Police state is a term denoting government that exercises power arbitrarily through policing. Originally the term designated a state regulated by a civil administration, but since the beginning of the 20th century, the term has taken on the emotionally-charged and derogatory meaning.
- I can't even begin to picture how we would deport 11 million people in a few years where we don’t have a police state, where the police can’t break down your door at will and take you away without a warrant... Unless you suspend the Constitution and instruct the police to behave as if we live in North Korea, it ain't happening.
- Michael Chertoff, as quoted in "What Would It Take for Donald Trump to Deport 11 Million and Build a Wall?" (19 May 2016), The New York Times, New York: The New York Times Company
We are pretty free in America when you compare us to other nations around the world, but we're not pretty free in America when you compare us to past generations.
If you look at the state of what's going on in America right now—and, y'know, in my book I chronicle easily a hundred different cases where government has overreached and encroached on Constitutional liberties of Americans—we're at the point now in America, a little girl can't run a lemonade stand in her driveway without having the local zoning zealots come in and fine her fifty dollars. We're at the point now where elementary school kids down in Georgia have their irises scanned as they board the bus—all in the name of "safety." We're at the point now where nebulous environmental laws prevent homeowners from building a shed in their own back yard because there might be a flood plain issue in a hundred years.
The deterioration in police conduct, and the militarization of local police forces, quite simply and quite predictably mirrors the rise of the total state itself.
We know that state monopolies invariably provide worse and worse services for more and more money. Police services are no exception. When it comes to your local police, there is no shopping around, there is no customer service, and there is no choice. Without market competition, market price signals, and market discipline, government has no ability or incentive to provide what people really want, which is peaceful and effective security for themselves, their families, their homes, and their property. As with everything government purports to provide, the public wants Andy Griffith but ends up with the Terminator.
[D]oes America now embody this common description of a police state?
Clearly it does. The American government exerts extreme control over society, down to dictating which foods you may eat. Its economic control borders on the absolute. It politicizes and presides over even the traditional bastion of privacy—the family. Camera and other surveillance of daily life has soared, with the Supreme Court recently expanding the "right" of police to perform warrantless searches. Enforcement is so draconian that the United States has more prisoners per capita than any other nation; and over the last few years, the police have been self-consciously militarizing their procedures and attitudes. Travel, formerly a right, is now a privilege granted by government agents at their whim. Several huge and tyrannical law-enforcement agencies monitor peaceful behavior rather than respond to crime. These agencies operate largely outside the restrictions of the Constitution; for example, the TSA conducts arbitrary searches in violation of Fourth Amendment guarantees.
As an anarchist, I view all states as police states, because every law is ultimately backed by police force against the body or property of a scofflaw, however peaceful he may be. I see only a difference of degree, not of kind. But even small differences in the degree of repression can be matters of life or death, and so they should not be trivialized.
- The prosecutors have all the power. Not even the judge has discretion, because lawmakers have mostly taken that liberality away in the name of cracking down on crime. This happened all through the 1980s and 1990s, and the prosecutorial dictatorship has entrenched itself to become the norm since 2001. For the last ten years, the police state has had free rein.
These people are politically, socially, culturally, and economically invisible. How many are actually guilty? We can't know. How many could be let out today to make a wonderful contribution to building a productive society? We don't know. How many are completely nonviolent, not even guilty by any normal standard of law but only guilty according to the letter of the current dictatorship? Probably a majority. … Yet the rise and entrenchment of the American police state are rarely questioned.
However, in the end, what is really needed is a fundamental rethinking of the notion that the state rather than private markets must monopolize the provision of justice and security. This is the fatal conceit. No power granted to the state goes unabused. This power, among all possible powers, might be the most important one to take away from the state.
- Despite making up only 13 percent of the male population of the United States, black men constitute almost half of the male prison population, and on any given day, nearly a third of all black men in their twenties are in prison, on probation, or on parole. These black men are overwhelmingly from ghetto communities. The high levels of police surveillance, racial profiling, stiff penalties for minor parole violations, felon disenfranchisement laws, and general harassment of young urban blacks intensify their hostility toward the criminal justice system, and invite urban blacks to conclude that they are living under a race-based police state whose intent is to prevent them from enjoying all the benefits of equal citizenship and to contain social unrest.