Free Radio, Crazy Cops and Broken Windows
By Alexander Cockburn in The Nation

Date sent: Wed, 3 Dec 1997 10:03:27 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Alexander Cockburn: Free Radio, Crazy Cops and Broken Windows

Free Radio, Crazy Cops and Broken Windows

The people need victories (and, let's be frank, an occasional shot in the
arm, like the welcome tidings of Jorge Mas Canosa's death). A useful
victory comes from a federal district court in Oakland. Here, on November
12, Judge Claudia Wilken rejected the request of the Federal
Communications Commission that she enjoin Stephen Dunifer from operating
his low-watt station, Free Radio Berkeley.

There are several hundred such stations operating across the country,
usually with a broadcasting radius of three or four miles, to the great
fury of the FCC, whose mission is to insure that the right to
broadcast is reserved to large corporations. These are profitably carving
up the once publicly owned airwaves. Lately the National Association of
Broadcasters has been pushing the FCC toward rougher enforcement, with
consequences described below.

It was back in 1995 that the FCC first went into Judge Wilken's
courtroom to try to shut down Dunifer. At that time the judge found that
Dunifer's invocation of First Amendment guarantees had merit. The
FCC's lawyers promptly took the position that Wilken had no
jurisdiction to hear his constitutional claims. Now she has told the
FCC to make a substantive argument against Dunifer's invocation of
First Amendment rights. If she rules in his favor and says the case
should proceed to trial, the FCC will most likely appeal to the Ninth
Circuit--anything to stay clear of Wilken's courtroom--which would mean
another two years before a ruling.

Chafing at the law's obstruction of its aims in California, the FCC
surveyed the national scene and elected to make Tampa, Florida, the next
battlefield. At 6 a.m. on November 19, one week after Wilken's decision, a
gang of some twenty armed men, known officially as a Multi-Jurisdictional
Task Force, broke down the front door of Doug Brewer, who has been
operating the Party Pirate (102.1 FM) for the past three years in Temple
Terrace, part of Greater Tampa. The intrepid force confronting Brewer, his
wife and their cat was composed of FCC agents, federal marshals, a SWAT
team,.customs agents, local police and a man who, perhaps frivolously,
described himself as a member of the CIA. The local police, friendly
with Brewer, who uses the station to help in local crime watches, were
apparently embarrassed by the raid. After crashing through the door, the
goon squad menaced the Brewers with weapons, screamed at them to lie down
and handcuffed them face-down on the floor with gun muzzles to their ears.

For the next twelve hours the task force cordoned off the Brewers' home,
ransacked the place and stripped it of anything even vaguely related to
broadcasting. Brewer was not shown the search warrant until two hours
into the raid. Meanwhile, a crane was brought in to dismantle the small
broadcasting tower, damaging the Brewers' home in the process. In the
course of its rampages the task force, nourished on a weekly diet of
America's Most Wanted, leveled their guns at the cat, threatening
to blow it away for jumping up on the kitchen counter and thus displaying
insufficient respect. (Police conducting such raids often shoot pets
without compunction, claiming that Towser or Fluffy constituted a clear
and present danger and had to be dispatched.)

Through the Original Zippo News Service, Brewer issued a statement on
November 22: "I am back.... Myself and my wife are just happy to be alive
at this moment, as we really thought we may have been killed on the
morning of the raid. The agents suggested they would be glad to 'kill us'
for our purported federal crime."

The Brewer raid was part of a larger FCC onslaught on micro-radio
stations around the country. But one reason behind it may have been that
a local commercial operator was angered to find Brewer's station showing
up well on local audience ratings.

The Brewers are lucky to be alive. It doesn't take much--an incautious
movement, an extra-jumpy cop--for menace to turn to massacre, as the
Branch Davidians found out. It's part of an overall repressive climate,
in which the cops reckon with good reason that they can tear up the Bill
of Rights with impunity.

Think of it in terms of the "broken windows" theory of crime. This is the
notion that a supposed "culture of crime" starts with minor
infractions--graffiti, turnstile jumping in the subway, vigorous
panhandling--which lower the social tone and encourage the perpetrators
to advance to more violent activities: muggings, burglaries and so forth...Ergo,
prosecute turnstile jumpers vigorously, hound beggars, give
graffiti artists a hard time and in many and diverse ways harass and
terrorize the poor, thus fixing the "window".

Apply this paradigm to the police. Maybe it starts with cops faking a
reason to stop and search a car. Next we have them beating the suspect in
the precinct and telling a novice cop to write up the report, describing
how the suspect "became violent and had to be subdued." Thus the novice
is integrated into the overall lawless police culture and is soon lying
his head off in court. Keep this up, amid manifestations of approval from
elected officials, and we get New York cops torturing Abner Louima with a
broom handle and sheriff's deputies here in Humboldt County, Northern
California, happily filming themselves torturing young women by applying
cotton swabs saturated with pepper spray to their eyes.

Eeriest of all is to hear the Humboldt cops defend themselves by saying
that the use of pepper spray was not only "cost-effective" but somehow
humane. This reminds me of the French military authorities during the
Algerian war in the fifties who claimed that clipping car battery
terminals to someone's genitals was a decent way to behave. Why, they'd
cry, General Massu had even tested it on himself! The sotto voce
theme here is that more or less anything that doesn't involve beating the
suspect to death with a club is virtuous and should be esteemed by all
citizens, many of whom, eyes glazed from watching America's Most
Wanted, don't give a toss for the Constitution and think the young
women pepper-sprayed in Representative Frank Riggs's office brought it on

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