Is the U.S. a police state? Sometimes it feels it's headed that way. Reading the news about the Eric Garner grand jury decision coming so soon after the Ferguson grand jury farce left me breathless and shocked.
The police have felt out of control for years. There are 45,000 SWAT team raids every year in this country -- many of them doing what used to be ordinary police work: serving warrants. Groups on the left and the right think this is a major problem. Police killings of American citizens can't be accurately tabulated, as Eugene Robinson reported in the Washington Post -- because the police don't want us to know the truth.
And simple facts often get left out of the fervent discussion. Like this one: Eric Garner was the subject of a chokehold, but that chokehold has been banned by the New York Police Department for 20 years. Yet cops in New York are still using it even though they've been instructed not to. There are hundreds of complaints about it every year in New York. Why isn't anything being done? More importantly, why isn't every single news story, every single reporter, every single talking head highlighting that fact when they report on Eric Garner's death?
When I started my 25th book Assault With a Deadly Lie four years ago, I was reading stories about out-of-control police forces across the country. I felt compelled to write about this terrible shift in American culture because the stories horrified me.
But the news is only getting worse from week to week. I wish I could believe that demonstrations like the ones we saw last night across the country and Congressional calls for action are going to change anything. My fear is they'll only reinforce an Us vs. Them mentality that's brought us to where we are now. Citizens -- especially people of color -- have become potential enemies in the eyes of far too many police departments, and that's a dangerous change in our democracy.
Lev Raphael is the author of Assault With a Deadly Lie, a novel of suspense about stalking, gun violence, and militarized police--and 24 other books in many genres.