As Vijay Prashad explains in his book, Red Star Over The Third World, domestic fascism in the West has reflected the West’s pre-existing colonial practices abroad. Citing Martinique communist Aimé Césaire, Prashad explains: “What had come to define fascism inside Europe through the experience of the Nazis – the jackboots and the gas chambers – were familiar already in the colonies. . . . [F]ascism was a political form of bourgeois rule in times when democracy threatened capitalism; colonialism, on the other hand, was naked power justified by racism to seize resources from people who were not willing to hand them over. Their form was different but their manners were identical.”
As Prashad and Césaire teach us, the fascist tactics used by our Western governments in the Global South will inevitably be brought home to be used against us. In the case of the US, these tactics have surely been introduced here, and we are now seeing this clearly as our police, sometimes backed by the military itself, are battling protestors in the streets in the same manner that a military force does as a foreign occupying power. Indeed, as a number of commentators have pointed out, the very tactic which killed George Floyd – the knee on the neck – was imported by the Israeli Defense Forces (themselves bankrolled by the US) who use this tactic against the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories and who are now training US police units, including the Minneapolis police force, to use it as well.
Moreover, the police are using not only the cruel military tactics used to oppress people abroad, they are also using the military’s very equipment to do so.
Democratic President Bill Clinton opened the door wide for this police militarization in the 1990s with the National Defense Authorization Act which created a program, the 1033 program, through which police departments are given surplus military equipment. As recently explained by Michael Shank in an article in The New York Review of Books, entitled “How Police Became Paramilitaries,” pursuant to this program, “local law enforcement began to adopt the type of military equipment more frequently used in a war zone: everything from armored personnel carriers and tanks, with 360-degree rotating machine gun turrets, to grenade launchers, drones, assault weapons, and more. Today, billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment—most used, some new—has been transferred to civilian police departments.”
And, once the police receive this equipment, they must use it. As Shank explains, the 1033 program “requires that law enforcement agencies make use of such equipment within a year of acquisition, effectively mandating that police put it into practice in the public space.” In other words, the police are actually required to turn the military’s high-tech guns against their own people.
The militarization of the police, moreover, can be seen as a by-product of the US’s over-reliance on the use of military force and war to solve all of its problems, to the near exclusion of all other alternatives. Indeed, the US has given up on trying to lead the world through economic and technological prowess, or through moral suasion. Instead, our leaders have decided that brute military force alone will allow the US to dominate the planet, and our nation’s coffers are being looted to the tune of over $1 trillion a year to do so. The result is the starving of our educational system, our social safety net and our nation’s vital infrastructure. This, of course, then leads to mass deprivation and despair which then leads to mass unrest. And, just as it deals with the rest of the world, our rulers have decided to deal with the unrest at home, not by solving the social ills plaguing this nation, or by fixing a few bridges or dams, but by beating us down with military-style violence.
Military force, indeed, has become the only instrument in our government’s toolbox, as quite starkly illustrated recently by the White House’s decision to give our valuable medical workers military flyovers costing $60,000 an hour instead of providing these workers with the protective equipment they have been desperately demanding. As with all things, our government has money and resources for instruments of violence, but none for human needs. This is literally killing us, just as surely as it is killing hundreds of thousands of people – nearly all people of color, not coincidentally – in foreign lands. The fight against police brutality and racism must therefore be linked to the fight to de-fund our military and to the broader fight to de-militarize our very society and culture.