Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This is not your mother’s America … nor your father’s

In The Examiner, Gary Reed reports on the "kidnapping" by law enforcement and forced medication of libertarian activist Julian Heicklen. The synopsis: on Monday and for the 3rd Monday in a row, Heicklen arrived at the US District Courthouse in New York City in order to pass out pamphlets to prospective jurors informing them of "their right to judge the law and its application as well as the facts in a case." Yep...the fully informed jury strategy. Homeland Security police told him to leave; Heicklen said he had a 1st Amendment right to stay. He ended up being forcibly transported to a hospital where he was injected with Thorazine against his will.

To me, the most interesting aspect of Heicklen's story is not the most obvious part. Heicklen is a veteran at civil disobedience and, so, upon being told by police that he was under arrest, he dropped to the ground and went limp as he had done many times in the past. He maintained silence as well.

Reed reports, In the past, he was arrested, handcuffed, placed on a gurney and transported to a hospital where he was examined and eventually released in time to be home later the same day. (Full accounts of this and his first two trips to Manhattan can be read on the New Jersey Libertarian Party website.) But this time something different happened.

This time, Heicklen lay limp on the ground for over an hour. He was not handcuffed, not cited, not read his rights... He was simply hoisted into an ambulance, strapped down and taken to Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, where he remained unresponsive to questions. As evening drew near, Heicklen explains, "I made a fuss to see someone in charge, so that I could either be released or brought in front of a magistrate. My requests were ignored, and became more persistent. Against my wishes four attendants grabbed me and gave me a shot of Thorazine to calm me down." He was released the next day.

The significant sentence is "this time something different happened." The response of police and others in authority has been changing for some time now; recently, there seems to be a tipping point in the willingness of authorities to use brutality and utterly disregard civil rights. In fact, willnessness may not be the best word. The attitude is more perfunctory as though Heicklen were meat being processed by people jaded in their jobs. The only time he experienced brutality was when he caused a problem, an annoyance; that is, he complained too vigorously at Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital. If he had maintained silence, I expect they would have let him just alone sit in a cell. They would have been content to process him like a good, quiet piece of meat. Equally, had Heicklen acted up with the police by talking back or even by wagging a finger at them, I expect they would have tased him, beaten him down, etc. instead of just hoisting him into the ambulance like the piece of meat he was to them.

This is not your mother's America any more. It is not an America in which the authorities feel a need to even pretend you have rights. Listen to the real lesson of Heicklen's experience: "this time something different happened." The police did not bother going through the motions of issuing a citation or making a formal arrest. The doctors at Bellevue medicated him without consent and probably without any necessity; the hospital held him far longer than on previous occasions. The relationship that individual Americans have with authority is changing...and rapidly so.

BTW, on Tuesday I blogged about the police brutalization of another libertarian who was stopped for a traffic offense. (See Prominent libertarian tased, shot in back by police) I don't mean to imply there is a crackdown on libertarians going on. I think the explanation is different but no happier for that difference. I think there is a great deal more violence and disdain for rights on the part of authorities; I think this trend is going to markedly accelerate. If an unusually high number of libertarians are experiencing brutality -- and I don't know if that is true -- then it is probably because libertarians tend to question authority and otherwise have a bad attitude.

The iron fist has tossed away its velvet glove.

Original report here

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