FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Police, the Military, and Ferguson

by

The dominant visual aspect of the story, however, has been the sight of overpowering police forces confronting unarmed protesters who are seen waving signs or just their hands.

Walter Olson, Cato at Liberty, Aug 13, 2014

A terrible vision of what happens when authority goes wrong. This is Ferguson, Mo. in August 2014. Even if the person killed by police, a certain Michael Brown, was a black man; even given the automatic response by authorities that it was a case of justified armed violence, we are left with the same nasty taste: policing in the US has become a beast of terrifying burden, a dark promise of local brutality.

The old problem in US politics has always been reconciling the gibberish of exceptionalism with tensions of corroding imperfection in the political system.  The United States may well have some of the best of what is good in political aspiration.  (Hard to beat the Bill of Rights and the Madisonian flavour of the constitution.)   It also has some of the most fearful responses to matters of security, be it the blight of the race divide, and its twin cousin, that of poverty.  Every society struggles with containing its demagogues, and US authorities have managed to stumble badly when it comes to policing its black citizens.  They are unruly, and they are unhappy.

The case of Ferguson, with its police forces resembling an armed force by a different name, has implications beyond policing a particular ethnic group. It suggests that protections on the home front are being frittered away in the name of an unruly policing manual, stacked to the brim with military kit. This is the formula of the Los Angeles SWAT team, one advocated by inspector Daryl Gates in the mid-1960s to combat the strife induced by such incidents as the 1965 Watts riots.  When trouble arises, call the marines, or at the very least someone similar to them.

Ferguson, with 21,000 people, covers a mere 6.2 square miles.  The police budget – coming in at $5.2 m, and boisterous presence, suggests something far more sinister.  The Department of Homeland Security, that creature of feigned protectiveness, has been getting police authorities drunk with military grade hardware via “anti-terror grants”.[1]

Back in 1997, Peter Kraska and Victor Kappeler of Eastern Kentucky University were already noting that policing was moving into a military phase of operation in “Militarising American Police: The Rise and Normalisation of Paramilitary Units”.  In such circumstances, threats are magnified and extended.  The heavy response is justified in response to inflated threat.  This has been a theme for Kraska, who reiterated the “blurring distinctions between the police and military institutions and between war and law enforcement” in 2007.[2]

Such conditions, simulating urban guerrilla warfare scenarios, localise and intensify conflict. The language of the paramilitary outfit is deployed. “Why armoured vehicles in a Midwestern inner suburb?” asks Walter Olson[3] of the Cato Institute.  “Why should cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlours?”  Then, the question of Ferguson itself: “Why are the authorities in Ferguson, Mo. So given to quasi-martial crowd control methods (such as bans on the street) and, per the reporting of Riverfront Times, the firing of tear gas at people in their own yards?”

In 2012, Olson found how St. Louis County got a Bearcat armoured vehicle, among other items.  This, he argues, is often an instance of how military surplus is disposed of.  Too much production, not enough use.  Indigent local governments, an ever increasing phenomenon on the US landscape, are thrilled at the beefing up of their services with what the military don’t what.

There is no suggestion here of traditional policing in the name of protecting the public. The public is the problem.  Individuals such as Matthew Dale Stewart of Ogden, Utah assume when a heavily armed police unit breaks down his door that he is being beset by criminals keen on his life and property.  This is the classic rhetoric of war in action – the “war on drugs”, the “war on crime”, dangerous nonsensical terms that populate the language of law and order.

What this has led to is a significant undermining of the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which effectively smuggles military involvement via a rather big back door.  The military and police find themselves in the same bed of comfort, inflicting the same terrors on a civilian population that should, ideally, be free the ones protected.  That is a manual no citizen wants.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Notes.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
March 23, 2017
Chip Gibbons
Crusader-in-Chief: the Strange Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Michael J. Sainato
Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine
Chuck Collins
Underwater Nation: As the Rich Thrive, the Rest of Us Sink
CJ Hopkins
The United States of Cognitive Dissonance
Howard Lisnoff
BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States
Mike Whitney
Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging EU-Russia Superstate
John Wight
Martin McGuinness: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland
Linn Washington Jr.
Ryancare Wreckage
Eileen Appelbaum
What We Learned From Just Two Pages of Trump’s Tax Returns
Mark Weisbrot
Ecuador’s Elections: Why National Sovereignty Matters
Thomas Knapp
It’s Time to End America’s Longest War
Chris Zinda
Aggregate Journalism at Salon
David Welsh
Bay Area Rallies Against Trump’s Muslim Ban II
March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail