She’s also one of the toughest and most morally grounded people you could ever be lucky enough to know. I first met her when she was living in Las Vegas and I was involved in helping to re-establish the local Food Not Bombs group here, back in late 2008. Sister Megan and other members of Las Vegas Catholic Worker were among those that had supported Food Not Bombs Las Vegas when the City of Las Vegas passed laws making it illegal to share food with hungry people, specifically with people who “a reasonable, ordinary person would believe” needed that food. Before that…Read the full post by clicking here.

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Convictions of Sister Megan Rice, and the “Y-12 Three” Overturned

Transform Now Plowshares Members’ Could Be Released Soon

Transform Now Plowshares Y-12 Sister Megan RiceOn May 8th, an appeals court overturned the convictions of Sister Megan Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli, members of the “Transform Now Plowshares” movement, on sabotage crimes relating to their acts of civil disobedience against nuclear war and in favor of peace. They also ordered that they be re-sentenced for a lesser crime of “injuring government property,” which was upheld.

Via the NY Times:

An anti-nuke nun may soon be blessed with freedom.

An appeals court has overturned the sabotage convictions of an 85-year-old nun and two fellow Catholic peace activists who broke into a weapons-grade uranium facility and splashed blood on the walls.

But Sister Megan Rice, locked up in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn for the past two years, 66-year-old Michael Walli, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 59, are not totally in the clear yet.

A panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision Friday that the three did not injure national security when they cut through several fences and broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., in July 2012.

But the court upheld a less serious conviction for injuring government property. “If a defendant blew up a building used to manufacture components for nuclear weapons . . . the government surely could demonstrate an adverse effect on the nation’s ability to attack or defend,” the opinion said. “But vague platitudes about a facility’s ‘crucial role in the national defense’ are not enough to convict a defendant of sabotage.”

The trio, known as the Y-12 three, hung banners, prayed and hammered on the outside wall of the bunker in Oak Ridge to symbolize a Bible passage that refers to the end of war: “They will beat their swords into ploughshares.”

Their aim was to bring the dangers of unimpeded nuclear proliferation to people’s attention.

The Appellate Court’s ruling determined that “Congress never intended to punish individuals whose sole intent was to spread a message of peace, which is far from trying to disrupt nuclear defense systems.”

The government had 14 days (as of May 8, 2015) to file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to have the convictions reinstated. I don’t have a lot of faith in the government in general or in their willingness to back down rather than fight to the bitter end to force compliance with their authority, but I have some personal reasons (read below for more on that) to hope they will, since I actually know Sister Meghan and consider her a friend.

Sister Meghan and the others convicted with her are nothing short of political prisoners, who (as the appeals court acknowledged) were given inflated charges based on the political messages they expressed with their protest and the defiance they displayed in the process, as well as the embarrassment the ease with which they carried it out caused to those tasked with guarding America’s war machines. They should be released immediately.

Sister Meghan RiceSister Megan Rice – an Unofficial Saint

Sister Megan Rice, a Catholic nun and long time member of the Catholic Worker movement, is one of the nicest, kindest, most soft-spoken people you would ever meet. She’s also one of the toughest and most morally grounded people you could ever be lucky enough to know. I first met her when she was living in Las Vegas and I was involved in helping to re-establish the local Food Not Bombs group here, back in late 2008. Sister Megan and other members of Las Vegas Catholic Worker were among those that had supported Food Not Bombs Las Vegas when the City of Las Vegas passed laws making it illegal to share food with hungry people, specifically with people who “a reasonable, ordinary person would believe” needed that food. Before that, she spent 40 years as a schoolteacher and relief worker in some of the poorest areas of Africa, until bouts with malaria and typhoid fever forced her to return to the United States.

From the first time I ever met her at a local coffee shop where we held the Las Vegas A-Cafe at that time, Sister Megan was never anything, but pleasant, friendly, and helpful. However, even as apparent as her good nature was, you could see and hear the strength of her character just as easily. She was the kind of genuine person that you respected as soon as you met her. Through involvement with Food Not Bombs and other peace groups, as well as my own personal advocacy, I have often worked with Catholic Worker and other faith-based groups in the Las Vegas area, such as Nevada Desert Experience and Pace e Bene, that are associated with them.

As a result, I had a fair amount of interaction with Sister Megan during her last couple of years in Las Vegas. During that time, my respect and admiration for her never ceased to grow. Her peaceful, yet determined, demeanor was always both inspirational and educational. Talking to her at regular “everyday” events was always a pleasant experience. On the other side of the coin, witnessing how she never let fear of punishment deter her from standing up for the right thing and was always willing to accept the consequences that might come, regardless of how overblown or draconian they might have been, was something that always strengthened my own resolve.

Toward the end of her time in Las Vegas, I attended the trial of the “Creech 14,” who had been arrested for stepping too close to the gate of Creech Air Force Base (where most of the U.S. drones are operated remotely) in order to protest the murders of people in other countries (including women and children) by people just north of Las Vegas. Sister Meghan (as well as the rest of the defendants) never backed down from her principles or recanted their beliefs as unjust, but simply made the argument that their actions were based on a duty to defend innocent people.

It seemed fairly obvious, that even the judge was sympathetic to their arguments, which included testimony from Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark on their behalf. Of course, when you are accused of challenging the government’s war machine, no judge will side against their employer and its biggest source of income, regardless of their potential sympathies for the accused. Especially in what was really a very minor case that was being used as a sort of show trial to discourage future activism against Creech’s drone murders. When I spoke to her after the trial on the phone, instead of being upset (like I was) or even disappointed that they were convicted, she was actually cheerful and talking about moving onto the next fight.

Transform Now Plowshares and the Oakridge Nuclear Facility – Pacifistic Terrorism

From left, Greg Boertje-Obed, Sister Megan Rice, and Michael Walli. (Photo: Saul Young/News Sentinel)

Not long after that, she left Nevada and shortly thereafter became involved in the biggest and most principled fight that anyone I know personally has ever undertaken. At a time when most people are relaxing in retirement, Sister Megan actually shut down a nuclear weapons manufacturing facility.

Along with Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli, of the “Transform Now Plowshares” movement, the (at the time) 82 year old nun entered the Oak Ridge (TN) National Laboratory, hung protest banners, poured blood on the walls, and spray-painted antiwar statements on buildings. The ease with which they entered what was supposed to be a highly secure nuclear weapons facility and the very public nature of it, this particular action not only challenged, but very much embarrassed the U.S. Government.

That public shaming of the United States’ war apparatus and it’s very lax security was their real “crime.” Outside of that, all the three pacifists had committed was trespassing and what would be a stretch to call vandalism, since no actual property was damaged. In spite of that, they were branded as “violent terrorists” by the Federal Government and charged with felony crimes. This was much more a case of saving face over the exposure of just how easy it would be for someone with real harmful intent to walk right onto a base filled with nuclear materials (they actually had to approach a security guard working there and alert him to their presence) than any real danger that they had ever created with their non-violent actions.

Square-bannerAs was the case in previous acts of civil disobedience, rather than back down from her convictions and beg her captors for leniency, Sr. Megan and the others reaffirmed their commitment to direct action and even informed the judge after their conviction that they would resume such activity upon release, stating that the only way to stop them from advocating for peace would be to give them a life sentence. At the time, they were in fact facing what amounted to an actual life sentence (a 30 year maximum), due to their ages.

Although it is still a travesty that she should have spent even a day in jail, the judge fortunately didn’t heed their advice in that respect and sentenced her to 35 months, along with sentencing Boertje-Obed and Walli to 62 months each. As the Daily News detailed earlier this year, Sister Megan has since been confined to a “Brooklyn hellhole,” crammed with 111 other women into an unsanitary, inhumane single room prison unit at the Metropolitan Federal Detention Center in New York City.

In spite of those deplorable conditions, Sister Megan responds with her typical strength and good cheer. Rather than complain, she makes her initial appearance for that interview serene and smiling and speaks of how the patience and endurance the beautiful women she lives with in the prison have become a “constant source of admiration and hope that change is possible.”

SecondSaturdayMay 047That sort of humility, determination, optimism, and caring spirit is what I noticed and admired almost immediately when I met Sister Megan. And it’s what has caused me to take inspiration from her and become determined myself to continue fighting for that change. Throughout my life and especially since I became involved in activist causes, I’ve been very fortunate to meet a variety of amazing and inspiring people that have left permanent impressions on me and helped to shape my character in a positive way. Sister Megan is someone I place among the top of that list. She and her fellow peaceful “terrorists” should be released right now, not so much because she personally needs or would likely ask for that on her own behalf, but rather because those of us out here need people like her standing with us.

Pledge $1/month to help spread the message that, "Badges Don't Grant Extra Rights."

Pledge $1/month to help spread the message that, “Badges Don’t Grant Extra Rights.”

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Release Sister Megan Rice, and the “Y-12 Three” Peaceful Political Prisoners

Transform Now Plowshares Members’ Convictions Overturned

Transform Now Plowshares Y-12 Sister Megan RiceOn May 8th, an appeals court overturned the convictions of Sister Megan Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli, members of the “Transform Now Plowshares” movement, on sabotage crimes relating to their acts of civil disobedience against nuclear war and in favor of peace. They also ordered that they be re-sentenced for a lesser crime of “injuring government property,” which was upheld.

Via the NY Times:

An anti-nuke nun may soon be blessed with freedom.

An appeals court has overturned the sabotage convictions of an 85-year-old nun and two fellow Catholic peace activists who broke into a weapons-grade uranium facility and splashed blood on the walls.

But Sister Megan Rice, locked up in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn for the past two years, 66-year-old Michael Walli, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 59, are not totally in the clear yet.

A panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision Friday that the three did not injure national security when they cut through several fences and broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., in July 2012.

But the court upheld a less serious conviction for injuring government property. “If a defendant blew up a building used to manufacture components for nuclear weapons . . . the government surely could demonstrate an adverse effect on the nation’s ability to attack or defend,” the opinion said. “But vague platitudes about a facility’s ‘crucial role in the national defense’ are not enough to convict a defendant of sabotage.”

The trio, known as the Y-12 three, hung banners, prayed and hammered on the outside wall of the bunker in Oak Ridge to symbolize a Bible passage that refers to the end of war: “They will beat their swords into ploughshares.”

Their aim was to bring the dangers of unimpeded nuclear proliferation to people’s attention.

The Appellate Court’s ruling determined that “Congress never intended to punish individuals whose sole intent was to spread a message of peace, which is far from trying to disrupt nuclear defense systems.”

The government had 14 days (as of May 8, 2015) to file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to have the convictions reinstated. I don’t have a lot of faith in the government in general or in their willingness to back down rather than fight to the bitter end to force compliance with their authority, but I have some personal reasons (read below for more on that) to hope they will, since I actually know Sister Meghan and consider her a friend.

Sister Meghan and the others convicted with her are nothing short of political prisoners, who (as the appeals court acknowledged) were given inflated charges based on the political messages they expressed with their protest and the defiance they displayed in the process, as well as the embarrassment the ease with which they carried it out caused to those tasked with guarding America’s war machines. They should be released immediately.

Sister Meghan RiceSister Megan Rice – an Unofficial Saint

Sister Megan Rice, a Catholic nun and long time member of the Catholic Worker movement, is one of the nicest, kindest, most soft-spoken people you would ever meet. She’s also one of the toughest and most morally grounded people you could ever be lucky enough to know. I first met her when she was living in Las Vegas and I was involved in helping to re-establish the local Food Not Bombs group here, back in late 2008. Sister Megan and other members of Las Vegas Catholic Worker were among those that had supported Food Not Bombs Las Vegas when the City of Las Vegas passed laws making it illegal to share food with hungry people, specifically with people who “a reasonable, ordinary person would believe” needed that food. Before that, she spent 40 years as a schoolteacher and relief worker in some of the poorest areas of Africa, until bouts with malaria and typhoid fever forced her to return to the United States.

From the first time I ever met her at a local coffee shop where we held the Las Vegas A-Cafe at that time, Sister Megan was never anything, but pleasant, friendly, and helpful. However, even as apparent as her good nature was, you could see and hear the strength of her character just as easily. She was the kind of genuine person that you respected as soon as you met her. Through involvement with Food Not Bombs and other peace groups, as well as my own personal advocacy, I have often worked with Catholic Worker and other faith-based groups in the Las Vegas area, such as Nevada Desert Experience and Pace e Bene, that are associated with them.

As a result, I had a fair amount of interaction with Sister Megan during her last couple of years in Las Vegas. During that time, my respect and admiration for her never ceased to grow. Her peaceful, yet determined, demeanor was always both inspirational and educational. Talking to her at regular “everyday” events was always a pleasant experience. On the other side of the coin, witnessing how she never let fear of punishment deter her from standing up for the right thing and was always willing to accept the consequences that might come, regardless of how overblown or draconian they might have been, was something that always strengthened my own resolve.

Toward the end of her time in Las Vegas, I attended the trial of the “Creech 14,” who had been arrested for stepping too close to the gate of Creech Air Force Base (where most of the U.S. drones are operated remotely) in order to protest the murders of people in other countries (including women and children) by people just north of Las Vegas. Sister Meghan (as well as the rest of the defendants) never backed down from her principles or recanted their beliefs as unjust, but simply made the argument that their actions were based on a duty to defend innocent people.

It seemed fairly obvious, that even the judge was sympathetic to their arguments, which included testimony from Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark on their behalf. Of course, when you are accused of challenging the government’s war machine, no judge will side against their employer and its biggest source of income, regardless of their potential sympathies for the accused. Especially in what was really a very minor case that was being used as a sort of show trial to discourage future activism against Creech’s drone murders. When I spoke to her after the trial on the phone, instead of being upset (like I was) or even disappointed that they were convicted, she was actually cheerful and talking about moving onto the next fight.

Transform Now Plowshares and the Oakridge Nuclear Facility – Pacifistic Terrorism

From left, Greg Boertje-Obed, Sister Megan Rice, and Michael Walli. (Photo: Saul Young/News Sentinel)

Not long after that, she left Nevada and shortly thereafter became involved in the biggest and most principled fight that anyone I know personally has ever undertaken. At a time when most people are relaxing in retirement, Sister Megan actually shut down a nuclear weapons manufacturing facility.

Along with Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli, of the “Transform Now Plowshares” movement, the (at the time) 82 year old nun entered the Oak Ridge (TN) National Laboratory, hung protest banners, poured blood on the walls, and spray-painted antiwar statements on buildings. The ease with which they entered what was supposed to be a highly secure nuclear weapons facility and the very public nature of it, this particular action not only challenged, but very much embarrassed the U.S. Government.

That public shaming of the United States’ war apparatus and it’s very lax security was their real “crime.” Outside of that, all the three pacifists had committed was trespassing and what would be a stretch to call vandalism, since no actual property was damaged. In spite of that, they were branded as “violent terrorists” by the Federal Government and charged with felony crimes. This was much more a case of saving face over the exposure of just how easy it would be for someone with real harmful intent to walk right onto a base filled with nuclear materials (they actually had to approach a security guard working there and alert him to their presence) than any real danger that they had ever created with their non-violent actions.

Square-bannerAs was the case in previous acts of civil disobedience, rather than back down from her convictions and beg her captors for leniency, Sr. Megan and the others reaffirmed their commitment to direct action and even informed the judge after their conviction that they would resume such activity upon release, stating that the only way to stop them from advocating for peace would be to give them a life sentence. At the time, they were in fact facing what amounted to an actual life sentence (a 30 year maximum), due to their ages.

Although it is still a travesty that she should have spent even a day in jail, the judge fortunately didn’t heed their advice in that respect and sentenced her to 35 months, along with sentencing Boertje-Obed and Walli to 62 months each. As the Daily News detailed earlier this year, Sister Megan has since been confined to a “Brooklyn hellhole,” crammed with 111 other women into an unsanitary, inhumane single room prison unit at the Metropolitan Federal Detention Center in New York City.

In spite of those deplorable conditions, Sister Megan responds with her typical strength and good cheer. Rather than complain, she makes her initial appearance for that interview serene and smiling and speaks of how the patience and endurance the beautiful women she lives with in the prison have become a “constant source of admiration and hope that change is possible.”

SecondSaturdayMay 047That sort of humility, determination, optimism, and caring spirit is what I noticed and admired almost immediately when I met Sister Megan. And it’s what has caused me to take inspiration from her and become determined myself to continue fighting for that change. Throughout my life and especially since I became involved in activist causes, I’ve been very fortunate to meet a variety of amazing and inspiring people that have left permanent impressions on me and helped to shape my character in a positive way. Sister Megan is someone I place among the top of that list. She and her fellow peaceful “terrorists” should be released right now, not so much because she personally needs or would likely ask for that on her own behalf, but rather because those of us out here need people like her standing with us.

Pledge $1/month to help spread the message that, "Badges Don't Grant Extra Rights."

Pledge $1/month to help spread the message that, “Badges Don’t Grant Extra Rights.”

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To Terrify and Occupy: How the Excessive Militarization of the Police Is Turning Cops Into Counterinsurgents

Patti Silliman shared a link via CopBlock.org/Submit to a piece authored by  Matthew Harwood, which opened by outlining the needless killing of Jason Westcott. Harwood’s entire write-up seemed worth sharing with readers of CopBlock.org, thus he was contacted via Twitter and asked if it could be cross-posted. Harwood agreed.

To Terrify and Occupy: How the Excessive Militarization of the Police Is Turning Cops Into Counterinsurgents

by Matthew Harwood, originally posted to TomDispatch.com on August 14, 2014.On Twitter, follow Matthew Harwood @MHarwood31 and Tom Dispatch

Jason Westcott was afraid.

One night last fall, he discovered via Facebook that a friend of a friend was planning with some co-conspirators to break in to his home. They were intent on stealing Wescott’s handgun and a couple of TV sets. According to the Facebook message, the suspect was planning on “burning” Westcott, who promptly called the Tampa Bay police and reported the plot.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the investigating officers responding to Westcott’s call had a simple message for him: “If anyone breaks into this house, grab your gun and shoot to kill.”

Around 7:30 pm on May 27th, the intruders arrived. Westcott followed the officers’ advice, grabbed his gun to defend his home, and died pointing it at the intruders.  They used a semiautomatic shotgun and handgun to shoot down the 29-year-old motorcycle mechanic.  He was hit three times, once in the arm and twice in his side, and pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

The intruders, however, weren’t small-time crooks looking to make a small score. Rather they were members of the Tampa Police Department’s SWAT team, which was executing a search warrant on suspicion that Westcott and his partner were marijuana dealers. They had been tipped off by a confidential informant, whom they drove to Westcott’s home four times between February and May to purchase small amounts of marijuana, at $20-$60 a pop. The informer notified police that he saw two handguns in the home, which was why the Tampa police deployed a SWAT team to execute the search warrant.

In the end, the same police department that told Westcott to protect his home with defensive force killed him when he did. After searching his small rental, the cops indeed found weed, two dollars’ worth, and one legal handgun — the one he was clutching when the bullets ripped into him.

Welcome to a new era of American policing, where cops increasingly see themselves as soldiers occupying enemy territory, often with the help of Uncle Sam’s armory, and where even nonviolent crimes are met with overwhelming force and brutality.

The War on Your Doorstep

The cancer of militarized policing has long been metastasizing in the body politic.  It has been growing ever stronger since the first Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams were born in the 1960s in response to that decade’s turbulent mix of riots, disturbances, and senseless violence like Charles Whitman’s infamous clock-tower rampage in Austin, Texas.

While SWAT isn’t the only indicator that the militarization of American policing is increasing, it is the most recognizable. The proliferation of SWAT teams across the country and their paramilitary tactics have spread a violent form of policing designed for the extraordinary but in these years made ordinary. When the concept of SWAT arose out of the Philadelphia and Los Angeles Police Departments, it was quickly picked up by big city police officials nationwide.  Initially, however, it was an elite force reserved for uniquely dangerous incidents, such as active shooters, hostage situations, or large-scale disturbances.

Nearly a half-century later, that’s no longer true.

In 1984, according to Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop, about 26% of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 had SWAT teams. By 2005, that number had soared to 80% and it’s still rising, though SWAT statistics are notoriously hard to come by.

As the number of SWAT teams has grown nationwide, so have the raids. Every year now, there are approximately 50,000 SWAT raids in the United States, according to Professor Pete Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies. In other words, roughly 137 times a day a SWAT team assaults a home and plunges its inhabitants and the surrounding community into terror.

Upping the Racial Profiling Ante

In a recently released report, “War Comes Home,” the American Civil Liberties Union (my employer) discovered that nearly 80% of all SWAT raids it reviewed between 2011 and 2012 were deployed to execute a search warrant.

Pause here a moment and consider that these violent home invasions are routinely used against people who are only suspected of a crime. Up-armored paramilitary teams now regularly bash down doors in search of evidence of a possible crime. In other words, police departments increasingly choose a tactic that often results in injury and property damage as its first option, not the one of last resort. In more than 60% of the raids the ACLU investigated, SWAT members rammed down doors in search of possible drugs, not to save a hostage, respond to a barricade situation, or neutralize an active shooter.

On the other side of that broken-down door, more often than not, are blacks and Latinos. When the ACLU could identify the race of the person or people whose home was being broken into, 68% of the SWAT raids against minorities were for the purpose of executing a warrant in search of drugs. When it came to whites, that figure dropped to 38%, despite the well-known fact that blacks, whites, and Latinos all use drugs at roughly the same rates. SWAT teams, it seems, have a disturbing record of disproportionately applying their specialized skill set within communities of color.

Think of this as racial profiling on steroids in which the humiliation of stop and frisk is raised to a terrifying new level.

Everyday Militarization

Don’t think, however, that the military mentality and equipment associated with SWAT operations are confined to those elite units. Increasingly, they’re permeating all forms of policing.

As Karl Bickel, a senior policy analyst with the Justice Department’s Community Policing Services office, observes, police across America are being trained in a way that emphasizes force and aggression. He notes that recruit training favors a stress-based regimen that’s modeled on military boot camp rather than on the more relaxed academic setting a minority of police departments still employ. The result, he suggests, is young officers who believe policing is about kicking ass rather than working with the community to make neighborhoods safer. Or as comedian Bill Maher reminded officers recently: “The words on your car, ‘protect and serve,’ refer to us, not you.”

This authoritarian streak runs counter to the core philosophy that supposedly dominates twenty-first-century American thinking: community policing.  Its emphasis is on a mission of “keeping the peace” by creating and maintaining partnerships of trust with and in the communities served. Under the community model, which happens to be the official policing philosophy of the U.S. government, officers are protectors but also problem solvers who are supposed to care, first and foremost, about how their communities see them. They don’t command respect, the theory goes: they earn it. Fear isn’t supposed to be their currency. Trust is.

Nevertheless, police recruiting videos, as in those from California’s Newport Beach Police Department and New Mexico’s Hobbs Police Department, actively play up not the community angle but militarization as a way of attracting young men with the promise of Army-style adventure and high-tech toys. Policing, according to recruiting videos like these, isn’t about calmly solving problems; it’s about you and your boys breaking down doors in the middle of the night.

SWAT’s influence reaches well beyond that.  Take the increasing adoption of battle-dress uniforms (BDUs) for patrol officers. These militaristic, often black, jumpsuits, Bickel fears, make them less approachable and possibly also more aggressive in their interactions with the citizens they’re supposed to protect.

ferguson-missori-police-state-copblockA small project at Johns Hopkins University seemed to bear this out. People were shown pictures of police officers in their traditional uniforms and in BDUs. Respondents, the survey indicated, would much rather have a police officer show up in traditional dress blues. Summarizing its findings, Bickel writes, “The more militaristic look of the BDUs, much like what is seen in news stories of our military in war zones, gives rise to the notion of our police being an occupying force in some inner city neighborhoods, instead of trusted community protectors.”

Where Do They Get Those Wonderful Toys?

“I wonder if I can get in trouble for doing this,” the young man says to his buddy in the passenger seat as they film the Saginaw County Sheriff Office’s new toy: a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle. As they film the MRAP from behind, their amateur video has a Red Dawn-esque feel, as if an occupying military were now patrolling this Michigan county’s streets. “This is getting ready for f**king crazy times, dude,” one young man comments. “Why,” his friend replies, “has our city gotten that f**king bad?”

In fact, nothing happening in Saginaw County warranted the deployment of an armored vehicle capable of withstanding bullets and the sort of improvised explosive devices that insurgent forces have regularly planted along roads in America’s recent war zones.  Sheriff William Federspiel, however, fears the worst. “As sheriff of the county, I have to put ourselves in the best position to protect our citizens and protect our property,” he told a reporter. “I have to prepare for something disastrous.”

RELATED Content Tagged “MRAP” at CopBlock.org: http://www.copblock.org/?s=mrap

Lucky for Federspiel, his exercise in paranoid disaster preparedness didn’t cost his office a penny. That $425,000 MRAP came as a gift, courtesy of Uncle Sam, from one of our far-flung counterinsurgency wars. The nasty little secret of policing’s militarization is that taxpayers are subsidizing it through programs overseen by the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Justice Department.

Take the 1033 program. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) may be an obscure agency within the Department of Defense, but through the 1033 program, which it oversees, it’s one of the core enablers of American policing’s excessive militarization. Beginning in 1990, Congress authorized the Pentagon to transfer its surplus property free of charge to federal, state, and local police departments to wage the war on drugs. In 1997, Congress expanded the purpose of the program to include counterterrorism in section 1033 of the defense authorization bill. In one single page of a 450-page law, Congress helped sow the seeds of today’s warrior cops.

The amount of military hardware transferred through the program has grown astronomically over the years. In 1990, the Pentagon gave $1 million worth of equipment to U.S. law enforcement. That number had jumped to nearly $450 million in 2013. Overall, the program has shipped off more than $4.3 billion worth of materiel to state and local cops, according to the DLA.

In its recent report, the ACLU found a disturbing range of military gear being transferred to civilian police departments nationwide. Police in North Little Rock, Arkansas, for instance, received 34 automatic and semi-automatic rifles, two robots that can be armed, military helmets, and a Mamba tactical vehicle. Police in Gwinnet County, Georgia, received 57 semi-automatic rifles, mostly M-16s and M-14s. The Utah Highway Patrol, according to a Salt Lake City Tribune investigation, got an MRAP from the 1033 program, and Utah police received 1,230 rifles and four grenade launchers. After South Carolina’s Columbia Police Department received its very own MRAP worth $658,000, its SWAT Commander Captain E.M. Marsh noted that 500 similar vehicles had been distributed to law enforcement organizations across the country.

aurora-police-department-1033-program-copblockAstoundingly, one-third of all war materiel parceled out to state, local, and tribal police agencies is brand new. This raises further disconcerting questions: Is the Pentagon simply wasteful when it purchases military weapons and equipment with taxpayer dollars? Or could this be another downstream, subsidized market for defense contractors? Whatever the answer, the Pentagon is actively distributing weaponry and equipment made for U.S. counterinsurgency campaigns abroad to police who patrol American streets and this is considered sound policy in Washington. The message seems striking enough: what might be necessary for Kabul might also be necessary for DeKalb County.

In other words, the twenty-first-century war on terror has melded thoroughly with the twentieth-century war on drugs, and the result couldn’t be anymore disturbing: police forces that increasingly look and act like occupying armies.

How the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice Are Up-Armoring the Police

When police departments look to muscle up their arms and tactics, the Pentagon isn’t the only game in town. Civilian agencies are in on it, too.

During a 2011 investigation, reporters Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz discovered that, since 9/11, police departments watching over some of the safest places in America have used $34 billion in grant funding from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to militarize in the name of counterterrorism.

In Fargo, North Dakota, for example, the city and its surrounding county went on an $8 million spending spree with federal money, according to Becker and Schulz. Although the area averaged less than two murders a year since 2005, every squad car is now armed with an assault rifle. Police also have access to Kevlar helmets that can stop heavy firepower as well as an armored truck worth approximately $250,000. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1,500 beat cops have been trained to use AR-15 assault rifles with homeland security grant funding.

As with the 1033 program, neither DHS nor state and local governments account for how the equipment, including body armor and drones, is used. While the rationale behind stocking up on these military-grade supplies is invariably the possibility of a terrorist attack, school shooting, or some other horrific event, the gear is normally used to conduct paramilitary drug raids, as Balko notes.

the-rise-of-the-warrior-copb-radley-balko-copblock

The Rise of the Warrior Cop, by Radley Balko

Still, the most startling source of police militarization is the Department of Justice, the very agency officially dedicated to spreading the community policing model through its Community Oriented Policing Services office.

In 1988, Congress authorized the Byrne grant programs in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which gave state and local police federal funds to enlist in the government’s drug war. That grant program, according to Balko, led to the creation of regional and multi-jurisdictional narcotics task forces, which gorged themselves on federal money and, with little federal, state, or local oversight, spent it beefing up their weapons and tactics. In 2011, 585 of these task forces operated off of Byrne grant funding.

The grants, Balko reports, also incentivized the type of policing that has made the war on drugs such a destructive force in American society. The Justice Department doled out Byrne grants based on how many arrests officers made, how much property they seized, and how many warrants they served. The very things these narcotics task forces did very well. “As a result,” Balko writes, “we have roving squads of drug cops, loaded with SWAT gear, who get money if they conduct more raids, make more arrests, and seize more property, and they are virtually immune to accountability if they get out of line.”

Regardless of whether this militarization has occurred due to federal incentives or executive decision-making in police departments or both, police across the nation are up-armoring with little or no public debate. In fact, when the ACLU requested SWAT records from 255 law enforcement agencies as part of its investigation, 114 denied them. The justifications for such denials varied, but included arguments that the documents contained “trade secrets” or that the cost of complying with the request would be prohibitive. Communities have a right to know how the police do their jobs, but more often than not, police departments think otherwise.

Being the Police Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

Report by report, evidence is mounting that America’s militarized police are a threat to public safety. But in a country where the cops increasingly look upon themselves as soldiers doing battle day in, day out, there’s no need for public accountability or even an apology when things go grievously wrong.

If community policing rests on mutual trust between the police and the people, militarized policing operates on the assumption of “officer safety” at all costs and contempt for anyone who sees things differently. The result is an “us versus them” mentality.

Just ask the parents of Bou Bou Phonesavanh. Around 3:00 a.m. on May 28th, the Habersham County Special Response Team conducted a no-knock raid at a relative’s home near Cornelia, Georgia, where the family was staying. The officers were looking for the homeowner’s son, whom they suspected of selling $50 worth of drugs to a confidential informant.  As it happened, he no longer lived there.

Despite evidence that children were present — a minivan in the driveway, children’s toys littering the yard, and a Pack ‘n Play next to the door — a SWAT officer tossed a “flashbang” grenade into the home. It landed in 19-month-old Bou Bou’s crib and exploded, critically wounding the toddler. When his distraught mother tried to reach him, officers screamed at her to sit down and shut up, telling her that her child was fine and had just lost a tooth. In fact, his nose was hanging off his face, his body had been severely burned, and he had a hole in his chest. Rushed to the hospital, Bou Bou had to be put into a medically induced coma.

The police claimed that it was all a mistake and that there had been no evidence children were present. “There was no malicious act performed,” Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It was a terrible accident that was never supposed to happen.” The Phonesavanhs have yet to receive an apology from the sheriff’s office. “Nothing. Nothing for our son. No card. No balloon. Not a phone call. Not anything,” Bou Bou’s mother, Alecia Phonesavanh, told CNN.

Similarly, Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor continues to insist that Jay Westcott’s death in the militarized raid on his house was his own fault.  “Mr. Westcott lost his life because he aimed a loaded firearm at police officers. You can take the entire marijuana issue out of the picture,” Castor said. “If there’s an indication that there is armed trafficking going on — someone selling narcotics while they are armed or have the ability to use a firearm — then the tactical response team will do the initial entry.”

In her defense of the SWAT raid, Castor simply dismissed any responsibility for Westcott’s death. “They did everything they could to serve this warrant in a safe manner,” she wrote the Tampa Bay Times — “everything,” that is, but find an alternative to storming the home of a man they knew feared for his life.

Almost half of all American households report having a gun, as the ACLU notes in its report. That means the police always have a ready-made excuse for using SWAT teams to execute warrants when less confrontational and less violent alternatives exist.

In other words, if police believe you’re selling drugs, beware. Suspicion is all they need to turn your world upside down. And if they’re wrong, don’t worry; the intent couldn’t have been better.

Voices in the Wilderness

The militarization of the police shouldn’t be surprising. As Hubert Williams, a former police director of Newark, New Jersey, and Patrick V. Murphy, former commissioner of the New York City Police Department, put it nearly 25 years ago, police are “barometers of the society in which they operate.” In post-9/11 America, that means police forces imbued with the “hooah” mentality of soldiers and acting as if they are fighting an insurgency in their own backyard.

While the pace of police militarization has quickened, there has at least been some pushback from current and former police officials who see the trend for what it is: the destruction of community policing. In Spokane, Washington, Councilman Mike Fagan, a former police detective, is pushing back against police officers wearing BDUs, calling the get-up “intimidating” to citizens. In Utah, the legislature passed a bill requiring probable cause before police could execute a no-knock raid. Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank has been a vocal critic of militarization, telling the local paper, “We’re not the military. Nor should we look like an invading force coming in.” Just recently, Chief Charlie Beck of the Los Angeles Police Department agreed with the ACLU and the Los Angeles Times editorial board that “the lines between municipal law enforcement and the U.S. military cannot be blurred.”

Retired Seattle police chief Norm Stamper has also become an outspoken critic of militarizing police forces, noting “most of what police are called upon to do, day in and day out, requires patience, diplomacy, and interpersonal skills.” In other words, community policing. Stamper is the chief who green-lighted a militarized response to World Trade Organization protests in his city in 1999 (“The Battle in Seattle”). It’s a decision he would like to take back. “My support for a militaristic solution caused all hell to break loose,” he wrote in the Nation. “Rocks, bottles and newspaper racks went flying. Windows were smashed, stores were looted, fires lighted; and more gas filled the streets, with some cops clearly overreacting, escalating and prolonging the conflict.”

These former policemen and law enforcement officials understand that police officers shouldn’t be breaking down any citizen’s door at 3 a.m. armed with AR-15s and flashbang grenades in search of a small amount of drugs, while an MRAP idles in the driveway. The anti-militarists, however, are in the minority right now. And until that changes, violent paramilitary police raids will continue to break down the doors of nearly 1,000 American households a week.

War, once started, can rarely be contained.

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