In the last few decades, a vast expansion of federal criminal law in the United States now means that the police have power to formally charge innocent people for doing everyday activities. Most of us feel relatively secure in that we aren’t criminals, but through the politicization of justice, everyday citizens are now being targeted by the state.
According to James Rickards in his book The Road to Ruin, paramilitary style police raids in the United States went from 3,000 to 45,000 annually between 1980 and 2001. That’s over 100 raids per day across the United States in 2001.
The growth of police power in the United States isn’t just limited to raids. People in poor neighborhoods get targeted on the streets, and end up paying fines that essentially tax the poor to meet revenue targets outlined by the city. In neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, New York – where almost half the population is African-American – police patrol the streets to stop and search anyone that “fits the description”. This even happens to people that are walking the twenty yards from their car to their apartment after work, or people that are smoking a cigarette on their porch.
Poverty-stricken citizens have been known to be arrested, strip-searched, and then charged with crimes such as “obstructing pedestrian traffic” (on an otherwise empty street). Although unconstitutional, police deliberately choose poor neighborhoods because their victims don’t have the option to pay $1000 for a lawyer and take the time off work and find the transport to go to court to seek justice. Instead, their hand is forced to pay a $500 fine and accept a criminal record that harms their job prospects.
So why are the police doing this? In recent times, the United States has had a problem with the amount of sovereign debt they are taking on, and cities are running on budget deficits too. The police in the cities are therefore tasked to generate revenue from the poor. They’re even incentivized and rewarded, and competitions are held for officers to try to generate the most revenue.
Police in the United States also have the ability to seize assets after an arrest before conviction. Even if proven innocent, the accused often do not have the resources to fight to get their assets back. The assets get shared out among people involved in the investigation to boost revenue in resource-limited localities. Highway patrol effectively enact a state-sanctioned highway robbery.
Not only is there obvious cost to the poor, there can be a cost to police too. Violence against officers is much more likely when people know that the police are effectively corrupt and unconstitutional. The reports of police brutality in the United States don’t seem to be going away any time soon either.
It’s hugely disconcerting to know that the state has the power to formally charge anyone they wish to – we are all effectively felons. The ever-increasing surveillance state has been demonstrated by people like Edward Snowden, a whistleblower that worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. The government are able to collect data from social media websites, the NFC and GPS on your cell phones, CCTV with facial recognition and even toll booths you have driven through. The digitization we have experienced in our lifetimes means that there is no such thing as privacy anymore. The only question is whether your time has come yet.