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 firstname.lastname@example.org.