Friday, September 19, 2014

Stirring the Pot

In cooking, it is an essential method of evenly heating and combining ingredients. In society, it is a forbidden, offensive act that leads people to consider other points of view and question their own values.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The War is Coming Home

A police officer, surrounded by several others, restrains a struggling, unarmed man in a choke hold as he gasps “I can't breathe” 11 times.  Moments later, he is dead on the streets of Staten Island.  A 2 year old child in Atlanta is asleep in his crib at 3 a.m. when a SWAT team's flash grenade blows a hole in his face and chest during a no-knock raid, leaving the child in critical condition and requiring extended hospitalization.  In Ferguson, a heavily-armed police officer sweeps his assault rifle across a crowd of demonstrators, announcing “I will fucking kill you.”  When asked to identify himself, the officer declines and instead says “go fuck yourself.”  Earlier, journalists are confronted by militarized police units in a nearby McDonald's and ordered to disperse as they attempt to cover the protest.  Elsewhere, a news crew has a police teargas canister thrown directly at their production van.

A typical afternoon in "the land of the free?"  The police and the military are merging into a single force of aggression.

The war is coming home. After decades of zealous U.S. government (deficit) spending (much to the delight of private weapons manufacturers), Americans are seeing more military weapons and tactics from Iraq and Afghanistan on their own streets.  All that surplus military equipment produced for that “War on Terror?”  National Safety Council stats reveal that Americans are now 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than a terrorist (source).  Americans are not interested in being lectured on why maximum force by their own government is necessary to obtain their “compliance.”  They recognize the difference between paying for an organization to “serve and protect” neighborhoods and a trigger-happy, weaponized force more interested in serving and protecting itself.  Which is why Ferguson residents alleging police abuse are now lining up to file a $40 million lawsuit against the Ferguson and St. Louis PD.

More Americans are finally realizing what the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly asserted: police have “no obligation to protect” citizens.  Increasingly, that seems to be of mere incidental consideration.  The American Civil Liberties Union found of 800 SWAT team deployments between 2011 and 2012, only 7% of SWAT team raids were genuine emergencies (the purpose for which a militarized police force was intended) (source).  Nearly 80% were used for ordinary law enforcement purposes like serving search warrants on people’s homes.  Police apologists will give lengthy rationalizations as to why any possible scenario contains an element of potential danger and therefore justifies aggressive tactics and maximum armament as a matter of standard operating procedure.  Prepare to be unconvinced; it's hard to assure people they are under military-style occupation for their own good.

In the line of duty, U.S. police discharge their firearms more often in a single day than German police do in an entire year; Der Spiegel reports that in 2011, the entire German police force fired 85 shots, most of which were not aimed at anyone (source).  More dramatically, a recent article in The Economist reported, “Last year, in total, British police officers actually fired their weapons three times. The number of people fatally shot was zero. In 2012 the figure was just one” (source).  Meanwhile, U.S. police shots fired is not even a number that is tracked; single U.S. police incidents include more weapon discharges than other countries' police fire in a year.

And when they are not being shot at, the American people are also the most imprisoned in the world.  The ACLU found that with only 5% of the world's population, the U.S. has 25% of the world's prison population, which has grown 700% since 1970 (source).  This is a historical record for the U.S. and the world.

Check out the recruiting commercial, “Newport Beach Police Dept - Are You Qualified?”  In 85 seconds (starring only white males), you will see a variety of assault-style weaponry, aggressive close quarter combat, pursuit and confrontation.  Not a single frame of “community policing,” – walking the beat of a familiar neighborhood, establishing trust with residents.  If these 85 seconds are any indication of the “qualifications” necessary for NBPD, the job appears to be one of constant urban warfare.

Most Americans strongly condemn rioting, looting, and other violence.  Yet community outrage such as in Ferguson doesn't occur in a vacuum and it isn't created overnight.  While there is the incendiary incident such as the fatal police shooting of 18 year old Michael Brown, behind the headlines are many residents of color who tell stories of their own sustained, antagonistic relationship with Ferguson police officers—who are almost all white, increasingly living elsewhere, and apparently bringing with them a war-zone mentality to the job.  In training and in practice, police officers are becoming soldiers deployed for combat.

In terms of spending alone, no nation prioritizes warfare like the United States – not even close (source).  And now the war is coming home.  So it is of no surprise that when your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.  But in Ferguson and elsewhere, the American people are becoming less tolerant of paying their government to be hammered and nailed.