The Pope, The City of Brotherly Love, and Martial Law

Photo credit: Mash up from "Homeland Security," by Thomas Hawk (Flickr) and Mazur, Catholic Church England and Wales, "General Audience with Pope Francis" (Flickr)

I am not one of those who feverishly blogs, or who holds to a regular schedule of writing and sharing my thoughts.  That’s what my private journal is for.  I write publicly when something first unsettles me, moves me, concerns me and I need to spend time exploring it — and then beyond that, when the exploration leads to something I feel is worth sharing, because it concerns lives beyond my own.  That’s why I’m writing today.

Check out all of Debra Leigh Scott’s writing HERE

It’s been over a week now since the events of the Papal visit and the World Meeting of Families hit Philadelphia.  This is not going to be one of the articles that basks in the afterglow that appeared in the days immediately afterward. I want, instead, to continue the line of discourse that began with the journalists writing, in the lead-up to this experience, who Mayor Nutter said after the event, “scared the hell out of people.”  There is still plenty to be scared about, in my opinion, even as the experience of the ordeal begins to fade.  In fact, I think it is really important to continue this line of discourse before the experience fades too far into the distance.

Don’t misunderstand.  I like some of what this Pope has to say.  I am glad that we have conferences and events coming into Philadelphia.  My hope for this event was that not only would there be a wonderful set of conference activities, but also that the people who came to the city would have lots of opportunity to explore, ride the tour buses, go to some of our museums, eat in our restaurants, enjoy our history, wander our stores, visit our riverfront areas, catch a play from one of our many wonderful theatre companies, or enjoy some live music, or dance.  In other words, I hoped they would have fun discovering on the many ways that Philadelphia is a terrific city.

One of the main reasons that citizens of Philadelphia were given for our city’s aggressive search for larger conferences (and for world-class status) was that it would be great for our city.  It would lend a joyful excitement, bring in tourists, bolster our arts community, our hospitality community, and fill our restaurants.

I’m writing this because so few of those hopes were realized.  Much of what is truly wonderful about Philadelphia was impossible for our guests to experience.  They were impossible for those of us who live here to experience.  This event harmed our city’s residents, it harmed our businesses, and the completely inappropriate – and I argue unconstitutional – lockdown was not only deeply damaging to our city, but also deeply disturbing on a constitutional level.

I’m writing this because of the ways in which this conference and this papal visit were used as an excuse to accomplish a militarized takeover of our city.

There are a lot of questions that have not been answered.  For instance, why was such outrageous militarization and security considered necessary?  The reasons offered – “safety” “security” “guards against terrorism” – are hardly sufficient.  All of those concerns have existed in the past when international figures have visited the city, or when large-scale events have been hosted here.  The Pope visited D.C. and NYC, and neither place suffered the extensive military shut down that Philadelphia was subjected to.  Why were there so many branches of the military and so many from various intelligence agencies here?  In a two block walk on Saturday during the Pope’s visit, I saw the camouflage-clad National Guard, stationed in twos and threes on every single corner. I was far away from the actual event areas, on a part of South Street that runs from Front Street to about Fourth Street. This military presence existed throughout the city, and not only in the areas where the conference activities were being held, or in the areas where the Pope was conducting his events.   I saw camouflage jeeps and a huge military transport vehicle on otherwise empty streets. Military helicopters continually buzzed overhead.  I saw FBI, Homeland Security, plain clothes intelligence officers (and yes, you are that bad at “blending in”), Border Patrol.  Throughout the city, there were militarized police,  TSA people, NSA people… I ask Mayor Nutter, why shouldn’t we be scared shitless?  What the hell was going on?

Because here’s a news flash:  There is a difference between security and militarization. And what we endured was militarization.

And here’s the big question:  who, really, was in charge?  We were told that it was Secret Service.  But we were also told, by Kevin Shelly in his article in the Philly Voice that there were up to SEVENTY agencies taking part in this exercise.  There was a secretly located MACC (Multiple Agency Command Center), and many other mini-command centers located throughout the city, which, we were told  “…will be used by more than 50 of the more than 70 agencies cooperating in assuring a safe and secure visit for the pope, according to Beach. But it is paid for out of the Secret Service’s budget.”  George Orwell couldn’t have imagined it better.  “The center, which goes live at 9 a.m. next Thursday and operates around the clock until at least 4 p.m. Monday, features a banks of chairs — filled by 90 people per shift around the clock — and tables, telephones, five projection screens and two mega-screen TVs.”

Additional surveillance equipment had been installed through the city, too.  Streets were cordoned, barricaded, blocked.  Highways were shut down.  The Ben Franklin Bridge connecting the city of Camden across the Delaware River to Philadelphia was closed to automobiles.  Even public transportation was severely curtailed.  Taxis weren’t permitted to run.  Because of all this, schools shut down.  Museums shut down.  Theatres went dark.  The courts closed.  Businesses closed.  Restaurants closed. Stores closed.  The barricades, barriers, and blockades stood as signs of a kind of sinister over-reach on deserted streets.  Except for those tens of thousands of Philadelphia residents who fled….and yes, I think that is an appropriate word……those who stayed were, essentially, trapped.  Yes, you could bike around.  Yes, you could walk.  Yes, some public transportation was functioning.  But it was all under the heavy hand of some shadowy decision-makers who were not answerable to the public.  The Mayor made it clear that he wasn’t running things.  It seems clear that our governor wasn’t running things, either.

Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security was here.  So was Joseph Clancy, director of the Secret Service.  These were the heads of the agencies, not the directors of the Philadelphia branches of these agencies – this was direct federal level command.  But there were also military commanders here, overseeing a military presence; and to my knowledge, they would not take orders from either the Secret Service or DHS.  What, then, exactly, did this chain of command look like?  Isn’t that something we should have a right to know?  Our city was in the hands of a large number of people whose identities are hard to discern, and not in the hands of our elected officials.

One article revealed that there was something called “Operation Iron Response” that the National Guard put into action in August in preparation for martial law.   Why?  What the hell?

So, this had me wondering: Who commands the National Guard?  What is their function?
There isn’t a simple answer to that, either.  The website for the Guard says, “Many events trigger responses across multiple jurisdictions and different levels of government. The National Guard is exceptionally suited for its Homeland Defense role due to its geographically disperse forces with links to local communities and ties to state and local governments. These relationships allow for rapid and integrated responses in times of emergency. Because of its unique dual constitutional authority, the National Guard serves to bridge the “zone of ambiguity” across State and Federal government boundaries. The National Guard is the only United States military force that operates across both State and Federal responses, leveraging State Active Duty (SAD), Full-Time National Guard Duty (Title 32) and Active Duty (Title 10). While SAD, Title 32 and Title 10 are different statuses and roles, they provide mutually supporting capability. In the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress passed legislation which partially eliminated mutual exclusivity with regard to Chain of Command, allowing specially designated National Guard officers to command forces in both Title 10 and Title 32 statuses – designated as a Dual Status Commanders.”

So the question here is – was this State Active Duty, under the command of the Governor?  Or was this a “federalized” action that might put them under the charge of the Secretary of Defense, or the President?  If, as the mayor’s office keeps saying “The Secret Service is running everything” – wouldn’t that suggest that the entire operation is federally run?   And, if that is the case, that means that neither our mayor nor our governor had authority.

While we’re looking into it, let’s ask: Who commands the FBI agents who were everywhere in the streets? And under what authority were they there?  What was their function?  This chart is maddening.
And what exactly were they DOING?     What as their “mission”?  I found this from their website

Since we were told again and again that Homeland Security admitted there were no credible threats to the pope, what the hell were ANY of these people doing, out in the numbers and in the force they were?  Who, by the way, commands the Homeland Security people?

Here are some DHS leadership charts:

And this one, that offers an “About” the DHS folks:

This was Jeh Johnson, the head of DHS, who was HERE during Popemania week.  WHY?
Would he outrank the Governor?

How about the Border Patrol people? What borders were they guarding?  What the hell were they doing there?  Are they under the auspices of DHS?….or are they operating under yet another separate chain of command?

And then there was The Coast Guard:

What about all the other plainclothes people?  And what about the other intelligence agents from the various intelligence agencies in Philadelphia or beyond?  Seventy agencies, remember?

It seems to me that with such convoluted leadership chains, such a crowded field of players, a “multi-agency command center’ with FIFTY seats, it is not at all clear who was at the top of the chain of command.  Based on the hours I’ve spent trying to answer that question, the best I can say is that I was able to find no clear chain of command, but feel strongly that neither of our elected officials were in command.

According to the Supreme Court, the term martial law carries no precise meaning (Duncan v. Kahanamoku, 327 U.S. 304, 66 S. Ct. 606, 90 L. Ed. 688 [1946]). However, most declarations of martial law have some common features. Generally, the institution of martial law contemplates some use of military force. To a varying extent, depending on the martial law order, government military personnel have the authority to make and enforce civil and criminal laws. Certain civil liberties may be suspended, such as the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom of association, and freedom of movement. (Italics are mine.) And the writ of Habeas Corpus may be suspended (this writ allows persons who are unlawfully imprisoned to gain freedom through a court proceeding).  (NOTE:  Keep in mind that habeas corpus can be suspended through the National Defense Authorization Act that Obama signed into law in 2011, effectively denying it to American citizens.)

On the national level, Martial Law may be declared by Congress or the president. Under Article I, Section 8, Clause 15, of the Constitution, Congress has the power “[t]o provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and repel Invasions.” Article II, Section 2, Clause 1, of the Constitution declares that “[t]he President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.”   Neither of these constitutional provisions include direct reference to the declaration of martial law, but the Supreme Court has interpreted both provisions to allow such declaration by either the President or the Congress.

But no such public declaration was made by the President or by Congress.

On the state level, it is the governor who would declare martial within his/her state.  This right is normally granted within the state constitution.

But no such public declaration was made by our governor.

Was this lock-down of Philadelphia a situation of undeclared martial law? Let’s review:  it certainly seemed more than likely that the use of military force was possible, given the high number of military everywhere, and given their martial law exercises conducted only a month before.  The government military personnel were exercising authority to make and enforce civil and criminal laws – something as ridiculous as tackling and arresting a young man for skateboarding in a “forbidden zone” for instance. Our civil liberties were suspended, in that we were NOT free from unwarranted or unreasonable searches and seizures, and since there were checkpoints all over the city.  Freedom of movement was most certainly suspended, given the highway shutdowns, the bridge closure, the militarized “zones” that had been established, the severe limitations on public transportation.

My conclusion?  Yes.  Philadelphia was in a state of undeclared martial law.

Some journalists have suggested that this was a trial run, of sorts, to see if such a militarized lock-down could succeed.  Given how docile most people were, I would say that it succeeded in a way about which we should all be terrified.  “Sheeple” is the term that comes to mind.

So, another question:  why Philadelphia?  Why not D.C. or NYC, since the Pope visited both of those cities as well?  First, I can’t imagine the New Yorkers putting up with anything remotely like what Philadelphians endured.  Second, D.C. is too filled with power elite; the military work for them.

But Philadelphia.  I have some ideas as to why Philadelphia was chosen.

First: we are a poor city.  In 2014, we were in the top 10 poorest cities.   At that time, we were warned, “Philadelphia’s deep-poverty rate “is a tremendous alarm bell of dysfunction and dangerous conditions,” said Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, a Washington nonprofit.” In the last year, our poverty has only deepened. Also, Philadelphia is one of four of our most segregated cities, both in racial and economic segregation.

Finally, Philly Occupy may no longer be encamped on Dilworth Plaza at our City Hall, but it continues to be an extremely active and engaged organization, calling for actions against foreclosures, against school closings, against police violence. They maintain a presence in our city in dozens of ways.  So let’s put that all together: we have dangerously high levels of poverty, dangerously high levels of racial and economic inequality, and a robust activist network.

A coordinated military exercise, a brand new multi-agency command center, and a testing of the waters of public docility in a city where our country’s continued social and economic misery may well explode into full-blown revolt sounds like pre-emptive planning.  Especially since we are hosting the Democratic Convention in less than a year.

And now, a precedent has been set.  A command center sits in waiting. A full-fledged exercise was carried out, and, I suggest, will be used not only on Philadelphians in the future, this “exercise” could well be used as a blueprint for martial law enactments in other U.S. cities.

I am convinced that what we experienced in Philadelphia was an undeclared state of martial law.  If, somehow, it can be proven that this was not the case, I still contend that we came so dangerously close that it is our duty, as citizens, to be sure that it never happens again.  We don’t have the luxury of ignoring this.  It is not hyperbole when I say that to ignore this to is to drive yet another nail into the coffin of democracy in this country.

To those who said, “You will have your city back in a few days.  And meanwhile everyone has been kept safe,” I say: “No. We will never have our city back.”  Once it has been violated in this way we will never again be ‘free’ — this knowledge and memory must not simply disappear.  We can’t allow ourselves to go back to business as usual without first gathering together to demand that this experience is never again repeated.

And were we kept safe? No, we weren’t.  What is safe about military overreach? What is safe about soldiers in our city streets? Militarized streets are not “safe”. They are occupied. We experienced a military occupation during the Papal visit.  There is nothing more dangerous than the precedent that has been set and what that means for genuine freedom. This is Philadelphia, the supposed “cradle of freedom”.  We should never forget our responsibilities, as citizens, in guarding it.

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