Enthusiasm for socialised healthcare is suddenly sweeping through the American political landscape, which means the lack of universal care (something that has long made the US an outlier among wealthy nations) may be ending.
Healthcare is a matter of right in every other wealthy industrialised nation, although guaranteed and administered in different ways. In Germany, the state sets prices with heavily regulated private providers for standard treatments and medications and citizens must pay according to their income level, often with state support. In Canada, each province is the ‘single payer’ of health services, contracting with independent providers, although with laws that discourage or prohibit private health insurance. In the UK, the National Health Service is fully socialised and its employees are civil servants, a true single payer system. The care provided by these systems is universal, heavily regulated and funded by the state. In all, medical care is far cheaper than in the US.
The US spends more on medical care, per person and as a percentage of gross domestic product, than any other nation: Costs are expected to hit 18% of American GDP next year, compared to an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nation average of around 11%. Despite this enormous expenditure, roughly 10% of American adults have no health insurance and millions more are underinsured, with medical debt the leading cause of personal bankruptcy. Nor is American healthcare yielding especially impressive results on a national scale, with life expectancy and infant mortality rates markedly worse than in peer nations.
Given the cost in the US, it is no surprise that politicians and pundits have viewed universal, state-run healthcare as something the country cannot afford, an inefficient government takeover that would result in higher taxes, lower standards of care and worsening costs. That the evidence from every other industrialised nation with universal care belies this has made little impact. Only 36% of Americans hold valid passports, and relate no more to the example of Danish healthcare than they would to reports of bacterial life on Mars. Yet the idea is suddenly catching on.
Socialising all healthcare was not part of the official debate on Obama’s Affordable Care Act of 2010 (Obamacare), his signature domestic legislation that reformed private health insurance markets, extended coverage to the previously uninsured without universalising it, and left the system more deeply entrenched.
The leading legislative reaction to Obamacare is not expansion but destruction. The Republican Party, with control of the executive branch and both branches of the federal legislature, is developing a massive tax cut for the wealthy, paid for by revoking healthcare coverage and heavily cutting Medicaid, the federal programme for the poor. According to the Congressional Budget Office, a federal body that runs cost-benefit analysis on proposed legislation, the version of the American Health Care Act 2017 (AHCA) passed by the House but not, at the time of writing, by the Senate would immediately strip 14 million Americans of their health insurance, and by 2026, 26 million would be without coverage.
The sudden prospect of millions losing medical coverage has energised Democrats (and some Republicans) who have packed local town hall meetings with their elected members of Congress, and have been raucous, even confrontational, about healthcare. (This focus contrasts with the Democratic Party elites’ fixation on the Trump circle’s alleged collusion with the Russian government, an issue more important to centrist pundits than constituents’ wallets and health.)
This popular response to Obamacare’s potential destruction has gone far beyond defence of the status quo and become radical by American standards, with demands for government-run universal healthcare, often called single payer but increasingly known as Medicare For All. ‘Single payer has become the most important policy issue because people have a dramatic fear of losing their healthcare now — and we have a solution,’ says RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United and the California Nurses Association, powerful unions leading the charge for universal healthcare. A bill to establish single payer — the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, HR 676 — is floating around the House of Representatives though it is far from summoning a majority.
At state level, enthusiasm for universal healthcare, long on the progressive back burner, is suddenly boiling over. New York state assemblyman Dick Gottfried has proposed a bill for years; the measure suddenly has a majority in the state’s lower legislative chamber. It will probably take several attempts to get this or similar bills signed into law: In 2014 a watered-down universal healthcare bill stalled out in Vermont; a Colorado ballot initiative for single payer tanked last November, and the governor of Nevada has just vetoed a massive expansion of Medicaid.
Yet these setbacks have only stimulated the appetite for change and legislation is moving in the state governments of Washington, Oregon and (probably soon) Illinois. New chapters of Physicians for a National Health Programme are springing up; and that group’s detailed proposals are being published in prestigious medical journals, while more physicians, fed up with fighting insurance companies to get reimbursed, are turning to single payer.
Although universalising healthcare is a matter of fairness and social justice, it is also, counter-intuitively, the only proven way to control healthcare costs. Savvy plutocrats, such as Berkshire Hathaway investment gurus Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, have come to support state-run universal care, given that soaring healthcare costs drag down the competitiveness of American firms.
The chief savings are in reducing the administrative costs of private insurers, which add no medical value. A June 2016 study in the American Journal of Public Health by Adam Gaffney, Steffie Woolhandler, Marcia Angell and David U Himmelstein, all members of Physicians for a National Health Program, estimates that $500bn a year would be saved by this market restructuring.
Independently, the US government could follow multi-payer systems like Germany and flex its buying power to negotiate down prices of healthcare procedures, prescription drugs and medical technology, given that with Medicare and Medicaid it is overwhelmingly the largest purchaser. Intellectual property law, properly revised, could also push down prices by limiting patents on medicines (often partly developed with publicly funded research) and allowing low-cost generic equivalents to enter the market more quickly. Big Pharma’s profit margins are enormous, roughly twice the Fortune 500 average, evidence of cartel privileges at the expense of patients.
Development of new drugs should ultimately pass out of the private sector with its inefficiencies and profit-seeking conflicts of interest. As economist Dean Baker has proposed, a state-managed research institute could easily develop new drugs and sell them at cost with enormous savings: Contrary to capitalist folklore, many of the 20th century’s important breakthroughs, from penicillin to the polio vaccine, were developed by state and non-profit academic researchers.
The barriers to socialising medicine in the US are more political than economic, and are considerable. Many Republican elected officials have spoken out against the idea of health insurance as collectivist and morally wrong. Republican Scott Perry of Pennsylvania has declared that he shouldn’t be asked to pay towards maternity care since his family does not plan on any more children, while Republican Mo Brooks of Alabama has said he would make the AHCA require the sick to pay more than the healthy ‘who lead good lives’.
Despite such market Calvinism, it’s not clear how deep or enduring is this opposition to socialised medicine among Republican voters. In the early 1960s, Republicans and most of the medical profession militantly opposed Medicare (the American Medical Association hired Ronald Reagan to denounce the programme as communism in radio advertisements), before the programme was signed into law in 1965. Now Medicare is popular across the political spectrum and politically impregnable. And with both parties realigning their social bases, all bets are off. As DeMoro notes, ‘We’re a little perplexed by Donald Trump because he’s spoken favourably about Australia’s single payer system but now he’s got this draconian plan that takes a lot of people’s healthcare away.’
The first step will be convincing enough Democrats: no easy task. While Bernie Sanders campaigned on single-payer healthcare, his victorious rival Hillary Clinton condemned it as ‘utopian’, an odd choice of words for a system that works smoothly in many nations. The close ties between donors and lobbyists from the biomedical industry and the Democratic Party can be seen in the family of Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and his daughter Heather Bresch, CEO of Mylan, a firm which has jacked up the price of its EpiPen (an emergency device for allergic reactions) from $100 to $600 since 2009. Manchin defended his daughter’s decision.
But even if Washington Democrats remain opposed to universal care, activity at the state level is going ahead. For now, the big battleground for universal healthcare is California, where the upper legislative chamber on 1 June passed a non-committal Senate bill (562) calling for a single-payer state system without a specific plan to fund it. This is the result of much activist prodding: At the state’s most recent Democratic Party convention, members of National Nurses United chanted outside the event. Although the bill was just killed off by the Democratic state assembly speaker Anthony Rendon, it had support from both lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom, likely the state’s next governor, state attorney general Xavier Becerra and many other elected officials.
Is California’s single-payer plan financially feasible in the near term? The programme’s cost is estimated at $400bn, only half of which could be covered by the state’s general fund without raising the additional revenue necessary until money-saving reforms can be passed at state and federal level. Advocates are optimistic. ‘California is the sixth-largest economy in the world and passing single payer there will have a large ripple effect,’ says DeMoro. ‘We’re hoping California will lead the US in joining the rest of the industrialised world in providing healthcare for its people.’
California’s path to single payer will not be smooth. Even if such a measure eventually does get signed into law and state funds are found, Obama’s Affordable Care Act requires the federal government to grant a waiver for any state to set up its own publicly funded system. Conservative commitments to federalism aside, it is far from certain that the ultraconservative director of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, former Georgia Republican congressman Tom Price, would give California a waiver.
No one expects socialised medicine to happen all at once and without political resistance at every level of government. But even if it takes several election cycles, what was recently a dream is suddenly a defining issue in US domestic politics, and may soon be legislated into reality.
How to police the police is a question as old as civilization, now given special urgency by a St. Louis County grand jury’s return of a no-bill of indictment for Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson in his fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown. The result is shocking to many, depressingly predictable to more than a few.
Can the cops be controlled? It’s never been easy: According to one old sociological chestnut, the monopoly on the legitimate use of violence is what defines modern government, and this monopoly is jealously protected against the second-guessing of puny civilians. All over the country, the issue of restraining police power is framed around the retribution against individual cops, from Staten Island to Milwaukee to L.A. But is this the best way to impose discipline on law enforcement and roll back what even Republican appellate court appointees are calling rampant criminalization?
Police shootings in America
First, the big picture. Last year, the FBI tallied 461 “justifiable homicides” committed by law enforcement—justifiable because the Bureau assumes so, and the nation’s courts have not found otherwise. This is the highest number in two decades, even as the nation’s overall homicide rate continues to drop. Homicides committed by on-duty law enforcement make up 3% of the 14,196 homicides committed in the US in 2013. A USA Today analysis of the FBI database found an average of about 96 police homicides a year in which a white officer kills a black person.
The FBI’s police homicide stats are fuzzy, and they are surely an undercount, given that they come from voluntary reports to the FBI from police departments all over the country. That the federal government does not keep a strict national tally shows just how seriously they take this problem. A crowdsourced database has sprung up to fill the gap, as has a wiki-tabulation.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about these police killings, many of them of unarmed victims, is that our courts find them perfectly legal.
SCOTUS and the license to kill
Chapter 563 of the Missouri Revised Statutes grants a lot of discretion to officers of the law to wield deadly force, to the horror of many observers swooping in to the Ferguson story. The statute authorizes deadly force “in effecting an arrest or in preventing an escape from custody” if the officer “reasonably believes” it is necessary in order to “to effect the arrest and also reasonably believes that the person to be arrested has committed or attempted to commit a felony…or may otherwise endanger life or inflict serious physical injury unless arrested without delay.”
But this law is not an outlier, and is fully in synch with Supreme Court jurisprudence. The legal standard authorizing deadly force is something called “objective reasonableness.”
This standard originates in the 1985 case of Tennessee v. Garner, which appeared at first to tighten restrictions on the police use of deadly force. The case involved a Memphis cop, Elton Hymon, who shot dead one Edward Garner: 15 years old, black, and unarmed. Garner had just burgled a house, grabbing a ring and ten bucks. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a police officer, henceforth, could only use deadly force if he “has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.” The ruling required that the use of force be “objectively reasonable.” How this reasonableness should be determined was established in a 1989 case, Graham v. Connor: severity of the crime, whether the suspect is resisting or trying to escape and above all, whether the suspect posed an immediate threat to the safety of officers or others. All this appeared to restrict police violence—even if, in the end, Officer Hymon was never criminally charged for fatally shooting Edward Garner.
“Objectively reasonable”—what could be wrong with that? But in actual courtroom practice, “objective reasonableness” has become nearly impossible to tell apart from the subjective snap judgments of panic-fueled police officers. American courts universally defer to the law enforcement officer’s own personal assessment of the threat at the time.
The Graham analysis essentially prohibits any second-guessing of the officer’s decision to use deadly force: No hindsight is permitted, and wide latitude is granted to the officer’s account of the situation, even if scientific evidence proves it to be mistaken. Such was the case of Berkeley, Missouri police officers Robert Piekutowski and Keith Kierzkowski, who in 2000 fatally shot Earl Murray and Ronald Beasley out of fear that the victims’ car was rolling towards them. Forensic investigations established that the car had not in fact lurched towards the officers at the time of the shooting—but this was still not enough for the St. Louis County grand jury to indict the two cops of anything.
Not surprisingly then, legal experts find that “there is built-in leeway for police, and the very breadth of this leeway is why criminal charges against police are so rare,” says Walter Katz, a police oversight lawyer who served on the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review until it disbanded in July of this year. According to Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine Law School, recent Supreme Court decisions are not a path towards justice but rather a series of obstacles to holding police accountable for civil rights violations.
An officer’s personal threat assessment is often bolstered by the fact that there are between 270 and 310 million guns in the United States. Take a grand jury’s failure to indict the police officers who fatally shot John Crawford III, the Black man holding a BB gun in a Wal-Mart in Beavercreek, Ohio. In a country where shooting sprees are a regular occurrence; where guns are widely available at Wal-Mart; where fake guns that look very similar to real guns are sold in the same store, the police officers’ fears were deemed reasonable enough for the grand jury to find no probable cause of criminal wrongdoing. That is how the Supreme Court police violence jurisprudence works, and it was firmly on the side of officer Sean Williams, just as it has now been found to be on Darren Wilson’s. Given the deference and latitude hardwired into the law, “there is just an underlying assumption that the officer did not engage in criminal activity,” says Katz.
The first step to controlling the police is to get rid of the fantasy, once and for all, that the law is on our side. The law is firmly on the side of police who open fire on unarmed civilians.
The sick joke of self-regulation
The lethal use of police force typically sets off an internal police investigation to determine if departmental regulations were violated. The regs and the law are not the same thing. Case in point: the chokehold that NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo used to strangle Eric Garner, suspected of selling loose cigarettes, on Staten Island last July. (The grand jury bill on that case has still not been decided.) The chokehold is not prohibited by law, but it is by departmental rules. The violation might earn a departmental censure of some kind, from loss of vacation days to getting fired, but they tend to be radically mild, when not nonexistent.
What about internal affairs investigations? On television they are aggressive, dogged, uncompromising. In real life they tend to insulate the police from serious external sanction. “I stopped cooperating with the IAB ten years ago,” says Jason Leventhal, a former Assistant District Attorney in Richmond County, Staten Island who now works as a civil rights litigator, often suing the police. “IA will never, ever credit the claim of police abuse. They hide witnesses, they push witnesses around. The only time I cooperate with them is when I know I have their hands tied behind their back.”
Are there any effective civilian oversight systems at any major police department in the US? Nobody I interviewed for this article could name one. New York’s Civilian Complaint Review Board occasionally docks vacation days from police officers but the Board has no real teeth. Even staffers at the New York Civil Liberties Union have candidly told me that it’s more or less worthless. “I don’t have any faith in the CCRB or the Internal Affairs Bureau or any other internal mechanism,” says Ron Kuby, a civil rights and criminal defense lawyer in New York. Civilian complaints rarely even get in the way of an individual officer’s career. In New York, CCRB complaints don’t even go in a police officer’s file, says Kuby. “The PBA just says that the more aggressive officers will get excessive force complaints.”
Firing a police officer with a record of abusive behavior (or worse) is often extremely difficult and can carry a heavy political cost. Patrolmen Benevolent Associations, which have escaped the kind of resentment directed at other public-sector unions, tend to be powerful players in local politics able to inflict pain on any politico who would cross them. (Remember when Sarah Palin struggled to fire a state trooper and ex-brother-in-law who had allegedly acted like a thug towards her sister?)
The reality is, it is extremely difficult to get law enforcement to police itself, and self-regulation is here, just as it is in poultry processing or coal mining, a sick joke.
Civil suits for monetary damages require a lower standard of proof than criminal cases, but these suits are not a slam dunk for victims of cop violence, either. The same jurisprudence that grants wide leeway to law enforcement still holds. Last March, one victim’s family lost a federal civil suit for wrongful death and civil rights violations brought against police officer Nicholas Bennallack for fatally shooting a fleeing and unarmed drug suspect. The jury believed the cop’s claim that he opened fire out of fear for his life.
What about all the times when excessive force suits get settled out of court? It turns out that massive payouts don’t deter police misconduct for one straightforward reason: neither individual officers nor police departments are responsible for coughing up the cash. The union covers the officer’s lawyer, and research from Joanna Schwartz of UCLA Law School found that governments, not individual officers, paid out $99.98% of the damages. Settlements and damages aren’t paid by the police department, whose budget will waltz by untouched, but typically out of the general municipal budget.
Kuby maintains that civil remedies will always fall short and thinks only criminal prosecution has a prayer of changing police behavior. “Prosecution works well with people who are not fundamentally criminal and have enough stake in the system to respond! Any response below that is an insult.” But he admits that the political will to make the criminal justice system restrain and regulate its own members and enforcers is consistently lacking—and has been as long as he’s been practicing law.
Don’t make a federal case out of it.
Occasionally the federal Department of Justice intervenes to prosecute individual cops for depriving a victim of his or her civil rights. If a state-level prosecution fails to secure a conviction, this can give the government a second chance to prosecute on different charges. Rodney King’s LAPD assailants were convicted in 1993 in just this way.
But the feds, like other prosecutors, only like to take on cases they can win, says Alan Vinegrad, who was part of the federal attorneys that prosecuted the NYPD officer who in 1997 sexually tortured Abner Louima with a broken-off broom handle. “In the Louima case it was painfully obvious that the use of force was extreme and willful,” says Vinegrad. “But in other cases, if the officer is acting more in the line of duty, a federal civil rights violation is a tougher thing to show.”
Will the Obama DOJ take on the Michael Brown case? It doesn’t look like it. Eyewitness testimony is conflicting and so far the multiple forensic reports that have come out are not inconsistent with Darren Wilson’s version of the shooting—which would make the federal standard of willful misconduct difficult to prove. The Obama DOJ has signaled with leaks that it is backing away from a federal case against the officer.
Far more useful are the DOJ Civil Rights Division’s root-and-branch interventions into violently dysfunctional police forces, triggered by “patterns and practices” of systematic rights violations rather than any one particular incident. For instance, the DOJ just launched a major effort to reorganize and reshape the police department of Albuquerque, reforming its trainings, protocols and appallingly trigger-happy habits. (The Albuquerque police have shot 37 people in the past four years, 23 of them fatally.) This is a well-established tool of the federal government: other police departments under federal supervision include those of Seattle, New Orleans, Puerto Rico and until recently, Los Angeles and Detroit; the feds also nearly took over wholesale the Oakland police department in 2012. But note that these federal interventions do not entail punishments, civil or criminal, of individual police officers.
In the unusual instances when a law enforcement officer is convicted, the penalties tend to be remarkably light. Johannes Mehserle, the Bay Area Rapid Transit officer who shot the unarmed Oscar Grant III dead on New Year’s Day, 2009, served 11 months of a two-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter. Then there is Jon Burge, the Chicago police detective who led the torture of over 100 (mostly Black) suspects, released last month after serving four and a half years in custody. (The statute of limitations had passed for the more serious offenses.) Burge still collects a $54,000 departmental pension.
Such Scandinavian-style lenity is quite different from the mind-numbing severity of sentences inflicted on non-cops. Consider the 60 years that potentially face Marissa Alexander for firing a warning shot at an abusive ex. Or the life sentences without possibility of parole that over 3,000 Americans are serving out for nonviolent crimes.
Some observers see hope for police reform in the ubiquity of smartphone video recorders. It’s true that the ever-growing supply of police misconduct videos fuels the anger needed to sustain reform efforts, and even occasionally leads to police officers being disciplined or prosecuted. Examples include NYPD officers David Afanador and Tyrane Isaac, caught on camera pistol-whipping a teenage suspect last August, or South Carolina state trooper Sean Groubert who in September opened fire on a motorist heading into his truck to retrieve his driver’s license. Jason Leventhal told me he expects an indictment of the Staten Island police officer who strangled Eric Garner because the video evidence, caught on a cellphone, was so brutal. It would certainly be a good thing if police departments invested less in military gear like M-RAP armored vehicles and more in dashcams and GoPro cameras; with the right department protocols and practices, these cameras strengthen police accountability.
But just as often these videos end up illustrating just how much leeway police have in opening fire on a suspect. Take the police shooting of St. Louis resident Kajieme Powell, a mentally ill man allegedly holding a knife, a fatal shooting arguably less defensible than the Michael Brown shooting 10 days before, and caught on a cell-phone video. Or, again, John Crawford III, whose slaying by police officers was caught on the Wal-Mart security cameras. Or the July, 2012 video of eight members of the Saginaw, Michigan police department, six of them firing 46 shots at Milton Hall, a mentally ill homeless man, hitting him 11 times, after he took out a pocket-knife when a police dog started to lunge at him. Although the latter horrific video picked up a fresh wave of publicity when screened at a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington D.C. last month, such videos cannot undo the legally enshrined deference to the subjective feelings of police officers when they reach for their weapons. No criminal charges were even attempted by state prosecutors in any of these cases; the DOJ has announced it is looking into the Crawford shooting but declined to prosecute in the other two.
(A note on the IACHR and other international forums: Bringing these cases of police shootings to them is a canny way to generate publicity and raise consciousness, but no one should ever imagine for even a second that such bodies will ever wield any actual power in American courts.)
There really is no courtroom miracle or lawsuit solution, no matter how clever the litigator, no matter how deep-dish the foundation grant, that is going to discipline the police and break them of their trigger-happy habits.
Police shootings are only one function of living in one of the most heavily policed societies in the world. Any movement to roll back this creeping overcriminalization is going to have to look beyond criminal prosecutions of individual police and take in the big picture.
The militarized police response to the mostly nonviolent demonstrations in Ferguson and elsewhere has appalled not only progressives but many conservatives as well. The army’s provision of of weapons surplus, from MRAPs to tanks, to local police departments under the federal 1033 Program, ought to be easy to end. But departments are reluctant to give back new toys, and majorities of both the congressional Progressive Caucus and the Black Caucus voted against a bill that would have stopped the disbursement of some military goodies to local police departments. Gun control advocates would do well to lobby hard and publicly for arms control measures applied to the police as well—undisciplined but up-armored cops are part of what that drives many otherwise sane private citizens to build private armories.
Wanton overpolicing had poisoned relations between the people and their government well before Darren Wilson shot dead Michael Brown. Less mediagenic than police militarization and far more insidious is law enforcement’s daily harassment of citizens for petty offenses. The local government in Ferguson has been treating its residents and neighbors less like free people with rights than like revenue milk-cows to be exploited to the max. Citations and fines for petty offenses are profligately inflicted on residents, particularly black residents. According to a blockbuster report issued by St. Louis’ ArchCity Defenders advocacy group, over 20% of city revenue comes from municipal courts (making them the city’s second largest source of revenue), which issued enough warrants last year to slap three warrants, $312 worth, on every household in the town.
Not surprisingly, high on the list of demands issues at one Ferguson community forum was an end to the “overpolicing and criminalization of poverty,” an amnesty for old unpaid warrants, new fines proportioned to income, and a state law capping municipal revenue from court fees at 10%. (Terrified by the Ferguson unrest, the city of St. Louis decided to eliminate 220,000 open arrest warrants for traffic violations last month.) The feeling of being under occupation by an armed force that cares more about meeting revenue quotas than public security corrodes all trust in law enforcement, and is the sort of environment in which police are more likely to open fire.
The state of emergency that Missouri governor Jay Nixon declared on November 17 seems all too likely to encourage the police overkill, both petty and heavily militarized, that shocked the world over the summer, when much of the state’s use of force against demonstrators was of dubious legality.
New policing models like the problem-solving approach developed by David M. Kennedy and others have focused law enforcement and social work resources on a city’s small number of known and likely violent gang members, leaving the rest of the community in relative peace. This approach has won demonstrable results in Boston and Cincinnati without intrusive “Broken Windows” policing or the wholesale stop-and-frisk harassment of Black and Latino youth. Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College, writes in his memoir, Don’t Shoot, that this type of community policing doesn’t fix the entire economy, but it does reduce homicide—including police homicide—and at least create social peace.
Police demilitarization, the de-criminalization of working-class people, new policing models: These are all projects that could work in Ferguson and thousands of other American cities. Though none of these large-scale ideas is explicitly race-conscious, they would most likely tighten the severe racial disparities in policing violence that exist all over the country, more so than pouring more money into racial sensitivity training for cops. (Changing residency requirements of municipal police officers to get a more ethnically representative force might help a little, though research shows that such requirements correlate with less confidence in the police, not more.)
These big-picture reforms are fundamentally political solutions that will require long-term effort, coalition politics that spans race, ethnicity and political affiliation—a challenge, but also a necessity. As police and prosecutors assume more and more power in the United States—regulating immigration (formerly a matter of administrative law), meting out school discipline, and other spheres of everyday life where criminal law was almost unknown even a generation ago—getting law enforcement on a tight leash is a national imperative. In the meantime, the constant stream of news reports of unarmed, mostly black and Latino civilians killed by police demands bigger, bolder approaches. They are the only available path to getting the police under control.
The US constitution's Bill of Rights is envied by much of the English-speaking world, even by people otherwise not enthralled by The American Way Of Life. Its fundamental liberties – freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, freedom from warrantless search – are a mighty bulwark against overweening state power, to be sure.
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From Bradley Manning to Aaron Swartz -- The Government's Inhumane Persecution of Brave Truth Tellers
“Prosecutors destroy a life.” That could be a headline in every newspaper every day in a land where the answer to every problem (and many nonproblems) is police and prisons. When 26-year-old Internet prodigy and freedom of information activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide on January 11, the tragedy was the direct result of US attorneys deciding to throw criminal charges at him for violating a website’s “terms of services” while accessing publicly subsidized academic research. Swartz entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s open campus, accessed its open network and downloaded a few million academic articles owned by the digital library JSTOR, whose database contains content belonging to hundreds of publishers. JSTOR and MIT now insist they would have been only too happy to drop the matter, but prosecutors pushed forward, throwing four felony charges at Swartz, who then faced a maximum sentence of thirty-five years in prison, along with fines of up to $1 million. Prosecutors shoveled on nine more felony counts in September, bringing the total to thirteen.