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The Origins of Our Police State

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Posted on Sep 16, 2013
Illustration by Mr. Fish

By Chris Hedges

(Page 2)

Once you are branded a felon, as Michelle Alexander points out in her book “The New Jim Crow,” you are “barred from public housing by law, discriminated against by private landlords, ineligible for food stamps, forced to ‘check the box’ indicating a felony conviction on employment applications for nearly every job, and denied licenses for a wide range of professions.” And this is for people who might have had only a small quantity of drugs, perhaps a few ounces of marijuana. There are 6 million people who because of felony convictions are permanently shut out from mainstream society. They are second-class citizens, outcasts. The war on drugs—aided by hundreds of millions of federal dollars along with federal donations of high-velocity weapons, helicopters, command vehicles and SWAT team military training—has become the template for future social control. Poor people of color know the truth. They were the first victims. The rest of us are about to find it out. 

LaPierre was taken unconscious to a hospital. He woke up with both hands handcuffed to a gurney. He was vomiting blood. Two of the glass vials, each worth $10 on the street, came up with his vomit. The police, ecstatic, had the drugs they had hoped to find when they stopped him.

“It’s over for you,” he heard an officer say. “You’re goin’ down.”

“You spittin’ at an officer?” one of the cops said laughingly. “Your boys are not here to protect you now, are they?”

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LaPierre could not see. He heard the officers discussing the charges and making sure the official story was coherent. One officer, inexplicably, yanked out some of LaPierre’s hair, braided in cornrows, and stuffed the hair into the handcuffed man’s pants “on my private parts.”

“Trying to disarm an officer,” he heard one say as they tallied the charges. “Possession. Resisting arrest. Starting a riot.” By the time he was transferred out of the hospital five days later there would be nine charges and a $35,000 bail.

“During the last couple of days the police have been telling people in the neighborhood that if they go to court to testify about the beating of JaQuan they will be arrested and go to jail too,” Myrtice Bell, LaPierre’s grandmother, told me.

LaPierre, who was on probation for allegedly resisting arrest during another routine stop, a charge he says was false, and who has a pending charge of being in a vehicle with other men in which an illegal weapon was found by police, appears destined to be swallowed into the vast prison system. He will become, if he is railroaded into prison, one more person among the more than 2 million behind bars in the U.S. His experience, and the experience of others in poverty-stricken communities, should terrify us. Our failure to defend the rights of the poor in the name of law and order, our demonization of young black men, our acceptance that they can be stripped of the power to protect themselves from police abuse or find equality before the law, mean that their fate will soon become ours.


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