The tragedy that is America has deepened with the news that several people on Thursday organized a military-style sniper attack targeting police in Dallas during a protest march and rally against police brutality and killings of black people in that city.
The murder of anybody, whether it’s a police officer or someone who is simply stopped by a cop for a minor traffic violation and is then shot because a jumpy officer mistakes reaching for a wallet to be reaching for a gun, as happened just two days ago in Minnesota, is a dreadful thing.
But it has to be said that, with American police — most of them white — gunning down over 500 people — most of them black or brown and most of them unarmed — in just the first half of this year, it was bound to happen that somebody, or some group of people, would decide to retaliate by taking revenge on the police. That’s not to justify what happened in Dallas, and we still need to learn who was involved in this shooting of 12 cops and two civilian protesters, killing five police officers, and what their motives were. It’s just to say that if the police continue to treat one segment of American society as enemy combatants in a war zone, and if the legal system continues to give brutal cops a pass when they maim or kill innocent citizens, including young children, effectively granting them immunity for their atrocities, there will inevitably be a violent reaction.
Recall the origins of the Black Panther movement, which grew out of a period of urban riots and insurrections across the country to which the nation responded not with jobs, social programs and better school funding, but with military assaults and occupations by armed soldiers. The Panthers openly armed themselves and started shadowing police on patrol in their communities, determined to make it clear that police could not occupy their communities and abuse the residents with impunity. Their bold actions were effective, but they brought down on themselves the full repressive force of the federal government, which launched a full-scale attack to destroy the Panther organization, using informants, agents provocateur, dirty tricks, mass arrests and murder.
In the post 9-11 era of military policing, the situation in minority communities today is at least as bad as, and probably worse, than it was in the 1960s. Social welfare programs that were created in response to the ‘60s riots, have been gutted, causing poverty and hopelessness to spread and deepen. Prisons have been filled with mostly non-white inmates as sentencing guidelines have become stricter and sentences longer. Violence in urban neighborhoods has exploded, and police today in many cities perceive themselves not as “peace officers” but as soldiers operating in hostile war zones, and act accordingly.
Can we be surprised then, that there has been a military-style response in one of those cities? That is not to justify this bloody act in Dallas, just to explain its inevitability.
There will no doubt be calls, particularly this having happened in Texas, for an even more militaristic crackdown by police on minority neighborhoods. But that would be a terrible mistake. What is needed is an amping down of the violence on both sides — the communities and the police. And also an amping down of the rhetoric, particularly by political leaders.
American society needs to start living up to its demonstrably false claim to be a just society of equality under the law.
This is a good place to note that while this deadly assault on police in Dallas represents the worst attack on law enforcement personnel in memory, it is not the first planned coordinated sniper attack in Texas or the US. The last one, which was reportedly planned but never activated, was to have taken place in neighboring Houston, in November 2011. It was not, however, intended to target police officers. Rather, it was intended to assassinate the leaders of the Houston Occupy movement, which was just getting going in that city that fall.
A heavily redacted memorandum (provided to us by the Partnership for Civil Justice and obtained by that public interest lawfirm in a pile of documents it received in response to a Freedom of Information request), sent from the Houston FBI office to the Bureau’s national headquarters in Washington, DC explains:
“An identified [DELETED] as of October planned to engage in sniper attacks against protesters in Houston, Texas, if deemed necessary. An identified [DELETED] had received intelligence that indicated the protesters in New York and Seattle planned similar protests in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin, Texas. [DELETED] planned to gather intelligence against the leaders of the protest groups and obtain photographs, then formulate a plan to kill the leadership via suppressed sniper rifles. (Note: protests continued throughout the weekend with approximately 6000 persons in NYC. ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests have spread to about half of all states in the US, over a dozen European and Asian cities, including protests in Cleveland 10//8/11 at Willard Park which was initially attended by hundreds of protesters.”
A second document, a memo from the Jacksonville, Florida FBI office sent out to a number of regional FBI offices and to Bureau headquarters in D.C., indicated that the plan, while not activated in Houston, may have been put on hold indefinitely:
“On 13 October 20111, writer sent via email an excerpt from the daily [DELETED] regarding FBI Houston’s [DELETED] to all IAs, SSRAs and SSA [DELETED] This [DELETED] identified the exploitation of the Occupy Movement by [LENGTHY DELETION] interested in developing a long-term plan to kill local Occupy leaders via sniper fire.”
The really disturbing aspect of all this is that when ThisCantBeHappening! contacted the FBI in Washington to find out what the Bureau had done about this deadly plot, which, as described, sounds like it may have involved some law enforcement or perhaps private security organization in Houston, we were basically blown off, and advised to contact the Houston FBI office or the Houston Police. The former would not return calls, and the latter claimed not to have even heard of the plot.
There were never any arrests of the Houston sniper plotters, though the FBI normally makes a big public announcement whenever it busts up some real or manufactured terrorism plot, suggesting that the Bureau was not at all concerned about this known plan to murder leaders of a lawful protest movement against corporate power.
Again, none of this justifies the murder of police officers, but it is important to note the grotesque double standard of justice that exists, not just in Texas, but in the nation as a whole.
Organizing to defend a community from abusive police, back in the late 1960s, prompted the US government to organize a massive coordinated campaign of ruthless repression against the perpetrators — the Black Panther Party. But organizing a plot to murder the leaders of a peaceful demonstration against corporate power in the capital of the US oil industry apparently led to no action at all by the nation’s top law enforcement agency. (Nor did anyone in Congress see fit to call a hearing to investigation this plot of the resulting FBI inaction.)
The same double standard applies to the problem of police brutality and murder of blacks and other people of color. If a cop is killed — especially by a person of color — the full weight of the law enforcement and legal establishment is brought down on the alleged perpetrator. A good example of this is the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Philadelphia journalist who was convicted in an abomination of a trial in 1982 for the 1981 killing of a white Philadelphia police officer. Sentenced to death initially, Abu-Jamal spent over two decades on Pennsylvania’s death row before ultimately having that sentence overturned by a federal court, leaving him facing life without possibility of parole. But at every turn, from being left to bleed to death in a police van from a police bullet before finally being brought to a hospital to having his legal appeals rejected by higher courts that had granted relief to other prisoners on the same grounds, down to the present time where the state’s Dept. of Corrections is leaving him untreated for a severe diagnosed case of easily curable active Hepatitis C, Abu Jamal has been abused by police and by the legal system.
Yet as we have seen over and over, especially in the past few years thanks to the proliferation of documentation via cellphones, when police murder an unarmed black or brown suspect (and often a white one too), they escape prosecution, or if prosecuted, skate free on a technicality.
A common refrain at #blacklivesmatter protests is the phrase “No justice, no peace!”
The intent of that phrase is that as long as there is no justice there will be protests. The reality, though, in a nation that so readily turns to guns to solve its grievances, is that there will also be events like what just happened in Dallas.
It’s time to turn things around, not by just ramping up the police repression, but by making justice a reality for all, and not just the privileged class.