Sunday, December 13, 2009

A catching up addendum - privacy/secrecy

I'm dong this as a separate post because all these examples come from a single article written for The Daily Censored by Dr. Michael Niman, a professor of journalism and media studies at Buffalo State College.

- Over the last 10 years, the annual Halloween Naked Pumpkin Run in Boulder, Colorado
grew to involve hundreds of folks, clad only in running shoes and hollowed-out pumpkins over their heads, sprinting through the brisk downtown Boulder night. The event, which usually begins around 11pm, draws thousands of cheering spectators each year.
It's even inspired a few imitators in other cities in the West. But of course, silly fun runs counter to closed minds. Last year the city started arresting runners; this year, they sent out two SWAT teams and a small platoon of riot officers to make the arrests.
Since Boulder has a long tradition of public nudity and no laws on the books against nudity, the pumpkins, according to the police, would be charged with “indecent exposure,” following the legal logic that donning a pumpkin head, as opposed to wearing nothing, makes the remaining bodily exposure “indecent.” If convicted of this charge, celebrants would be required to register, for the remainder of their lives, as “sex offenders.”
- In 2006, Tamara Freeman was on an airplane with her two kids, who wouldn't stop arguing over the window seat. Finally, she spanked them and in the commotion, they kids accidentally spilled a can of tomato juice on her. When a flight attendant came, Freeman shouted some profanity at her and threw the half-empty can of juice to the floor.

She was arrested and charged with terrorism. She spent three months in jail awaiting trial where, at the urging of her public defender, she pled guilty in return for a sentence of probation. Under the terms of the probation, she can't leave Oklahoma and as a "convicted terrorist," she can't fly. So she was unable to get home to Maui for a series of custody hearings. So she lost custody of her children.

- Another pair of desperados are Dawn Sewell and Carl Persing. It seems that while flying, Carl put his head on Dawn’s lap and she smiled. For some reason this was seen by a flight attendant as some kind of sexual activity and got some serious lip from Carl when they were disturbed. They were charged, yes, with terrorism.

- Three years ago come January, two Fairfield, Connecticut sisters of Jordanian descent were being arraigned on a charge of disturbing the peace. A packet of what later was identified as salt fell from one of their pockets, initiating a bio-terror panic that shut down part of downtown Bridgeport. The sisters were charged with, say it with me, terrorism. For salt.

- Late in October, Zack Aslam, a freshman at Michigan State University student,
aparently got upset after a heated discussion with another student and began to, as the kids say, “talk shit.” Campus police haven’t released the specifics of what the 17-year-old supposedly said to his friends, but they charged him with, according to the MSU student paper, “threatening terrorism and communicating that threat to another person.” He was talking shit. Did I mention he was 17? Police later went to his dorm room and impounded all of his belongings.
He's now another terrorist.

- In March 2006, the then-brand new Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which pretty much seeks to outlaw as terrorism any activity which could harm the economic interests of any vaguely-defined “animal enterprise,” was employed against six animal rights activists protesting a private “animal-testing” company, Huntington Life Sciences.
HLS is a long-time target of animal rights groups.... Protests against the company, ranging from legally protected speech to illegal threats, vandalism, and harassment of employees, nearly bankrupted HLS in 2000 when it was dropped from the New York Stock Exchange.

The arrested activists were never charged with engaging in any illegal activities. Instead, they were charged and convicted as terrorists for maintaining a Web site that unabashedly celebrated such acts.
Because, you see, mere political agreement is "material support" of terrorism.

- Finally, in Utah,
a person has engaged in “commercial terrorism” if “he [or she?] enters or remains unlawfully on the premises of or in a building of any business with the intent to interfere with the employees, customers, personnel, or operations of a business."
Thus, these people were terrorists. So were these people. And these people. As Dr. Niman says,
Our list of folks newly classified as terrorists is extensive. It includes the New York social worker I wrote about last month, who is being investigated for tweeting. It includes University at Buffalo professor Steve Kurtz, who faced a four-year prosecution as a terrorist for producing physically harmless but politically potent and internationally acclaimed artwork critiquing corporate sacred cows such as genetically modified foods.

With the crackdown on the Naked Pumpkin Run, can we expect our ranks of registered sex offenders to swell in much the same way our ranks of accused and convicted terrorists has grown? If so, the terms “terrorism” and “sex offender” will lose all meaning—but not before these McCarthy-era tactics of tarring your opponents with toxic labels ruins countless lives.
I'd add one thing. Notice that there is one consistent thread running through all these examples: In all cases, the charges are used in support of power, whether corporate or governmental, or authority, whether that be a cop, a campus, or just a flight attendant. They are punishments for not being what "we" tell you to be or not doing what "we" tell you to do - ultimately, for the "crime" of failing to passively submit. Two more '60s slogans that deserves to be reanimated are "Fight the Power" and "Question Authority."

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