Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Beatings Will Continue

Barack Obama's answer to racial and economic injustice in America is not to withhold domestic weapons of mass destruction from local police departments. To the contrary -- the police simply need more intensive training in how to assault people with accuracy and professionalism. They must learn to lob tear gas canisters responsibly, and to use proper steering techniques when deploying tanks in mall parking lots.

As the Kill List president knows all too well, state violence is both an art and a science:
Obama plans to issue an executive order before the end of February 2015, directing federal agencies to improve the way in which local law enforcement agencies procure, audit and manage a giant stockpile loaned and purchased from the Pentagon. However, the White House said the programs would remain in place.
Obama is also separately calling for a $263m, three-year spending package to reform police departments across the country which, if approved by Congress, could lead to the purchase of an additional 50,000 lapel-mounted cameras to record police officers on the job.
Got that? Obama doesn't need any stinking Congress to OK the continuing evolution of impoverished American neighborhoods into billion-dollar militarized zones. But he pleads powerlessness about the body cameras, which would have to be included in a much cheaper spending package. This "reform" package, you see, will also act as a money magnet and pork barrel vehicle for individual districts. Armies of lobbyists from the tech and security industries will converge on Capitol Hill, campaign bribery cash in hand, to ensure that they're part of any legislation to keep them and the political ruling class safe and secure, and to keep poor people fearful and oppressed. 

And about those body cameras being hailed as a deterrent to violence? Like any gizmo, they can be lost, stolen, tampered with, accidentally dropped in the toilet. The film can be suppressed by friendly judges in secret evidence hearings (Abu Ghraib, Gitmo),  or even deliberately destroyed with impunity. (CIA torture tapes)
 The president is also creating a task force to advise the White House on additional ways in which public trust can be improved between law enforcement and minority communities. The panel, led by Philadelphia police commissioner Charles Ramsey and former assistant attorney general Laurie Robinson, will report back within the next 90 days.
The beatings will definitely continue. Obama essentially just dog-whistled the law and order message so beloved of his Republican friends. For, when Ramsey was police commissioner in Washington, DC, he instituted traffic checkpoints for the sole purpose of entering drivers' information into a deep-state data base. Under his watch, surveillance cameras were installed throughout the city. He also ordered the mass arrests in 2002 (without charge or even a warning to disperse) of 400 people spending the day in a park during meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Some were peaceful protestors; others were just families having a day of fun. Ramsey was later deemed personally liable for violating their Fourth Amendment rights, and the city was ordered to pay restitution totaling more than $1 million. But good enemy of the people that he was, he kept his job.

Most recently, Ramsey has come under fire for his Philadelphia department using excessive force against civilians using their cell phones to film police violence. The ACLU filed its latest lawsuit against the city this fall on behalf of a woman claiming she was physically assaulted and restrained while filming an arrest at an environmental protest in 2012.

And he keeps getting rewarded.

Obama's appointment of this man to yet another whitewashing task force is sure to fire up the people now mobilizing for racial and economic justice. But I doubt that it will inspire that ephemeral something that he cynically calls "public trust." Let's hope that the unnamed "young civil rights leaders" with whom the president also deigned to meet on Monday will not be bribed with offers of government jobs or other perks in exchange for getting with Obama's program. Let's hope that the protesters are more aligned with the bottom-up activism and  horizontalism of the Occupy movement than with the cloying, co-opting grasp of such entities as MoveOn.
Defending the decision to allow that flow of equipment from the military to police to continue, the White House said the bulk of what is transferred is “fairly routine”, a definition it said included “office furniture, computers and other technological equipment, personal protective equipment and basic firearms”.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president had opted for an overhaul of the equipment procurement process – rather than an end to it – because some of the material transferred had proved useful. He pointed specifically to vehicles used in the hours after the 2013 Boston terrorist bombings. “What is needed, however, is much greater consistency in the oversight of these programs,” Earnest said.
Calling government disbursement of weapons of mass domestic destruction to local yokels in jackboots  "routine" sends a chill right up my spine. As does Earnest's cavalier description of police state overkill and the shutdown of a major American city in the wake of the Boston bombings as "useful." The beatings will continue  -- and so will Obama's Theater of Intimidation. As the Guardian noted, "the White House report detailed an enormous arsenal of almost half a million pieces of controlled property already loaned by the Pentagon to local police departments, including 92,442 small arms, 44,275 night vision devices, 5,235 humvees, 617 mine resistant ambush protected vehicles and 616 aircraft."
The president argued that “the law too often feels as if it is being applied in discriminatory fashion”, but qualified those remarks by saying racial bias was neither widespread nor “the norm”. Some have criticised the president for playing down the scale of racial bias in the criminal justice system.
Another dog-whistle to the right wing. Black and Brown folk have a perception problem, is all. Stop your whinin' and complainin', and Stand By Me, intones the first African-American president.
Explaining why Obama had not yet visited the St Louis suburb, Earnest said the president was conscious that reforms were needed to police forces across the country, not just in Missouri. He later added: “The underlying issues here are broader than just race. This goes to the foundational relationship between law enforcement agencies and the communities that they’re sworn to serve and to protect.”
Earth to Obama: this crisis is not a marital spat between equal partners (police and community.) This outbreak of state-sponsored violence is just the latest iteration of the historic racial oppression woven into the very fiber of American life. It's the direct result of plutocrats gone wild, politicians gone corrupt, and jobs just gone. It's the inevitable manifestation of the most extreme wealth gap of modern times. Making this an issue of police vs community is one more divide and conquer tactic. Keep the weapons flowing and the war contractors enriched. Pit the maligned and the marginalized against one another. And then cover your asses by appointing a commission to study it, then whitewash it and cram it, along with the other forgotten reports, under the rug on the next holiday weekend.

 May the Task Force be with them. Because it's all they've got left in their moldy bag of tricks.

And may the real Force be with us...  the force of our bodies, our voices, our solidarity. The beatings cannot continue if enough of us refuse to accept the punishment.


Will said...

Just a reminder you don't have to be brown or poor to get your ass beaten by the cops, although it certainly helps. Here's the sad, infuriating & ultimately exhausting tale of two upper-middle-class white guys who took on Chicago's "finest."


Pearl said...

Will: What a horror story! I wonder what caused those drunken thugs (plainclothes cops) to attack the two men which is a question that everyone wonders about. Could they have perceived that the men were gay? Nothing that I could find mentioned this possibility and I wondered why the highly educated men that were beaten up might have said anything nor hinted that that may have been the reason which should have been addressed pro or con. If so, this could be a hate crime of a particular kind which has legal repercussions.
I don't have the heart to read the account over as it is so disturbing. Can you tell me anything about this possibility? Of course if they were straight and the cops denied such thoughts nothing could be proved. Otherwise it could be an important part of such a horrendous incident that gay organizations might utilize and publicize.

Pearl said...

P.S. Also Greg Malandrucco had a slightly 'foreign' face which the thugs could have seen as a minority man they should hate. ??
Was this and the other possibility brought up in court or in the complaints? What set them off is of importance in this case and was there any investigation of these thugs' past or overheard comments involving bigotry?

annenigma said...

Karen, this is one of your very best.

I believe the reason Michael Brown's killing resonated far and wide is because nearly every city has at least one notorious case, if not many, where a cop has killed a citizen for some minor infraction, such as failure to immediately obey a screamed command they could barely understand. It's been such a common tragedy that I bet every single reader here has at least one case in their own vicinity.
That outrage lasts and connects people beyond those who knew one particular victim.

The case that really got to me was that of wood carver John T. Williams, back in 2010 in Seattle. Mr. Williams was shot dead for the crime of walking while whittling wood. A cop parked his car after spotting him, yelled from behind Mr. Williams to drop his knife, and after Mr. Williams kept walking as if he hadn't even heard him, the officer shot him 4 times in the back, killing him. Mr. Williams was a First Nation wood/totem carver, was holding a 3" folding knife, and according to his friends, was hard of hearing. He was also homeless and was mentally impaired from years of alcoholism.

Recently a NYT commentator named Pogo Was Right, who claimed to be a 25-year career military man, disagreed with my comment criticizing the militarization of police. Essentially, he said I shouldn't insult the military because the military would have shot dead any looters or rioters, unlike the cops who only play act with their military gear.

That sounds like the seeds of a civil war - military veterans vs. militarized police.

annenigma said...

I forgot to add that Pogo Was Right got many recommends for his comment to me, far more than my criticism of the militarization of police. I was surprised at that sentiment, coming as it was from NYT readers.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

We are turning into the Soviet Union where the citizens have to fear the police who are a bunch of corrupt yahoos with far too much power. Silence dissent by scaring people into blind obedience. It is the new American (and Soviet) way. How sad in a country that had so much potential for good.

annenigma said...

'Hundreds of Police Killings Are Uncounted in Federal Stats/
FBI Data Differs from Local Counts on Justifiable Homicides'

WASHINGTON—When 24-year-old Albert Jermaine Payton wielded a knife in front of the police in this city’s southeast corner, officers opened fire and killed him.

Yet according to national statistics intended to track police killings, Mr. Payton's death in August 2012 never happened. It is one of hundreds of homicides by law-enforcement agencies between 2007-2012 that aren't included in records kept by the FBI.'

The full article is behind a pay wall (of course) in today's Wall Street Journal.


annenigma said...

There was a story in my local area newspaper today about a suicidal woman who was charged last Fall with felony assault for brandishing her firearm during an alleged suicide-by-cop attempt.

Among the officers responding to the scene was a SWAT officer in an armored tank called a 'Peace Keeper'. Because he showed up last, he supposedly wasn't given the info about this being an attempt at suicide-by-cop and he open fired on her.

"Pleasants fired a volley from his AR-15, but most of the rounds hit the armored vehicle’s cowling. He took cover, checked his rifle for a malfunction and then fired a second volley, hitting Gentry twice."

He was lucky he didn't get hit by ricochets. She never fired a shot.

Denis Neville said...

How much is a black man's life worth?

“Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.”

- Billie Holiday, “Strange Fruit,” 1939


“Between 1824 and 1951 there were over 300 events classified as “White Race Riots” in which entire white communities turned on and destroyed entire Black communities and murdered Blacks in mass. There were 26 such major events and hundreds of smaller ones in major cities and towns across the US during the summer of 1919 alone.”


Post racial America? Most whites believe that racial problems ended with the passage of civil rights laws. However, race is still such a big, complex, painful and historical topic that no one knows where to start.

“… the needs of human beings must come first. Poverty is here and now. Hunger is here and now. Racial tension is here and now. Pollution is here and now. These are the things that scream for a response. And if we don't listen to that scream - and if we don't respond to it - we may well wind up sitting amidst our own rubble, looking for the truck that hit us - or the bomb that pulverized us. Get the license number of whatever it was that destroyed the dream. And I think we will find that the vehicle was registered in our own name.” ― Rod Serling, Commencement Address at the University of Southern California, March 17, 1970