The brave and besieged people of Ferguson, Missouri, have already caused serious complications for the U.S. National Security State. By virtue of simply standing their ground in their own small city, the demonstrators have forced the local, county and state police to show their true, thoroughly militarized colors. Ferguson’s righteous agitators and rebellious Black youth have succeeded in pinning down in one small space the armed forces of racist repression in full view of the corporate and the people’s media, so that the whole world can bear witness to the truth of what another generation proclaimed nearly half a century ago: that, in the Black community, the police are an army of occupation.
The military character and mission of the police is more clear today than when the Black Panther Party and others sounded the alarm in the Sixties. Back then, the first SWAT teams were staking out sniper positions on city streets and the federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration had only just begun to funnel millions of dollars in surveillance technology, guns, body armor and all manner of lethal equipment to local and state police departments across the country. The term “mass Black incarceration” had not yet been coined, but it was only a matter of time before a permanent, militarized police offensive against rebellion-prone ghettos would cause unprecedented numbers of Black prisoners to flow into the greatest gulag in the history of the world.
A Force to Crush a People
White America perceived that it was at war with Black people, who no longer knew their place – and so, places of confinement were made for them; fortified dungeons to house millions. Since America tells itself and the rest of the world that it does not make war on its own citizens, and that there is a sharp and Constitutionally defined separation between the military and civilian functions of the State, the war against Black people had to be called something else – a War on Drugs, or simply a War on Crime. Therefore, it was not long before the words “crime” and “drugs” and “Black” came to mean the same thing since, really, there was only one war going on. And, it continues, still.
The young people of Ferguson, and greater St. Louis, and all of urban, suburban and rural Black America understand perfectly well that war is being waged against them. The powers-that-be every day of the year make it is crystal clear to Black people, especially Black men, that an overwhelming and lethal force is prepared to crush them – for any reason, or for no reason at all. This is the definition of a war of terror. It requires the aggressor to engage in constant and ever escalating displays of disciplined force – which is what militaries do. By refusing to disperse, the Black people of Ferguson have compelled the police to flaunt their military nature and mission before the eyes of the world. The American National Security State is embarrassed. But it will take a social transformation – that is, a revolution – to disarm the beast.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
As tensions continue to simmer following nine days of street protests in Ferguson, Missouri, where a teenager was shot dead by a police officer, two watchdog groups have slammed the heavy-handed police tactics.
To compound the physical and mental strain of reporting on the weeks-long protests in Ferguson, where the public is desperate for justice after a white police officer shot black teenager Michael Brown to death, journalists themselves are finding themselves the target of police tear gas, rubber bullets and flash bang grenades.
However, Robert Mahoney, Deputy Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said the police tactics would not prevent reporters from doing their jobs.
“Ferguson is an international story and journalists are going to cover it. They have a right to do so without fearing for their safety or liberty,” Mahoney said. “The harassment and detention of reporters must stop. From senior commanders on down, the word must go out to security forces to let journalists do their job.”
CPJ also released a guide for journalists on how to stay safe while covering events in Ferguson.
Jasmine Heiss, an observer with Amnesty International, expressed concern over reports that journalists were being tear-gassed while performing their jobs.
“Just last night I’ve heard several journalists and community say that either gas was thrown at them while they were reporting, or, in the case of the community members that gas was thrown into residential neighborhoods while they were walking,” Heiss told RT.
“Increasingly repressive tactics [are] being used to curtail free speech,” she added.
Six journalists were detained by police while covering the protests on Monday and early Tuesday, compelling the American Society of News Editors to describe the incidences as a “top-down effort to restrict the fundamental First Amendment rights of the public and the press.”
According to CNN, 11 journalists have been arrested in the course of the protests, which have thrown a glaring spotlight on US race relations, not to mention military-style police equipment and tactics now being deployed on the streets of America.
Police were caught on video firing a tear gas canister that exploded directly in front of an Al Jazeera America crew, causing the reporters to discard their camera equipment and flee the fumes.
In another heated encounter, a police officer is actually caught on video telling journalists, “I’m going to f***ing kill you!”
Meanwhile, social media accounts have exploded with real-time proof of the “severe press intimidation,” as the Huffington Post described the heavy-handed tactics, where Ferguson police fired at journalists with rubber bullets and flash bang grenades, in some cases preventing media from leaving their vehicles for fear of being targeted.
German reporter Ansgar Graw and his colleague Frank Hermann were detained by police for taking photos of a burned-out gas station, close to the spot where Michael Brown was killed.
“I tried to take some pictures at a spot where before I think were taken several thousand photos of the same spot, and some police officers tried to shoot me and my colleague from Germany…but it was on Monday at 2 o’clock, it was perfect…there was no threat, no tensions were in the air,” he told RT.
The journalist said the police told them they could photograph, but they had to continue walking otherwise they would be arrested. Despite complying with the police orders, Graw said they were still detained.
Eric Holder just published an op-ed in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, apparently aiming to generate confidence in DOJ’s investigation into Darren Wilson’s killing of Mike Brown.
It starts with 3 sentences describing Brown’s killing — with no mention of Wilson, or even that a cop killed Brown.
Since the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, the nation and the world have witnessed the unrest that has gripped Ferguson, Mo. At the core of these demonstrations is a demand for answers about the circumstances of this young man’s death and a broader concern about the state of our criminal justice system.
At a time when so much may seem uncertain, the people of Ferguson can have confidence that the Justice Department intends to learn — in a fair and thorough manner — exactly what happened.
A disembodied shooting killed Brown in this telling; violence did not.
Holder then spends several paragraphs discussing both the investigation itself, as well as the actions of the Civil Rights Division before he turns – in the course of one paragraph — to the protests. Here, violence is described as violence.
We understand the need for an independent investigation, and we hope that the independence and thoroughness of our investigation will bring some measure of calm to the tensions in Ferguson. In order to begin the healing process, however, we must first see an end to the acts of violence in the streets of Ferguson. Although these acts have been committed by a very small minority — and, in many cases, by individuals from outside Ferguson — they seriously undermine, rather than advance, the cause of justice. And they interrupt the deeper conversation that the legitimate demonstrators are trying to advance.
The implication, of course, is that the violence comes exclusively from that “very small minority,” not the cops shooting rubber bullets from their tanks.
I find the next paragraph truly remarkable.
The Justice Department will defend the right of protesters to peacefully demonstrate and for the media to cover a story that must be told. But violence cannot be condoned. I urge the citizens of Ferguson who have been peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights to join with law enforcement in condemning the actions of looters, vandals and others seeking to inflame tensions and sow discord.
The Justice Department — the Agency Eric Holder leads, the 40 FBI Agents and Civil Rights prosecutors Holder described — has done nothing visible thus far to defend the First Amendment.
And then, Holder says, “violence cannot be condoned.” A bizarre passive sentence with no agent. By whom? Who cannot condone violence?!?!
And he uses it to urge “the citizens of Ferguson who have been peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights” — many of whom have been arrested, bullied, tear gassed, some of whom have formed chains to protect businesses — to “join with law enforcement,” the same law enforcement that has been bullying them. Holder asks these citizens — who presumably are the ones he says cannot condone violence — to join the cops who have been engaging in violence to condemn others who have also been engaging in violence. Those “others” inflame tensions and sow discord. The cops don’t, according to this telling.
It takes a good paragraph and a half before Holder says the cops must restore trust. Only unlike the “citizens” of Ferguson, Holder does not urge the cops directly to do … anything. He just describes what should happen, he doesn’t command it to happen.
At the same time, good law enforcement requires forging bonds of trust between the police and the public. This trust is all-important, but it is also fragile. It requires that force be used in appropriate ways. Enforcement priorities and arrest patterns must not lead to disparate treatment under the law, even if such treatment is unintended. And police forces should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.
Note what else happens? That violence — unmentioned in Mike Brown’s actual shooting, but explicitly described when “those others” did it — here becomes “force.” Something distinct from the violence of looters.
Darren Wilson’s shooting of Mike Brown? Not described as violence — not even described as the act of a known man. The looters’ looting? They’re engaged in “violence.” And finally, the cops, whom Holder doesn’t dare urge to tone things down? They are exercising “force,” not “violence.”
I get there are legal reasons why he did this — notably, this permits him to endorse findings that Wilson used “force” out of fear for his own safety! But the grammar and vocabulary of this op-ed insists on the state’s monopoly on violence that it has been abusing for 10 days.
Police In Ferguson Back To Threatening And Arresting Reporters: Tells Them To ‘Get The Fuck Out Of Here’
The situation in Ferguson seemed briefly like it was getting better last Thursday, but that didn’t last long. Over the weekend, the militarized and threatening police fired tear gas at protestors and continued to escalate the situation, rather than de-escalate it. The governor declared a state of emergency and instituted a curfew — which created some more problems, and resulted in continued protests, but also some looting. In the last few hours, however, things have gone from bad to worse again. Police went back to arresting journalists, including Robert Klemko from Sports Illustrated and Rob Crilly from the Telegraph (who, believe it or not, is the “Pakistan and Afghanistan correspondent” for that paper — now reporting live from… Ferguson, Missouri). While both were quickly released, police appear to be quite aggressive towards reporters. Chris Hayes, the MSNBC TV host reports that he was threatened with being maced.
A live stream from the local radio station KARG (Argus Radio — which is a local volunteer run radio station that has been doing amazing work) caught police screaming, “Get the fuck out of here or you’re going to get shelled with this” while pointing a gun at the reporter. Many reports claimed that he was saying, “You’re going to get shot,” but it’s pretty clearly “shelled.” Not sure it really makes a huge difference.
As you can see from the video (thankfully clipped and uploaded by Parker Higgins), another police officer, “Captain Todd,” claims that the lights from the reporters are the problem, not that that somehow makes it okay to point guns at reporters and threaten to “shell” them (or to arrest them). Meanwhile, Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post reports that reporters were ordered to “leave the area and head back where we wouldn’t be able to witness anything for ourselves.”
All of this really ought to make people wonder: if this is how the police act when they know the world is watching them and live streaming what they’re doing, how do you think they act when no one is watching? The photos from Ferguson feel unreal, but are, in fact, quite real.
The situation has become so ridiculous that Amnesty International has sent in a human rights team, saying this is the first time ever that the group has done so inside the US. Think about that for a minute or two…
And then recognize that the press are almost certainly being treated significantly better than the residents who are protesting.
Police Militarization Escalates Even As Violence Declines — And There’s A Good Chance It’s Going To Get Worse
We’ve been writing about the militarization of police, and why it’s problematic, for years — but the events of the last week in Ferguson, Missouri, have really shone a (rather bright) light on what happens when you militarize the police. Annie Lowrey, over at New York Magazine, highlights what may be most disturbing about all of it: all of this has happened while violence has been on a rapid decline, and, no it’s not because your local suburban police force now has a SWAT team and decommissioned military equipment from the Defense Department:
Since 1990, according to Department of Justice statistics, the United States has become a vastly safer place, at least in terms of violent crime. (Drug crime follows somewhat different trends, though drug use has been dropping over the same time period.) The number of murders dropped to 14,827 in 2012 from 23,438 in 1990. The number of rapes has plummeted to 84,376 from 102,555. The number of robberies, motor-vehicle thefts, assaults — all have seen similarly large declines. And the number of incidents has dropped even though the country has grown. [....]
And there’s no evidence that giving police officers the weapons of war has had anything to do with that decline in crime, either, with researchers pegging it to a combination of factors, among them the removal of lead from paint and gasoline, an increase in abortion rates, and improved policing methods.
So, instead, we get a very militarized police — and tons of cases where it is being used in cases that absolutely don’t warrant it. At all.
And here’s the really disturbing thing. It may get a lot worse. As Vanity Fair notes, on June 19th, Rep. Alan Grayson had offered up an amendment on the Defense Appropriations bill, which would have limited the militarization of police. And it failed by a wide margin. Included in those voting against it? The guy who represents Ferguson.
The amendment attracted the support of only 62 members, while 355 voted against it (14 didn’t vote). Included among those voting against it was Rep. William Lacy Clay (D), who represents Ferguson. Clay was joined by every senior member of the Democratic Party leadership team, including Reps. Nancy Pelosi (CA), Steny Hoyer (MD), and Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (SC). Democrats did form the bulk of support for the amendment (with 43 votes in favor), with 19 Republicans supporting as well—led by libertarian-conservative Rep. Justin Amash (MI), who lamented that “military-grade equipment . . . shouldn’t be used on the street by state and local police” on his Facebook page.
Apparently, arming the police with military equipment has powerful lobbying support. Because why expect people to think about what actually makes sense when there’s money and FUD on the line:
Why was there such tremendous opposition to the Grayson-Amash effort? Two very powerful constituencies in Congress may be to blame: the defense industry, and the police lobby.
Take Rep. Clay. He has been all over the news media calling for justice in his district, and demanding an investigation of Brown’s death. Yet like every House member, he is up for re-election every two years, and his fourth-largest donor is the political action committee of the weapons maker Boeing.
So there’s that. And then, let’s take things up a notch. Scott Greenfield alerts us to the news that a judge over in Colorado has determined that the Cinemark Theater where James Holmes opened fired on the opening night of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises” may have some responsibility because it should have known that such an attack might happen. Despite the fact that there has never been such a shooting in a theater, the judge says that the theater should have been prepared for such a possibility:
Noting “the grim history of mass shootings and mass killings that have occurred in more recent times,” U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson ruled that Cinemark — owner of the Century Aurora 16 theater — could have predicted that movie patrons might be targeted for an attack. Jackson’s ruling allows 20 lawsuits filed by survivors of the attack or relatives of those killed to proceed toward trial.
“Although theaters had theretofore been spared a mass shooting incident, the patrons of a movie theater are, perhaps even more than students in a school or shoppers in a mall, ‘sitting ducks,’ ” Jackson wrote.
That makes absolutely no sense. But the inevitable result, as Greenfield notes, seems to be a lot more militarized police — and now, private security guards… everywhere. Just in case.
Consider, if what happened in Aurora, the duty of businesses to be prepared for the act of a one-in-a-million crazy. The biggest growth job in America will be armed guard. Every theater will require its own SWAT team, perhaps a MRAP or Bearcat. Office buildings, parks, skating rinks, pretty much anywhere more than three people gather, could be the next target of a madman. They will all need security, armed with the weapons needed to take out any crazy.
Don’t blame the businesses. They’re just trying to cover their foreseeable obligations. Sure, there is almost no chance, almost no possibility whatsoever, that they will be the target of the next insane shooter, but Judge Jackson says it’s still foreseeable. In fact, that no one has ever shot up a skating rink makes it even more foreseeable, by his rationale.
It is difficult to comprehend how profoundly screwed up all of this is.
Officials in Georgia’s Habersham County are refusing to pay for the mounting medical expenses of a toddler seriously injured by a flash grenade after a failed SWAT team raid earlier this year.
Bounkham ‘Bou Bou’ Phonesavanh was just 19 months old when a Habersham SWAT team initiated a no-knock warrant at his family’s home at around 3 a.m. on May 28. Bou Bou was asleep in his crib at the time, surrounded by his family and three sisters. The toddler was severely injured when SWAT team officers broke through the house’s door and threw a flashbang grenade that ultimately landed in the Bou Bou’s crib.
When the stun grenade went off, it caused severe burns on the child and opened a gash in his chest. As a result, Bou Bou lost the ability to breathe on his own and was left in a medically induced coma for days after the incident. His extensive recovery necessitated stays in two hospitals before he finally went home in July.
Now, Habersham County officials are sticking by their decision to ignore the family’s plight, the family’s attorney, Muwali Davis, told WSB-TV.
Habersham County’s attorney responded with a statement saying that the Board of County Commissioners will not pay given it is supposedly illegal to do so.
“The question before the board was whether it is legally permitted to pay these expenses. After consideration of this question following advice of counsel, the board of commissioners has concluded that it would be in violation of the law for it to do so.”
The family now says an independent investigation showed law enforcement used suspect information to attain a search warrant.
As RT reported previously, the SWAT conducted the raid as part of an effort to apprehend Wanis Thometheva, believed to be selling methamphetamine. Police said that their records indicated the suspect could be armed, and that a confidential informant had successfully purchased drugs from him earlier in the day. At the time of the raid, however, Thometheva was not at the home, and was eventually arrested elsewhere.
Additionally, an unnamed public official told the Washington Post that the reported drug deal was worth only $50.
Habersham County’s sheriff previously said the confidential informant who bought drugs at the home told police that he did not believe any children lived at the house.
Bou Bou’s mother, Alecia Phonesavanh, said that was unlikely if they had valid information on their suspect.
“If they had an informant in that house, they knew there were kids,” Phonesavanh told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the incident. “They say there were no toys. There is plenty of stuff. Their shoes were laying all over.”
In June, the family called for a federal investigation into the conduct of the SWAT team.
The Phonesavanh family said it was not involved with drugs at all, and was only staying with Thometheva, the homeowner’s son, because their Wisconsin home was damaged in a fire. They moved back to Wisconsin once Bou Bou’s health improved. Supporters have planned a fundraiser this month for the family.
An official investigation into the incident is ongoing, according to WSB-TV.
Photography Is Not A Crime again reports on police acting like they have the right to confiscate people’s cameras and phones in order to “secure” recordings of apparent police misconduct.
Police in Northern California beat and tased a mentally ill man before siccing a dog on him, then turning on citizens who recorded the incident, confiscating cell phones and in one case, ordering a witness to delete his footage.
But one video survived anyway, slightly longer than two minutes, where a cop from the Antioch Police Department can be heard saying he wants cameras confiscated right before the video stops.
The video is shot at a distance that makes it unclear as to how much damage is being done, although you can hear the meaty sound of someone being struck several times, as well as the nearly nonstop barking of the police dog and crackling bursts of Taser fire. Being filmed vertically doesn’t help, although I’m generally of the opinion that simply collecting footage that wouldn’t normally be captured is always useful and whatever makes the person filming most comfortable (seeing as it’s generally a very uncomfortable situation) is the method they should use. The recording also shows the arrival of more officers, as though the nearly invisible civilian at the bottom of the cop pile (which begins with 5 officers and a police dog) was on the verge of escaping the whole time.
Towards the end of a video, an officer pulls his squad car directly in front of the “scene” in an obvious attempt to limit the amount of onlookers with damning recordings. Shortly after that (and after the video ends), the cops started attempting to seize “evidence.”
A second witness ABC7 News spoke to says officers began confiscating cellphones from anyone who shot video of the incident. An officer asked for his cellphone after he shot video and the witness said, “Then he took my phone anyway because I didn’t want no problems. He emailed the incident to his phone.
The first witness said, “They didn’t take no for an answer apparently because they pulled one lady out of her vehicle to get it, and she wouldn’t give it up and they were about to arrest her and finally they let her go because I believe she gave it up.”
However, a third witness told ABC7 News he was ordered to erase his video. So he did. He said, “They were being kind of controlling, like demanding, ‘erase your phone’ and they were trying to take people’s phones away.”
No surprises here. Excessive force deployed, followed by a roundup of “witnesses,” which actually means recording equipment and not human beings. The police have no right to do this, but in far too many cases, they assume the public either doesn’t know this, or can easily be intimidated into complying with the unlawful request.
Here’s the absolute bullshit the police department handed over in defense of its ad hoc phone confiscation:
Antioch police told ABC7 News in a statement, “If a person is not willing to turn it over voluntarily, an officer can sometimes seize the device containing the video. The police would have to get a search warrant to retrieve the video from the device.”
As Carlos Miller points out, this is completely wrong and has been wrong for a few years now. Guidelines from the Department of Justice passed down in 2012 state the exact opposite. Police can ask for compliance, but they need to be extremely careful in how they ask.
A general order should provide officers with guidance on how to lawfully seek an individual’s consent to review photographs or recordings and the types of circumstances that do—and do not—provide exigent circumstances to seize recording devices, the permissible length of such a seizure, and the prohibition against warrantless searches once a device has been seized. Policies should include language to ensure that consent is not coerced, implicitly or explicitly…
Warrantless seizures are only permitted if an officer has probable cause to believe that the property “holds contraband or evidence of a crime” and “the exigencies of the circumstances demand it or some other recognized exception to the warrant requirement is present.”
Cops tend to claim that footage of police misconduct is “evidence” in order to justify warrantless cellphone seizures. It may very well be, but it’s the sort of evidence they want to hide, rather than the sort of evidence they’d like to retain. Note that the above officers ordered people to “delete” recordings, something they wouldn’t do if the recordings held actual evidence of a crime (or at least, a crime not committed by uniformed officers). Either way, crime or no crime, the police can’t just start seizing phones as “evidence.” The DOJ guidelines go on to say:
The Supreme Court has afforded heightened protection to recordings containing material protected by the First Amendment. An individual’s recording may contain both footage of a crime relevant to a police investigation and evidence of police misconduct.The latter falls squarely within the protection of First Amendment. See, e.g., Gentile v. State Bar of Nev., 501 U.S. 1030, 1034 (1991) (“There is no question that speech critical of the exercise of the State’s power lies at the very center of the First Amendment.”). The warrantless seizure of such material is a form of prior restraint, a long disfavored practice.
So, cops know — or should know — they can’t do this. And I firmly believe most of them know this. The problem is that they just don’t care. The quickest “fix” is swift seizures of recordings using baseless arrest threats and other forms of intimidation. It’s an instinctual closing of ranks. Once the requisite dozen or so officers needed to affect an arrest had been met, one of the officers originally in the one-sided melee stands back and says he wants “that cellphone and that cellphone.” Well, he can’t have them. Not legally. And yet, officers apparently got what they wanted — rather than what they could legally obtain — in the end.
A New Orleans police officer turned off her body cam before opening fire on a man who had escaped from her a week earlier.
Lisa Lewis shot the man in the forehead during a traffic stop, then shot at him again as he ran away, according to the lawyer of the man who remains hospitalized. He was wanted on warrants.
Not only did she turn off the camera, the department tried its best to downplay Monday’s incident, which they initially reported to the media as posted below:
According to a preliminary report from the New Orleans Police Department, an officer was in the area and heard gunshots and then had an altercation with a person and suffered a minor injury to the officer’s right hand.
The officer was taken to Tulane Hospital, police said.
No further information about the incident was made available in the preliminary report.
When the media found out about it anyway, New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas shrugged it off as a blunder.
NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas said his public information officer was supposed to issue a news release on Monday, but failed to do so — an action Serpas took responsibility for.
Serpas said NOPD Officer Lisa Lewis was conducting a traffic stop was injured and shot 26-year-old Armand Bennett.
Bennett was booked on five outstanding warrants, which included possession of a weapon, resisting an officer (Gretna), resisting an officer (New Orleans), possession of marijuana and criminal damage to property.
Bennett was listed in stable condition at a local hospital.
The department issued cameras to officers in January with Serpas proclaiming “this is the future of policing in America.”
Which is pretty much like the past in that they still control the message.
“Groups on the ground in St. Louis are calling for nationwide solidarity actions in support of Justice for Mike Brown and the end of police and extrajudicial killings everywhere.”
As they should. And we should all join in.
But “nationwide” and “everywhere” are odd terms to equate when discussing police militarization. Are we against extrajudicial killings (otherwise known as murder) by U.S. government employees and U.S. weapons in Pakistan? Yemen? Iraq? Gaza? And literally everywhere they occur? The militarization of local police in the United States is related to the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, which has now reached the point that bombing and “doing nothing” are generally conceived as the only two choices available. Local police are being militarized as a result of these factors:
- A culture glorifying militarization and justifying it as global policing.
- A federal government that directs roughly $1 trillion every year into the U.S. military, depriving virtually everything else of needed resources.
- A federal government that still manages to find resources to offer free military weapons to local police in the U.S. and elsewhere.
- Weapons profiteers that eat up local subsidies as well as federal contracts while funding election campaigns, threatening job elimination in Congressional districts, and pushing for the unloading of weapons by the U.S. military on local police as one means of creating the demand for more.
- The use of permanent wartime fears to justify the removal of citizens’ rights, gradually allowing local police to begin viewing the people they were supposed to protect as low-level threats, potential terrorists, and enemies of law and order in particular when they exercise their former rights to speech and assembly. Police “excesses” like war “excesses” are not apologized for, as one does not apologize to an enemy.
- The further funding of abusive policing through asset forfeitures and SWAT raids.
- The further conflation of military and police through the militarization of borders, especially the Mexican border, the combined efforts of federal and local forces in fusion centers, the military’s engagement in “exercises” in the U.S., and the growth of the drone industry with the military, among others, flying drones in U.S. skies and piloting drones abroad from U.S. land.
- The growth of the profit-driven prison industry and mass incarceration, which dehumanize people in the minds of participants just as boot camp and the nightly news do to war targets.
- Economically driven disproportionate participation in, and therefore identification with, the military by the very communities most suffering from its destruction of resources, rights, and lives.
But policing is not the only thing militarized by what President Eisenhower called the “total influence — economic, political, even spiritual” of the military industrial complex. Our morality is militarized, our entertainment is militarized, our natural world is militarized, and our education system is militarized. “Unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex” is not easily opposed while maintaining the military industrial complex. When Congress Members lend their support to a new war in Iraq while proposing that the U.S. Post Office and a dozen other decent things not be funded, they are speaking out of both sides of their mouths. The United States cannot live like other wealthy nations while dumping $1 trillion a year into a killing machine.
The way out of this cycle of madness in which we spend more just on recruiting someone into the military or on locking them up behind bars than we spend on educating them is to confront in a unified and coherent manner what Martin Luther King Jr. called the evils of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism. Not racism, extreme materialism, and what the military does to the local police. Not racism, extreme materialism, and what the military does to weapons testing sites. Not racism, extreme materialism, and what the military does to the people of Honduras causing them to flee to a land that then welcomes them with an attitude of militarism. Not any of these partial steps alone, but the whole package of interlocking evils of attitude and mindset.
There is a no-fly-zone over Ferguson, Missouri, because people in the U.S. government view the people of the United States increasingly as they view the people of other countries: as best controlled from the air. Notes the War Resister League,
“Vigils and protests in Ferguson – a community facing persistent racist profiling and police brutality – have been attacked by tear gas, rubber bullets, police in fully-armored SWAT gear, and tank-like personnel carriers. This underscores not only the dangers of being young, Black, and male in the US, but also the fear of mobilization and rebellion from within racialized communities facing the violence of austerity and criminalization.
“The parallels between the Israeli Defense Forces in Palestine, the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro, the Indian police in Kashmir, the array of oppressive armed forces in Iraq, and the LAPD in Skid Row could not be any clearer. . . .
“This is not happening by accident. What is growing the capacity of local police agencies to exercise this force are police militarization programs explicitly designed to do so. As St. Louis writer Jamala Rogers wrote in an article on the militarization of St. Louis Police this past April, ‘It became clear that SWAT was designed as a response to the social unrest of the 1960s, particularly the anti-war and black liberation movements.’ Federal programs such as DoD 1033 and 1122, and the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), in which St. Louis Police are active participants, provide weapons and training to police departments across the country, directly from the Pentagon. Commenting on the ominous growth of the phenomenon, Rogers continues: ‘and now, Police Chief [of St. Louis Police] Sam Dotson wants to add drones to his arsenal.’
“The events in Ferguson over these last few days demonstrate that the violence of policing and militarism are inextricably bound. To realize justice and freedom as a condition for peace, we must work together to end police militarization and violence.”
The War Resisters League is organizing against Urban Shield, an expo of military weapons for police and training event planned for Oakland, Calif., this September 4-8. The Week of Education and Action will take place in Oakland from August 30-September 5. Read all about it here.
David Swanson is a member of the National Committee of the War Resisters League. His new book is War No More: The Case for Abolition. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson.
The officer-involved shooting death of teenager Michael Brown this week and the subsequent protests across the United States have rekindled interest in another case of alleged excessive force blamed on the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department.
Nearly four years to the day before Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson opened fire and killed Brown, 18, a complaint filed in federal court accused the same law enforcement agency of violating the civil rights of a man who says he was badly beaten after being wrongly arrested, then later charged with “destruction of property” for bleeding on the uniforms of the cops alleged to have injured him.
On Friday, Michael Daly of The Daily Beast recounted the case of Henry Davis, an African-American welder who tried to sue the City of Ferguson after an autumn 2009 altercation with the same police department currently making headlines for the high-profile killing of Brown.
Davis, Daly recalled, was arrested on September 20, 2009 when a Ferguson cop mistook him for a man with the same first and last name wanted on an outstanding warrant. Davis was brought to the Police Department headquarters and told to spend the night in the same one-bed cell occupied by another individual. When he objected and asked for a sleeping mat of his own, his attorneys wrote, the officers got violent.
Officer John Beaird, the complaint reads, “called other officers to the area outside the cell and told the other officers that Plaintiff was being belligerent and failing to comply with his orders.” Five cops were soon in the area and, according to the suit, Officer Michael White charged Davis, grabbed him and then slammed him into a wall.
“A female police officer got on Plaintiff’s back and handcuffed Plaintiff with Plaintiff’s arms behind his back and lying on his stomach,” the complaint continues. “Just before Plaintiff was picked up to his feet, Defendant White rushed in the cell a second time and kicked Plaintiff in the head while Plaintiff was lying on the floor and handcuffed with his arms behind his back.”
“He ran in and kicked me in the head,” Davis recalled, according to The Daily Beast. “I almost passed out at that point… Paramedics came… They said it was too much blood, I had to go to the hospital.”
The detainee didn’t get help there, however, because he refused treatment unless the hospital staff would first photograph his injuries.
“I wanted a witness and proof of what they done to me,” Davis said, according to the website.
Instead, he was taken back to the jail, where he remained for several days until he could post $1,500 bond related to four counts of “property damage.” In a signed complaint, Daly wrote, Officer Beaird said David bled on his own uniform and those of three others officers.
When the issue was ultimately brought up during legal proceedings pertaining to the civil suit filed by Davis, Officers Christopher Pillarick, Beaird and White all denied getting blood on their outfits, the Beast reported.
“The contradictions between the complaint and the depositions apparently are what prompted the prosecutor to drop the ‘property damage’ allegation,” Daly wrote this week. “The prosecutor also dropped a felony charge of assault on an officer that had been lodged more than a year after the incident and shortly after Davis filed his civil suit.”
That same suit compelled the Ferguson Police Department to produce surveillance camera footage from the alleged altercation, but the cops failed to properly save the clip, James Schottel, the plaintiff’s lawyer, told Daly this week. Furthermore, the attorney explained that his efforts to obtain the use-of-force history for the officers involved proved futile when he became aware that reports involving non-fatal altercations were absent from all officers’ personnel files, per departmental policy.
“On Friday, police finally identified the officer as Darren Wilson, who is said to have no disciplinary record, as such records are kept in Ferguson,” Daly wrote this week. “We already know that he started out at a time when it was accepted for a Ferguson cop to charge somebody with property damage for bleeding on his uniform and later saying there was no blood on him at all.”
According to court papers obtained by RT, Magistrate Judge Nannette A. Baker ruled late last year in favor the city, halting Davis’ efforts to sue the city for multiple alleged violations of his civil rights. His attorneys filed a notice of appeal in March, and the case is currently slated to be considered later this year by the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Appellant presented a submissible case of excessive force and Missouri state law assault and battery and respectfully requests this Honorable Court to reverse the district court’s judgment of dismissal of Appellant’s excessive force and Missouri state law assault and battery claims against Appellees Michael White, John Beaird and Kim Tihen,” the appeal reads in part. “Appellant presented a submissible case of municipal liability and requests this Honorable Court to reverse the district court’s judgment of dismissal of Appellant’s municipal liability claim against Appellee City of Ferguson, Missouri.”
When The Daily Beast caught up this week with Schottel, Davis’ attorney, he told them that rumors of the Ferguson Police Department firing multiple shots at Brown last week didn’t surprise him.
“I said I already know about Ferguson, nothing new can faze me about Ferguson,” he told the website.
A white police officer in the United States killed a black person on average of twice per week from 2005 to 2012, according to homicide reports offered to the FBI. But this data is limited, as only about 4 percent of law enforcement agencies contributed.
There was an average of 96 such incidents out of at least 400 police killings each year that local police departments reported to the FBI, according to analysis conducted by USA Today.
The analysis comes in the wake of the fatal police shooting by a white officer of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri that has set off national outrage over US law enforcement’s aggressive use of deadly force, incongruent targeting of minorities, and a militarized posture that treats citizens as the enemy.
The FBI report shows that 18 percent of African-Americans killed during those seven years were under the age of 21. Whites killed that were under the age of 21 came out to 8.7 percent.
As USA Today noted, only around 750 agencies – out of the 17,000 law enforcement entities across the United States – offered such data to the FBI.
On top of the limited participation, the self-reported contents of the database are considered incomplete. The data are not audited after submission to the FBI, and information on “justifiable” homicides has often been at odds with independent statistics gathered on police fatalities.
”There is no national database for this type of information, and that is so crazy,” said Geoff Alpert, a criminologist at the University of South Carolina. “We’ve been trying for years, but nobody wanted to fund it and the (police) departments didn’t want it. They were concerned with their image and liability. They don’t want to bother with it.”
Alpert added that the limited FBI data – the most complete record of people killed by US police – can show that a death had occurred, but it is reliable for little else.
“I’ve looked at records in hundreds of departments, and it is very rare that you find someone saying, ‘Oh, gosh, we used excessive force.’ In 98.9 percent of the cases, they are stamped as justified and sent along,” Alpert told USA Today.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police, on the other hand, said police use of force is blown out of proportion. Based on data from the Bureau of Justices Statistics in 2008, the group said less than 2 percent of 40 million people who had contact with police passed along complaints that officers used or threatened force.
“In large part, the public perception of police use of force is framed and influenced by the media depictions which present unrealistic and often outlandish representations of law enforcement and the policing profession,” the group said in a 2012 report.
Nevertheless, many independent studies of police shootings in major US cities have come to the conclusion that minorities are disproportionately targeted for police violence.
“We need not look for individual racists to say that we have a culture of policing that is really rubbing salt into longstanding racial wounds,” NAACP president Cornell Williams Brooks told Mother Jones.
Brooks added that in the US, many people suspected of minor crimes are confronted with “overwhelmingly major, often lethal, use of force.”
Meanwhile, officers are rarely convicted or sentenced for killing a suspect.
“Unfortunately, the patterns that we’ve been seeing recently are consistent: The police don’t show as much care when they are handling incidents that involve young black men and women, and so they do shoot and kill,” said Delores Jones-Brown, law professor and director of the Center on Race, Crime, and Statistics at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, according to Mother Jones.
“And then for whatever reason, juries and prosecutor’s offices are much less likely to indict or convict.”
The US Justice Department is investigating at least 15 police agencies in the US for systemic abuse, including allegations of excessive force, racial profiling or false arrest.