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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Threats of Intolerance in America

Some of you might remember Salman Rushdie, the British author who wrote a book about the Muslim faith and as a result a fatwa, or holy war, was declared against him, and still is. While he was put under protection and wasn't attacked, many people associated with his book have, including translators who have been stabbed to death or severely wounded in assassination attempts. Because they helped write a book, a book that didn’t advocate violence or harm, they became an enemy to many Muslim nations and western nations decried that response as an example of radical extremism and intolerance.

Well, today we’ve just found yet another police run site that has issued it’s own fatwa against us, (we won't give them traffic by publishing their address), bringing the total to two known sites and five known police agencies in three states (Illinois, Iowa, and Washington) who’s officers have decided to advocate for violence against us and publicly declare that I should be threatened, imprisoned, beaten, tortured, or even killed… just because I write about detainee abuse, police brutality, and the need for better police accountability. I've even been told by Chicago police officers that if I come to Chicago, where I used to live for a while, that I would be killed for what I write. Seattle officers have declared I should be beaten and tortured again... These are just a few samples of the abuse and threats we get from abusive law enforcement officers that tarnish the reputation of them all.)

It’s funny, you know, this site is pretty moderate, we don’t call for violence against police, in fact we advocate against that and have sided with departments about cases of alleged misconduct from time to time. We try to be fair and we only wish to see the reputations of officers improved by helping the good officers have a mechanism to clean up their departments by accepting police accountability mechanisms, thus improving their relations with their communities and helping to enforce laws in a just manner. Pretty bland, huh?

Consider also that there are many sites out there, sites who go to the extreme and always side against the police, always call for firings, violence against police, and even open revolts… again, something we don’t do. But it’s funny that those sites don’t seem to get the death threats like we, a much more moderate site, does.

So, I wonder, why is it that these police departments advocate violence and intolerance against us? I figure there are at least five possible reasons:

1. Because they don’t want accountability reforms.
Many local governments across the nation are trying to implement accountability and oversight reforms in the light of an increase in misconduct cases across the nation. It may well be that the officers who have called for my death are afraid of accountability reforms and see us as the cause and will fight those reforms in anyway they can, even resorting to illegal tactics like this.

2. Because they can do it and get away with it.
What this site does is legal, we don’t name names, we advocate against violence, and we try to be fair. When we receive reports of misconduct and post them, we not only remove information that could identify the victim, we also remove information that identifies officers out of the same concern, we do not advocate for retaliation. However, without accountability, many departments still look the other way when officers step outside the law and illegally detain people, abuse prisoners, or otherwise break the law. Some officers get used to being “above the law” and act accordingly, like they do in this case. So, why not threaten someone if you can get away with it?

3. Because we’re vulnerable and can’t do anything about it.
Since officers have threatened us and told us to watch out if we call for help, we can’t call the police on an officer who threatens us illegally. All we can do is post the threat in the hope that it will act as a deterrent, but it doesn’t. People who study abuse sometimes say that it’s not personal, that abusers pick targets of their aggression based on who they think they can get away with abusing, thus why child abuse stops once a child grows large enough to seem capable of defending themselves against the abuser. We don’t have the same protections that other citizens do, we’re on our own because we used our first amendment rights, and they know they can do anything they want to us. So, why not do it?

4. The US vs THEM mentality and the vast Blue Wall of America.
Officers feel a strong form of ‘brotherhood’ with each other, to the point that if an officer in one department goes against the code of ‘never rat out a fellow officer when they do something wrong’ and offers truthful testimony against an officer that commits misconduct, that officer will be intimidated in any department he goes to or interacts with. Same for us, since we speak out about cases of police brutality and misconduct in Seattle, that sense of intolerance is shared by all departments… so, there is nowhere in the US that we would be safe now. Since one department has threatened us, now it is expected that all will do so as a matter of so-called “professional courtesy”.

5. They think that we’ll stop writing in response to threats and intimidation.
Unfortunately for me, I don’t like bullies, and in the face of threats, I get more resolute about what I do if I feel it’s the right thing and I’m too principled for my own good. When I was abused for doing a good deed and stopping a fight, everyone told me I wasn’t allowed to do good deeds anymore. But, just one month later I was on a bus when someone started abusing the female driver and got violent. I was at the back of the bus but everyone else was afraid to do anything, so I went to the front of the bus and stood between the driver and the assailant. I finally got him off the bus and we got back underway… I will not be intimidated, I will not encourage bullies and thugs to continue relying on threats and violence to get their way, I will not be a part of the cycle of abuse that allows you to continue that abuse.

So, it’s interesting that the same intolerance that was considered insufferable by the US when Muslims practiced it by issuing death threats to an author are somehow encouraged when police do the exact same thing. It seems, in the US, it’s expected and encouraged for the police to continue abusing victims of abuse like me, and unlike Rushdie, there is nobody I can call who will protect us.

Sure, it's a frightening feeling living in a country where you are not protected by laws like everyone else, where you're an easy target for anyone. But, we’ll keep writing, despite the threats and intimidation, until they make good on their threats. Given that there is nobody for us to call for protection, it seems that will only be a matter of time unfortunately. So, all I ask is that someone else take up the call and continue speaking up… and when you do, stay anonymous because, otherwise, you’ll be a target just like me.

All I can hope, though, is that when they come to carry out their threats, is that someone questions what happens to me, what they do to me, and hopefully brings about changes that prevent it from happening to others... because, even if I shut this site down now, I will always be a target no matter where I go in the United States, what I thought was the land of the free.

Stay safe out there.

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