Aug 20 2019

The Police State That Already Exists

Borders are not where you think they are. If you live within 100 miles of an “International” Airport (and most people do), you’re technically in “Border Country” and Customs and Border Patrol can stop and arrest you on whim, without pretext let alone a warrant or probable cause.

I have no idea what it’s like for normal people (White Guy) but the last time I visited Campobello (literally so close to Lubec you can walk there if the tide is right) I dumped a Gallon of Green Tea (Kirkland, it’s really good) before I crossed so I could say that I wasn’t transporting any Agricultural products.

Not that the Canadians care about anything except Firewood carrying parasites. “You’re smuggling U.S. beer into Canada? I’m sure you could find someone willing to piss in your mouth.” Most Canadians are waaay too polite to say something like that out loud, but the ones who aren’t thinking it have never tasted U.S. beer.

Returning is a different story. “Smile for me. You were smiling in your passport picture.”

Ok. My natural demeanor is resting bitch face which some people interpret negatively and that’s fine in most normal interactions, scares away the weak, but I didn’t want to upset my companion who was in fact smuggling a trunkfull of beer so I summoned up what passes as a rictus.

“Welcome back.”

Now none of this is helped mind you by my habit of costuming myself in full Stockton for crossings, Bucket Cap, Aviators, Flamingo Shirt, and Cigarette Holder.

C’mon. It’s Campobello. FDR sported a Cigarette Holder.

But the sad fact is I live in Connecticut, home of BDL, 110 miles from Greenwich to Stonington and 70 miles from New Haven to Enfield and there’s not a square inch that isn’t under CBP jurisdiction. We are at the front line of the War Against…

Brown people?

Steve Thrasher has some more thoughts in the New York Times, not his usual haunt at The Guardian.

Daniel Pantaleo Was Fired. We’re Still Afraid for Our Lives.
By Steven W. Thrasher, The New York Times
Aug. 20, 2019

Returning from visiting a friend near the Mexico border, I was driving up State Route 90 when all northbound traffic was diverted into a giant tent, where officers from Customs and Border Protection were performing cursory inspections of all vehicles. A menacing German shepherd was being led around each and every car, presumably sniffing for narcotics.

I was experiencing one of the legal checkpoints that the agency uses to search and potentially seize any vehicle within 100 miles of a border, without what would normally be called probable cause. And while I didn’t have any contraband, I felt a rising sense of panic as the officers and dog got closer to my car.

As a kid, I often saw my father pulled over and harassed by the police. And as an adult black man, I’ve been threatened by the police myself. As a journalist, I’ve reported on and read research about how — though most murdered Americans are killed by someone they know — about one-third who are killed by strangers are killed by the police. And while I’m a United States citizen, the Supreme Court’s ruling that allows for indefinite detention of noncitizen migrants has made me fearfully wonder, Just how could I prove I am a citizen and entitled to a lawyer and other rights if I was arrested by Customs and Border Protection or Immigration and Customs Enforcement?

To mitigate some of my fears, I’ve taken to having my passport with me most places in the country. In Arizona I kept it in my backpack as I drove. And as I waited for the authorities and dog to search my car, I took it out of my bag and placed it on the seat next to me, beside the rental car agreement I already had in plain sight, just in case I got pulled over, as I almost always do when I rent a car.

Not that a passport would have saved me from a long detention necessarily — ICE recently held a citizen for a month — and it wouldn’t have saved me from an officer’s bullet. But as I’ve written before, whenever I am near the police or even think I might be, I do anything I can so that I won’t have to put my hands in my pockets or into a bag or give them an excuse to say I might have been reaching for something dangerous.

The dog was walked around my car and an officer smiled at me inconclusively. Cautiously, I asked if everything was O.K., and he told me I was free to go. I drove off. I realized my heart was pounding and my breathing had unconsciously become very shallow.

I have a passport and citizenship yet still have this reaction, so I can only imagine how certain migrant communities — particularly Latinx communities subject to racist targeting — cope with the threat of detention or deportation by an immigration system that can stop anyone, anytime, and make judgments without due process.

But as a black journalist who has reported as police officers lobbed tear gas and used sound cannons in Baltimore, Ferguson and New York, and simply as a black person living in America, my experience in Arizona reminded me of how very real the stress of living under occupation is for black and brown people. Such stress, of course, takes a mental health toll and likely contributes to rates of hypertension and heart disease that create “John Henryism,” a term Dr. Sherman James, an epidemiologist, coined while trying to understand why black men die younger than white men.

Five years after Mr. Garner was killed, it is still painfully, mortally obvious that we’re justified in our daily anxiety.

After leaving Arizona last week, I was quickly reminded how such fears of the police do not exist merely in our heads. A study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that police use of force is a leading cause of death for young men of color overall and the sixth leading cause for young black men. One in 1,000 black men and boys can expect to be killed by the police, making them about 2.5 times more likely to experience this fate than white men and boys.

The same study found that black, American Indian and Alaska Native women face a higher risk than white women, with American Indian and Alaska Native being up to twice as likely to be killed by the police as white women.

“This study shows us that police killings are deeply systematic, with race, gender and age patterning this excess cause of death,” Michael Esposito, one of the study’s authors, said.

On Monday, news broke that the New York City police commissioner had finally fired Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who had used the banned chokehold that led to Mr. Garner’s death, a death that the medical examiner deemed a homicide. It took five years — a half decade during which Eric Garner’s daughter Erica died at just 27 years old from a heart attack after vigorously pursuing justice for her father. During which Mr. Pantaleo continued to draw paycheck after paycheck.

I don’t know if white readers can comprehend how stressful police stops are for black and brown folks in the United States. I don’t know if any amount of writing, or epidemiological research, or news accounts can convince white readers that a police encounter is a dangerous, potentially family-separating or life-ending event for black and brown folks.

But to brown and black readers: Know that the fears you have are not merely in your imagination. As white supremacists grow bolder under President Trump, and as technology allows for ever-more-expansive surveillance of intimate areas of life, policing still haunts and threatens us as much as it did the day Mr. Garner stopped breathing.

See, I’m allowed to give a wink and a nod because I appear unthreatening, “Old (120+ you young whippersnapper) White Dude.”

That makes me as angry as Bugs Bunny finding the bounty on Rabbits is 2 Cents.

I am busy formulating plans to steal the locks from the Panama Canal and cut Florida off the continent. Rabbits are perfectly harmless my ass.