Today's Police State: NYPD Screened Racist Film, Mass Incarceration on the Rise, Press Freedom Down
This week's news has brought a number of stories to our attention that are all united by their relationship to the growing power and corruption of the police and the prison industrial complex in America.
Occupy has called attention in many ways to the creeping influence of that combined force in America, and its increasing leverage to do wrong by the citizens it is meant to protect.
The most recent example of this in the news this week: new revelations published in the New York Times that an offensive, anti-Muslim film was shown to hundreds of new NYPD recruits on continuous loop.
Now it turns out that not only did this film use interview footage with the NYPD commissioner, it featured his cooperation. Naturally, everyone is now quite embarassed:
The New York City police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, through a top aide, acknowledged for the first time on Tuesday that he personally cooperated with the filmmakers of “The Third Jihad” — a decision the commissioner now describes as a mistake.
The film, which says the goal of “much of Muslim leadership here in America” is to “infiltrate and dominate” the United States, was screened for more than 1,400 officers during training in 2010.
Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne told The New York Times on Monday that the filmmakers had relied on old interview clips and had never spoken with the commissioner.
On Tuesday, the film’s producer, Raphael Shore, e-mailed The Times and provided a date and time for their 90-minute interview with the commissioner at Police Headquarters on March 19, 2007. Told of this e-mail, Mr. Browne revised his account.
“He’s right,” Mr. Browne said Tuesday of the producer. “In fact, I recommended in February 2007 that Commissioner Kelly be interviewed.”
In an e-mail, Mr. Browne said that when he first saw the film in 2011, he assumed the commissioner’s interview was taken from old clips, even though the film referred to Mr. Kelly as an “interviewee.” He did not offer an explanation as to why he and the commissioner, on Tuesday, remembered so much of their decision.
The Police Department’s admission suggests a closer relationship between it and the provocative film, which has drawn angry condemnation from Muslim and civil rights groups, than officials had previously acknowledged.
As anyone following this story knows, Kelly and the NYPD have done some very disturbing things with protesters and journalists in the past few months of Occupy--and Muslim protesters in particular have written about their fear of taking part in direct action because of the bias in policing.
In fact, here's some related news: the US's Freedom of the Press ratings just took a tumble because of these incidents. As Reporters Without Borders announced in a report ranking nations on press freedom today, "The United States (47th) also owed its fall of 27 places to the many arrests of journalist covering Occupy Wall Street protests."
But here's the thing: while the fracas over Occupy and post-9/11 investigations into police treatment of Muslims is relatively new, the problem with the policing and prison culture in our country has been going on for a long time, building and influencing all of us. In other words, a system that takes a way the rights of the most marginalized (poor, young black men in many cases) will eventually start taking away the rest of our rights too--protesters. Students. And the press.
In this week's New Yorker, Adam Gopnik has a long feature about this policy of mass incarceration. Here's a small taste:
The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life. Every day, at least fifty thousand men—a full house at Yankee Stadium—wake in solitary confinement, often in “supermax” prisons or prison wings, in which men are locked in small cells, where they see no one, cannot freely read and write, and are allowed out just once a day for an hour’s solo “exercise.” (Lock yourself in your bathroom and then imagine you have to stay there for the next ten years, and you will have some sense of the experience.) Prison rape is so endemic—more than seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year—that it is routinely held out as a threat, part of the punishment to be expected. The subject is standard fodder for comedy, and an uncoöperative suspect being threatened with rape in prison is now represented, every night on television, as an ordinary and rather lovable bit of policing. The normalization of prison rape—like eighteenth-century japery about watching men struggle as they die on the gallows—will surely strike our descendants as chillingly sadistic, incomprehensible on the part of people who thought themselves civilized. Though we avoid looking directly at prisons, they seep obliquely into our fashions and manners. Wealthy white teen-agers in baggy jeans and laceless shoes and multiple tattoos show, unconsciously, the reality of incarceration that acts as a hidden foundation for the country.
At the very least, Occupy has drawn needed attention to the way our police state is encroaching on our constitutional rights. Let's hope the prison reform and prison abolition movements can get some momentum going with the public in 2012.