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The dangers of disorderly conduct laws in our police state

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The United States is a police state. The streets and beyond are littered with police, other security personnel, security agencies, security contractors, security cameras, security laws, and warrantless NSA spying on citizens compliments of President Obama, which follows up from George Bush II’s violations of our privacy. This state of affairs did not just happen on its own. In our supposed democracy — and how is it possible to have a true democracy in any nation populated by over 10,000 people? — too many voters have let fear of terrorists, communists and other real and imagined threats; apathy; and busy-ness with other things allow this police state to be created, mushroomed, financed, protected, and nurtured.

Recently, I was in a courtroom in a courthouse where rules against smartphone use are uneven in each courtroom, depending on who is the judge, the courtroom security personnel and/or the weather. As I waited for my bond hearing to be called (getting my client released that day), while sitting several rows away from the judge, I was quietly handling email on my smartphone, near my lap area. I ultimately felt a tap on my shoulder. It was a deputy sheriff: "Did Judge L___ give you permission to use that phone in here?" He then asked the same question of the lawyer behind me, who apparently also had been handling email. I had no obligation to answer the deputy, and did not; I simply pocketed my cellphone. The deputy could have simply politely advised me –without tapping on my shoulder — that no cellphone use is allowed without the judge’s permission; but that would not have been a controlling approach. (To be fair to the law enforcement population, many of them are upstanding, at least with me, and do not start with a controlling approach when dealing wth me.) Instead, after the deputy walked away, I passed a note to the lawyer behind me asking "When was our nation not a police state?" He laughed darkly in agreement, but answered "I don’t know. I was not born until 1980," when the police state already was in full force.

This is the same courthouse where too many deputies before court starts, bark — barking is not needed to be heard, and not barking earns more respect — to the audience about the court decorum rules. Recently, I headed for the exit so as not to dignify the deputy who was shouting the rules louder than other deputies I have heard, as if he were commanding prisoners sentenced to hard labor: "If you misbehave, you’re going to the box!!!," that being the steel box that tortures its inhabitants by amplifying the heat and cold outside the box.

The police state is heavily about control. Tell me that police are not trained to control suspects and arrestees, and I will sell you a bridge in Brooklyn at a nice price, and will throw an open bag of stale, moldy potato chips in for good measure, and a worn copy of Grimm’s fairy tales.

In the police arsenal of asserting control over the very public that they are sworn to serve — rather than the other way around — are disorderly conduct laws. When a police officer has no other basis to arrest someone whose actions offend the officer, s/he might arrest for disorderly conduct, and plenty of judges convict for disorderly conduct.

Had I sued the airport police officer who temporarily detained/Terry-stopped me in 2008 when someone(s) reported me for doing slow-moving calisthenics/taijiquan well away from others, he likely would have claimed he had reasonable articulable suspicion that I had been acting disorderly — or may alternatively have claimed he was considering hauling me to a mental ward for doing a centuries-old form of calisthenics practiced daily by at least hundreds of thousands of people, and related to the tao. The subsequent police officer who arrived knew better, and let me go on my way once I reluctantly told her I was simply doing taijiquan, having told her so I would not have been late getting to the arrival gate for the airplane passengers I was picking up, who were arriving at the gate at the very moment I appeared.

Yesterday, Nation of Change reported — apparently barely reported elsewhere until now, if a Google search is any indication — on Miles Kristan’s late July 2014 arrest for disorderly conduct outside a Wisconsin state legislator’s office. Unless there is more than meets the eye in Nation of Change’s story and accompanying video and police report excerpt linked in its story, this arrest violated Kristan’s First Amendment right of free expression — and any ongoing prosecution continues violating his First Amendment rights — having been shown on Kristan’s own video camera merely asking a tough question of a legislator in a more obnoxious way than an establishment print reporter likely would have done.

We can reverse the police state in America. We can reverse the excessive extent police acting and believing as if they are here to control rather than to serve people. The change will not happen without many people banding together to do so, and even then still will be a slow change. The change must start now, in a peacefully powerful way that is a counterpoint to all the heavy handedness we see from too many police and prosecutors.