“For too long, these gangs have gone unchecked -- flouting all laws and demonstrating a blatant disregard for public safety.”
-- Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security
In Chertoff’s world that’s only a minor glitch. After all, Chertoff engineered the infamous round up of 1,100 Muslims following 9-11, tossing them all in the federal hoosegow and barring them from legal counsel.
It was quite a coup, and probably helped the public feel more secure from the looming threat of domestic terror.
As it happens, not one of Chertoff’s detainees was ever convicted of a crime or connected in any way to terrorism. It turns out the whole misadventure was a bigger flop than a Bill Bennett Las Vegas vacation.
A slipshod effort like the post 9-11 sweeps would normally plunk one in the long gray line at the unemployment office. Instead, it was the boost that Chertoff needed to propel him to the zenith of the national bureaucracy, Homeland Security, the largest agency in the federal government. “Failing upwards” is a longstanding tradition in the Bush White House and Chertoff has become the resident poster child.
His tenure at the agency had been fairly lackluster until the announcement of yesterday’s dragnet. Maybe he felt some friendly competition from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who rolled up an astonishing 10,000 criminal suspects in Operation Falcon just months ago. As the conservative Washington Times noted, Gonzales’ “sweep was a virtual clearinghouse for warrants on drug, gang, gun and sex-offender suspects nationwide.” That’s how law enforcement is conducted now in Washington: no more meticulous, time consuming investigations, just bundle the names together with scotch-tape and fire up the Paddy wagon.
Chertoff was assisted in his mass arrests by Immigration, a reliable boon to autocrats who can’t be bothered with the hassle of trying to figure out whether a crime has actually been committed. It’s a scattershot method that heaps the good guys with the bad and undermines bonds within the community.
Never mind; just arrest them all and worry about the details later. After all, as Joseph Stalin’s Police chief Beria opined, “Everyone’s guilty of something.”
For all practical purposes Chertoff’s “Operation Community Shield” was a total bust. Oh yeah, he got his free air time on TV and the media was quick to applaud his get-tough approach on crime, but let’s face it, nothing was accomplished and the only thing the community was shielded from was justice. Just read between the lines:
“Collectively, we have arrested members of over 80 different gangs as part of Operation Community Shield, and over half of those arrested in the last two weeks have prior criminal histories,” Chertoff said. “Many were gang leaders with exceptionally violent criminal histories.”
“Prior criminal histories”? “Exceptionally violent criminal histories”?
So now we’re rounding up people who’ve already done their time? What an outrage.
No wonder Chertoff needed the help of Immigration to get him through this fiasco. Apparently he had no other legal way to harass the gang members than by pestering them with immigration violations.
And this is supposed to make us safer?
According to a Voice of America report, “Mr. Chertoff says investigators targeted gang members in 27 states, and while many were picked up for alleged immigration violations, 76 face criminal charges.”
Only 76 out of 600 “face criminal charges”?
It’s clear that Homeland Security is working closely with friends in the media to raise the “fear quotient” and create the sense that Big Brother is preemptively dealing with “dangerous” gangs. It’s a big mistake. My guess is that their ham-fisted methods will just inflame the communities and produce more open hostility to law enforcement.
“Throughout this entire Community Shield initiative,” Chertoff opined, “DHS [Dept. of Homeland Security] has worked closely with international partners and with our domestic law enforcement partners at all levels to identify gang organizations and their memberships, and to act on this intelligence in order to target those criminal gangs who threaten our communities and our homeland.”
What Chertoff really means to say is that the “alleged” gang members were rounded up in a humongous government crackdown with no credible proof of a crime and probably no prospect of a fair hearing. They’ve been detained on the thinnest of evidence to soft-pedal the new KGB-style tactics at DHS and to elevate Chertoff as a responsible steward of a domestic security.
“We're just getting started,” said Operation Community Shield’s chief Marcy Forman.
Whew! I’m sure we’ll all sleep better tonight.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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