Police Violence In Ferguson, Missouri: The Big Picture
As you may have heard, police and Swat teams in Ferguson, Missouri have fired tear gas and rubber bullets at peaceful protesters, and outlawed peaceful assembly.
Last night, two reporters, The Washington Post‘s Wesley Lowery and The Huffington Post‘s Ryan Reilly, were arrested and assaulted while working from a McDonald’s in Ferguson. The arrests were arbitrary and abusive, and received substantial attention — only because of their prominent platforms, not, as they both quickly pointed out upon being released, because there was anything unusual about this police behavior.
Reilly, on Facebook, recounted how he was arrested by “a Saint Louis County police officer in full riot gear, who refused to identify himself despite my repeated requests, purposefully banged my head against the window on the way out and sarcastically apologized.” He wrote: ”I’m fine. But if this is the way these officers treat a white reporter working on a laptop who moved a little too slowly for their liking, I can’t imagine how horribly they treat others.”
A state senator was teargassed along with protesters.
Congressman Amash tweets:
Images & reports out of
#Ferguson are frightening. Is this a war zone or a US city? Gov’t escalates tensions w/military equipment & tactics.
Someone identifying himself as an 82nd Airborne Army veteran, observing the Ferguson police scene, comment[ed] that “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone” …
If you want to visually see how extreme the reaction of police is in Ferguson, compare what’s going on in Ferguson to what’s happening in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan (or scroll through this page of pictures.)
What’s really going on? And how did we get here?
We explained in 2011:
Journalists from across the spectrum have documented the militarization of police forces in the United States, including, CNN, Huffington Post, the Cato Institute, Forbes, the New York Times, Daily Kos, Esquire, The Atlantic, Salon and many others.
Many police departments laugh at and harass Americans who exercise their right to free speech. Here’s one example of police laughing at a civil rights lawyer after she was shot in the head with a rubber bullet:
Indeed – especially since police brutality against protesters has been so blatant in recent months, while no top bank executives have been prosecuted – many Americans believe that the police are protecting the bankers whose fraud brought down the economy instead of the American people ….Some are comparing police brutality towards the Occupy protesters to that used by Israeli forces against Palestinian protesters. Indeed, numerous heads of U.S. police departments have traveled to Israel for “anti-terrorism training”, and received training from Israeli anti-terrorism experts visiting the U.S. See this, this, this, this, this.
Indeed, the Ferguson police chief received training in crowd control in Israel in 2011.
And Gaza residents are literally tweeting info on how to handle tear gas to help Ferguson citizens.
But they’re still blaming 9/11 as the reason for the militarization of the police. As we explained in 2011, that’s not accurate:
Most assume that the militarization of police started after 9/11. Certainly, Dick Cheney initiated Continuity of Government Plans on September 11th that ended America’s constitutional form of government (at least for some undetermined period of time.) On that same day, a national state of emergency was declared … and that state of emergency has continuously been in effect up to today.
But the militarization of police actually started long before 9/11 … in the 1980s.
Radley Balko testified before the House Subcommittee on Crime in 2007:
Militarization [of police forces is] a troubling trend that’s been on the rise in America’s police departments over the last 25 years.
Since the late 1980s, Mr. Chairman, thanks to acts passed by the U.S. Congress, millions of pieces of surplus military equipment have been given to local police departments across the country.
We’re not talking just about computers and office equipment. Military-grade semi-automatic weapons, armored personnel vehicles, tanks, helicopters, airplanes, and all manner of other equipment designed for use on the battlefield is now being used on American streets, against American citizens.
Academic criminologists credit these transfers with the dramatic rise in paramilitary SWAT teams over the last quarter century.
SWAT teams were originally designed to be used in violent, emergency situations like hostage takings, acts of terrorism, or bank robberies. From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, that’s primarily how they were used, and they performed marvelously.
But beginning in the early 1980s, they’ve been increasingly used for routine warrant service in drug cases and other nonviolent crimes. And thanks to the Pentagon transfer programs, there are now a lot more of them.
(And see this.)
Huffington Post notes:
Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper published an essay arguing that the current epidemic of police brutality is a reflection of the militarization (his word, not mine) of our urban police forces, the result of years of the “war on drugs” and the “war on terror. Stamper was chief of police during the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999, and is not a voice that can be easily dismissed.
And Jamie Douglas notes:
Ever since Ronald Reagan in 1981 helped draw up the Military Cooperation With Law Enforcement Act, quickly passed by a very cooperative congress, effectively circumventing the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 by codifying military cooperation with law enforcement, the military has been encouraged to give any and all law enforcement agencies unfettered access to all military resources, training and hardware included. The military equipment was designed to be used by American fighting forces in combat with “the enemy,” but since a law was passed in 1994, the Pentagon has been able to donate all surplus war materiel to America’s police departments. The National Journal has compiled a number of statistics showing that in the first three years after the 1994 law came into effect, the “Department of Offense” stocked police departments with 3800 M-16 assault rifles, 2185 M-14’s, 73 grenade launchers, and 112 armored personnel carriers, as well as untold number of bayonets, tanks, helicopters, and even some airplanes.
Regardless who will be in power in the future, the militarization of the police will continue. After all, who wants to appear as being soft on crime? These days, a chief of police’s office is like a doctor’s office, but instead of getting swamped with drug salesmen, they have very congenial visits with the merchants of popular oppression, the salesmen of weapons, various chemical agents, Tasers, body armor, and all kinds of tracking software, surveillance gear, and anything else the department may need for crowd control and to infiltrate dissidents, which are no more than US citizens wanting to restore the republic to its rightful place.
It’s not just intellectual property. The government is widely using anti-terror laws to help giant businesses … and to crush those who speak out against their abusive practices, labeling anyone who speaks out as a potential bad guy.
- Journalists are considered terrorists in modern America.
- Peaceful protest is considered terrorism. As one example, the FBI treated the peaceful protesters at the Occupy protests as terrorists. More here and here
- Americans have lost virtually all of our Constitutional rights
- The U.S. government considers the entire world – including American soil – to be a battlefield
As Greenwald writes:
Ultimately, police militarization is part of a broader and truly dangerous trend: the importation of War on Terror tactics from foreign war zones onto American soil. American surveillance drones went from Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia into American cities, and it’s impossible to imagine that they won’t be followed by weaponized ones. The inhumane and oppressive conditions that prevailed at Guantanamo are matched, or exceeded, by the super-max hellholes and “Communications Management Units” now in the American prison system. And the “collect-it-all” mentality that drives NSA domestic surveillance was pioneered by Gen. Keith Alexander in Baghdad and by other generals in Afghanistan, aimed at enemy war populations.
As part of America’s posture of Endless War, Americans have been trained to believe that everything is justified on the “battlefield” (now defined to mean “the whole world”): imprisonment without charges, kidnapping, torture, even assassination of U.S. citizens without trials. It is not hard to predict the results of importing this battlefield mentality onto American soil, aimed at American citizens: “From Warfighter to Crimefighter.” The results have been clear for those who have looked – or those who have been subject to this – for years. The events in Ferguson are, finally, forcing all Americans to watch the outcome of this process.