COMMUNITY FORUM REMARKS: Need to address the main driver of criminal and criminalized behavior, substance abuse, and that the failed law enforcement model needs to be supplanted by a public health model driven by evidence and community benefit

The Community Solidarity Response Network of Toledo (CSRN), our local Black Lives Matter group, and the ACLU hosted a forum on “What Does a Safer Toledo Look Like?” This forum was in response to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ National Public Safety Partnership aimed at “fighting violent crime.” This initiative has been vague with little transparency, and has not included robust public input, let alone “partnership.” CSRN and the ACLU have good reason to suspect that this initiative is a further clamping down of traditional law enforcement, a “tough on crime” effort, and a revamping of the war on drugs. Such efforts will predictably make some people less safe, notably communities of color and the poor. Below are the remarks I prepared for this community forum, addressing the need to deal with the main driver of criminal and criminalized behavior, substance abuse, and that the failed law enforcement model needs to be supplanted by a public health model driven by evidence and community benefit:

A safe community is one where we demonstrate a willingness and competency in caring for one another rather than hurting or punishing each other. A safe community is one where all who seek or need help with substance abuse have easy access to help. The United States has less than 5% of the world’s population; we consume two-thirds of the world’s illegal drugs; we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Locking people up with substance abuse problems is a terrible approach to addressing its ravages on society, including criminal behavior, unstable housing, social ostracism, poverty and unemployment. Punishing substance abusers has not and cannot work in creating a safe community for all.

The overwhelming majority of persons under the care of the criminal justice system are persons with substance abuse, mental health problems, or both. About 85% of persons under the care of the criminal justice system are there because of offenses related to substance abuse. The criminal justice system does a very poor job dealing with the underlying issue of substance abuse and addiction. Less than 20% receive treatment. Much more commonly, the criminal justice system exacerbates substance abuse and mental health problems. The criminal justice system supplies further trauma, separates people from their communities and social support systems, saddles people with criminal records and social ostracism, and is a terrible way to provide services that would help people live fuller lives in their community — services that would address stable housing, complicated health issues, and poverty and unemployment. The criminal justice system may serve as a way to screen people for enmeshment in socially destructive behavior. However, the criminal justice system fails as an effective or humane way to deal with the overwhelming majority of people whose underlying issue driving socially destructive behavior is substance abuse. This failure comes at great human and financial cost.

Further, the war on drugs, relying on a law enforcement model, has been a miserable failure in reducing substance abuse or its societal harms. A new model is needed for dealing with substance abuse. The best, evidence-driven model is a public health model of prevention, nonjudgmental harm reduction, and community-based treatment and support services. This public health approach is more humane and more effective, a winning combination for a safer community. We need to profoundly shift our focus, priorities and resources away from the law enforcement approach to a public health model and approach. For instance, providing treatment is cost-effective, saving between $2 and $6 for every $1 spent on it, which in part reflects reductions in criminal behavior and re-incarceration. Fortunately, a public health approach will actually reduce socially destructive behavior and better meet the objectives of the criminal justice system. One key shift needs to be redefining of substance abuse as a public health problem rather than a criminal justice matter. This includes decriminalizing the use and possession of drugs.

The criminal justice system can play an important role in this public health approach, by proper law enforcement dealings, assessment and treatment of persons with substance abuse and mental health problems, particularly partnering with community-based treatment services as alternative sentencing to incarceration. In preparation for release from the criminal justice system, it should prepare people to best face the many challenges to successful reentry into the community, such as lack of health care, stable housing, job skills, education, and connection to other support services to minimize their probability of relapse and re-arrest. We already have the resources to do much better. We can get much more for much less. This is a great opportunity.

FREE POSTER: Jesus breaks silence on Senate candidate Roy Moore Just Saying NO Moore

What sexual predator would Jesus support to hold the keys of public trust?  It’s time to say “NO more!” In the current case of Senate candidate Roy Moore, it’s time to say “NO Moore!”

American so-called Christians have been practicing an Olympian level of moral gymnastics to justify sexual predators holding positions of great public power and high public trust, when sexual abuse is perhaps the epitome of an abuse of power and trust.  How can character matter in the face of our apparent national addiction to aberrant characters and simple lust for power?  Donald Trump, Sexual Predator-in-Chief, has lowered the bar so low that limbo seems impossible wile hell seems assure abet. Going long with Roy Moore, a serial sexual predator of teenagers, promises to come with a free handbasket on that road paved with good inattentions.

In honor of that just saying, NO Moore, I have created a free poster: Jesus breaks silence on Senate candidate Roy Moore Just Saying NO Moore. Pleas feel free to share widely with friends and enemies.

FREE POSTER: Jesus breaks silence on Senate candidate Roy Moore Just Saying NO Moore

The commentary, Roy Moore, and the GOP’s persecution complex, gets it right:

Roy Moore now has President Trump’s endorsement, support from the Republican National Committee and a reasonably strong chance of winning — all proving that the many GOP leaders who tried to stop him have little control over their party. Whatever control GOP leaders retained after the tea party movement, in fact, has been severely undermined by Trump. And Moore, who stands accused of sexual misconduct with multiple minors, is easily the best indicator of that to date.

But the reason something like Moore could happen is more complicated than just Trump. And Republicans can blame one thing that Trump stoked, with plenty of help: The party’s increasing persecution complex.

After decades of being told that the media is out to get them, the tea party took that a step further and told Republicans that the GOP establishment was also out to get them. Now Trump, with some prodding from Stephen K. Bannon, has told GOP voters that the entire political establishment and even many American institutions (law enforcement, the judiciary, the intelligence community, etc.) are out to get them. The combined effect of all of this is that Republican voters almost reflexively recoil at the perception of being told what to do, whether by The Washington Post and the New York Times, by Mitch McConnell and Paul D. Ryan, or by anyone else not named Trump. Trump’s brand of populism has turned the enemy of their enemies into the friends of all Republicans.

And nobody was primed to exploit that sense of persecution like Moore.

Much like Trump, Moore isn’t someone who Republican voters necessarily love, so much as someone that supposedly evil political forces have tried to undermine. Moore finished fourth in the 2010 Alabama governor’s race and barely won his state Supreme Court seat back in 2012. Yet just as with Trump, who started the 2016 GOP primary deeply unpopular with Republicans, here we are.

And this actually began long before the current allegations. During this year’s Senate primary, Moore seized upon his alleged persecution, arguing relentlessly and in hyperbolic terms about how Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) was out to get him. McConnell, of course, had become toxic in Republican primaries thanks in large part to Trump. So even as Trump nominally backed Moore’s primary runoff opponent, appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), voters picked Moore in the primary and then in the two-man primary runoff.

That sense of persecution only increased, of course, once a number of women came forward in The Post to say Moore had pursued them when they were teenagers — including one who accused him of unwanted sexual touching when she was 14. Since then, other accusers have come forward, most notably a woman who accused him of sexual assault when she was 16.

The more than three-decade-old allegations lend themselves to Moore’s assertions of persecution. That’s in large part because, like many accusations of years-old sexual misconduct, there is unlikely to ever be bona fide proof of them. Even as The Post and others have substantiated the women’s claims to the extent that’s possible, there is still faith and trust involved. Republicans in Alabama, it turns out, have faith in Moore and little trust in the national media — despite the severity of the accusations.

Another reason Moore has been uniquely able to hold the GOP base is his political career, which has been built upon fashioning himself as a martyr. He has effectively been kicked off the state Supreme Court twice for choosing his religious convictions over the law. Moore was almost perfectly positioned to claim persecution in this case, because he’s been claiming it for the better part of 20 years.

None of this is to suggest the GOP has a monopoly on claiming political persecution. Politics is a game that rewards finding a convincing boogeyman, and populist candidates like Trump tend to find a large supply of boogeymen and rigged systems on the path to political office. But today’s Republicans are uniquely skeptical of the things they hear from the national media, the intelligence community and even their party leaders — all of which Trump has argued don’t have their interests at heart.

It’s almost a perfect storm, and combined with the uniqueness we find in Alabama, it might soon give us Sen. Roy Moore (R-Ala.), despite GOP leaders’ best efforts.

PROTEST POEM: Round The Public Square

Theirs
Smoked filled plays
Behind closed doors
Where there is no room
In the halls of power
Fore the wrest of us
Relegated to copping democracy
Round the public square

This protest poem deals with the reality that lack of transparency and accountability in government obliges citizens to apply political pressure through protests, demonstrations, and nonviolent civil disobedience.  Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. Frederick Douglass quote POLITICAL BUTTONSometimes justice demands circling city hall and other halls of power for around whole to fit in a public square.  I am particularly proud of the “copping democracy” phrase subject to double meaning.  Law enforcement is often poorly trained and cops bad attitudes toward nonviolent citizens exercising their first amendment rights and petitioning for redress of grievances.  Protest beyond the law is not departure from democracy; it is essential to it -- Howard Zinn quote POLITICAL BUTTONJudges and courts are often poorly equipped and acculturated to treating nonviolent protesters as more than common criminals.  Our criminal justice system exacts a disproportionately high cost upon conscientious citizen protesters actively working to right wrongs in our government and communities.  This disproportionately high cost on highly politically engaged activists stymies the vitality of our democracy and reinforces systemic injustices.  May we learn to value the vital role protest and resistance play in actualizing a vital democracy.

Please feel free to browse Top Pun’s designs related to civil disobedience and protest:

PROTEST Is When I Say I Don't Like Something, RESISTANCE Is When I Put A Stop To It POLITICAL BUTTON	 Globalize THIS - RESISTANCE [earth graphic] POLITICAL BUTTONWARNING: Civil Disobedience Causes Increases In Human Rights POLITICAL BUTTON

Resistance is Fertile POLITICAL BUTTONActivism Is My Rent For Living On This Planet -- Alice Walker quote POLITICAL BUTTONThe Mind Of A Slave Asks Is It Legal, The Mind Of A Free Person Asks Is It Right POLITICAL BUTTON

Toledo LOVE Fest: Anti-Trump Rally

As Donald Trump brought to Toledo his caravan of hate, bigotry and xenophobia, Toledoans met him with a LOVE fest, declaring resoundingly that his fear mongering is not welcome in Toledo.  Here is my favorite picture from the rally:

Top Pun Loves Muslims, Welcomes Immigrants, and Works to End Racism

Earlier, I met these two women while they were circling the block in their car.  I witnessed them being harassed by a cop for reportedly not turning immediately on a green light and holding up traffic. Ironically, the biggest lineup of cars that I saw at the corner were produced by the cop stopping them for a couple minutes. Not pictured is a sticker on my back that says, “I LOVE MUSLIMS.”

I LOVE MUSLIMS

We had someone else take a similar picture of us with one of the women’s phones (you can see this on the left of this pic).  I asked if they could share the pic with me on facebook.  They responded that they don’t do social media.  They prefer to keep it simple and real.  I LOVE THIS!  This is WAY better than getting a copy of their pic.  And, as it turns out, the love karma and sharing mojo, sent this picture my way anyways.

In unrelated karma, the police were out in force, the only ones dressed for a riot.  I couldn’t help but notice that the vast majority of the police for the vast majority of the time were facing the LOVE fest participants, not the Trump designated side of the street.  Hmmm…who do the police think are the threat, and whom are they focused on protecting?

Police Lineup

I was instructed by two separate police officers at two different times to return to the other side of the street, the protesters’ side.  There were plenty of legal observers (lawyers) present.  I spoke with several of them.  They confirmed that it is illegal, an unconstitutional limit of free speech and peaceable assembly, to partition public spaces into partisan zones.  In years past, the police set up “free speech zones” (sic), areas cordoned off with police tape to box up and control protesters.  Such “free speech zones” have  been ruled unconstitutional.  The legal observers are making a report, and, hopefully, this experience will add to the training of law enforcement officers as to their legitimate, legal duties.

Thanks to a grant from Homeland Security (emblazoned on the side of the armored vehicle), a military-style armored truck was parked adjacent to the demonstration area.  This was accompanied by a set of more-heavily-equipped police officers ready to leap into action if there was some type of invasion that a couple dozen policemen (there were no women cops) couldn’t handle.  This all strikes me as a great opportunity to normalize the militarization of local police forces.  Would we call a nation patrolled with armored trucks the “land of the free?”

Military-style police armored truck

If you would like to see more photos from Toledo’s LOVE fest and anti-Trump rally, check this out.  There were plenty of beautiful Toledoans and wonderful signs of love and anti-Trump messages.  May peace and love break out everywhere!

BLACK LIVES MATTER POEM: US Flagging?

WHAT?!
Part of don’t don’t
Wee under stand
A bout
Being Black in America
Served up by coppers
Not worth too sense
Like Lincolns shot in the head
From a civil war that never ends
Accept buy the death of Blacks
Yep, that’s US
United around colors
Stained of red
On a background of White privilege
Blue in the face of impunity
Giving rise to spooky stars
Who will
Never see the light of day
As surrounded by the gravest darkness
But fear not
As wee are only
Half amassed
With our eye on the price
Of such sacred target
And holed fast
Until Black Lives Matter

BLACK LIVES MATTER [Black Power Symbol] POLITICAL BUTTON Jail Killer Cops POLITICAL BUTTONMy heart breaks at yet more Black men are murdered by police.  The impunity of police, supposed law enforcement, is stupefying.  This poem is dedicated to the victims and their loved ones.  May the survivors get justice under the law.  This poem is also dedicated to awe of those participating in the Black Lives Matter movement.  Hopefully, the grievous murders will find some redemption in sparking and fueling the Black Lives Matter movement, so we can put an end to police impunity and our racist criminal justice system.  Let US never forget the victims of police brutality and impunity.  Let US work for justice and equal protection under the law for all Americans.  This country will never be free or just until Black Lives Matter.

To Protect and Serve WHITE POWER [Policeman] POLITICAL BUTTONRacism Kills POLITICAL BUTTONWhite Silence is Violence POLITICAL BUTTON

NO Justice, NO Peace, NO Racist Police POLITICAL BUTTONPolice Lie POLITICAL BUTTONPolice Everywhere, Justice Nowhere POLITICAL BUTTON

The Criminal Justice System is CRIMINAL POLITICAL BUTTONFilm The Police POLITICAL BUTTONBlack BLACK LIVES MATTER [black background] POLITICAL BUTTON

Please feel free to browse more Black Lives Matter designs.

POEM: Signs of The Tines

At the White House speak easy
Blah blah blah blah blah blah
The media drinks it up
At a mine-blowingly vapid clip
In the mean time
On the plantation
Grounds to a halt
Surrounded by offense
In arose guardin’
At least since 1984
Black sheep a massing
Estate clearly
As to klan destined premises
And as such a tract
An overwhelming farce
Met with all arm
As privates in public places
And wile mill or tarry
As eventuality
Weather picked up for loitering
Or trashing national security
Hour constitutional is put down
And though wee are like
A communal terrain
Pigs offer another forum of public transportation
A signing
This won in the can
Matching our zeal to the maxim
In another banner day
For homeland security
Or whatever it scald
As free speech grows smolder
And another die cast
For the prints of darkness
Wielding a pitchfork for the signs of the tines
A tail never to be told

This is a poem about police and/or military — sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference these days — putting down a protest at the White House.  Typically, the corporate media give little coverage to such democracy taken into the hands of ruly citizens, and what coverage they give is often superficial and dismissive.  The demonstration in this poem has overtones of a Black Lives Matter protest, making it contemporary, but it could very well be most any protest in modern times at the White House.  The title of this poem, Signs of The Tines, has what may be an easily missed pun, referencing the tines of the devil’s pitchfork casting signs into a bonfire, which might very well be the preeminent renewable energy source in America.  Protest politics and direct nonviolent resistance has always forced America to confront a legal and political conundrum of law enforcement routinely violating constitutional rights, often under the pretext of national security.  Most any perceived threat to the state triggers an overreaction, even an existential crisis, from most any nationalist from right to left.  Exposing the naked sovereignty of the state, particularly when in moral bankruptcy, is one of the most useful effects resistance offers.  The veneer of civilization can be quickly peeled back to witness the assertion of brute force in the religion of nationalism and state sovereignty.  And for those of you who may dare to believe that we are a nation under God, think again.  I confronted this directly in my legal challenge to draft registration.  As a motion to dismiss based on draft registration offering no opportunity to indicate conscientious objector status, the federal judge rejected the motion citing a Supreme Court case from the 1930’s which stated that the federal government has the absolute power to conscript anyone in the United States, regardless of conscience or anything else.  Conscientious objector status is merely a historical and political concession which was literally referred to as “legislative grace.”  I must admit, in this decade-long resistance to forced military participation in Team America, this was the only thing that truly surprised me.  I, for one, am unwilling to concede absolute authority to any government.  I actually wasn’t even very excited about this motion for dismissal, but my pro bono lawyers wanted to test this legal argument.  Frankly, I wouldn’t have registered even had there been a way to meaningfully indicate conscientious objection.  I think I registered my objection quite meaningfully without their approval or feigned “grace.”  You might want to pay attention to the wizard behind the gracefully flowing curtain, dutifully colored, red, white, and blue…

POEM: What Sup? — Owed to Michael Brown and Ferguson, MO

They come with walls of armor
And arms, oh, the arms
Ever prepared to do the riot thing
Will their fear be matched
By the fire in the bellies
Of protesters
Waving conflagrations
Or hands bound
Staring down such a dear accost
As inevitably meet
Each hankering in their own weigh
For just another
Setting at the table
Inescapably found
In the porous of communities
When poach talk
Left behind
In an escaping domesticity
Beyond bred and whine
And parting shots
Dis tending question
What sup?

This one goes out to all of those in Ferguson, Missouri, dealing with the aftermath of the murder of Michael Brown by a police officer — yet another young black male killed without justification by a white police officer in America.  Michael Brown is dead and racism is alive and well in America.  Much of white America is apparently puzzled by the outrage, focusing on how they can protect themselves from the rage of their victims.  The cries for security, meaning white security, overshadow the cries for justice.

This poem reflects on the militarization of law and order, which is more consistent with the crime committed by a law enforcement officer than protecting and serving the community where that crime was committed.  You just have to look at who is dressing for a riot.  Hint: it’s not the masses of peaceful demonstrators.

The main images used in this poem center around the home as the foundation of community.  The porch and the dining rooms where lives are shared and bread is broken is a glue that holds together community.  Still, when it is not safe to walk the streets, porch talk and a good meal are not enough.  There is a time to take to the streets and reclaim one’s community.  The good people of Ferguson and America deserve an answer to the question, “What sup?”

Romney Campaign Bans Top Pun from Event

Today, the Mitt Romney campaign held a “victory” rally at the Seagate center in downtown Toledo, Ohio.  Top Pun ran into a mitt-full of cards as the Romney campaign drew a full house; but, as the rain fell, Top Pun declared victory is he drew a royal flush from the Romney campaign, being banned from the event even though possessing a ticket and a media pass.  As the rain fell, Romney supporters lined up two by two around their concrete ark, hoping to save themselves from extinction.  As the Romney-ites waded patiently to see their would-be monarch, I could tell by the many white faces that this wasn’t the servants entrance!  Of course, there were many tanned Romney-ites, but most seem to have vacationed South, or had a tad freaky spray-on or tanning booth tan — perhaps emulating their feckless leader.  Even given the many wet backs that were present, few would be mistaken for Latino.  The only African-Americans I saw near the Romney lineup were button and T-shirt vendors.

Of course, across the street, there was an anti-Romney protest that was much more colorful!  One protester even wrapped themselves in the flag, a gay pride flag, that is.  Not wishing to be restrained by the designated “free speech zone,” I protested outside the box.  I took the opportunity to walk back and forth on the sidewalk alongside the Romney lineup (with few unusual suspects), of course, with my signs:

The Romney crowd, perhaps not so surprisingly, responded with vitriol.  At one point I chanted, “Can someone give me a nice hello, and end of this ugly vitriol.”  One woman asked me if I even knew what a blind trust was.  I trust that she did.  Many in the Romney lineup told me to go to the other side of the street; I suppose in some attempt to keep like with like, and perhaps, hate with hate?!  As I walked up and down the so-called Romney side of the street, even a sheriff’s deputy told me to get on the other side of the street.  When I told him that I knew my rights, and that walking down the public sidewalk and not blocking the public sidewalk was simply exercising my free speech, the sheriff deputy responded: “Would you be walking along here if this were an Obama event?”  I told him that if this Romney event were not happening, that I would have been in Bowling Green protesting the Obama campaign event (likely with a drone and anti-war message).  He told me again that I could not be on the side of the street.  When I persisted in claiming my first amendment free speech right to be there, he said that I was becoming disorderly.  I turned and walked the other way, continuing to walk back and forth, but keeping an eye out for him and his comrades.  The saddest part of this encounter is that the sheriff deputy was apparently proscribing a particular type of free speech — like free speech depends on whether you support Romney, Obama, another, or nobody at all!

The most popular response from the Romney crowd was: “Get a job,” often with some ‘hippie’ or ‘cut-your-hair’ comment thrown in for good measure.  Occasionally, I responded with “I have a job; in fact, I am self-employed, I created my own job.”  Sometimes I might throw in “I even left a government job,” but nary a poker face yielded any approval.  Once, when a Romney-ite was particularly uncivil to me, and I requested that we at least be civil, a woman in the crowd showed approval.  I did experience two Romney-ites threatening violence.  The first was when I overheard a man say to the crowd, “Do you want me to beat up the hippie?”  I asked him if he was threatening violence to me and he said, “It’s an offer.”  The other person, a man, or perhaps man-wannabe, said “I’ll beat your face in.”  I asked him if he was threatening violence to me and he said, “Yes.”  I asked him if he’d like me to call law enforcement over and he said, “Yes.”  Well, his bully talk didn’t faze my walk.  Just goes to show, you can usually rely on the general cowardice of humankind (human-unkind?).

On this rainy day, God rained on the just and the unjust.  Most of the Romney-ites hugged the publicly financed Seagate center rationally seeking shelter so as to not tax their dry wits.  And, since the first shall be last and the last shall be first, I joined the Romney-ites, the end of a long line.  I had secured online the night before my ticket to the event   Being practically soaked to the bone, having paid my dews in the open streets, the ink was running on the ticket that I had printed out and the scanner failed to read it.  I was told to wait for a higher power.  What more irony could I ask for then cryptic ink running on a ruinous ticket.  Of course, not relying on serendipitous irony, I had brought a brown manila envelope containing my tax returns for the last 10 years (actually, which are heavily redacted blank sheets of paper).  Knowing that airport-like security was to be the order of the day, security personnel would likely ask me to open this envelope.  Then, I would respond that I was hoping that if I gave Mitt my tax returns then maybe he would give me his.  I knew that this would probably not be satisfactory, and my alleged tax returns would be declared a security threat and the irony would be complete!  In the meantime, while I was waiting for a boss-man’s stamp of approval for entrance, the young man with a scanner, the first line of security, saw that I had registered by name as “Top Pun,” and he asked me for some ID.  I showed him my media pass (shown below) and my driver’s license.  I told him that I was the soul proprietor of the business, that I wrote a blog, and that I was going to report on this event.  He asked me what kind of business it was.  I told him that I make things like buttons and T-shirts, pointing to my mission statement emblazoned on the media pass and business card, “Maximizing Prophets.”  He didn’t seem to have anything to say to this.  Just then, a man came out and said that the doors would be closed and locked, so if you wanted to get in, get in now.  The young man with a scanner tried to scan my ticket again and it worked!  I went through the two sets of doors and got in a short line for their main security check.  However, as I waited in the security line, another man told the dozen or so of us waiting at security that the fire marshal said they were full and we had to leave.  We went outside.  After a little while, someone came back out and said that we could go in again.  Again, I got in the security line.  Just as I had emptied my pockets and the woman at security asked about the brown manila envelope, a sheriff deputy called me back through the set of doors.  The sheriff deputy instructed me that the event organizers would not let me in their event.  There it was: I was officially uninvited from the Romney victory rally.  Be the change you want to see in the world.  Now, if we could only all get uninvited from a Romney victory rally…

 

 

 

Support the Police, Beat Yourself Up

Support the Police Beat Yourself Up – FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTON

Support the Police Beat Yourself Up - FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTON

Support the Police Beat Yourself Up – FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTON

This cool design is linked to a button, but other great Top Pun products like T-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, caps, key chains, magnets, posters, and sticker sheets can be accessed by scrolling down the product page.

View more Political Buttons.

This design goes out to all those Occupy Wall Street protesters everywhere!  I like this cool design because of the obvious incongruity of juxtaposing supporting the police and beating oneself up.  While the police are part of the 99%, they are also tools for the 1% to enforce, typically selectively enforce, laws that will protect the power of the 1%.  Dealing with nonviolent protesters is not something for which the police are typically well-trained. Police routinely rely on militaristic methods for crowd control and social control.  Police brutality and abuse is a natural outgrowth of this approach.  Presumptively having the law on their side, as the enforcers of laws, police can shield themselves from accountability and overreact to peaceful demonstrators.  Fortunately, one of the purposes of nonviolent demonstrators is to expose the inherent violence in the system, and the front lines of this is often law enforcement and the military.  Of course, when police overreact and use violence to quell peaceful demonstrations, denial of doing anything wrong, a refusal to be accountable for one’s actions is typically the first response.  This only highlights the gap between the immense responsibility that police have to behave well and the reality that the socially sanctioned possessors of violence can get away with violence much easier.  Suggesting that a protester beat themselves up preemptively is a way to highlight the farcical notion of the purity of law enforcement and violence to control other people.  Rather than law enforcement officers receiving harsher punishments for “unnecessary” violence, it is rare to see police prosecuted successfully for such misbehavior.  Maybe we should expect that such misbehaving police should regulate themselves, and that they should beat themselves up!

Religious Liberty, Conscience Exemptions for Everything

With the Obama administration’s recent rules requiring organizations owned by religious groups to provide contraceptive coverage as part of their employees’ health insurance, conservative groups and the Roman Catholic Church have gotten all their panties in a bunch, which is particularly interesting since most of them are men.  I like the take on religious exemptions for everything by Jonathan Zasloff and conscience clauses by Mark Kleiman in the reality-based community blogs.   The most obvious religious exemptions would be for Quakers, Mennonites, and other pacifist religious groups, to have to pay for anything related to war.  The more interesting suggestion was by Mr. Zasloff:

Why not include immigration law in the picture?

“You shall love the stranger, for you were a stranger in the land of Egypt.”  This is not an isolated Biblical line: it is repeated no less than 36 times (really) in the Bible.  So synagogues, churches, and mosques (musn’t forget mosques) should just make it clear that they should not have to obey immigration law: they will hire or provide services to anyone and everyone regardless of immigration status.  Any attempts by any law enforcement agency to prosecute them or in any way harass or deport immigrants who are part of their religious communities violates their freedom of conscience to include them (not to mention their rights to freely associate).

I think that both of these authors are offering these suggestions more as tongue-in-cheek parodies than as serious policy considerations.  This is not to denigrate in any way the importance or depths of the religious beliefs of any of these groups, including the anti-contraceptive crowd.  I believe that what is being legitimately mocked is an immature insistence that religious liberty, at least for their own particular group, requires absolute unchecked freedom.  This is a fiction in the real world.  The legitimate questions asked by these bloggers have taken us just far enough down the road of logic to see the absurd conclusions that must be drawn if such logic is taken to its nth degree.

As with all freedoms, religious freedoms must be balanced with other freedoms.  This will never make everybody completely happy, and fortunately, will not make anybody all-powerful, with infinite, absolute, unchecked freedom.  That sounds like the kind of freedom reserved for God anyways, and you’d think that religious folks could respect that, even insist upon it.

I have commented elsewhere on this issue, particularly in the context of the current birth control insurance mandate debate (see Birth Control as a Human Right – Toledo Protest).

I think this issue to be resolved in the real world, religious groups, claiming a particular bastion of truth, need to vote with the existential force of their lives, to make these beliefs real in the world, not just words, particularly words to control other people.  In the 1980s and 90s the Roman Catholic Church provided strong leadership in the sanctuary movement which protected persons who are in this country of illegal status due to economic or political violence.  The Roman Catholic Church took real risks and paid a price for incarnating their beliefs.  Pacifist religious groups have refused to go to war and pay war taxes for generations.  As a religious pacifist myself, I was convicted by the United States of America for refusing to register for the military draft, and I was incarcerated for a few months.  I think I made my point.

The state cannot be trusted to strike a balance between religious liberty and other liberties.  This is precisely why religious groups need to be about the difficult and real work of living out their beliefs in such a way that their importance is manifest to the rest of the world.  Since the US made a federal case of it, my resistance of draft registration, I learned that according to the US Supreme Court, that the US has the absolute power to conscript anybody for any reason, and there is no constitutional right, religious or otherwise, to refuse military conscription.  The US government could conscript your grandmother if they wanted to.  The specific language cited in my case, which was used to reject a claim of religious liberty, was that conscientious objection was by “legislative grace” alone.  I for one, do not by the grace of Congress go.

The bottom line:  if we are going to live by God’s grace, we will need to fight for our liberties and rights, and real grace is not cheap, it has a cost; if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be worth much now would it?

 

Attack on Press Freedoms in Occupy Movement

Nation Magazine blogger Peter Rothberg has reported on attacks on press freedoms in the Occupy movement.  Over 50 journalists have been arrested since the beginning of the Occupy Wall Street movement last September.  You can sign a petition to support journalists who are fighting back for the First Amendment.  Take action to protect democracy and freedom of the press.  The Occupy movement, and all social movements, need freedom of the press so that the public can be better informed.

Make Crime Illegal

Make Crime Illegal – FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTON

Make Crime Illegal - FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTON

Make Crime Illegal – FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTON

This cool design is linked to a button, but other great Top Pun products like T-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, caps, key chains, magnets, posters, and sticker sheets can be accessed by scrolling down the product page.

View more Political Buttons.

This design plays on the absurdities of logic and the confusion of means and ends.  It makes sense to oppose crime in the vast majority of cases.  This is a reasonable foundation for civilization: the rule of law. Of course, there are notable exceptions, namely, unjust laws and the unjust enforcement of laws that cry out for civil disobedience.  No set of laws, no matter how comprehensive or well-thought-out, can fully capture moral or ethical behavior, let alone enforce it.  With a simple proposition of making crime illegal, a simple tautology, being that which crime is commonly understood to be is,in fact, that which is illegal.  The first of my desired effects with this design is to see the foolishness of applying ever-increasing illegality to address crime.  This could be called the fascist solution.  And I want to speak to anti-fascists solutions.  As alluded to earlier with the case of civil disobedience to disobey an unjust law or an unjust application of law, morality and ethics are not equivalent to legality.  Certainly, there are many actions that are legal that are not moral or ethical.  Similarly, there are actions that are moral or ethical which are illegal.  The ultimate difficulty of enforcing moral or ethical behavior through coercion, i.e., law enforcement, forces us to look beyond brute force or even social norms to gain moral or ethical behavior amongst any group of people.  Gandhi button: Be the change you want to see in the worldThus, like many of my designs, the message poses both an answer that may jar some people’s current thinking, as well as a question, a more difficult question, regarding the nature of right behavior and how to create more of it.  One of my favorite quotes along these lines is from Albert Schweitzer: “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”  In the end, law enforcement reaches a natural limit in controlling others through physical force, coercion, violence.  If we want moral and ethical behavior then we need to model moral and ethical behavior.  Like Gandhi proposed, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” And as he lived, “My life is my message.”