08.18.2014 03:32 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: the new police states(s)

NEW YORK – Drive across the border.

That’s all you need to do, really, to figure out why so many Americans are so enraged about the killing of Michael Brown.

The fact that an unarmed teenage boy was shot six times – twice in the head – is part of it, of course. So, too, the fact that eyewitnesses say he had his hands in the air when a Ferguson, Missouri police officer gunned him down. Like he was, you know, a rabid dog.

All of that – the killing of a boy who had nothing between his fingers except the August air above his head – is part of the reason why this country has awoken from its late-Summer torpor, and is in a state of apoplexy.

But there’s another reason for the ferocity of the reaction by Middle America to Michael Brown’s killing. And that is the police themselves.

Like I say: drive across the border. I did, with my kids, and it felt like I was back in Bosnia in 1996, approaching a Serbian paramilitary checkpoint.

It wasn’t just the cameras, which we counted to be about eight, per car. It wasn’t just the general appearance of the border crossing, which closely resembled what the Berlin Wall might have looked like, back in the day.

It was the uniformed folks at the border, themselves.

They looked like they were fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, still, instead asking suburbanites if they had an extra bottle of wine to declare. Military-style uniforms, military-style weapons, and attitudes to match. Pompous, rude, vaguely threatening.

It would be a cliché to state that the mass murder that was 9-11 changed the world. Most reasonable people would also agree that the world needed changing: we’d been living like we were Switzerland, and we needed to start living like we were Israel.

That is, in a dangerous world, one where men in caves possessed weapons – if not of mass-destruction, then at least destructive to the masses, on a World Trade Centre scale – and an unkillable desire to kill us. For our faiths, for our way of life, for our modernity.

So we changed, and understandably so. Homeland Security, checkpoints on Parliament Hill, shoes off at the airport. Oh, and massive – truly massive – amounts of cash, uncritically shoveled in the direction of the cops and the soldiers.

Post-wars, some of the latter drifted into jobs as the former. Training manuals changed. Politicians signed blank cheques and looked the other way, daring not to question the wisdom of rendering ourselves a police state. For fear of being seen as “soft on crime” or “soft on terrorism.” (Ask Justin Trudeau: the Cons do it to him on a near-weekly basis.)

Thus, Ferguson. The killing of a boy without justification – anywhere, anytime – is a crime. That is why so many down here, black and white, are so upset. With a black president in his second term, some of Americans had thought all that was behind them. Apparently not.

But they are in a state of rage, in the United States, for another reason: the terrible crimes of 9-11 were used as an excuse – dishonestly, unethically, diabolically – to justify pumping untold billions into the creation of paramilitary forces where none were needed. To create, as noted, a police state.

The boy named Michael Brown has awoken a nation from its sleep, as it had been drifting into becoming something less than what it was. They mourn him, of course.

But they mourn the loss of their freedom, too.

They should.


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    Bill Olsen says:

    Good post. In the context of “pumping untold billions”:

    “spy mania was not merely the narrow-minded predilection of Stalin alone. It was very useful for everyone who possessed any privileges. It became the natural justification for increasing widespread secrecy, the withholding of information, closed doors and security passes, fenced-off dachas and secret, restricted special shops. People has no way of penetrating the armor plate of state spy mania and learning how the bureaucracy made its cozy arragements, loafed, blundered, ate, and took its amusements” – Solzhenitsyn. Sound familiar? It is for a reason avarice/venality is one of the deadly 7 sins…

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    Matt says:

    1033 Program.

    State and municipal governments can get suplus gear/clothing/arms and ammunition/vehicles from the Defence Department FOR FREE, WITHOUT any public record of the purchases.

    Started by Bush in 1990, enhanced by Clinton in 1996.

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      TangoJuliette says:

      “…Started by Bush in 1990, enhanced by Clinton in 1996…” Continued by G. W. Bush, and now by current Commander-in-Chief, President Obama.

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    Matt says:

    Should be without any record of what was acquired.

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    david ray says:

    How is this any different than Sammy Yatim except he was shot by Toronto cops 9 times. I said it before and I’ll say it again.

    if you can’t control the money
    you can’t control the gun
    if you can’t control the gun
    you can’t get anything done

    until and when we demand oversight on sprending on law enforcement of all kinds we will continue to get a series of Harper like wet dreams like the G20.
    I can’t believe in this day and age of instant communication we can’t find 1000 trained independent finance people to have line by line oversight of government spending in areas that affect safety and policing before it’s spent on fake lakes, Tony Gazebo and the invasion of Toronto by 15.000 yahoo cops who so enjoyed the beatdown of Toronto.

    and the silence is still deafening

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      debs says:

      yeah it was similar to the sammy yatim killing and the states have it happen alot more often, given big guns but not a healthy attitude. There should be more drills about how not to use the gun and perhaps the cops would learn how to be police again instead of thugs.

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    Elisabeth Lindsay says:

    The difference, david ray, is that the cop that shot the Toronto kid on the street car was arrested and charged.

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      sezme says:

      Also, as indefensible as his killing was, Sammy Yatim had a knife (I mention this because Toronto police have a history of shooting mentally disturbed individuals armed with such things as knives and hammers), and perhaps more importantly, the idea that race played a factor in Michael Brown’s death cannot be ignored.

      But, the way the Ferguson police responded to accusations of brutality with overwhelming brutality is what’s really driving this shitshow.

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        davidray says:

        Seriously? the “he had a knife bromide” as justification for killing a kid on an empty streetcar. There is no way that terrifed kid having a meltdown could have hurt those cops. They could have charged him with shields, shut the fucking door cause the switch was right there, thrown their bikes at him or stacked them across the door opening, pepper sprayed him, tear gassed him, hit him with their batons, tasered him and God knows what else but no; one idiot had to shoot him nine times and if you think that cop will ever serve time you believe Rob Ford will become chancellor of U of T.

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          sezme says:

          Agree with everything you said. And you’ll see that I called Sammy Yatim’s killing indefensible. The knife was not a good excuse to the actions of Constable James Forcillo in my opinion. I only brought it up because it fits with the general culture of the Toronto Police force to shoot mentally disturbed people who are brandishing some sort of weapon no matter how ineffectually. This is in contrast to many police officers in the US who have shot unarmed black men apparently for the crime of being black.

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    Philippe says:

    It’s so wacky down there- the reason the defence industry has pushed for the militarization (and succeeded in buying congress on this issue) is images of regular Joes walking around in full armour bodysuits and military machine guns mowing people down in broad daylight (remember that dude in LA?). Get it? The bad guys have guns, we need BIGGER guns. That’s the solution, NOT gun control or banning military style assault riffles. The gutless, spineless Republican roaches (and some Democrats) are running a once great society right into the ground.

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    Joe says:

    I haven’t been to the US for many years following an incident I had with the police. I was stopped one evening with a burned out tail light and while I was handing over my license, registration and insurance to the cop at the drivers door I noticed another cop at the passenger rear with a gun aimed at my head. A friend of mine who is an RCMP officer recounts how he stopped an American for some infraction and asked for the papers. The American sat for several minutes with his hands on the wheel. Finally he drawled that he was reaching to his left pocket for his license. He later explained to my friend that had he made a sudden move in the US he would have been shot on sight.

    That being said I am not going to fully blame the cop on this one YET. Disinterested third parties are recorded saying the kid rushed the cop. Having seen pictures of both I can understand if the kid was rushing the cop why the cop shot. As for the multiple shots my cop friend said that they are trained that IF they need to shoot they continue to shoot until the magazine/clip is empty. If the autopsy sketch I saw is accurate only two shots were likely fatal. One in the right eye and one to the top of the head. If one assumes that the kid was rushing the cop this shot pattern makes more sense than the story about the kid kneeling on the ground. Personally I am going to wait to see the trajectory report before jumping to a firm conclusion one way or the other. That being said it is truly too bad that a kid was killed by a cop.

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      Kaspar Juul says:

      Are you talking about this?


      A friend of the cop calls a radio station and claims the cop was “bum rushed” and you draw your conclusion?

      Nice work Quincy. Guess we know why you don’t solve crimes.

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      smelter rat says:

      Rushed the cop? On his knees with 7 bullets in him? Sure, let’s go with that one.

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      Joe says:

      Interesting information that will go into my decision as to guilt or innocence: About a dozen eye witnesses back up the cop’s account. The cop did not escape unscathed. He has a broken bone in his face allegedly from the fist of the ‘kneeling’ 6′ 4″ 300 lbs ‘kid’.

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        Kaspar Juul says:

        “Interesting information that will go into my decision as to guilt or innocence”

        Must be quite the kangaroo court

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    Bruce A says:

    Enough is enough and pray there isn’t a return to the riots of 1968.
    John Oliver has more perspective than political leaders. That’s saying something.
    This should be a cautionary tale for Canadians, seeing how the G20 fiasco didn’t register with many people.





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    e.a.f. says:

    the militarization of the American police dept.’s has contributed to this problem. What happened in Ferguson is simply what happens more frequently than we know. its just the citizens of Ferguson have had enough and the white press has been arrested.

    The American border guards, they really need a few classes on how to work with people. Its just one of the reasons I see no need to travel to the U.S.A.

    The Americans aren’t free and their Constitution is constantly being violated by their police departments. Not a good country. Before they start preaching democracy to other countries they ought to try ensuring its alive and well for all American citizens, not just the rich white types

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    It strikes me as strange that the killing of innocents continues to this day. Take your pick, in the United States, Canada, and most recently, Iraq, Syria, Israel, Gaza and Ukraine. The only difference — scale.

    I wonder about the mental health of people entrusted with arms and ratified by the state. Here at home, Public Safety is given a wide berth. Canada Border Services inspectors are trained to be suspicious from the get-go. The Customs Excise Union opposed arming officers…in hindsight, one more step toward militarization in dealing with the

    Makes me think of the law of averages. You remember that one where citizens are jolted and ever suspect while right under our noses, terrorists suceed beyond their wildest dreams. Yes, time to reinvent the wheel that is, ifpoliticians actually the guts to do so. Call me skeptical.

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    WestintheEast says:

    I just got back to Hong Kong from New York. I was amazed at the very warm reception I got at JFK. There was a heavy police presence everywhere in NYc last week, at least, but I didn’t witness any of the attitude described here. In fact, quite the opposite. I found this very interesting given that many of us had quit traveling to the US post 9-11 because of the security hassle and generally hostile attitude.

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    sezme says:

    Very good column. One nit to pick:
    “For our faiths, for our way of life, for our modernity.” Wrong, wrong, and wrong. If so, they would have targeted us in Canada, the Swedes, or the Japanese before the Americans. 9/11 had a lot more to do with American foreign policy than any of the things you mentioned. And I’m not saying the 9/11 attacks were in any way justified, but it doesn’t help to be blind to the terrorist’s motivations. It’s like saying the cops shot Michael Brown because he was walking on the street.

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    socks clinton says:

    You want to get into trouble with US Customs, try smuggling Kinder Eggs across the border. They are just as strict as with Cuban Cigars.

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    Lance says:

    With a black president in his second term, some of Americans had thought all that was behind them.

    There will be bigots of any kind in all forms forever; it will NEVER be behind them. This issue will go on forever. The most that anyone can do is look after their own house and try to mitigate and minimize the impact on their community.

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    davie says:

    One aspect I have always found interesting is popular literature. Stories in print, on film, on tv, in vid games paint a picture of a world in which villains are irredeemably evil, ‘protectors’ are hemmed in by jurisprudence, only edge of the law, or outside the law behavior will bring revenge on the villains, Increasingly stories finish only with the satisfaction of gun fire shredding scores of villains…who are not really human beings.
    This fits well with our political leaders who are constantly ramping up the fear mongering: it used to be commies, pinkos, fellow travelers…today terrorist or jihadist justifies any increases in police state powers and state secrecy in use of those powers. (I notice in news this morn that a fellow Canadian has been acquitted of ‘el qaida related activity.’ What the heck is that, el Qaida ‘related’ activity?) In recent years I have seen our news media tell us that some our protectors have slain some people for being ‘militants.’ How does being a ‘militant’ end in capital punishment?

    Anyway, our stories add to the mix of fears and of our passive acceptance of violence against the threatening villains. (I have mentioned here before my wonder, a year and a half ago, at the citizens of Boston actually applauding a militarized police and FBI when they shut down a part of that city to hunt for a wounded kid who might have a pistol…all they had to do was allege the kid was a terrorist.)

    Sometimes I wonder whether the zombie story fad is a scarcely disguised appeal to fears of the under class of sub humans rising up to threaten us civilized free types.

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    patrick says:

    Yeah, they hate American freedoms, pornography, dress lengths, fast foods, replacing Charlie Sheen on 2 and a half men and western religion for their weird hats and not foreign military bases in holy lands. Congratulations on quoting that global master George W. Bush.

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      sezme says:

      And they hate 4 out of every 5 Kardashians. Wait, does that make me a terrorist too?

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        davidray says:

        shit sezme. You can’t go straight to a Kardashian reference without mentioning Hitler first 🙂

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          sezme says:

          Good point. Also Bieber.

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    Kelly says:

    What’s really scary is what’s happening to journalists:


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