by John W. Whitehead, Rutherford:
“Everyday the future looks a little bit darker.” ― Alan Moore, Watchmen
Nothing has changed.
Just our luck that 2017 gave us more of the same bad news that we experienced the year before and the year before that: Endless wars. Toxic politics. Violence. Hunger. Police shootings. Mass shootings. Economic rollercoaster. Political circuses. Senseless tragedies. Loss. Heartache. Intolerance. Prejudice. Hatred. Apathy. Meanness. Cruelty. Poverty. Inhumanity. Greed.
Here’s just a small sampling of what we suffered through in 2017.
The new boss proved to be the same as the old boss. True to form, the new boss (Donald Trump) proved to be no better than his predecessors in the White House in terms of protecting the citizenry from the American police state. Indeed, after a year in office, Trump actually paved the way for further assaults on our freedoms: The predators of the police state wreaked havoc on our freedoms, our communities, and our lives. The government didn’t listen to the citizenry, refused to abide by the Constitution, and treated the citizenry as a source of funding and little else. Police officers shot unarmed citizens and their household pets. Government agents—including local police—were armed to the teeth and encouraged to act like soldiers on a battlefield. Bloated government agencies were allowed to fleece taxpayers. Government technicians spied on our emails and phone calls. And government contractors made a killing by waging endless wars abroad.
Police became a power unto themselves. Lacking in transparency and accountability, protected by the courts and legislators, and rife with misconduct, America’s police forces were a growing menace to the citizenry and the rule of law. Shootings of unarmed citizens, police misconduct and the use of excessive force continued to claim lives and make headlines. One investigative report found that police shoot Americans more than twice as often as previously known, a number that is underreported and undercounted. For example, a San Diego man was shot and killed after it was reported he was “fiddling” with a shiny metallic object: a pen. That doesn’t account for the alarming number of unarmed individuals who died from police using tasers on them.
911 calls turned deadly. Here’s another don’t to the add the growing list of things that could get you or a loved one tasered, shot or killed, especially if you are autistic, hearing impaired, mentally ill, elderly, suffer from dementia, disabled or have any other condition that might hinder your ability to understand, communicate or immediately comply with an order: don’t call the cops. For instance, Justine Damond called 911 to report a disturbance and ended up dead after police dispatched to investigate instead shot the 40-year-old yoga instructor. Likewise, Carl Williams called 911 to report a robbery and ended up being shot by police, who mistook him for a robber in his own home.
Traffic stops took a turn for the worse. Police officers have been given free range to pull anyone over for a variety of reasons and subject them to forced cavity searches, forced colonoscopies, forced blood draws, forced breath-alcohol tests, forced DNA extractions, forced eye scans, forced inclusion in biometric databases. This free-handed approach to traffic stops has resulted in drivers being stopped for windows that are too heavily tinted, for driving too fast, driving too slow, failing to maintain speed, following too closely, improper lane changes, distracted driving, screeching a car’s tires, and leaving a parked car door open for too long. Unfortunately, traffic stops aren’t just dangerous. They can be downright deadly at a time when police can do no wrong—at least in the eyes of the courts, police unions and politicians dependent on their votes—and a “fear” for officer safety is used to justify all manner of police misconduct.
The courts failed to uphold justice. A review of critical court rulings over the past decade or so, including some ominous ones by the U.S. Supreme Court, reveals a startling and steady trend towards pro-police state rulings by an institution concerned more with establishing order and protecting the ruling class and government agents than with upholding the rights enshrined in the Constitution. For example, continuing its disturbing trend of siding with police in cases of excessive use of force, a unanimous Supreme Court declared that police should not be held liable for recklessly firing 15 times into a shack where a homeless couple was sleeping.
A culture of compliance paved the way for sexual predators. Twenty years after America gave a collective shrug over accusations of sexual harassment by Bill Clinton, sexual harassment suddenly made headlines after a series of powerful men, including Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, were accused of predatory behavior in the workplace.
Patriotism trumped free speech. At a time when the American flag adorns everything from men’s boxers and women’s bikinis to beer koozies, bandannas and advertising billboards (with little outcry from the American public), a conveniently timed public dispute over disrespect for the country’s patriotic symbols during football games further divided the nation and detracted from more serious conversations that should have been taking place about critical policy matters of state.
Mass shootings claimed more lives. Mass shootings have taken place at churches, in nightclubs, on college campuses, on military bases, in elementary schools, in government offices, and at concerts. The mass shooting in Las Vegas that left more than 50 people dead and more than 500 injured was the deadliest to date and left us with more questions than answers, none of them a flattering reflection of the nation’s values, political priorities, or the manner in which the military-industrial complex continues to dominat
e, dictate and shape almost every aspect of our lives.
The rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and healthcare costs skyrocketed. Despite being one of the world’s richest nations, America’s poor grew to 41 million people living in poverty. That doesn’t include the number of Americans struggling to pay their bills and make ends meet. Americans currently pay $3.4 trillion a year for medical care. We spent more than $10,000 per person on health care in 2016. Those attempting to shop for health insurance coverage right now are understandably experiencing sticker shock with premiums set to rise 34% in 2018. It’s estimated that costs may rise as high as $15,000 by 2023.
We became a nation of snowflakes. We have entered a new age where there can be no freedom speech, expression or thought. We have become a nation of snowflakes, snitches and book burners: a legalistic, intolerant, elitist, squealing bystander nation eager to report fellow citizens to the police for the slightest offense. Americans allowed their fears—fear for their safety, fear of each other, fear of being labeled racist or hateful or prejudiced, etc.—to trump their freedom of speech and muzzle them far more effectively than any government edict could. Ultimately the war on free speech—and that’s exactly what it is: a war being waged by Americans against other Americans—is a war that is driven by fear. That bottled up dissent bubbled over and fomented even more hate, distrust and paranoia among portions of the populace.
Civil discourse was drowned out by intolerance, violence and militarized police. In Charlottesville, Berkeley and St. Louis, the presence of violent protesters and militarized police turned First Amendment activities into riots. Charlottesville, Va., has become the latest poster child in a heated war of words—and actions—over racism, “sanitizing history,” extremism (both right and left), political correctness, hate speech, partisan politics, and a growing fear that violent words will end in violent actions. In Charlottesville, as in so many parts of the country, the conflict centered on how to reconcile the nation’s checkered past with the present need to sanitize the environment of anything—words and images—that might cause offense.
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