The Pipedream of Demilitarizing U.S Police


“What are we gonna do about the men in blue? What’re we gonna do?”

– Youth Brigade

Since the circles consuming left journalism are bound to access the same popular media and leftist discourses on current events, I am not going to bother you with a rundown of details and analysis surrounding Michael Brown’s murder. I’m going to assume this readership has been following it closely. What I want to do instead is challenge one of the most disturbing new ideologies to emerge out of the events of Ferguson, Mo. and elsewhere. It is now a widely accepted idea that yes, police “can go too far,” and that they need to now be reined in or “demilitarized” before more people get murdered, tear-gassed, rubber-bulleted, profiled in streets, and harassed on their own property.  The only problem?  You can’t demilitarize a militaristic organization.

One view of U.S. policing is that it shares, with occupying U.S. forces abroad, the joint project of protecting the ruling class interests of a white supremacist global order.  This point was made well by radical movements in the 60’s and 70’s—including the Panthers and the American Indian Movement. When we begin to see things this way, we are less likely to settle for a governing plan that has police—and Ferguson’s aesthetically militarized “desert state troopers”– tucking camouflage away in favor of the good old blue uniforms or the more amped up old school riot wear. As I see it, bringing the camo onto the streets reveals policing and militarism’s shared interests; but people, especially people of color, had cop problems long before cops inherited hand me downs from ongoing foreign occupations.

We don’t simply want demilitarization; we, in fact, don’t want policing.  A few years ago when a brilliant comrade, who now unfortunately calls one of California’s finest gulags his home, and I wrote about how U.S. policing was becoming militarized after 9/11, we coined the phrase “PIC/MIC” to capture the continuum of institutions, ideologies, individuals and equipment shared between what we so commonly call the “prison industrial” and “military industrial” complexes. (We also liked that “PIC/MIC” implies the opposite of a people’s “picnic”.) We dreamed of activists making swift connections between foreign and domestic occupations, and how authoritarian rule (perfected by the US empire and its satellite societies, like Israel) protects a transnational ruling class. This is the reigning ethos of our day, everywhere.

We felt these connections would sensitize anti-war activists to prison abolitionism, rekindling the kinds of unlikely political alliances that made the anti Vietnam War era so threatening to the powers that be. In many respects, these connections are made, most recently during Occupy, as both military and policing cultures are criticized as racist, sexist and extremely brutal/ murderous.

As I write, these connections are being forced on the U.S. at gunpoint, eerily, immediately after Israel tore Gaza up again and news circulates that Ferguson police trained in Israel. But, instead of any critical examination of the authoritarian rule of property, extracting human labor power and natural resources for capitalist profit, we have a pseudo-progressive neo-liberal discourse about “demilitarizing” police–a position endorsed by the New York Times. Since self-interest is the rule of the day, corporate media engages in sensationalist “Alien Invader Cops Gone Wild” coverage—while remaining vacuous in the analysis department. This is not surprising. What’s more disappointing is that Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman hosted a staid August 15, 2014 discussion about how people feel way better in Ferguson, and the goal is to “demilitarize” police so they can get back to their real missions to protect and serve.  The National Guard is now moving into Ferguson after Michael Brown’s autopsy reveals he was shot six times: feeling better still?  No justice, no peace.

Meanwhile, far away from Ferguson, Mo., in the stop and frisk metropolis of New York City, we saw police in their Benny Hill style dorky blue uniforms—goofy hats included– as they arrested protesters in August 14, 2014’s “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” Ferguson solidarity event. But be very weary of alien invaders in blue uniforms, too. Subduing their vehicles, weaponry, uniforms, and maybe even instituting new speech codes and behavior guidelines—“Must not call protesters ‘animals’” and “Must not stick guns in reporters’ faces”—won’t stop the racist police brutality/ murder that is my generation’s (I’m 40 something) Vietnam, so to speak. Police are foreign occupiers.  Veterans become cops, former correctional officers become military personnel, and hand me down programs, including well worn desert fatigues,will proceed accordingly despite cries to demilitarize police.

Just like they say about war, police are good for “nothing, absolutely nothing.” The PIC/MIC is ruining everybody’s picnic.

Michelle Renee Matisons, Ph.D. can be reached at michrenee@gmail.com.

Michelle Renee Matisons, Ph.D. can be reached at michrenee@gmail.com.

December 01, 2015
John Wight
From Iraq to Syria: Repeating a Debacle
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: the Left Takes Charge
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Revenge? The Fight for the Border
Sami Al-Arian
My Ordeal: One of America’s Many Political Trials Since 9/11
Bilal El-Amine
The Hard Truth About Daesh and How to Fight It
Pete Dolack
Solidarity Instead of Hierarchy as “Common Sense”
Dan Glazebrook
Rhodes Must Fall: Decolonizing Education
Colin Todhunter
Big Oil, TTIP and the Scramble for Europe
Eric Draitser
Terror in Mali: An Attack on China and Russia?
Gilbert Mercier
Will Turkey Be Kicked Out of NATO?
Linn Washington Jr.
Torture and Other Abuses Make Turkey as American as Apple Pie
Randy Shaw
Krugman is Wrong on Gentrification
Raouf Halaby
Time to Speak Out Against Censorship
Jesse Jackson
It’s Time for Answers in Laquan McDonald Case
Patrick Walker
Wake Up Zombie, Kick Up a Big Stink!
November 30, 2015
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Embrace of Totalitarianism is America’s Dirty Little Secret
Omur Sahin Keyif
An Assassination in Turkey: the Killing of Tahir Elci
Uri Avnery
There is No Such Thing as International Terrorism
Robert Fisk
70,000 Kalashnikovs: Cameron’s “Moderate” Rebels
Jamie Davidson
Distortion, Revisionism & the Liberal Media
Patrick Cockburn
Nasty Surprises: the Problem With Bombing ISIS
Robert Hunziker
The Looming Transnational Battlefield
Ahmed Gaya
Breaking the Climate Mold: Fighting for the Planet and Justice
Matt Peppe
Alan Gross’s Improbable Tales on 60 Minutes
Norman Pollack
Israel and ISIS: Needed, a Thorough Accounting
Colin Todhunter
India – Procession of the Dead: Shopping Malls and Shit
Roger Annis
Canada’s New Climate-Denying National Government
Binoy Kampmark
Straining the Republic: France’s State of Emergency
Bill Blunden
Glenn Greenwald Stands by the Official Narrative
Jack Rasmus
Japan’s 5th Recession in 7 Years
Karen Lee Wald
Inside the Colombia Peace Deal
Geoff Dutton
War in Our Time
Charles R. Larson
Twofers for Carly Fiorina
John Dear
An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa