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Law as a Weapon of Social Control

Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

The Capital of the United States is stormed by violent insurgents egged on by the then president of the United States. Several people die. The vast majority of the insurgents walk away with no consequences. The president who urged them to take action is somewhere playing golf and is unlikely to be held accountable. Corporate media is now reporting that there is considerable white nationalist anti-black infiltration of police and military in the United States.

The LA Progressive is publishing a series by Craig Farris that sheds some light on how, a "government of laws, not of men" fell from trying to achieve this lofty aspiration to where we stand today.

Here is Craig's take:

So how did we get here? The U.S. Constitution begins with the words, “We the People” which were born from a legal principle known as “The Rights of Englishmen”.

These rights are the product of a long struggle to establish the people’s sovereignty over the law which began in England during the 9th century when King Alfred the Great codified the common law.

This concept was further advanced within the Magna Carta in 1215 propounding that the law flows from the people to whom it is accountable and not from an unaccountable government.

Eighteenth century jurist William Blackstone further refined the idea when he wrote, “The law is a handful of principles that prevent the government from using the legal system as an instrument of oppression.”

"The Rights of Englishmen" are expressed in the Constitution of the United States as our most basic rights to due process known as Mens Rea, Habeas Corpus, the protection against self incrimination, the prohibition against ex-post facto laws, cruel and unusual punishment and all arbitrary use of government power.

These rights were touted to be infused within the very fabric of American life -- to serve the cause of justice, the same justice we now see subverted by corrupt, militarized police, prosecutors, courts and jailers.

How did this happen? Well, there are a multitude of answers, but in this essay, I'm going to discuss one that played a major role in getting us to where we are -- the belief system of Jeremy Bentham.

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Jeremy Bentham was a 17th century English philosopher, jurist, and social reformer. When the Declaration of Independence was published in 1776, Bentham responded by writing, "A Short Review of the Declaration", a booklet that mocked Americans' democratic philosophy.

Bentham opposed American style democracy. He believed that a democratically elected leader should be empowered to wield the law as a weapon of social control. Benthem spent his life expanding his philosophy and attempting to influence powerful people.

Sadly, Bentham’s philosophy found its way into all branches of our government. Illustrations of this can be seen when then Senator, Joe Biden’s 1994 crime bill gave prosecutors, courts and police sweeping, unprecedented powers of arrest and seizure.

More recently, former President Trump’s attempts to use the DOJ, FBI and AG’s offices as his personal hit squads - firing the leaders of those respective agencies when they wouldn’t capitulate and replacing them with leaders that would.

Bentham also advocated for the use of torture during interrogations, unwarranted search and seizures, and abolishing the rights to private property. The FBI's Cointelpro would have gotten the seal of approval from Bentham.

Benthamite philosophy is the soil from which police militarization and abuse has grown. It starts with fear and fear mongering politicians, hyper-macho cop mind sets, and politically driven prosecutors leveraging public fear into power and control centralized within the now massive, criminal courts/law enforcement/ prison industrial complex. Several landmark Supreme Court cases opened the door.

A 1963 Supreme Court case known as Ker v California arose when a Los Angeles County Sheriff obtained the key to Mr. Ker’s apartment from the Manager and simply let himself in without a warrant and without knocking and announcing.

Ultimately, the court found the search lawful citing a common law exception to the knock and announce rule known as “exigent circumstances”. For those of you who don’t know how police really operate in America, exigent circumstances can be claimed by police simply by stating that they "believed" a suspect was destroying evidence, had a weapon, that their safety would be jeopardized if they knocked, or they could see criminal activity such as drugs "in plain sight. "

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Validating the exception is based solely on the officer’s word, and of course, we know the police never lie.

Craig Farris

Craig Farris is the author of Drugs, Kids and Crime: Surviving Our Dug Obsessed Culture Revised 2nd Edition - Home">Home

Note: This is the second in a series written by Craig Farris documenting his first hand incarceration experience. You can read the first by clicking here. You can read the third here