by Alexander Cockburn
George Bush pulls 100 percent of the vote the next go-round in Florida, would he, too, proclaim a general amnesty for all federal prisoners, the way Saddam Hussein has just done after pulling his 100 percent under polling conditions that would surely have excited the envy of any Florida election official? Of course he wouldn't. Amnesties and pardons are at an all-time low here.
Saddam declared amnesty for not only political prisoners but also criminals. Murderers, both convicted and accused, have to get an OK from the mother of the victim, and debtors need a green light from their creditors.
Clearly the Iraqi Corrections Officers' Union hasn't much clout in Baghdad. Nor has the prison construction industry. Imagine what would happen in this country if word leaked out that the president was thinking of amnestying ANY violent criminal, let alone almost all of the inmates of the federal Gulag. A blanket amnesty for all non-violent drug offenders? Within 24 hours the prison industry, the prison guards' unions and law enforcement lobbying groups would swamp Congress with e-mails and personal delegations.
The cops and the guards exercise pretty much total veto power in most states, though nowhere more than in California, utopia for the prison construction industry. In late August of this year, the California legislature passed a bill put up by State Senate Majority leader Richard Polanco intended to encourage peaceful protest and civil disobedience by clarifying and codifying limits of prosecution, given the fact much so-called "crime reform" has clearly been deliberately designed to limit peaceful protest. Peacefully demonstrate, and you risk big trouble.
Here are some examples, as offered on the useful justdissent.org, a site that lobbied for Polanco's bill:
There's increasing use of electronic surveillance in California (street cameras, face scans, etc.), presenting police with tools for preemptive pre-protest strikes against peaceful organizations and individuals.
Some California law enforcement agencies now classify pepperball and bean bag guns as "nonlethal," when anecdotal evidence shows that these weapons can injure and maim protesters.
Growing numbers of California citizens' arrests are made by company security, who often "behave like" law enforcement (body searches, etc.) but do not have the actual legal powers of police.
Excessive use of court orders gag legitimate protest.
To try to counter this trend Polanco introduced SB 1796 in Sacramento last February, designed to roll back all these dire inhibitions against peaceful, non-violent protest. If the motive for the violation is found to be political expression, punishment would be meted out as follows: For the commission of, or for a conspiracy to commit, certain misdemeanor offenses (ones that didn't cause physical harm to people or property), a fine not larger than $100, imprisonment in a county jail for a period not exceeding two days, or both fine and imprisonment.
Polanco's bill cleared the legislature near the end of August and went to Governor Gray Davis for signature. Davis, prime whore for the enforcement and corrections officers lobbies, vetoed it a month later. Supporters of the bill vow to fight on. I hope so.
The right to demonstrate peacefully has been savagely eroded. Want to stand with a protest sign along some route that President Bush is scheduled to pass? These days the cops think they are honoring the First Amendment if they herd you into a parking lot miles from the action, surrounded with barbed wire. Most likely you'll be beaten up and hit with felony charges if you wave your sign or speak above a whisper.
Students protesting Bush's appearance at one midwestern campus were told they'd be denied their graduation certificates if they opened their mouths in anything other than a loyal cheer. Back in the Vietnam war they chanted, "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" Try shouting that during a speech by Bush, and they'd take you down before the second "Hey" came out of your mouth.
October 22 2002 (http://albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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