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:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail