In July 2012, my father wrote a blog about the post-9/11 militarization of the police and the seemingly endless instances of them turning their arsenal on peaceful protestors. He concluded that this police assault, “amounts to the United States government’s declaration of war on a portion of its population” and went on to note the ways that racism and classism influence the individuals and communities most likely to suffer these attacks.
This is a case where I really wish my dad had been wrong. Unfortunately, the reports and images from Ferguson, MO of officers in armored vehicles and riot gear firing rubber bullets and tear gas at peaceful protestors demanding answers in the police shooting of a young, unarmed black man, show just how right he was. Many RFC beneficiaries know all too well the dangers of demanding an end to police brutality or accountability for excessive force or repressive surveillance of their communities.
I’m reposting my Dad’s original blog below because it’s still so relevant. I encourage the entire RFC community to share information about our grants with anyone you know who has been targeted for their activism against police brutality or other abuses in Ferguson or elsewhere. Our next round of grants will be awarded this fall, so our aid could get to the children of these courageous activists shortly. Applications are due October 13th, more information (including applications, guidelines, FAQs) is available here.
Militarized Police (July 2012)
Monday I read a report that demonstrators in Burlington, Vermont (a left-oriented city that has sometimes been dubbed the People’s Republic of Burlington), were attacked by police in full riot gear using pepper spray and rubber bullets. The police responded that they do not carry rubber bullets, but “used pepper balls and stingball pellets” (North Country News Public Radio, 7/30/12), a distinction that may be lost on those who were shot.
We’ve become all too familiar with visual images of phalanxes of police assaulting demonstrators while clad in armored riot gear and carrying an array of weaponry reminiscent of The Empire’s foot-soldiers in the Star Wars films. Whether on Wall Street, or downtown Oakland, CA last fall, or in Anaheim, CA just a few days ago, the nature of police response to public protest has become increasingly military.
The nationwide uniformity of such responses indicates to me that it’s not random. I believe this pattern of response is being planned at high levels of our government.
It can be argued that this kind of police response amounts to the United States government’s declaration of war on a portion of its population. The combined thrusts of the “war on crime” and the “war on drugs,” exacerbated by the post 9/11 “war on terrorism,” have fostered a martial mindset among those policing our cities and towns. Because military experience is considered a plus by those doing the hiring, a growing number of police recruits are veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Metropolitan police departments such as Dallas and Los Angeles actively recruit veterans, as do the Pennsylvania State Police, the U.S. Capitol Police and municipalities across the country” (www.gijobs.com). These recruits have been primed by their experiences abroad and the training they receive at home to treat those they confront in demonstrations not as human beings exercising their rights, but as the enemy. “Shock and awe” has come home from Bagdad and echoes throughout our land. Add racism to this mix, and is it not so surprising that the Anaheim police would release attack–dogs on families of Latinos protesting police killing of civilians.
I can think of several possible reasons for a national policy of providing local police forces with increasingly lethal equipment and the ideological support for employing it within our borders. The first, as always, is to follow the money. I don’t have the numbers, but expect that “protecting” and arming our police is big business, funded largely by the tax-payers and benefiting the 1% at the top of the economic food-chain.
A broader reason is the need for more control as the gap between the rich and the poor expands. Social unrest is likely to increase as those at the top enjoy an increasing proportion of our national wealth, and their tightening grip over the country’s political machinery leaves those facing impoverishment little recourse but to take to the streets. Providing police with the physical means and psychological justification to repress a restive population may seem like a prudent course of action to authoritarian corporate powers.
Whatever the reasons behind this alarming trend, it is incumbent upon all of us who believe in human rights and democracy to raise our voices in opposition. The militarized police pose a much greater threat to our freedom than the forces they are supposedly designed to protect us from.
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