Ferguson & Militarized Police

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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While the police handling of the Ferguson unrest appears to be inappropriate and inflammatory, particularly in light of the fact that the protest arose in response to a police shooting in the first place, I think RFC is badly ideologically-blindered on the larger issues vis-a-vis this and other communities where deaths involving police action have recently taken place: Nearly 2/3 of all gun deaths are suicides.The vast majority of the roughly 1/3 of gun deaths nationwide that are not suicides are of male youths and male young adults, at the hands of perhaps slightly-older-on-average male youths and male young adults, and African-Americans are dramatically overrepresented in the ranks of these victims. Whether you are talking about Ferguson or S.I., NY (which community I know well), I can virtually guarantee, without even checking on the statistics, that the people of those communities, particularly their youth, are far more impacted -- orders of magnitude, really -- by violence, and by deadly gun violence in particular, wrought by their own young males in their teens and early-to-mid 20s than by police. That does not excuse any wrongdoing by police, but does seriously call into question why folks who consider themselves progressive for the most part reserve their energies and passions only for the latter, and, frankly, pretty much ignore the former. Is an African-American teen only unjustly killed when a police bullet is flying? It's as though RFC only acts on what sensationalistic media coverage says is the story, the same as so much of the polity. I think that's wrong and more than a little concerning.

Police assisted suiside has been around for different cultures since slavery. It happens on a regular basics across this nation, with many minorities being outright murdered and it being justified by the law. In Portland alone it is at an all time high, police violence amoung the youth, it occurs in high numbers, although elderly persons of color too, must endure the torture the police have the so called right to issue as well, there are no limits here in Portland, Oregon. A child was denied the grant from the rosenburg fund after her mother was accosted by the Portland, police, times have not changed for many in our society, with over half the people of color in portland, gentrified to many outline areas of Portland to live, as caucation people rapidly move in, to neighborhoods which were predominately people of color for years. My family receives the fund and I have been a civil rights/human rights leader for years. I have files of investigations I personally have conducted after someone in Portland has been killed by the portland, police. It is very real and happens on a regular basis. Many sleepless nights for the relatives of people of color or mixed heritage happen every night across America. Worried that when their loved one goes anywhere they may be stopped and never see the light of day or be killed by aggressive steroid taking police with militant attitudes, it is nothing new to us. It is sad to say but our police department even uses weapons that are not even police issued, but equipment officers decide they wish to use on these defenseless people. We have shotguns here that are shot at people which bury deep in the skin and let off a charge, strong enough to knock a horse down, as well if you try to pull it out, it releases a second charge to the person. We also have pepper spray 100 times the normal amount, which is made out of javanero peppers. In the u.s. as many as 95 percent of people of color are in prison, because of plea bargin, and the majority of them are innocent, and have taken a plea for fear of being sent away for life, with many prisons infected with people with aids a simple charge of stealing can mean a sentence of life. As the populations rise and the aids virus spreads, many people of color come out of prison dying of aids, it's just not right. And in Oregon many minority youth are remanded to adult court as young as the age of 12, its just shocking. when people of color are stopped in Portland/metro area they are handcuffed and told to lay on the dirty concrete, just to run their id. This does not happen among people that are white here, it is just criminal how people of color are treated here, so believe me your father was very right in his blog. Yes there is much work to be done in the area of equality and rights for people of color across the nation. I have written a book, which I hope to publish in the near future, which outlines many facts and figures of the violence against people of color. Believe me it's just the tip of the iceberg what happens to people of color, it's discrimination in every area of their lives from education to health care to jobs, its just horrible. I greatly fear what will happen when the Rev Al Sharpten passes and Jessie Jackson, it will be a sad day in this nation, I'm afraid it will be all out war on people of color as well as the poor in our nation. Respectfully, Linda Mckinney

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