Hopefully we can all agree there is a continuum between totally free and totally repressive, and societies lie somewhere on that continuum. The question is where does our country currently fall on that continuum, and is it accurate to apply the term "police state", as a rec list diary currently advocates.
My position is no. Let me make that case.
Most of the cases for the USA being a police state have focused on recent police abuse of Occupy protesters, such as the UC Davis pepper spraying. The fact that these and other abuses exist is alone enough to tell us that our society is more repressive, more authoritarian than it should be.
But what does it mean for something to be a "police state"? If the term is to have any meaning, it has to demark some part of that free/repressive continuum, and not most or all of it.
"Police state" has traditionally referred to totalitarian societies without any meaningful political freedoms. The WW2-era Fascist regimes, the former Soviet Bloc, the past military dictatorships in Greece, Spain, and Argentina, and currently places such as North Korea and Burma all come to mind.
Hyperbole aside, we still have a lot of meaningful political freedoms in the US, that were and are impossible in those societies. Almost anyone can vote, run for office, donate to candidates and causes, make speeches, blog, print flyers, pester your elected representatives, and so on. 99.99% of the time those political and intellectual activities are not interfered with by agents of the state. Most of the time police can't search or take you away without a warrant.
Now this is the point where people will point out that we do disinfranchise felons so they can't vote, and there are many ways in which the fourth amendment is being eroded, and there have been unlawful searches and arrests in conjunction with Occupy, and the police totally looked inside your trunk that one time, and so on. And there is no denying that. There are many abuses. But that is why we need the free/repressive continuum perspective, rather than a simplistic, binary view.
Those US Davis' protester's rights were obviously terribly violated, and the police officers involved should be fired if not face criminal charges, and the Chancellor should resign. But while the protesters there were violated, they then got to go to the hospital if they were injured, and they will probably not serve any major time in jail, or suffer further sanction. They may even get some money from the police!!
For perspective let's look at what would have happened in some truly totalitarian societies in the same situation:
If it was Burma, the protesters would have been shot and killed on sight, never heard from again, end of story.
If it was the Soviet Union, they would have been sentenced to several years in an Arctic gulag, and possibly worked to death.
If it was junta-era Argentina, they would have been detained, tortured, forced to sign confessions, perhaps kept in solitary confinement for a few years, tortured some more, and then thrown in the river.
If it was North Korea, they would have been detained, tortured, and executed... and then all of their entire families and possibly everyone who ever met them would have been detained, tortued and executed.
If it was Saudi Arabia or Iran, they would have been arrested and sentenced by a religious 'scholar' to be whipped publically. Probably on multiple charges - one for resisting the police and another for being outside with members of the opposite sex.
In each of these cases, not only would the protesters suffer that fate, but even the information about what happened would have never gotten out.
And even more strikingly, in each of these cases they might not have even been protesting in the first place, because a network of informants and secret agents would have had them arrested and disappeared years ago.
When you apply the term "police state" to the current situation in the USA, then what word is reserved for the obviously very different and much worse situation in these other societies?
There is a huge difference between too much repression at times and complete and total all-consuming repression. There is a difference between not enough freedom and a complete lack of freedom.
I know what is meant by "Police State". It is a place with very few political freedoms. It is a place where not 0.1% of the Occupy protesters would have been sprayed, but where 100% of them would have been jailed, and possibly tortured and killed. It is a place where I couldn't be writing this blog entry.
We need the free/repressive continuum view, rather than binary thinking. The USA is too repressive and not free enough, but it is not a police state. Calling it so renders the term meaningless.