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A police state is a country in which the populace is kept under tight control by a government that seeks to limit social, political, and sometimes economic activity by the citizenry to a substantial degree.
In a police state, human rights are subordinate to the will of the government (and, in some cases, the will of private interests with governmental authority to use force), and police brutality is not just accepted but also standard operating procedure, and the police force is partially or totally militarized. Generally speaking, police states don't have a separation of powers, and the executive is more or less unitary.
There is no universally accepted definition for police state, so usage of the term may cause confusion. However, given that 'police' is in the phrase, we at RW understand it to mean that the police are a primary method the government uses to keep the people in line, and the term might not refer to unfree states in which the police do not play a significant role in controlling the people. For example, Sudan is one of the most authoritarian countries in the world, but governmental force is executed mostly through the military.
A few clear-cut examples of police states
Some obvious examples of police states include North Korea, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, to name just a few. Not to be forgotten are the now-defunct Soviet Union, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, the Japanese Empire in the 1930s-1940s, Spain under Francisco Franco, Mississippi and South Africa under segregationist rule, Iraq under Satan Hussein, Uganda under Idi A-murderin', Argentina under the Dirty War junta, and Chile under Augusto Pinochet.
Is the United States a police state?
Project Censored claims that an emerging police state has been the most unreported or censored story in the mainstream US press in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Others, including former New York Times journalist Chris Hedges, have argued that the United States and a number of other Western countries, such as Great Britain, have become or are becoming police states. Oftentimes, the FBI is understood to be the political police in the US; the mere existence of a powerful national police force may indicate that a country is a police state at least to some extent.
Also, given that the use of police brutality to squelch peaceful protest has become particularly visible to Americans and people of other Western nations, activists are arguing that their respective countries have some elements of a police state.
Protesters in the "Occupy" movement and other activists, both in the United States and in other countries where police state status is ambiguous often chant "Show me what a police state looks like! This is what a police state looks like" when confronted by the po-po.
On the other hand, such pronouncements and criticisms are driving the very term itself into the status of an ideologically charged buzzword. Echoing George Orwell's comments on fascism and other terms in the English language, police state cries and accusations risk falling into the rhetorical trap of other commonly used but fluidly-defined words: becoming convenient cliches for those one hates, not much better than a swearword.
Despite some number of police state elements creeping their way into American society, the United States is not a police state currently. That could change; hopefully it won't, and instead, a reversing of the trend will occur.
- Theoharis, Athan, editor (1999). The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference Guide. Checkmark Books. ISBN 0-8160-4228-4. - a scholarly anthology on the matter
- Orwell, George (1944). What is Fascism?
- Stop Taking Orwell's Name in Vain, The Atlantic