It worked in Iraq, why not Sacramento?

It was a scene that Federico Fellini would have savored.

The clowns, dressed to the hilt and riding on their motorcycles, had to slow to avoid running over the horses that were moving aside for the bicyclists. The unorganized circus of police on parade was symbolic of modern excess. All the while, the fascist symbolism (black clothing, boots and batons) was thick and full of underlying tension.

If it weren’t so funny, the overreaction by law enforcement to the ministerial-conference protesters in Sacramento would be sad. It certainly was expensive; conservative cost estimates put it at $2 million in local tax dollars. While law-enforcement administrators were crying about budget cutbacks, hundreds of unneeded officers were standing around on overtime.

The fact that the cops often outnumbered the protesters is also symbolic of this era’s easy acceptance of excessive force.

A stroll through an abandoned downtown last Monday clearly showed the police overplayed their hand—both on the ground and in the air. At one hotel entrance, a half-dozen bored officers guarded one door. It was completely uncalled for, but it wasn’t unusual in the current political atmosphere.

Police intelligence used their investigative powers to justify the costly excess. They slyly looked at activist Web sites and believed estimates of 8,000 attendees and their threats of turning Sacramento into another Seattle, only worse. The protesters could have shut down Starbucks, but they didn’t come close to shutting down the conference.

We could have told the intelligence squad never to trust far-left activists attempting to stir up the masses—their claims are wishes, so divide their exaggerated numbers by three. But the police are now happy to justify their overreaction by using that faulty intelligence.

Where did they learn this, from the Bush administration? The parallel is clear. If you want to send in the armies and take over an area, just throw out some unsubstantiated “intelligence” about possible weapons of mass destruction (there was a trailer!), scare all the citizens and call out the militia. Tell everyone that we’re invading for their own safety.

When the paranoid claims are revealed to be just that (what, no trailer?), fall back and point fingers at the intelligence gatherers. But we lay the blame on the leaders, both military (police) and governmental, who allow this excess to happen.

At the front of the law-enforcement parade outside the Capitol strode Sacramento County Sheriff Lou Blanas. What a county sheriff was doing at this event in the city wasn’t clear. (There probably weren’t enough deputies left to boss around out in the county.) Just the week before, Blanas whined about facing a tremendous shortfall in funding and threatened citizens that cutbacks “will create a grave situation.”

Cry wolf and justify an army.