The US is Heading Into a Heavily Militarized Future

By Tom Englehardt
Beaver County Peace Links via TomDispatch

Feb 17, 2015 – I never fail to be amazed — and that’s undoubtedly my failing.  I mean, if you retain a capacity for wonder you can still be awed by a sunset, but should you really be shocked that the sun is once again sinking in the west? Maybe not.

The occasion for such reflections: machine guns in my hometown. To be specific, several weeks ago, New York Police Commissioner William J. Bratton announced the formation of a new 350-officer Special Response Group (SRG). Keep in mind that New York City already has a police force of more than 34,000 — bigger, that is, than the active militaries of Austria, Bulgaria, Chad, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kenya, Laos, Switzerland, or Zimbabwe — as well as its own “navy,” including six submersible drones. 

Just another drop in an ocean of blue, the SRG will nonetheless be a squad for our times, trained in what Bratton referred to as “advanced disorder control and counterterror.”  It will also, he announced, be equipped with “extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and machine guns — unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances.” And here’s where he created a little controversy in my hometown.  The squad would, Bratton added, be “designed for dealing with events like our recent protests or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris.”

Now, that was an embarrassment in liberal New York.  By mixing the recent demonstrations over the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others into the same sentence with the assault on Mumbai and the Charlie Hebdo affair in France, he seemed to be equating civil protest in the Big Apple with acts of terrorism.  Perhaps you won’t be surprised then that the very next day the police department started walking back the idea that the unit would be toting its machine guns not just to possible terror incidents but to local protests.  A day later, Bratton himself walked his comments back even further. (“I may have in my remarks or in your interpretation of my remarks confused you or confused the issue.”)  Now, it seems there will be two separate units, the SRG for counterterror patrols and a different, assumedly machine-gun-less crew for protests.

Here was what, like the sun going down in the west, shouldn’t have shocked me but did: no one thought there was any need to walk back the arming of the New York Police Department with machine guns for whatever reasons.  The retention of such weaponry should, of course, have been the last thing to shock any American in 2015.  After all, the up-armoring and militarization of the police has been an ongoing phenomenon since 9/11, even if it only received real media attention after the police, looking like an army of occupation, rolled onto the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, in response to protests over the killing of Michael Brown.

In fact, the Pentagon (and the Department of Homeland Security) had already shunted $5.1 billion worth of military equipment, much of it directly from the country’s distant battlefields — assault rifles, land-mine detectors, grenade launchers, and 94,000 of those machine guns — to local police departments around the country.  Take, for example, the various tank-like, heavily armored vehicles that have now become commonplace for police departments to possess.  (Ferguson, for instance, had a “Bearcat,” widely featured in coverage of protests there.)

Since 2013, the Pentagon has transferred for free more than 600 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs, worth at least half a million dollars each and previously used in U.S. war zones, to various “qualified law enforcement agencies.” Police departments in rural areas like Walsh County, North Dakota (pop. 11,000) now have their own MRAPs, as does the campus police department at Ohio State University.  It hardly matters that these monster vehicles have few uses in a country where neither ambushes nor roadside bombs are a part of everyday life. (Continued)

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Two Police Officers Were Killed In Brooklyn…

…But There Is No Blood on Our hands

By Frank Chapman

While we have joined ‘Black Lives Matter’ in condemning the murders of two Brooklyn police officers Rafael Ramos and Wejian Lui; we also find it necessary to state our opinion as to the dangers our movement faces at this time.

Patrick Lynch, President of the Policemen Benevolence Association, told the protestors they have blood on their hands and he said, “The Blood on hands starts at…City Hall.” And he further stated, “For the first time in a number of years we have become a ‘wartime’ police department. We will act accordingly.”

Is there really anybody in the struggle against racist injustice who is asleep on the racist, reactionary politics of the police unions? Well if so you are about to get a wake-up call because the harsh and insulting words they had for the Mayor of New York City is just the opening shot. They do not share our vision of justice and they are using, even as we speak, the cop killings in Brooklyn to create public hysteria so they can unleash vindictive acts of violence against African Americans and then brutally repress anyone who dares to protest.

We will be called upon to stop protesting so as not to further inflame the situation. We will be told that there are "Black terrorists" lurking in our movement and we will be asked to publicly denounce them without knowing who the hell they are talking about. And then we will wake up too late and find out that they are talking about all of us. The only viable weapon we have right now is mass protests and building a movement to end police violence and mass incarceration and all forms of racist, political and economic injustice.

We should not lay our weapons down when our enemies are calling for war. Let us continue to protest for the justice we deserve.

Frank Chapman works with the National Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression in Chicago

How Runaway Economic Inequality and Racism Are Linked to Police Killings


By Les Leopold

Dec 15, 2014 – Why are white cops shooting unarmed black men?

On one level the story is simple: racism. Too many police officers fear people of color in the neighborhoods they patrol, and are likely to over-react with force during encounters. The local courts also engage in discrimination by failing to indict the killers, even when captured on video, as in the brutal police slaying of Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY. Both the policing and the court system obviously reflect the polarization of our communities, and our inability to escape the legacy of slavery, more than 150 years after emancipation.

But racism only accounts for part of the story. We also must understand how judicial racism and even police violence are deeply connected to the financialization of the economy and runaway inequality.

It is not by accident that America has become both the most unequal developed nation in the world, and the nation with the largest prison population. We’re number one in police killings, incarceration and inequality—not Russia, not China. Our national self-image so steeped in the idea of freedom has not caught up with these ugly realities.

Racism is has been with us for centuries, but something very new happened in America around 1980 that set the stage for these police killings. Something very big is transforming us into the first democratic police state in human history.

Incarceration Nation

Please look carefully at the chart below, and consider the history of American racism, violence and protest.

From 1920 to around 1980, the American prison population held steady, even as our population grew rapidly. One could easily argue that racism was much more virulent during this period, especially in the Jim Crow South, from the hundreds of lynchings in the 1920s to violent repression of civil rights activists in the 1950s and ’60s. So unless you believe that racism changed for the worse since 1980, then it alone can not possibly account for the explosive rise of the prison population.

Even during the turbulent 1960s with its many demonstrations, and violent inner-city upheavals, the prison population hardly budged. Similarly, Nixon’s infamous war on drugs, launched in June 1971, also did not boost the prison population during the 1970s.

Then something major changed to send the prison population soaring. What happened?

The explosive rise of the American prison population

Most explanations focus on complexities of the shift to mandatory sentencing. Judges were compelled by harsh new sentencing laws to jail even those convicted of minor crimes, and to hand out sentences much longer than appropriate to the infraction. Because of urban housing segregation by race and income, lower income neighborhoods experienced higher crime rates, made even higher by the futile enforcement of drug prohibition. As the police enforcement increased, a disproportionate number of people of color were funneled into prison. Although non-Hispanic blacks form only 13.6 of the U.S. population, they are 39.4 percent of the prison population [3]. The prison population further swelled with bigger backlogs in under-funded courts, bail that cannot be met, and inadequate legal services for the poor.

But the gargantuan climb in our prison population also corresponds with the dramatic rise in inequality. (The chart below compares the incomes of the top 1 percent with the bottom 90%. Note how the gap rises virtually in lockstep with the rise in our prison population.) This uncanny correspondence suggests that we must consider other explanations that explore the links between runaway inequality and runaway incarceration.

The Financialization of the Economy and the Destruction of Good-Paying Industrial Jobs

America adopted draconian conservative economic policies starting in the late 1970s with the advent of the Better Business Climate model. The idea was to cut taxes on the rich and deregulate business, especially Wall Street. That combination was supposed to put money in the hands of the few, who would then heavily invest it in our economy, thereby creating an enormous economic boom. Good jobs and rising incomes for all those willing to work would soon follow. It didn’t happen. Instead these Better Business Climate policies led to runaway inequality, the destruction of middle-income jobs, and wage-stagnation for the vast majority of working people.

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