Cops For Sale

Alarms went off when it was revealed that the armed forces of the United States were using increasing numbers of private contractors to provide everything from transportation to security in war zones around the globe.

Those alarms clanged louder when the indiscriminate slaughtering of unarmed Iraqi civilians by the notorious security firm formerly known as Blackwater were exposed.

Now, the war has come home as wealthy private corporations hire not only security firms, but also public law enforcement officers to ensure that the riff-raff, formerly known as citizens of the U.S., stay out of the way of their money-making schemes and political manipulations.

The Praetorian Guard was established by the emperors of Rome to ensure that neither citizens nor disgruntled military units could harm them. While it may have made sense at first, the story soon changed as the Praetorians became less of a security force to protect Rome’s rulers than hired killers for those who could afford them.

Now a new and dangerous Praetorian Guard is emerging in the U.S. What makes it even worse is that our new Praetorians are not simply hired killers like Blackwater, but officers of public police forces whose salaries and pensions are provided by taxpayers until such time as they are needed by those with the wealth to hire them for private purposes.

If that sounds far-fetched, consider the actions of the “white shirts” I mentioned in last week’s column, in the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests. A New York City policeman wearing a white shirt, which is supposed to differentiate supervisors from the blue-uniformed line officers, walked up to several women who were already corralled in a police barricade and blasted them in their faces with pepper spray. The women collapsed screaming in pain as the officer who sprayed them turned away smiling.

Shortly after that incident, it was revealed that JP Morgan Chase, one of Wall Street’s most powerful players, had donated $4.6 million to the New York City Police Foundation, the largest such donation ever. JP Morgan Chase CEO and Chairman Jamie Dimon could not have been more revealing, saying, “These officers put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe. We’re incredibly proud to help them build this program and let them know how much we value their hard work.”

The donation is supposed to pay for 1,000 new patrol car laptops and security monitoring software for the NYPD main data center. Surely such a donation couldn’t buy off the cops, could it?

Consider that last week’s column also noted that 700 citizens were arrested trying to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. Where were they headed? To protest in the Chase Manhattan Plaza.

Maybe the donation and the arrests aren’t connected. But if you believe that, perhaps you’d be interested in buying that bridge.

There’s no need for speculation as to whether those with enough money can buy public police protection. They can. In a program started by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani called the “Paid Detail Unit,” private corporations can hire New York City policemen to protect their interests for a mere $37 per hour each, with a 10 percent “administrative fee” paid directly to the police department.

According to a recent CounterPunch article by Pam Martens, not only do these hired cops get to carry guns and handcuffs, they also have the authority to arrest citizens at the behest of the private wealth that hired them. In 2010, corporations such as Goldman Sachs, the World Financial Center and the New York Stock Exchange spent almost $12 million doing just that.

There’s no need to look to the East Coast, though, when we have examples right here at home.

Remember those mega-loads Exxon Mobil wanted to ship through Idaho and Montana on narrow, two-lane roads? Guess whom they hired to ensure that no protestors barred their way?

Our own Montana Highway Patrol.

Like most Montanans, I’ve always respected our Highway Patrol officers. So how is it that they are now for hire by anyone with the money to do so, and they can sweep the citizens who normally pay their wages out of the way of private corporations?

Exxon Mobil is “required to pay for a two-car safety escort by the Montana Highway Patrol,” the Missoulian noted recently. Yet the corporations aren’t even required to tell the Highway Patrol before they move their loads. “‘To be honest, we’re kind of lost, too,'” Montana Highway patrol Sgt. Jason Holdenstab told the paper. Holdenstab, based in Helena, is in charge of scheduling the safety escorts. “I’m at the mercy of [transport company Mammoet] when they send me a schedule,” he said.

Having our Highway Patrol “at the mercy” of a mega-corporation doesn’t sound like a very good idea.

Nor does getting beaten, gassed or arrested by privately hired cops.

But that’s the state of America today, as the new Praetorian Guard emerges to stand between citizens and the corporations who plunder them. And the silence from our political leaders is deafening.

George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent, where this column originally ran. He lives in Helena, Montana. He can be reached at: opinion@missoulanews.com.

More articles by:

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.

Weekend Edition
June 22, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Karl Grossman
Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force
Andrew Levine
Strange Bedfellows
Jeffrey St. Clair
Intolerable Opinions in an Intolerant Time
Paul Street
None of Us are Free, One of Us is Chained
Edward Curtin
Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World
Celina Stien-della Croce
The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People 
James Bovard
Pro-War Media Deserve Slamming, Not Sainthood
Louisa Willcox
My Friend Margot Kidder: Sharing a Love of Dogs, the Wild, and Speaking Truth to Power
David Rosen
Trump’s War on Sex
Mir Alikhan
Trump, North Korea, and the Death of IR Theory
Christopher Jones
Neoliberalism, Pipelines, and Canadian Political Economy
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Why is Tariq Ramadan Imprisoned?
Robert Fantina
MAGA, Trump Style
Linn Washington Jr.
Justice System Abuses Mothers with No Apologies
Martha Rosenberg
Questions About a Popular Antibiotic Class
Ida Audeh
A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History: Interview with Jamal Juma’
Edward Hunt
The Afghan War is Killing More People Than Ever
Geoff Dutton
Electrocuting Oral Tradition
Don Fitz
When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born
Ramzy Baroud
End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis
Ralph Nader
The Unsurpassed Power trip by an Insuperable Control Freak
Lara Merling
The Pain of Puerto Ricans is a Profit Source for Creditors
James Jordan
Struggle and Defiance at Colombia’s Feast of Pestilence
Tamara Pearson
Indifference to a Hellish World
Kathy Kelly
Hungering for Nuclear Disarmament
Jessicah Pierre
Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk
Rohullah Naderi
The Ever-Shrinking Space for Hazara Ethnic Group
Binoy Kampmark
Leaving the UN Human Rights Council
Nomi Prins 
How Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
Robert Fisk
Can Former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush Turn Even the Coldest of Middle Eastern Sceptics into an Optimist?
Franklin Lamb
Could “Tough Love” Salvage Lebanon?
George Ochenski
Why Wild Horse Island is Still Wild
Ann Garrison
Nikki Haley: Damn the UNHRC and the Rest of You Too
Jonah Raskin
What’s Hippie Food? A Culinary Quest for the Real Deal
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Brian Wakamo
We Subsidize the Wrong Kind of Agriculture
Patrick Higgins
Children in Cages Create Glimmers of the Moral Reserve
Patrick Bobilin
What Does Optimism Look Like Now?
Don Qaswa
A Reduction of Economic Warfare and Bombing Might Help 
Robin Carver
Why We Still Need Pride Parades
Jill Richardson
Immigrant Kids are Suffering From Trauma That Will Last for Years
Thomas Mountain
USA’s “Soft” Coup in Ethiopia?
Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s Man in Foreign Policy
Louis Proyect
Civilization and Its Absence
David Yearsley
Midsummer Music Even the Nazis Couldn’t Stamp Out