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.