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National Lawyers Guild
CONTACT: Paul Richmond, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Seattle Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild has just released its report on the World Trade Organization Ministerial. The report examines what took place in Seattle as an example of larger trends brought about by destructive economic policies. The report pays particular attention to the thinning lines between law enforcement and the military and the adverse effects this loss of delineation is having on civil liberties. The report begins with an overview of the WTO. It provides the historical framework of the WTO as an institution born of the think tanks which were themselves created by the illicit fortunes of the robber barons. It provides concrete examples of the way the WTO has subverted democratic institutions, and had detrimental effects on human rights, the environment, safety and labor laws.
Following this, the report traces the way the WTO was brought to Seattle. It examines the lack of process that took place - most members of the Seattle City Council seem not to have been consulted until after the event was a done deal. Moreover, Seattle and King County are areas with a history of resistance to WTO and GATT. King County was declared an MAI free zone months before the WTO's arrival had been announced. Seattle was declared an MAI free zone weeks after the WTO's selection of Seattle as it's Ministerial site was announced.
Next comes a report of what took place on the streets of Seattle in the weeks leading up to the Ministerial and during the Ministerial itself. The report utilizes information from its 200 legal observers, and hundreds of witness declarations. It also utilizes information gained from public disclosure and from email chatlines utilized by participating members of law enforcement, including commanders and line members of the Seattle Police Department. A picture is painted of confused, inexperienced law enforcement officers armed with frighteningly powerful, potentially lethal weaponry and little idea of what to do with it. Random forays seem to be launched against random groups of demonstrators. Thousands of people, including bystanders, are exposed to potentially lethal chemical agents hours before the first window is broken. Masked unmarked police invade the most densely populated area on the West Coast North of San Francisco, attacking residents and shoppers. Those arrested are often subjected to conditions resembling torture. Weapons are repeatedly deployed in ways that may be potentially lethal. Police themselves, are often injured by their own weapons.
The official reports that have been released by law enforcement consultants all paint pictures of a police force that should have used more force and should have utilized it earlier. The NLG draft report looks at the economic and political reasons these law enforcement administrators have adopted this perspective. It notes that the U.S. economy, is a wartime economy. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, much of those resources that were devoted to the military have been devoted to law enforcement, with major military contractors building prisons and designing "less lethal weapon systems." It looks at the moves to classify political dissent as a type of warfare, and to utilize recent demonstrations such as the WTO Ministerial as examples of why more force should be used. It notes the way the factors that have created a shrinking middle class, have further divided the "haves" and the "have-nots." The picture is one of a global village where the majority of the world's population lives in slums and prisons and a wealthy few ride around in armored limousines from fortified enclave to fortified enclave. This dynamic has created an enlarged and militarized law enforcement system.
The report then examines the thinning lines between the military, who are trained to kill, and law enforcement who are trained to preserve lives. It examines the way military tactics, training and weaponry have come to dominate law enforcement. Citing testimony of law enforcement professionals, the report then traces the disastrous effect this blending of the two has had on the fabric of democracy and members of law enforcement themselves. It examines the disastrous way this dynamic has played out in the past and the disastrous way this dynamic played out during the WTO Ministerial. Citing past work in the field, the report shows how such trends can endanger both the fabric of democratic society and the law enforcement officers themselves.
Particular attention is paid to the use of "less lethal" weaponry. The origins of rubber bullets, flying truncheons, CS and CN are examined. All began as weapons designed to put down rebellions and fight wars. All were gradually exported into the areas of law enforcement. Looking at the training materials provided by the manufacturers themselves, the lethality of these substances is examined in detail. If the projectiles strike from too close a distance or strike something other than the buttocks or thighs, it's usually a potentially trauma inducing or lethal use of force. If CS, or CN is used there are to be adequate ways for those present to escape, or it's potentially lethal especially, for the young, the elderly and those with diseases like AIDs. Anytime these substances are used, reports are to be administered on each person on whom the weapon was used, making it far less efficient to use these weapons than to simply arrest offenders.
Yet, repeatedly, all of these weapons were used in ways that could have easily been lethal. Part of the reason for this is that given the specific parameters of these weapons use, it is impossible to use them in situations where there a dozen people moving around, let alone hundreds or thousands.
The report concludes by looking at the melt down that occurred inside the ministerial itself. There are quotes by NGO's and delegates who found the process undemocratic, and heavilly slanted in favor of a few multinational corporations.
The report then looks at the aftermath that is taking place now in Seattle and issues recommendations. Among these recommendations are: Limiting the use of "less lethal" weapons to only those situations where lethal force is being threatened. In line with this, we recommend following the example of the European parliament and declaring all such weapons inappropriate for dealing with political protest. Examining the long terms effects of all those exposed to chemical agents, including members of law enforcement.
Examining the effect that the militarization, including SWAT training, waves of inexperienced new hires, and more lethal weaponry is having on the function of the police.
Investigating the role of all federal agencies, especially military, in the decision making processes.