Friday, August 15, 2014

Militarized Police is NOT America - Another Reason to Scrap the Patriot Act

Rachel Maddow: Showed the background to violent protests in the Vietnam era and tied them to the current militarization of police forces around the country - including in Ferguson, Missouri.

The scenes from two nights ago could well have come out of Kiev during the fierce March protests, but in this case there weren't even good enough reasons to attack the crowd in Ferguson, Missouri as "enemy combatants". Last night for example, we beheld numerous clips (on Rachel Maddow's show) of cop overreach - what with bringing out armored personnel carriers, and cops in 'turtle' suits with assault weapons at the ready.  Is this the America I know? Not a chance! It more resembled images from 1930s Germany. (Recalling clips  of socialists and Jews beaten, shown to me in 1978 by former Hitler Youth, Kurt.)

Kurt preserved his films from the 1930s and 40s along with many others because he never wanted the world to forget. To forget how easily people can be trapped into accepting fascism and its solutions to social problems.

Last night also, Maddow took us back to the Vietnam protests to show how they became violent after Madison police were called in to clear the Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison campus of protestors in October, 1967. Rather than appeal to community policing as they normally did, they allowed the city's storm troops to just enter and crack heads at will. Many people were actually trying to escape the bedlam but these 'Nazis' blocked their paths and cracked their skulls open. Up until that fascist entry, the Vietnam protests had been relatively peaceful and even troops returning were treated with a modicum of respect. But it all changed after Madison, and ultimately led to the Kent State shooting deaths on May 4, 1970.

At the time I was in the middle of a radio astronomy class at the University of South Florida, when we received word the Admin Bldg. was off limits after it had been firebombed. Kent State and its violence spawned violent protests in hundreds of campuses across the country.

The case of Madison and its fascist reactions, as Maddow pointed out, didn't change until 1970 when it hired a new chief of police, Kenneth Cooper,  who de-militarized the police and began a peaceful and cooperative approach. As opposed to earlier acting like Nazi storm troopers, the city's police now acted as real PEACE officers. In the wake, Madison made up with its citizens and a new era dawned.

In the Ferguson MO case, as Maddow and earlier Chris Hayes also showed, the hyper-fascist militarization could be attributed to a provision of the "Patriot Act" which allows federal grants to purchase surplus  military hardware - including assault weapons, Humvees, small tanks, armored personnel carriers, as well as personal body armor. All could be obtained by local precincts, no matter how small.  Since 9/11, as Chris Hayes noted, $34 BILLION in surplus militarized hardware was dispatched to police, and a half million worth in St. Louis alone.

This is madness, because if cops are untrained and indiscriminate they will be more disposed to use this stuff than not, and hence we saw the armored personnel carriers plying the streets of Ferguson and enraging the protestors two nights ago. Meanwhile, many of the hyper-militarized cops - decked out in their turtle armor - over -reacted.

In one scene from Maddow last night we behold Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery in a restaurant when the turtle suits barged in,  pointed an automatic weapon at him and arrested him. When asked about his ID, Lowery told Maddow that his Washington Post credentials were around his neck and he tried to pack up (including his video recorder) and leave. He said he "just needed a minute", but the armored turtle suits grabbed him by the head and slammed him into the soda machine. According to Lowery: "they grabbed my bag, grabbed my phone and put me in temporary restraints." He was then detained.

Another clip features KSDK reporter Elizabeth Matthews, who related to Maddow:

"They came around to our unit. I was still sitting in the car. I put my hands up because they had their guns drawn at us, going around the corner and trying to figure out who all was there. Obviously, we were media but they still had their guns drawn, yelling that 'we're trying to get you out for your safety', but their guns were drawn."

Hmmmm.....sounds an awful lot like a metaphor for the NSA keeping us "safe" with their surveillance over reach.

In another scene, the turtle suits deliberately targeted a news crew from Al Jazeera America with a tear gas canister. Maddow next shows the turtles (from St. Charles, MO)  disembarking an armored carrier, and calmly begin disassembling the news crews' setup. Obviously, they hated the spot light which showed the fascist behavior.

Maddow, after the clips, declared that what we have seen in Ferguson is "police failure on a huge scale, This is terrible, terrible policing. Terribly conceived and brutally done. The decision to treat this like a military operation is a failure on its own level but the lack of professionalism, the lack of restraint, deliberately going after the media to stop coverage of what they're doing is hard to fathom in its incompetence."

And the scenes attest to that.

Thankfully, as shown by Maddow and by Hayes in earlier news clips, Gov. Jay Nixon took the operations  out of the St. Louis county's cops' hands and turned them over to the Highway Patrol - led by an African -American, Capt. Ronald Johnson. His de-escalation and non-militarized posture (ceasing to treat protestors as enemy combatants)  and methods stand to preserve what peace there is and possibly provide an avenue to mend community relations, though that will be hard.

But we will have to see. In the meantime, we need to press our reps to de-militarize the police around the nation, and that means halting the provision of the Patriot Act which provides military materiel and to precincts nationwide.

Obviously also, in the long term, it means no more unnecessary wars which will leave billions of dollars worth of surplus personnel armored carriers, Humvees, assault weapons, etc. that can be fobbed off on cops -who will then seek to act like military too. (Though interestingly, several military sources affirmed yesterday they'd never have acted the way the Ferguson cops did).

A good sign was the peaceful response of protestors last night, in contrast to 2 nights ago. This was directly due to the less combative pose, with cops no longer in armored turtle suits and no armored carriers plying the streets..

Let's also hope, in the longer term, that law enforcement gets to the bottom of the killing of Michael Brown, the incident which started it all. 

See also:

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