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The Militarization of the Police

The 99 vs. the 1 %

The always excellent Glenn Greenwald posted this look at the UC Davis protest, putting it into the context of larger changes that have taken place as a reaction to 9/11.

Increasingly, the measures forced through in the Patriot Act are not being used to root out and fight terrorism, but to stamp out dissent at home.

These new powers have emboldened police and exacerbated long-standing trends in this country in response to protesters — especially ones that actually challenge the wealthy.

Bullet points from Greenwald’s piece:

(1) Free speech guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution has historically been subverted by the reality of violent police and state response to protesters.

Pervasive police abuses and intimidation tactics applied to peaceful protesters — pepper-spray, assault rifles, tasers, tear gas and the rest — not only harm their victims but also the relationship of the citizenry to the government and the set of core political rights. Implanting fear of authorities in the heart of the citizenry is a far more effective means of tyranny than overtly denying rights. That’s exactly what incidents like this are intended to achieve.

(2) After 9/11 two developments have fueled the default police reaction to political protest.

  • The para-militarization of police forces (arming them with military-style weapons, technology and training).
  • Increasing support for the authoritarian mentality, using the War on Terror as a justification to violate the rights of “troublemakers” on American soil

It’s anything but surprising that a country that has cheered as its Presidents seize the most limitless powers against allegedly Bad People — all as part of the ultimate instrument of citizen degradation: Endless War — cheer just as loudly when that same mindset is applied at home to domestic trouble-makers. The supreme threat has never been from foreign Terrorists, but rather from what was done by our own public- and private-sector authorities (and the mentality they successfully implanted) in their name.

(3) The Occupy Wall Street movement has not only been valuable in shedding light on how power actually works in America, it has provided powerful imagery that underscores the inequality of treatment of different Americans.

What’s most striking about that UC-Davis video isn’t the depraved casualness of the officer’s dousing the protesters’ faces with a chemical agent; it’s how most of the protesters resolutely sat in place and refused to move even when that happened, while the crowd chanted support (this video, taken from a slightly different vantage point, vividly shows this, beginning at 4:15). We’ve repeatedly seen acts of similar courage spawned by the Occupy movement.

Greenwald correctly states that it is when the Bloombergs and campus police thugs across the country tip their hand and demonstrate who they really work for that people pay attention and start to internalize that America has awry.

In an update to his post, Greenwald illustrates an essential point:

Regarding the last point — the uniquely effective, inspiring activism this movement is spawning — here is video of Chancellor Katehi walking to her car while being forced to confront a wall of silent condemnation and shaming. It’s not the accountability she should face (firing), but one can see from this video that it’s quite potent nonetheless; moreover, it really reveals who the actual threats are to public safety — not the protesters but rather those using force against them.

Matt Taibbi, commenting on the same issue in Rolling Stone reasonably extends part of the blame to Obama:

The main thing is that the frenzied dissolution of due process and individual rights that took took place under George Bush’s watch, and continued uncorrected even when supposed liberal constitutional lawyer Barack Obama took office, has now come full circle and become an important element to the newer political controversy involving domestic/financial corruption and economic injustice.

Taibbi provides a concise chronicle of how our rights eroded and our protectors became agents of power to be feared and distrusted:

Again, when we abandoned our principles in order to use force against terrorists and drug dealers, the answer to the question, What are we defending? started to change.

The original answer, ostensibly, was, “We are defending the peaceful and law-abiding citizens of the United States, their principles, and everything America stands for.”

Then after a while it became, “We’re defending the current population of the country, but we can’t defend the principles so much anymore, because they weigh us down in the fight against a ruthless enemy who must be stopped at all costs.”

Then finally it became this: “We are defending ourselves, against the citizens who insist on keeping their rights and their principles.”

Now that they are lost, it will be extremely difficult to restore these freedoms.

I find it ironic that those who claim to fear and distrust state power and government in general seem to be the ones cheering the police on against the protesters.

What is clear is that the police-military apparatus is not ultimately being directed by everyday American citizens. It is being wielded by the powerful corporations who control them.



November 23, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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