On Native Ground
POLICE, THE PRESS AND A POLITICIAN'S RANTINGS =
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- When the press shifts into its feeding frenzy mode, it's not a pleasant sight. Views get distorted, reputations get mangled and the truth generally gets ignored.
Tom Alciere, a first-term Republican member of the New Hampshire House, learned this when he talked to a reporter about his hatred for the police.
"It's unfortunate that cops do make it necessary (to kill them) when they're waging a war on drugs," Alciere told the Valley News of West Lebanon, N.H., last month. "I view cops as enemy officers."
Before he was elected to the House last fall, Alciere was a frequent letter writer to New Hampshire newspapers and a frequent poster to Internet newsgroups in spreading his belief that when police step over the line, citizens have a right to defend themselves.
"Nothing wrong with (killing an officer), since cops are nothing but a bunch of vicious, brutal, crooked, racist, obnoxious perjuring, bullying thugs anyway," he posted to alt.law-enforcement.traffic in 1999.
In a 2000 post to misc.activism.militia, Alciere wrote that "although I've been strongly tempted at times, I've always proven to be too chicken to kill any law-enforcement goons, so I can't dare or advocate anybody else doing it, since darers usually go first. But if you're at a point where you have nothing to lose, remember that individual attacks are the only strategy that can work."
Of course, most of the people who elected Alciere never knew that he hated cops. In another post to alt.law-enforcement, he wrote that he was elected by "a bunch of stupid, ugly old ladies that watch soap operas, play bingo, read tabloids and don't know the metric system. The same lamebrains who vote for politicians who are WRONG finally voted for one who is right."
Once the press got hold of these remarks, Alciere was dead meat. Law enforcement officers are an exalted class among politicians, and advocating their extermination is the equivalent attacking God, the flag, motherhood and apple pie. He was instantly condemned by everyone and came under immense public pressure to resign from the House, something he finally did on Jan. 10.
While Alciere dismissed his newsgroup posts as "angry rantings," he remains unapologetic about the gist of his message, which can be found at his Web site, http://www.tomalciere.com.
"People have rights, which the government wants to violate, and often does," Alciere wrote. "It is unfortunate that the media now seems to be focusing on my harmless rantings while I was a private citizen, and saying little about the constructive efforts I have been making toward positive change." Those efforts include the introduction of a bill calling for repeal of all drug control statutes, which he found sponsors for before he resigned from the House.
While Alciere deserved to get slammed for his comments about killing cops, his critics and the press overlooked the fact that he is essentially correct in his pointing out the effects of more than 30 years of various "wars" on crime and drugs have had on our civil liberties.
While most cops never pull their gun out of their holsters over the course of the careers, don't beat up and torture suspects, don't plant evidence to frame innocent people and aren't generally evil and corrupt, there are simply too many examples of intolerable behavior to be ignored. There is scarcely a major city in America where police haven't used excessive force, targeted minorities or lied in court in the conduct of their duties. That's why there are more than two million Americans behind bars and why one in four black males between the ages of 20 and 30 are either in jail, on probation or on parole. That's why, according to the California-based Stolen Lives Project, 694 people were killed by law enforcement officers in America between Oct. 1997 and Oct. 1998.
The 41 shots fired at Amadou Diallo in New York, the tales of perjury and corruption in Los Angeles, or the racial profiling policies in New Jersey are not isolated incidents. They are the end result of a law enforcement culture that treats anyone not wearing a badge as the enemy, especially if you are non-white. And the increasingly indefensible "War on Drugs" has our jails overflowing with non-violent offenders and has encouraged police corruption by allowing departments to keep the spoils of drug raids.
Every citizen has the right to not be hassled by the police without just cause. When Amnesty International believes there are enough human rights violations by U.S. law enforcement agencies to warrant an investigation (see http://www.rightsforall-usa.org for the full report), you know something is wrong.
Because of the enormous power they wield over us, cops have to be held to a higher standard of behavior. But the press would rather seize upon the outrageous remarks of an obscure lawmaker than take a serious look at the underlying issues that inspired them.
It is wrong to say cops should be killed. Everyone agrees on that. It isn't wrong to question police behavior and call for reform. Sadly, Tom Alciere did the cause of curbing the abuses of law enforcement more harm than good. The anger over his intemperate remarks will be remembered much longer than the reasons that prompted him to say them.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).