Posts filed under Civil Liberties

Punch a hippie in the face for Freedom


See if you can spot the Freedom in this photograph.

There are no enforceable laws against flag desecration in the United States. There have been no such laws for over twenty five years. But bring up flag burning and a lot of American nationalists — especially, it seems, political conservatives — will get pretty heated about their right to beat people up who express Patriotically Incorrect political views, or to beat people up just for being a dirty hippie. This kind of appeal to crude instinctual violence only goes so far however, so if the conversation goes on, many of them (more, it seems, in the last few years) will come around to make a claim that it is actually illegal to burn a U.S. flag, and that people can be arrested for doing it. They are completely mistaken about that claim. But it’s interesting, and a bit scary, that they are so pervasively and repetitively and insistently mistaken.

Let’s set aside for the moment the question of whether or not there’s anything wrong with burning a U.S. flag in protest. And let’s set aside for the moment whether or not there’d be anything wrong with burning a U.S. flag in protest if it were illegal. We’ll come back to that later, but it’s a separate question.

Those who claim that burning an American flag is illegal rarely cite a source for this claim. If they do, they will normally point to something like 18 USC 700, on Desecration of the flag of the United States.[1] What they don’t seem to have noticed is that 18 USC 700 has no legal force. It hasn’t had any legal force for two and a half decades. It’s still printed in copies of the U.S. code, but both that law, and any law substantially like it, were struck down as violations of free speech rights a quarter century ago in Texas v. Johnson and United States v. Eichman. This is not a new development. It’s been the case for decades.

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In 1989, Congress passed the Flag Protection Act which made it a crime to destroy an American flag or any likeness of an American flag which may be “commonly displayed.” The law did, however, allow proper disposal of a worn or soiled flag. Several prosecutions resulted from the Act. Eichman set a flag ablaze on the steps of the U.S. Capitol while protesting the government’s domestic and foreign policy. Another prosecution (United States v. Haggerty) resulted from a flag-burning in Seattle protesting the passage of the Flag Protection Act.Both cases (Eichman’s and Haggerty’s) were argued together.

The claim that flag-burning is illegal or punishable by law is pure nationalist political mythology. There is no enforceable law against flag desecration in the United States. If you claim that there is, you’ve been misinformed, and you are spreading misinformation.

Now, of course, even if there were an enforceable law against desecrating or burning a flag, your own property, whenever you see fit to do so, that law would be a petty tyranny, an obvious and stupid invasion of people’s basic rights to freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. Using force to censor and curtail basic freedom of speech and basic property rights is wrong, and fundamentally unjust, no matter what the law says.

If it were illegal to burn flags, then every one of us would have a perfect right to burn flags in defiance of the law, as an act of civil disobedience against unjust restrictions on free speech. Laws that elevate the symbolism of a piece of cloth over the rights of living people to the integrity of their own minds, their own bodies, and their own property, — laws that propose censorship and punitive force against those whose peaceful protests offend the delicate sensibilities of Patriotic Correctness — deserve nothing but contempt and defiance, whenever and wherever they exist.

But of course they don’t even exist in this case. They’re pure mythology. But myths are created and repeated because they serves a political and cultural function. There’s something worth noting in the fact that so many of the self-appointed Home Guard have a manifest felt need, that they so badly want to believe in a government that can and will use violence to punish offenses against the dignity of their national flag, even in spite of what they could have found out with two minutes’ research on the Internet. This kind of violent Patriotic Correctness is, of course, nothing more than bullying and violent censorship. A form of bullying and violent censorship where many of the bullies and the censors so desperately feel the need for government support that they will conjure non-existent laws to back up their burning desire to punch a hippie in the face. The saddest thing of all is that they will tell you that they do this because the flag means so very much, and it means so very much because it stands for freedom. That should tell you something about the kind of American Nation, and the kind of freedom, that they are so exercised to protect against the scourge of peaceful protest and free speech.

My own view of course is that sedition and open disrespect for the government are American traditions, and they deserve to be honored.

Happy Revolution Day weekend.

So perish all compromises with tyranny! And let all the people say, Amen!William Lloyd Garrison


Detroit City Council Vs. the city of Detroit: a Curfew for Freedom Festival

So the city council of Detroit is now debating plans for the city’s upcoming River Days and Freedom Festival firework shows, held each year in downtown Detroit. This year, one of the plans under discussion is whether or not to celebrate Freedom Festival by imposing a city-wide curfew. If passed, the curfew would make it so that nobody 17 or younger would be allowed to be outside on their own in public, anywhere in the city of Detroit, at any time starting at six o’clock in the evening. If you want to celebrate yer Freedom, you can do it only in the presence of a guardian; and the curfew would allow the police to demand papers from anyone at any time after six, in order to prove their age and identity.

This is, of course, yet another assault on the basic civil liberties of teens and children, and yet another massive increase in the police’s power to harass, punish and detain young people, from the Detroit city government. It is an intolerable assault on the city of Detroit — i.e., on the people who live in Detroit and on their ability to inhabit and enjoy the city that they call home. The proposed Freedom Festival Curfew is a shameful measure. It ought to be rejected out of hand, and if passed, it deserves to be ridiculed and defied as much as possible.

#‎Detroit‬ ‪#‎Curfew‬ ‪#‎AbolishTheCityCouncil‬ ‪#‎FreedomFestivalIsntFree‬

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Detroit Debates Draconian Curfew Plan

Would place strict limits on kids and teens movements for four evenings

Jesse Walker @

See also.

We need government cops because private protection forces would be accountable to the powerful and well-connected instead of being accountable to the people.

A St. Louis County grand jury on Monday decided not to indict Ferguson, Missouri, police Officer Darren Wilson in the August killing of teenager Michael Brown. The decision wasn’t a surprise — leaks from the grand jury had led most observers to conclude an indictment was unlikely — but it was unusual. Grand juries nearly always decide to indict.

Or at least, they nearly always do so in cases that don’t involve police officers.

Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously remarked that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. The data suggests he was barely exaggerating: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.

Wilson’s case was heard in state court, not federal, so the numbers aren’t directly comparable. Unlike in federal court, most states, including Missouri, allow prosecutors to bring charges via a preliminary hearing in front of a judge instead of through a grand jury indictment. That means many routine cases never go before a grand jury. Still, legal experts agree that, at any level, it is extremely rare for prosecutors to fail to win an indictment.

If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn’t get one, something has gone horribly wrong, said Andrew D. Leipold, a University of Illinois law professor who has written critically about grand juries. It just doesn’t happen.

Cases involving police shootings, however, appear to be an exception. As my colleague Reuben Fischer-Baum has written, we don’t have good data on officer-involved killings. But newspaper accounts suggest, grand juries frequently decline to indict law-enforcement officials. A recent Houston Chronicle investigation found that police have been nearly immune from criminal charges in shootings in Houston and other large cities in recent years. In Harris County, Texas, for example, grand juries haven’t indicted a Houston police officer since 2004; in Dallas, grand juries reviewed 81 shootings between 2008 and 2012 and returned just one indictment… .

— Ben Casselman, It’s Incredibly Rare For A Grand Jury To Do What Ferguson’s Just Did
FiveThirtyEight (November 24, 2014).

Protesters in Seattle, Washington react to the announcement of the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson (November 24, 2014)

I’m not invested in indicting Darren Wilson though I understand its (symbolic) import to many people, most especially Mike Brown’s family and friends. Vincent Warren of the Center on Constitutional Rights speaks for many, I think, when he writes:

Without accountability, there can be no rule of law. If Wilson is not indicted, or is under-indicted, the clear message is that it is open season on people of color, that St. Louis has declared that Darren Wilson is not a criminal but that the people who live under the thumbs of the Darren Wilsons of this country are. It would say to the cry that “Black lives matter” that, no, in fact, they do not.

I understand the sentiment that Warren expresses. Yet I don’t believe that an indictment of Wilson would be evidence that black lives do in fact matter to anyone other than black people. Nor do I think his indictment would mean that it was no longer open season on people of color in this country. If we are to take seriously that oppressive policing is not a problem of individual “bad apple” cops then it must follow that a singular indictment will have little to no impact on ending police violence. As I type, I can already feel the impatience and frustration of some who will read these words.

? It feels blasphemous to suggest that one is disinvested from the outcome of the grand jury deliberations. “Don’t you care about accountability for harm caused?” some will ask. “What about justice?” others will accuse. My response is always the same: I am not against indicting killer cops. I just know that indictments won’t and can’t end oppressive policing which is rooted in anti-blackness, social control and containment. Policing is derivative of a broader social justice. It’s impossible for non-oppressive policing to exist in a fundamentally oppressive and unjust society. . . .

The pattern after police killings is all too familiar. Person X is shot & killed. Person X is usually black (or less frequently brown). Community members (sometimes) take to the streets in protest. They are (sometimes) brutally suppressed. The press calls for investigations. Advocates call for reforms suggesting that the current practices and systems are ‘broken’ and/or unjust. There is a (racist) backlash by people who “support” the police. A very few people whisper that the essential nature of policing is oppressive and is not susceptible to any reforms, thus only abolition is realistic. These people are considered heretic by most. I’ve spent years participating in one way or another in this cycle. . . .

— Mariame Kaba, Whether Darren Wilson Is Indicted or Not, the Entire System Is Guilty
In These Times (November 17, 2014).

So, to those in Ferguson, there are ways of channeling your concerns constructively and there are ways of channeling your concerns destructively. . . . Those of you who are watching tonight understand that there’s never an excuse for violence . . . .

— President Barack Obama Remarks by the President After Announcement of the Decision by the Grand Jury in Ferguson, Missouri
November 24, 2014

Barack Obama, President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the largest and most heavily armed military force in the world, got onto the television to tell us that there’s never an excuse for violence just as heavily-armed police throughout Ferguson began launching teargas against everyone in sight on the streets. Of course, when he said violence he meant violence by protesters. It is eerily reminiscent of Lyndon Banes Johnson in July 1967, going on national television to announce that We will not endure violence. It matters not by whom it is done or under what slogan or banner, — saying this at the height of the Vietnam War, and on the specific occasion of his decision to send U.S. soldiers and tanks down Woodward Avenue.

The police are irresponsible and unaccountable. That is what makes them the police. Unless we hold them accountable. The law, for its part, will never curtail the racist violence of the law. Only social accountability for police officers, not legal processes, can do that.

The NAACP circulated this image on social media, reading “No more Michael Browns: I support an end to police brutality and militarization.”
You had me at I support an end to police.

Abolish the police.


Pattern of Abuse

Shared Article from

In Rare Move, DCF Transfers Juvenile To Prison With No Pending C…

A youth under the care of the Department of Children and Families has been transferred to an adult prison with no criminal charge pending — a ra… (via Nathan Goodman)

OK, so, N.B.: this Connecticut youth is a 16 year old trans woman and, if confined to an adult prison, is at even higher than normal risk for suffering all kinds of extreme violence while imprisoned. She is in any case being locked up in an adult prison without any formal charges ever having been filed against her. She is being sent to prison with no charges and no due process because DCF has a statute allowing it to put children in its “care” in prison on their own authority, without any charges at all, for the sake of “treatment” (!). This is considered an appropriate authorized measure.

They are asserting this power here because, although they are not filing any charges and have no intention of subjecting any of this to ordinary due process, they allege that this allegedly fought a guard. She allegedly fought a guard because two of the domming guards ganged up and grabbed her and tried to “bear hug” immobilize her to keep her from walking away to somewhere she wanted to go.

The guard wanted to stop her from walking freely away because she is an inmate confined in a DCF juvie-prison “locked-treatment” “training school,” which she is forcibly forbidden to leave.

She is an inmate of a DCF juvie-prison “locked treatment” “training school” because DCF has asserted custody over her, or, as the youth’s “defenders” put it, thinking they are helping, “DCF is this youth’s parent” (the Corps is mother, the Corps is father), and as such, they claim, they are “obligated” (!) to lock her up in the name of “programming and treatment.”

DCF took custody, locked her up and started forcing this “treatment” on her without her permission and against her will, because they were going to save her from being “a victim of serious, longstanding abuse.”

So, you know, good job on that so far, y’all, I’ll bet prison will really help.

In case you were wondering this story is like everything I hate about the liberal state, rolled into one dystopian package and labeled helpfully FOR HER OWN GOOD.

(Via Nathan Goodman.)

See also.

#AbolishJuvie #AbolishPrison #YouthLiberation #TransYouth #WhyDontYouGoTreatYourself

Translation of “One comrade from Mérida sounds off: Oh I’ve got the desire” (Viento sin Fronteras, in EL LIBERTARIO)

Here is another translation from Venezuela, once again of a one-compa-sounds-off article, this time from Viento sin Fronteras (Wind without Borders) in a rural area of Mérida, a state in western Venezuela. The article was reprinted by the Venezuelan anarchist newspaper EL LIBERT@RIO. Inline links and editorial notes in footnotes are added by me. As always, the same caveats apply: I’m a nervous translator trying to keep up with a lot of regional references that I don’t always know, and moving through a lot of material coming out more quickly than I can translate it; this is a working draft; if you notice any mistakes or mangling please feel free to point them out in the comments, and I’ll attach a note or a correction to the text here. Again, there are lots of different Anarchists in Venezuela, and this is one compa’s view; there are many with different views about the attitude that Anarchists should take towards the protest. (See, for example, this previous translation of a commentary by Victor Camacho. Viento sin Fronteras is, let’s say, significantly more hands-on.)

A comrade from Mérida sounds off: Oh, I’ve got the desire

Viento sin Fronteras

This is a little chronicle many are certainly familiar with. Yesterday I got up at 6 a.m. so I could get ready to go to work. I arrived at work around 7:30 am and I spent the whole day over there. At 7pm I went back to my house. When I got home I had to go down to the nearest bodega (I live in a rural area) to buy stuff for making dinner or lunch in the coming days. Well O.K., so a purchase that consists of some three potatoes, two cans of sardines, three tomatoes, an onion, laundry soap,[1] a box of cigarettes and a few cookies, comes out to 170 bolivars [≈ US $27]. Up to this point everything seems normal but it isn’t. My daily salary is 200 bolivars [≈ US $32].

Clearly, they are 200 bolivars and this leaves me only just 30 bolivars [≈ US $5] to save for paying the rest of my expenses, like the rent for example. Or the fare for public transport, if I weren’t walking to work I’d have to take 10 bolivars off these 30 that are supposed to be left over for me.

Besides this, I remembered that the last time that I went without natural gas nearly a month passed before that commodity came back to my house. And I my house, of course, a little house of 38 square meters [≈ 409 sq. ft.] where the water shuts off every day for an hour or two, with a rent that’s equivalent to nearly half the minimum wage I work for. It brings to mind that house from the housing project[2] that that the showboat[3] of the Communal Council[4] built (great affiliate of PSUV[5] certainly and an ideological reference for many here) and which was empty until two weeks ago, which he managed to sell, for no less than the discreet sum of 700,000 bolivars [≈ US $ 111,250].

Something comes into my mind, and my nerves get hotter. I spent 10 years of my life in college. I have an undergraduate degree, a master’s, and I left my doctoral thesis half done when I lost interest. And O.K., it’s not that I believe that I deserve a Ministry salary, but for some reason, and this reason for some other reason always ends up being my fault; it has been impossible for me to find a job that, without being exactly the thing for which I supposedly studied at least would permit me (and that’s what college is supposedly about) to give back to society or to whoever, a little bit of that intellectual or technical material that I supposedly acquired in those years. At times, they then give me some moments of clarity and I say: clearly, it’s that to get hooked up you have to know whose balls to yank.[6] Or I think and I swear[7] about how to set up that writing project with the ever sacrosanct words: Eternal Commander, Fellow Comrade, the Little Bird, Our Process, the Economic War, the Eternal Giant, the Legacy.[8] All this without a doubt adds to the degree of a feeling of frustration that’s growing.

And with that, what comes into my head are the contracts for the Guasare coal, the Deltana Plate, the three billion dollars that Chevron loaned us, the concessions to Chinese timber companies in the high Caroní, the death of the Sabinos, the criminalization of the Wayuu, the Red Fascist wall shooting dissident unionists, the armed forces of the government holding old women with their pans at gunpoint, ordering them to be quiet, the dead of Uribana, the 400 dying every year in prison, the intellectual authors of the massacre of El Amparo placed in the government designing the anti-terrorism laws. And so on. And so I think that late or early, me, and many people who aren’t identified one bit with the spokespeople of the opposition parties, including folks who come from the Chavista movement, are getting out into the streets to protest. And I’ll be over there, if country life lets me, handing out pamphlets to anyone who has eyes to read them. Without falling into naivete, I know that there will be plenty of imbecile fanatics for Pérez Jiménez[9] or Leopoldo Lopez[10] there with their slogans and believe me that I’ll fight them right there. Right there I’ll show that they’re the same as the others.

Oh, I’ve got the desire[11] to go out hurling stones when the police car crosses my path. Because they are some thugs and some cheerleaders.[12] Oh, I’ve got the desire to take all the trash that they aren’t capable of managing and set it all on fire in the doorway of the Mérida state government. Oh, I’ve got the desire to smash the windows of the supermarket and leave all those products tossed on the floor that I have to wait in line for on my weekend days. Oh, I’ve got the desire to catch an ATM[13] alone and try once and for all to see how the fuck you can withdraw all the money with a sledgehammer.

I’ve got the desire to give thanks in person to the folks who set SEBIN’s trucks on fire[14] because they’re a murdering intelligence agency that tortures and persecutes political dissidents. I’ve got the desire to go up to that student leader, who’s really an ally of PJ,[15] and tell her to shut her mouth, that she’s a wanker,[16] that it’s her fault (and that of those mamelotracios[17] that she obeys) that the protest — which could have been a good way to lock up the pigs[18] and a place where we’d all recognize that all these demands are the vindication urgent for EVERYONE — was converted instead into a slogan, pretty much belonging to their own partisan interests.

The year is just beginning and it doesn’t promise to be a year for calm ones. Well, let the storm come.

— Ganas no me faltan (21 Feb. 2014). Very imperfectly translated by Charles W. Johnson