In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Trump received rapturous applause from Republicans for his declaration: “America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free.” But this uplifting sentiment cannot survive even a brief glance at the federal statute book or the heavy-handed enforcement tactics by federal, state, and local bureaucracies across the nation.
In reality, the threat of government punishment permeates Americans’ daily lives more than ever before:
The number of federal crimes has increased from 3 in 1789 to more than 4000 today. Congress has criminalized “transporting alligator grass across a state line; unauthorized use of the slogan ‘Give a hoot, don’t pollute’; and pretending to be a 4-H club member with intent to defraud,” as the Buffalo Criminal Law Review noted.
Law enforcement agencies arrested over 10 million people in 2017— roughly three percent of the population. Trump momentarily noticed the existence of government coercion last month when he complained about the FBI using “29 people” and “armored vehicles” for the arrest of Roger Stone. But SWAT teams conduct up to 80,000 raids a year, according to the ACLU, mostly for drug arrests or search warrants. Many innocent people have been killed in such raids.
Trump on Tuesday highlighted the case of Alice Johnson, unjustly sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense. Trump’s commutation of her sentence is no consolation to the targets of 1.6 million drug arrests in 2017 – and it is not like those individuals showed up voluntarily at police stations asking to be “cuffed-and-stuffed.” More people are arrested for marijuana offenses than for all violent crimes combined, according to FBI statistics.
No coercion? Tell that to the scores of thousands of victims of
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