I’m talking about what the Young Black male is in the eyes of the police, not in the eyes of we average citizens, not in the eyes of all who know, who teach, and who nurture young Black boys, those of us who are hurt and outraged now--the Blacks who are bitter and angry, the Anglos who are saying, ‘hey, wait just a minute here, another Black boy shot?? This is not supposed to still be happening in MY lifetime, my middle school civics textbooks told me so’.
Not in YOUR eyes, reader, but in the eyes of the Po-Po’s, in the eyes of J Nab, of One-Time, of the Shark-in-the-Dark, Justice in a Can, John Law, Johnny Take Down, the Smooth Cruise, the Cops, the Jaw Breakers, the Screw Crew, the Concrete Justice Squad, the Chokers, the Shakedowns, Sudden Deathers, the Cocaine Thieves, the Occupation Army (just a few of the affectionate names for the police we use here in Detroit).
In THEIR eyes a young Black man is a ('potential') criminal, animal, oversexed, hulking, threatening, beast with superhuman strength who must be shoot five, nine, thirty times even if unarmed, who can and will yank the squad car door clean off and pull the officer of the Law out with one hand like Mighty Joe Young, and bite that officer’s penis off, then hurl him 100 yards through the air like a rag into a wall then saunter over to stamp the officer’s head flat as a pumpkin. Unarmed? No Black male beast is ever without arms--his ARMS are his arms.
The police are racist, yes, but it goes far deeper than that; the police are an occupation force in ethnic Brown and Black communities, period. In 2014, long after the idealistic TV images of 'Adam 12', 'The Rookies,' 'NYPD', and 'Cagney and Lacey', back when 3 out of 10 schoolchildren when asked would say they wanted to be 'the policeman who protects people some day', the present-day police in abandoned, unemployed, crumbling urban America are like the rear-guard on the frontiers of a collapsing Roman Empire, left behind just like the 'barbarians' they guard local property against.
One of the chief concerns of what used to be 'citizens' police review boards' and of various city hall citizen consultants, community organizers, citizen lobby groups such as ACORN, and public policy auxiliaries to city council committees, was not just police brutality but the underlying economic causes of police brutality (going deeper than simple 'racism'): lack of community policing; lack of cops trained well enough to walk a beat, not just cruise the streets; a representative ethnic makeup to local police forces that mirror the ethnic makeup of the communities they police; the extant powerlessness, economic and political, of poor, Black, and Latino communities; the overall economic health of the cities themselves and of their economic base; and most of all, the issues of segregation, of red lining, of blue lining, and the occupation mentality that arises from these social, political, and economic injustices once they become fatally STRUCTURAL and SYSTEMIC.
The loss of democracy in America, combined with the relentless ratcheting up of economic injustice over the past thirty years, and a collapse of social mobility, education, and employment, (matching the disappearance of citizens' review, political auxiliaries, community organizations, and citizen consultancy) all create the atmosphere in which the racism, corruption, and out-and-out violence of inner city police grows and thrives. We can assume, in advance of the details that will surely come about Ferguson police and about the particular currently unknown cop who murdered Michael Brown, that his murderer was, or was a cohort among, the kind of cops who in large numbers in urban America, are pension and salary-reduced due to austerity, are middle tier state school (or even increasingly online and low tier for profit college) criminal justice program graduates, are failures, many, on their last go at passing the detectives' exam, are filled with myths by the local police academy, are seeing their traditionally racist national union losing clout steadily, and are the PENULTIMATE consumers of semiotic myths about Blackness and about young Black masculinity.
If we multiply every fearful stereotype, every dehumanizing racist, sexist, White supremacist fantasy that every comparatively well-spoken, politically crafty inner city police commissioner for the past generation might have or might have learned from Hollywood, by a HUNDRED we get the beat cop. The beat cop is the much less sophisticated, politically careless, non-articulate (at least when it comes to communicating rationally with the citizens he patrols) guardian not of citizen safety but of local commercial property and the exact degree of civil order that allows daily business to function and turn a profit. He is often an Anglo (but sometimes a just as disconsolate Black), over-equipped, under-educated, over-stressed unto PTSD, divorced, sometimes alcoholic, even sometimes drug addicted, 'spam in a can' enforcer of occupation, alienated as hell from his (or her) assigned patrol community, and saddled with yes, a typically American urban police mentality that includes racism.
1. Why did the cop get so bent out of shape by these kids walking in the street? (Why do YOU and ME get bent out of shape? You urban readers, you know you do. If you live in more depressed urban centers or in underemployed Black exurbs like Ferguson, in the inner cities of Chicago South, Detroit East, Philly South, NYC Bronx, LA West, or where ever American city streets have become broken, dilapidated, overgrown, with few or no sidewalks left as passable, young Black people WALK IN THE STREET, because America is now a 3rd World nation, a debtor nation, a nation whose neglected infrastructure is collapsing, and people cannot walk on many of the sidewalks anymore–poor and working class Black neighborhoods don’t even HAVE sidewalks anymore, not from street to street. I see it every day in Detroit, and it annoys me to have people walking where I need to be driving. Well, It doesn’t just annoy the police, it frightens them, it triggers them, it upsets their instincts, it makes them crazy, jumpy, AFRAID because they dread seeing beasts who might shoot them as they drive by, walking in the street--I've observed this irrational behavior among Detroit police, most of whom are Black).
2. Why did this cop attack not the smaller, dread-locked, more intelligent, more articulate, in fact uncannily articulate friend of Michael Brown, who was the one talking back to him in the first place (and now ironically is the one speaking and talking and witnessing and talking and TALKING in the media right now in his very well turned southern accent, his very competent vocabulary, his very sympathetic calm, respectful objectivity about his friend’s murder, hammering those coffin nails into this cop’s judicial fate with each well-turned phrase)? Better he had attacked THAT young man, not Michael. Why did he kill Michael? Because he FEARED big, strapping Michael, even if he didn’t even know he feared him. He might even have been planning, when he pushed his door open so violently and hit the two boys, only to have the cruiser door bounce back and hit him, to harass the one who was TALKING, but when that door hit Michael, Big Mike, the cop’s innate, American, Anglo, racist CONDITIONING took over and he reached out and took Big Mike by the throat, I'm guessing, and ultimately shot Michael in the face. When he drew his gun, Michael, who was no fool, RAN, perhaps ran having already sustained a facial gunshot wound. Running is what I would have done. Michael looked at that gun, looked into that cop’s eyes and saw what was to come, as I have seen myself, in the past. Luckily for me, the Detroit cops never drew on me–they simply beat me senseless with clubs, and I count myself lucky it was clubs, not guns. Yeah, Ivy League degree possessing, university professor scholarship boy me. too. America is a tough town if you’re Black.
3. Why did he shoot at an UNARMED Black boy IN THE FACE, REPORTEDLY, unnecessarily, and then shoot him multiple times even though his arms were raised? Didn't he know he would go down for that? See #1 Above.
Finally, here's some international context: remember Tienanmen Square in China? Remember the huge pro-democracy demonstrations carried out by young, college aged Chinese people in their capital city? Remember how the Chinese ruling class reacted, despite the fact that 35-50 percent of those crowds were night-to-night composed of their own, literal, CHILDREN (reports varied on the percentages, but it is a FACT that some percentage of those kids were children of the straight up, pig foot vinegar funk dunked RULING ELITES, and they rolled tanks over those kids, their own kids, to break their protests up):
America, China, Gaza (pictures of Black men and their children on their knees in the street with cops pointing guns at them look JUST LIKE Gaza, don’t they??), Ferguson, NY City, it’s all the same thing–you and me are in SOME TROUBLE.
The only way at this point this won’t engulf us all, all Americans Black, Anglo, or whatever, is if we unite, put MILLIONS of people in the street, and take back our democracy.
Sorry my Black people, but too many of our instincts are obsolete. You still think racism is about race, about YOU. You Anglos who want to sympathize, are making the same mistake–it’s not about your Black friends and your children’s Black friends at college, or even your Black brother in law, its about YOU. Check out those plentiful videos of young Whites getting the mess beat out of them and getting shot at and gassed last year.
I won’t even bother saying to progressive Anglos ‘what they do to me now they will be doing to you later’ because they are already doing it, and if you haven’t already figured that out by now then just go back to your righteous outrage and post more ‘poor Black people’ comments on ABAGOND, I’m not talking to you. My alternate take is this: the ONLY way Ferguson will get any response out of the authorities, as MLK himself realized and as the history, not famtasy but history of the 60’s and 70’s clearly document, is not with ‘civil rights’ marches that end with them being shot at, corralled by cop armies like pigs as we’ve seen on TV and on NEWSONE (http://newsone.com/3043932/kmovs-brittany-noble-reports-from-the-frontlines-in-ferguson-mo-video/), and having dogs surround them, but by taking a cue from the looters (and from American history) and recognizing that NO URBAN UPRISING from 1968 to the present has ever succeeded in changing public policy without presenting a direct threat to BUSINESS, to corporate PROFITS, and to capitalism as usual.
The looters are damaging their own communities and making no real difference in future public policy other than to expose themselves to injury and death at the hands of the sophisticated weaponry the police all have now thanks to the Patriot Act. But those who criticize the looters for not being ‘peaceful’ and ‘non violent’ are fools. That is because the ruling class in Feguson already understand what I am saying and have not been protecting the homes and businesses of Blacks or the working class, but have been cutting off access roads to the LOCAL MALLS and surrounding CORPORATE BUILDINGS. The looters, as always, are being contained, so guess what? Those looters must be at least on the right track.
The lesson the looters demonstrate as in the 60’s, is that WE all have to JOIN TOGETHER as a population to put MILLIONS into the streets to STOP BUSINESS in this country, to TURN AROUND THE CONGRESS, to ELECT an actual president (I don’t know, maybe Elizabeth Warren, or how about Cornel West??) who CAN over rule the Republican legislature because we voted republicans OUT of the legislature, and because we ended CAPITALISM as USUAL.
That’s gonna be a big step and a big decision for Black people, because We love capitalism, and useless consumption, status, gold lame, gilt, houses, cars, all as signs of ‘suck-sess’ and even of ‘freedom’. We have swallowed the lie that money can save us, but we need, now more than ever, to wake up and look at whose blood is on that money we think can save us–it’s our own blood as well as the blood of Asians, Africans, Arabs, Latin Americans, and the peasants of the Earth. Increasingly, it is the blood of every fellow American citizen.
THAT’s what Michael Brown’s death means, and the deaths of all the other Michael Browns and OCCUPYers to come, really means.
So let me get this straight. You mean to tell me that it's quite alright to savagely slaughter an innocent unarmed teenager walking down the street but it's not alright for us to know even the identity of the vicious coldblooded murderer who did it? Oh...I see...the teenager was BLACK and the murderer was WHITE (with a badge) so that makes it A-OK. Right? Oh I see now...what was I thinking? That the black teenager's life was at least as important as that of the unidentified murderer...Excuse me, my bad, I must have lost my mind for a second there...This is the citadel of White Supremacist Law and Domination after all,,,As usual we must remember that these United Snakes remain as always the eternal domain of the 3H Club (Hatred, Hubris, and Hypocrisy)...
Missouri police officer’s name withheld in shooting of teen
Death threats and unrest make it unsafe to identify the officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, the police chief says.
BY MATT PEARCE
LOS ANGELES TIMES
FERGUSON, Mo. — As demonstrators gathered for the fourth straight day Tuesday, the Ferguson, Missouri, Mo., police chief said that because of death threats he will not publicly release the name of the police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager whose killing has roiled racial tensions in the St. Louis suburb.
The parents of Michael Brown, 18, who was shot multiple times Saturday during a street confrontation with a Ferguson police officer, have called on authorities to release the name of the officer and prosecute him. Local law enforcement authorities and the Justice Department have launched parallel investigations into the shooting.
Protesters drop to their knees and raise their arms during a rally in Clayton, Mo., on Tuesday for Michael Brown Jr., who was shot and killed by a police officer Saturday. The Associated Press
On Monday, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said he would reveal the identity of the officer by noon Tuesday. But after threats were made to the police department and on social media, a spokesman for the department said it is not safe at this time to release the officer’s name.
The announcement comes after another night of unrest Monday, albeit smaller than the previous night, when vandals broke windows, looted and damaged 12 businesses in Ferguson.
In Monday night’s standoff, police in riot gear fired tear gas into crowds of protesters and arrested up to 15 people.
The heated protests in part have reflected the racial divisions in Ferguson, population 21,000, where two-thirds of residents are black but police and city officials are predominantly white. Black leaders have called for nonviolent demonstrations to address racism in the Ferguson and greater St. Louis police departments.
“The unrest that has taken place in the wake of Mr. Brown’s death at the hands of police is the unfortunate result of the understandable pain and frustration felt by that community,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund Inc. “That pain and frustration are mirrored in communities across this country where unarmed black teens and adults have been killed by police and civilians. These feelings must be met with proactive efforts to address to what is clearly a deeply flawed system of police and civilian responses to perceived black criminality.”
On Monday the Justice Department announced an investigation in conjunction with the separate county police inquiry.
The killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, has sparked outrage and protests. Brown, a young African-American man, was unarmed. Jeffrey Brown gets reaction from Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Greg Meyer, former captain of the Los Angeles Police Department.
GWEN IFILL: Now to a police shooting of a Missouri teenager that sparked racial tension, violence and looting in a Saint Louis suburb over the weekend.
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Jeffrey Brown has the story.
JEFFREY BROWN: It was all set in motion Saturday, when 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot repeatedly by a police officer in the Saint Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was unarmed and witnesses maintained he was an innocent victim.
WOMAN: He was running. And then he turned around and put his arms up. He just stopped, put his hands up after he had gotten shot repeatedly.
JEFFREY BROWN: The chief of police of Saint Louis County, who’s leading the investigation, said the incident began with a scuffle.
JON BELMAR, Chief, Saint Louis County, Missouri: It is our understanding at this point in the investigation that within the police car there was a struggle over the officer’s weapon. There was at least one shot fired within the car.
JEFFREY BROWN: The officer was placed on administrative leave. His identity and race were not released.
But the killing sparked outrage and protests yesterday afternoon. And demonstrations continued into the night. Then came a candlelight vigil that began peacefully, but turned violent, as some protesters looted stores and vandalized cars in a confrontation with police.
The mayor said a small group caused the trouble; 32 people were arrested.
Charlie Dooley is the county’s executive.
CHARLIE DOOLEY, Saint Louis County Executive: We’re on top of this situation. We understand their frustration. We understand their concern. We are asking that all the public be calm, be patient and be prayerful.
JEFFREY BROWN: Another vigil and protest march were held today.
And Brown’s parents spoke at a news conference.
LESLEY MCSPADDEN, Victim’s mother: That’s my firstborn son. Anybody that know me knew how I felt about my son. I just wish I could have been there to help him, anything. He didn’t deserve that.
JEFFREY BROWN: And the FBI confirmed it is reviewing the shooting for possible civil rights violations.
It’s the latest such case since the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012 by a neighborhood watch member in Florida. Last month, in New York City, another black man, Eric Garner, died after being put in a chokehold by police, according to a medical examiner.
And in Los Angeles, onlookers videotaped Marlene Pinnock as she was beaten by a California Highway Patrol officer.
We get reaction now from Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, and Greg Meyer, a former captain for the Los Angeles Police Department who’s written on and testified in use-of-force cases around the country.
Well, Sherrilyn Ifill, let me start with you. It’s still early in this investigation. What do you think are the most important facts to learn and who is best to determine them?
SHERRILYN IFILL, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund: Well, I think would be terrific if we learned the name of the officer and something about his record on the force, obviously the eyewitness accounts — and they are conflicting eyewitness accounts — between residents of the community who say they observed what happened, and what we are hearing from the police department.
We don’t know the name of the officer or anything about him. I think we’re entitled to know that. He is a public servant. And so we’re going to know what happened during that encounter between Mike Wood (sic) and the police.
Frankly, the account that we have heard about this struggle for the gun is all too familiar and, frankly, raises a lot of questions. And so we need an investigation to happen. I’m pleased that the FBI has joined — they have not taken over — it’s a concurrent investigation.
But we need an investigation to happen quickly. And we need answers quickly. We are still waiting for charges in the Eric Garner case. And I think these are the kinds of things that are creating frustration within communities around the country.
JEFFREY BROWN: Let me ask Greg Meyer.
From a police perspective, when you have these kinds of questions over use of deadly force, what has to come out? What are the important facts that you want to see brought out?
GREG MEYER, Former Captain, Los Angeles Police Department: Well, first of all, the investigations tend not to happen quickly. They tend to be very thorough and they take some time.
What has to happen here is a realization that this officer was in this situation. You’re going to get that officer’s statement. You’re going to get witness statements. I’m not aware that there is any video or audio evidence in this case.
If there is, all of that would be part of what’s analyzed too. Ultimately, the system will decide, through policy review, training review and legal review, was this officer’s actions reasonable under the Constitution of the United States? We’re not going to know for some time how to evaluate that.
And I would just add briefly, about 10 percent of all officers that are murdered in this country each year in modern times are murdered with their own handgun. That’s down from 20 percent a generation ago, because I think we’re getting better at retaining our weapons.
But the struggle over the gun is a big question in this case that will have to be answered.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Sherrilyn Ifill, you can respond to that and I want you to pick up on where you ended. What — we saw the strong response in the community and nationwide. Tell us where that’s coming from.
SHERRILYN IFILL: Well, I think there is a local response that has to do with the relationship between the African-American community and the constabulary in Ferguson, which I think bears some investigation as well.
If you look at the statistics involving arrests, stops and so forth in that town prepared by their police department, African-Americans are the subject of 90 percent of the stops, whether in vehicles, whether on the street, whether on local roads, whether on the highway.
And, interestingly, however, the greatest amount of contraband that’s found happens with stops of white residents. So I think there may be a local story that needs to come out. But there’s also a national story. You just alluded to several of the incidents. I talked about Eric Garner.
We know that a man was killed in the Wal-Mart in Ohio last week by police officers who was unarmed. We saw the disgusting video of Ms. Pinnock being brutally beaten on a highway by a California police officer. And that’s just in the last few months. These incident goes back decades.
We could rattle off names and use up the entire NewsHour doing so of cases of police-involved attacks, shootings, assaults on unarmed African-Americans. And so I think the larger issue is about the way in which the police force in cities all over this country engage with unarmed, nonviolent African-Americans, the perception of criminality when African-Americans are seen, and the often violent and disproportionately violent response of police officers who are trained and should be trained public servants, trained in defusing situations.
The gun should be the last resort, and, too often, we see it as the first resort.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, let me ask Greg Meyer.
Do you sense that police forces around the country see cases like this as part of a systemic problem? And to what extent are they responding to it and retraining to respond?
GREG MEYER: Well, I think every incident is different, whether it’s an African-American person involved or not.
There’s more and more training going on, and more and more training programs being developed on, for example, how to handle mentally ill people. There’s more and more court oversight. I know in the Ninth Circuit out in the Western United States, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued at least one opinion where they’re looking not just at the moment that force was used, as was what was traditionally looked at, but also what’s leading up to it.
What tactics are the officers engaging in before they go in and use force on someone? So it’s an evolving issue. We’re going to see more and more videos.
GREG MEYER: I mean, police officers have videos on their bodies in many cities now. That’s only going to increase, in addition to all the other videos that we know are out there.
JEFFREY BROWN: Just very briefly, in our last minute, Mr. Meyer, do you sense, though, that police forces understand the anger that this quickly arouses in communities around the country?
GREG MEYER: Oh, sure, especially in the big places, New York, Los Angeles, other big cities.
These things happen with more frequency than they do in the smaller jurisdictions, for sure. So, the police officers get some experience with understanding the frustration that’s out there, the anger that’s out there. Videos especially drive people emotionally. And we’re a nation of laws, not emotion.
JEFFREY BROWN: OK.
And, Sherrilyn Ifill, just in 20 seconds, please, a last — a last word?
SHERRILYN IFILL: Dead children actually drive people emotionally even more than videos, people who are unarmed, watching a man be choked to death on nationwide television who clearly is unarmed.
Those things actually arouse, and appropriately arouse, emotion. And they shouldn’t arouse the emotions just of African-Americans, but of every American. We are a nation of laws. And we want police officers to be accountable to the law, just as the citizenry should be as well.
GREG MEYER: Absolutely.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Sherrilyn — Sherrilyn Ifill and Greg Meyer, thank you both very much.
Not Just Ferguson: 11 Eye-Opening Facts About America’s Militarized Police Forces
August 13, 2014
by Alex Kane
Moyers & Company
[This post originally appeared at AlterNet.]
Police wearing riot gear try to disperse a crowd Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri. Authorities in Ferguson used tear gas and rubber bullets to try to disperse a large crowd Monday night. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
The “war on terror” has come home — and it’s wreaking havoc on innocent American lives. The culprit is the militarization of the police.
The weapons that destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq have made their way to local law enforcement. While police forces across the country began a process of militarization — complete with SWAT teams and flash-bang grenades — when President Reagan intensified the “war on drugs,” the post-9/11 “war on terror” has added fuel to the fire.
Through laws and regulations like a provision in defense budgets that authorizes the Pentagon to transfer surplus military gear to police forces, local law enforcement agencies are using weapons found on the battlefields of South Asia and the Middle East.
A recent New York Times article by Matt Apuzzo reported that in the Obama era, “police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.” The result is that police agencies around the nation possess military-grade equipment, turning officers who are supposed to fight crime and protect communities into what looks like an invading army. And military-style police raids have increased in recent years, with one count putting the number at 80,000 such raids last year.
In June, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought more attention to police militarization when it issued a comprehensive, nearly 100-page report titled, War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing. Based on public records requests to more than 260 law enforcement agencies in 26 states, the ACLU concluded that this police militarization “unfairly impacts people of color and undermines individual liberties, and it has been allowed to happen in the absence of any meaningful public discussion.”
The information contained in the ACLU report — and in other investigations into the phenomenon — is sobering. From the killing of innocent people to the almost complete lack of debate on these policies, police militarization has turned into a key issue for Americans. It is harming civil liberties, ramping up the “war on drugs,” impacting the most marginalized members of society and transforming neighborhoods into war zones. Here are 11 important — and horrifying — things you should know about the militarization of police.
1. It harms, and sometimes kills, innocent people. When you have heavily armed police officers using flash-bang grenades and armored personnel carriers, innocent people are bound to be hurt. The likelihood of people being killed is raised by the practice of SWAT teams busting down doors with no warning, which leads some people to think it may be a burglary and try to defend themselves. The ACLU documented seven cases of civilians dying in these kinds of raids, and 46 people being injured. That’s only in the cases the civil liberties group looked at, so the true number is actually higher.
Take the case of Tarika Wilson, which the ACLU summarizes. The 26-year-old biracial mother lived in Lima, Ohio. Her boyfriend, Anthony Terry, was wanted by the police on suspicion of drug dealing. So on January 4, 2008, a SWAT team busted down Wilson’s door and opened fire. A SWAT officer killed Wilson and injured her one-year-old baby, Sincere Wilson. The killing sparked rage in Lima and accusations of a racist police department, but the officer who shot Wilson, Sgt. Joe Chavalia, was found not guilty on all charges.
2. Children are impacted. As the case of Wilson shows, the police busting down doors care little about whether there’s a child in the home. Another case profiled by the ACLU shows how children can be caught in the crossfire — with devastating consequences.
In May, after their Wisconsin home had burned down, the Phonesavanh family was staying with relatives in Georgia. One night, a SWAT team with assault rifles invaded the home and threw a flash-bang grenade — despite the presence of kids’ toys in the front yard. The police were looking for the father’s nephew on drug charges. He wasn’t there. But a 19-month-old named Bou Bou was — and the grenade landed in his crib.
Bou Bou was wounded in the chest and had third-degree burns. He was put in a medically induced coma.
Another high-profile instance of a child being killed by paramilitary police tactics occurred in 2010, when seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones died in Detroit. The city’s Special Response Team (Detroit’s SWAT) was looking for Chauncey Owens, a suspect in the killing of a teenager who lived on the second floor of the apartment Jones lived in.
Officers raided the home, threw a flash-bang grenade, and fired one shot that struck Jones in the head. The police agent who fired the fatal shot, Joseph Weekley, has so far gotten off easy: a jury trial ended in deadlock last year, though he will face charges of involuntary manslaughter in September. As The Nation’s Mychal Denzel Smith wrote last year after Weekley was acquitted: “What happened to Aiyana is the result of the militarization of police in this country…Part of what it means to be black in America now is watching your neighborhood become the training ground for our increasingly militarized police units.”
Bou Bou and Jones aren’t the only cases of children being impacted.
According to the ACLU, “of the 818 deployments studied, 14 percent involved the presence of children and 13 percent did not.” It was impossible to determine whether children were present in the rest of the cases studied.
3. The use of SWAT teams is often unnecessary. In many cases, using militarized teams of police is not needed. The ACLU report notes that the vast majority of cases where SWAT teams are deployed are in situations where a search warrant is being executed to look for drugs. In other words, it’s not even 100 percent clear whether there are drugs at the place the police are going to. These situations are not why SWAT was created.
Furthermore, even when SWAT teams think there are weapons, they are often wrong. The ACLU report shows that in the cases where police thought weapons would be there, they were right only a third of the time.
4. The “war on terror” is fueling militarization. A growing number of agencies have taken advantage of the Department of Defense’s “1033” program, which is passed every year as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The number of police agencies obtaining military equipment like mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles (MRAPs) has increased since 2009, according to USA Today, which notes that this “surplus military equipment” is “left over from U.S. military campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.” This equipment is largely cost-free for the police agencies that receive them.
In addition to the Pentagon budget provision, another agency created in the aftermath of 9/11 is helping militarize the police. The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) grants funnel military-style equipment to local police departments nationwide. According to a 2011 Center for Investigative Reporting story published by The Daily Beast, at least $34 billion in DHS grants have gone to police agencies to buy military-style equipment. This money has gone to purchase drones, tactical vests, bomb-disarming robots, tanks and more.
5. It’s a boon to contractor profits. The trend towards police militarization has given military contractors another lucrative market where they can shop their products. Companies like Lockheed Martin and Blackhawk Industries are making big bucks by selling their equipment to agencies flush with Department of Homeland Security grants.
In addition to selling equipment, contractors also sponsor training events for SWAT teams, like Urban Shield, a major arms expo that has attracted increasing attention from activists in recent years. SWAT teams, police agencies and military contractors converge on Urban Shield, which was held in California last year, to train SWAT teams and promote the equipment.
6. Border militarization and police militarization go hand in hand. The “war on terror” and “war on drugs” aren’t the only wars helping police militarization. There’s also the war on undocumented immigrants.
The notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio, infamous for brutal crackdowns on undocumented immigrants, is the paradigmatic example of this trend. According to the ACLU, Arpaio’s Maricopa County department has acquired a machine gun so powerful it could tear through buildings on multiple city blocks. In addition, he has 120 assault rifles, five armored vehicles and ten helicopters. Other law enforcement agencies in Arizona have obtained equipment like bomb suits and night-vision goggles.
Then there’s a non-local law enforcement agency on the border: the Border Patrol, which has obtained drones and attack helicopters. And Border Patrol agents are acting like they’re at war. A recent Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that the Border Patrol killed 19 people from January 2010-October 2012 — including some incidents in which the agents were under no lethal, direct threat.
7. Police are cracking down on dissent. In 1999, massive protests rocked Seattle during the World Trade Organization meeting. The police cracked down hard on the demonstrators using paramilitary tactics. Police fired tear gas at protesters, causing all hell to break loose.
Norm Stamper, the Seattle police chief at the time, criticized the militarized policing he presided over in a Nation article in 2011. “Rocks, bottles and newspaper racks went flying. Windows were smashed, stores were looted, fires lighted; and more gas filled the streets, with some cops clearly overreacting, escalating and prolonging the conflict,” wrote Stamper.
More than a decade after the Seattle protests, militarized policing to crack down on dissent returned with a vengeance during the wave of Occupy protests in 2011. Tear gas and rubber bullets were used to break up protests in Oakland. Scott Olsen, an Occupy Oakland protester and war veteran, was struck in the head by a police projectile, causing a fractured skull, broken vertebrae and brain swelling.
8. Asset forfeitures are funding police militarization. In June, AlterNet’s Aaron Cantú outlined how civil asset forfeiture laws work.
“It’s a legal fiction spun up hundreds of years ago to give the state the power to convict a person’s property of a crime, or at least, implicate its involvement in the committing of a crime. When that happened, the property was to be legally seized by the state,” wrote Cantú. He went on to explain that law enforcement justifies the seizure of property and cash as a way to break up narcotics rings’ infrastructure. But it can also be used in cases where a person is not convicted, or even charged with a crime.
Asset forfeitures bring in millions of dollars for police agencies, who then spend the money for their own uses. And for some police departments, it goes to militarizing their personnel.
New Yorker reporter Sarah Stillman, who penned a deeply reported piece on asset forfeitures, wrote in August 2013 that “thousands of police departments nationwide have recently acquired stun grenades, armored tanks, counterattack vehicles, and other paramilitary equipment, much of it purchased with asset-forfeiture funds.” So SWAT teams have an incentive to conduct raids where they seize property and cash that then goes into their budgets for more weapons.
9. Dubious informants are used for raids. As The New Yorker’s Stillman wrote in another piece, informants are “the foot soldiers in the government’s war on drugs. By some estimates, up to eighty percent of all drug cases in America involve them.” Given SWAT teams’ focus on finding drugs, it’s no surprise that informants are used to gather information that lead to military-style police raids.
A 2006 policy paper by investigative journalist Radley Balko, who has done the most reporting on militarized policing, highlighted the negative impact of using informants for these raids have. Most often, informants are “people who regularly seek out drug users and dealers and tip off the police in exchange for cash rewards,” and other drug dealers who inform to gain leniency or cash from the police. But these informants are quite unreliable — and the wrong information can lead to tragic consequences.
10. There’s been little debate or oversight. Despite the galloping march towards militarization, the ACLU report notes that “there does not appear to be much, if any, local oversight of law enforcement agency receipt of equipment transfers.” One of the group’s recommendations is for states and local municipalities to enact laws encouraging transparency and oversight of SWAT teams.
11. Communities of color bear the brunt. Across the country, communities of color are the people most targeted by police practices. In recent years, the abuse of “stop and frisk” tactics has attracted widespread attention because of the racially discriminatory way it has been applied.
Militarized policing has also targeted communities of color. According to the ACLU report, “of all the incidents studied where the number and race of the people impacted were known, 39 percent were Black, 11 percent were Latino, 20 were white.” The majority of raids that targeted blacks and Latinos were related to drugs — another metric exposing how the “war on drugs” is racist to the core.
The views expressed in this post are the author’s alone, and presented here to offer a variety of perspectives to our readers.
Alex Kane is AlterNet’s New York-based World editor, and an assistant editor for Mondoweiss. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane