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Forum Post: Coming Home to Roost: American Militarism, War Culture and Police Brutality

Posted 4 years ago on March 16, 2014, 3:43 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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Coming Home to Roost: American Militarism, War Culture and Police Brutality

Sunday, 16 March 2014 12:12
By Colin Jenkins, The Hampton Institute | News Analysis


"President Kennedy never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon..."

  • Malcolm X, December 1, 1963

American Militarism and White Supremacy

Any discussion involving American militarism must include the underpinnings of white supremacy, an all-encompassing ideology which has ravaged the lives and communities of non-white peoples for centuries. White supremacy is fueled by objectification and, more specifically, the collective dehumanization of peoples of color. Its power lies in the fact that it not only transcends the fundamental societal arrangement of class, but that it is embraced largely by working class whites who have shown a willingness to internalize and project their own oppression onto others - in this case, the non-white working classes.

Not surprisingly, this foundation extends far beyond the geographic confines of the US, representing the basis for which the "White Man's Burden" and age-old foreign policies like the Roosevelt Corollary of the Monroe Doctrine operate. The ties that bind what Martin Luther King, Jr. once referred to as "the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism" cannot be underestimated, as they provide the self-righteous, societal "justification" necessary to carry out indiscriminate acts of aggression both here and abroad. Social theorist bell hooks' assessment of George Zimmerman, the self-appointed neighborhood watchman turned murderer of Trayvon Martin, captures this mindset: "White supremacy has taught him that all people of color are threats irrespective of their behavior. Capitalism has taught him that, at all costs, his property can and must be protected. Patriarchy has taught him that his masculinity has to be proved by the willingness to conquer fear through aggression; that it would be unmanly to ask questions before taking action."[7]

When Muhammad Ali refused to fight in Vietnam, famously stating, "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong; No Viet Cong ever called me nigger," he was referring to the dominant power structure of white supremacy that had not only subjugated him in his own country, but also had global implications regarding imperialism, colonialism, and ever-increasing militarism. Ali, along with other conscious Black Americans, recognized life in the U.S. as a microcosm of the war in Vietnam. Whether in Birmingham, Alabama or the Ben Tre Province in South Vietnam, black and brown people were being murdered indiscriminately. African Americans had their share of enemies at home - Bull Connor, George Wallace, the Ku Klux Klan, the FBI, Jim Crow - and, for good reason, had no vested interest in wars abroad. Their priorities were defense and self-preservation in their homeland; not offense and destruction in Vietnam.

Racism is a cousin to militarism, and its influence on shaping American culture over the years is undeniable. Despite misconceptions, reconstruction in the post-slavery US was no more kind to Black Americans than during colonial years, especially in the southern states. "In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the lynching of Black people in the Southern and border states became an institutionalized method used by whites to terrorize Blacks and maintain white supremacy," explains Robert A. Gibson. "In the South, during the period 1880 to 1940, there was deep-seated and all-pervading hatred and fear of the Negro which led white mobs to turn to 'lynch law' as a means of social control."[8] These lynchings were almost always spontaneous, rooted in white supremacist and racist emotion, and void any semblance of due process. They were also mostly supported - whether through direct supervision or "turning a blind eye" - by local politicians, judges, and police forces.

According to Tuskegee Institute figures, between the years 1882 and 1951, 3,437 African Americans were lynched in the United States - a tally that amounts to roughly 50 per year, or a little over 4 per month through the lifespan of an entire generation.[9] Essentially, for nearly a century, "freed" slaves were still very much at the mercy of, as WEB DuBois once noted, "men who hated and despised Negroes and regarded it as loyalty to blood, patriotism to country, and filial tribute to the fathers to lie, steal or kill in order to discredit these black folk." [10] This general hatred was not only projected by white citizens throughout the country, but remained institutionalized by laws of racial segregation - also known as "Jim Crow" - in much of the US until the 1960s.

While the courageous and awe-inspiring Civil Rights movement of the '60s was successful in curbing some government-backed segregation, the ugly stain of white supremacy has endured well into the 21st century through a convoluted lens of extreme poverty, poor education, lack of opportunity, and disproportionate imprisonment. It has become blatantly evident within the world of 'criminal justice,' and more specifically through the ways in which law enforcement engages and interacts with Black communities across America.

Modern forms of lynching have gained a foothold with laws such as New York City's "Stop and Frisk" and Florida's infamous "Stand Your Ground" - with both providing legal outlets to harass and kill Black Americans at an alarming rate. However, even before such laws, police officers terrorized inner-cities for decades. The most glaring example occurred in 1991 with the beating of Rodney King - an incident that uncovered a deliberate and widespread brand of racist policing as well as "an organizational culture that alienates itself from the public it is designed to serve" while teaching "to command and confront, not to communicate."[11]

The 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman served as a sobering reminder of the tragically subhuman value that has been placed on Black life in America. Martin's death rightfully brought on cries of an "open season on young black men," while another 2012 murder, this time of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, who was shot and killed by Michael Dunn in broad daylight while sitting in a car with three friends, reiterated this fact. Like Martin, Davis was unarmed and posed no threat - and certainly not enough of a threat to justify lethal force. In Davis' case, the murderer, Dunn, indiscriminately fired 8 bullets into the vehicle where Davis and his friends were sitting. The public reaction to the two murders (adults killing unarmed children, mind you), especially from those who somehow felt compelled to defend the killers, as well as the subsequent trials, the posthumous (and false) 'criminalizing' of the victims with decontextualized images and information, and the total absence of justice on both accounts - all products of a long-standing culture of white supremacy - exposed the lie that is "post-racial" America.



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[-] 2 points by JGriff99mph (507) 4 years ago

Not sure if you have seen this, but its hysterical:


[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

However, these reactions were and are nothing new. It has been "open season" on young black males for many years in the US, and very few outside African American or activist communities couldn't care less. One study estimates that "one Black person is killed every 24 hours by police, security guards, or vigilantes."[12] Furthermore, "43% of the(se) shootings occurred after an incident of racial profiling," Adam Hudson tells us. "This means police saw a person who looked or behaved "suspiciously" largely because of their skin color and attempted to detain the suspect before killing them. [13]

Many of the victims of these "extrajudicial" killings posed no threat at the time of their murders, as was the case with Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Aaron Campbell, Orlando Barlow, Steven Eugene Washington, Ervin Jefferson, Kendrec Mcdade, Kimani Gray, Wendell Allen, Ronald Madison, James Brisette, Tavares McGill, and Victor Steen, to name a few. [14] Some, like Brisette (17), Gray (16), McGill (16), and Steen (17), were children. Others, like Madison and Steven Eugene Washington, were mentally ill or autistic. All were unarmed.

If the Rodney King trial taught us (and police) anything, it was that officers in the US can inexplicably beat an unarmed and non-threatening Black man to near-death and face no consequences for doing so. Twenty years later, this unaccountability on the part of law enforcement has evolved into an overly-aggressive and often fatal approach to interacting with innocent, young black men. This has never been more evident than during a rash of indiscriminate and blatant acts of police brutality in recent years. All peoples of color have become viable targets, and some of the most alarming examples have been directed at children and people with special needs and disabilities.

In 2009, a 16-year-old autistic boy, Oscar Guzman, was chased into his family's restaurant by two Chicago police officers after they questioned him for "watching pigeons." Guzman, who was posing no threat and breaking no laws, was "struck in the head with a retractable baton, causing a four-centimeter laceration that had to be closed with staples at a nearby hospital."[15]

In 2011, two Miami-Dade officers stopped 22-year-old Gilberto Powell, who has Down syndrome, due to a "suspicious bulge" coming from his waistband. When the officers confronted Powell and began patting him down, Powell became frightened and ran. The officers caught up and beat him. The "bulge" turned out to be a colostomy bag. Powell was unarmed and breaking no laws.[16]

In November of 2013, a 14-year-old child was "roughed up" and Tasered by police in Tullytown, Pennsylvania after being caught shoplifting at a local Wal-Mart. The child suffered a broken nose, multiple abrasions, and two swollen and black eyes as a result. He was unarmed and posed no threat to the officers.

On January 3, 2014, 64-year-old Pearl Pearson was pulled over by police on suspicion of leaving the scene of an accident. After Pearson failed to show his hands when instructed by officers, a "7-minute altercation ensued" and Pearson was severely beaten. He was unarmed and posed no threat. The reason he did not show his hands as ordered: he's deaf - a fact that is displayed on a sign attached to his car.[17]

Other examples include the unnecessary brutalization of incapacitated individuals, as well as the emergence of a universal, reckless "shoot-first" mentality. The most recognizable incident was the 2009 street execution of Oscar Grant by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Policeman, Johannes Mehserle. Following a brush-up with other passengers, Grant and a friend were apprehended by officers who had them lay prone on the ground. Grant was "restrained, unarmed," and had "his hands behind his back," when the officer shot him in the back, killing him. The entire incident was caught on video.

Shockingly, occurrences like this have become common with relatively little fanfare. In May of 2013, 33-year-old David Sal Silva was beaten to death by California officers after he was stopped and questioned for suspected public intoxication. "When I got outside I saw two officers beating a man with batons, and they were hitting his head so every time they would swing, I could hear the blows to his head," said witness Ruben Ceballos, who told the Californian the noise was so loud it woke him up. Sal Silva, unarmed, "begged for his life" before being bludgeoned to death for no apparent reason.[18]

In September of 2013, following a car accident, 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell was shot 10 times by Charlotte police officer, Randall Kerrick. After knocking on the door of a nearby home, Ferrell spotted the officer and began running towards him for help when Kerrick opened fire. Ferrell was unarmed, posed no threat, and was merely seeking assistance after accidentally crashing his car into a tree line off the road. He died instantly.[19] That same month, Long Beach police officers were captured on a video posted to YouTube repeatedly Tasering and striking Porfirio Lopez with a baton as he lay in the street. Lopez was unarmed and posed no threat to the officers.[20]

In October of 2013, Sheriff's deputies in Santa Rosa, California shot and killed a 13-year-old boy who was carrying a pellet gun. The boy, Andy Lopez, was walking down the sidewalk on his way to return the "low-powered, air pellet gun" to a friend who he had borrowed it from. Before realizing the gun was a toy, and despite having no reason to believe the child was a threat, an officer shot him dead.[21]

In 1968, Huey P. Newton noted that "the country cannot implement its racist program without the guns. And the guns are the military and the police."[22] 45 years later, this comment rings true. Institutions and lawmakers alone cannot carry out racial and class-based oppression on their own - they need willing participants. Domestically, police officers must become these willing participants; and their psychological makeup, which is shaped by a process of objectification and a prolonged internalization of "war culture," is crucial. On a global scale, this task is left to our soldiers - working-class women and men who are routinely placed in harm's way for the wrong reasons, and many of whom suffer a compounded and severe mental toll in the process.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Armed Angry White Males the New Domestic Terrorists

Thursday, 20 March 2014 00:00
By Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, Truthout | Op-Ed


Today, lynch mobs have been replaced by Zimmermans and Dunns, who feel empowered by Stand Your Ground, believing that juries of their peers will exonerate them of their use of deadly force when black youths are involved.

"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania, and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. . . . And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

                                                 - Senator Barack Obama, April 6, 2008     

While out on the presidential campaign trail in 2008, Senator Obama made this statement and was castigated by both Democrats and Republicans. Hillary Clinton responded by saying, "Pennsylvanians don't need a president who looks down on them. They need a president who stands up for them, who fights for them, who works hard for your futures, your jobs, your families." Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said, through his spokesman Steve Schmidt, "It shows an elitism and condescension towards hardworking Americans that is nothing short of breathtaking . . . It is hard to imagine someone running for president who is more out of touch with average Americans."

Eventually, instead of standing behind his very astute assessment of the fear that plagues rural White America, Senator Obama backed away from his remarks with an apology, "If I worded things in a way that made people offended, I deeply regret that."

I wish Senator Obama had held his ground.

To put Senator Obama's comments in historical perspective, one can look to Federalist #10 in which James Madison wrote, "Among the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction." Madison saw factions as groups of citizens, with interests contrary to the rights of others or the interests of the whole community. Madison's violent "factions" from 1787 are Obama's angry small town Americans in 2008.

When viewed from our country's racial context, these "factions" have reared their ugly heads time after time. In their book A Festival of Violence, Stewart Tolnay and E.M. Beck "identified 2,805 victims of lynch mobs killed between 1882 and 1930 in 10 southern states. Although mobs murdered almost 300 white men and women, the vast majority - almost 2,500 - of lynch victims were African-American. The scale of this carnage means that, on average, a black man, woman or child was murdered nearly once a week, every week, between 1882 and 1930 by a hate driven white mob."

As African American soldiers returned from fighting in WWI and keeping the world safe for democracy, they attempted to exercise their social, political and economic rights here at home. They were met by riots and lynchings led by white mobs throughout black communities in 15 states and 27 cities across America from April to November, 1919. According to Cameron McWhirter's book Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America, the NAACP's James Weldon Johnson called it the "Red Summer" because it was so bloody. In total, millions of Americans had their lives disrupted. Hundreds of people - most of them black - were killed.

On June 1, 1921, a white mob in Tulsa, OK burned and bombed 34 square blocks of Tulsa's Black Greenwood Community to the ground. According to Tim Madigan's The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, the actual death toll was never determined. Conservative estimates put it around 100. More commonly accepted estimates place the death toll between 300 and 400.

The lynchings documented by Tolnay and Beck, the Red Summer of 1919, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 are historic examples of American domestic terrorism.

More recently, on June 7, 1998, James Byrd, Jr. was murdered by Shawn Berry, Lawrence Russell Brewer and John King. At least two of the murderers, Brewer and King, were admitted white supremacists. They dragged Byrd for three miles behind a pickup truck along an asphalt road in Jasper, Texas. Mr. Byrd, who remained conscious throughout most of the ordeal, was killed when his body hit the edge of a culvert, severing his right arm and head. The murderers drove on for another mile before dumping his torso in front of an African-American cemetery in Jasper.

Today, lynch mobs have been replaced by Zimmermans and Dunns, who feel empowered by Stand Your Ground, believing that juries of their peers will exonerate them of their use of deadly force when black youths are involved.

Unfortunately, all too often these events and so many others do not get discussed or analyzed in that context.

Not only were Senator Obama's comments astute in terms of their historical accuracy, as we look at the George Zimmermans and Michael Dunns of the world, his comments could be considered prophetic.

It is my contention that the recent murders of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis should not be viewed as isolated incidents; they did not occur in a vacuum. They are part of a larger murderous American historical continuum. At the heart of this murderous continuum are race and xenophobia (a fear of others) and a violent reaction to those fears. To many in the dominant culture, their America is changing. The "browning" of America has evoked a return and acceptance of the murderous continuum. Former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo best expressed this sentiment when he proclaimed: "I want my country back."

Conceal Carry permits, Stand Your Ground laws and inept prosecutors are creating a climate that provides the Zimmermans and Dunns of the world with a license to kill as long as juries are predisposed to letting them do so.

As the American economy continues to contract and full-time, well-paying jobs become harder to find, the face of poverty in America is changing. The stereotypical "urban" or "black" poor have now become the "suburban" or white poor. According to CBS, "Hardship is particularly growing among whites, based on several measures . . . More than 19 million whites fall below the poverty line . . . accounting for more than 41 percent of the nation's destitute, nearly double the number of poor blacks."

According to the Christian Science Monitor, "Suburbs are increasingly becoming the address of America's poor. Suburban poverty across the country grew 53 percent between 2000 and 2010, more than twice the rate of urban poverty . . . " Many of those newly poor suburbanites are white and many of them are angry, blaming people of color for their misfortunes, instead of directing their ire toward corporate greed, the outsourcing of factory jobs to overseas companies, and governmental policies that favor the wealthy.

Senator Obama's assessment in 2008 was historically accurate and more prophetic than pundits and commentators have been willing to give him credit for. Armed angry white males like George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn have been operating in our midst for centuries. Their actions are not new; the lack of analysis of them in the context of terrorism is not surprising. The narrative has to change, and we must engage in a broader discussion of them as the new domestic terrorists.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

"Do What You Gotta Do": Cop Shows Bolster Idea That Police Violence Works

Sunday, 16 March 2014 00:00
By Aaron Cantu, Truthout | News Analysis

The new NBC series "Chicago PD" (created by Dick Wolf, the man behind "Law and Order") opens with steel-eyed Detective Sgt. Hank Voight glaring coolly into a rearview mirror from the backseat of a car. We quickly learn that the man driving the vehicle isn't chauffeuring Voight around by choice.

"I don't know where I'm going," whimpers the driver, a young man with a bloodied face and a seemingly broken right arm.

"Just keep driving," gruffs Voight.

When the two finally pull off into an empty gravel lot, Voight grabs the man by a tuft of hair and yanks him out of the driver's seat. The sergeant slaps and kicks the young man around until he crumbles to the ground in a sobbing heap.

"Who's puttin' out the bad dope?" Voight snarls, and when he follows up by pressing a handgun to the quivering man's face, the latter finally relents.

"His name is Ralph! He deals out of his apartment in South Emerald!"

Within a minute and a half of the first episode, the show has summed up its central message: Police violence works. This is relayed again and again throughout the series: When a cop with a chain-wrapped fist savagely beats a Spanish-speaking suspect demanding an attorney until he relinquishes a tip; when officers debase the idea of policing without intent to arrest; when cops round up black non-criminals and deliver them to precinct torture chambers. In every episode, these methods achieve the desired ends. The message: Police violence works.

Crime dramas that embellish the lives of police officers are not new. Criminologist Yvonne Jewkes says crime drama is "the most enduring of all cinematic genres," and television holds to the same rule.1 What sets "Chicago PD" apart from others in the genre is that police violence isn't just presented as an exciting feature of the job; rather, its producers have made it the primary point of appeal to its growing audience of 8 million.

What does it mean that a TV show so sympathetic to police abuse has become the most popular evening program among NBC's 18-49 demographic? To understand its appeal, it's necessary to couch recent trends in cop media within historical transformations of public opinion toward police and federal support for local policing.

In the past 40 years, the militarization of police forces occurred concurrently with an increased emphasis on “law and order,” perpetuated by race-baiting politicians who spurred alarm among white Americans following the racially charged riots of the mid-1960s that shook white America to its core. To the prudent majority on the conservative side of the era's culture wars, the 1965 Watts riots in LA, along with "riots in Baltimore, Newark, Washington and Detroit in the following years, were signs of a rising criminal class that was increasingly out of control,"2 as Radley Balko observes in his book Rise of the Warrior Cop. This induced a broad call for "law and order" among the white American majority by the end of the decade, and race-baiting politicians used the mandate to launch an unprecedented militarization of police forces that continues today. The threat of crime soon embedded itself at the forefront of national consciousness, and in response to that reality, Hollywood started pumping out a slew of films and TV shows centered on the lives of police officers, giving birth to a new subgenre within crime drama: the Cop Booster.

However, policy doesn't only influence media; sociologists have found that media has a real effect on policy. Because "public knowledge of crime and justice is largely derived from the media," the Cop Booster subgenre is part of a larger criminal-media-complex that manufactures "pervasive images of predatory criminals" that "steer [the] currents on our criminal justice policy."3 Television programs like "Chicago PD," a classic Cop Booster show, reproduce a narrative that that not only shields real life police forces from the scrutiny of public accountability but also engenders millions of people's assumptions about criminality - assumptions that help keep the gears of the prison-industrial complex spinning.