Gaza, USA; Ferguson, Palestine: Pounding nails in Freedom’s Coffin

We’ve all heard the old saw that “to a man with only a hammer for a tool, everything looks like a nail.” Video of the escalating massive military incursion onto the streets of Ferguson, MO, reminded me of that metaphor again last week. Suddenly, U.S. mass media has awakened to the militarization of local police that has been growing since the “war on drugs” was started by President Nixon. Questions about “show-of-force” overkill are finally being raised.

The Hammer

In every profession I know of, some people learn one tool better than others and it becomes their favorite. Too often, they apply it beyond its realm of effectiveness. That failing has become the essence of the application of the weapons of warfare in the modern world. It is not surprising that this tendency is emblematic of the tragedy of errors that has unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri. But the “to a hammer, everything is a nail” syndrome reflects the fundamental failure of law enforcement across the country and the world today. That militarized law-enforcement “pattern of practice” is widely institutionalized and culturally confirmed in nearly every jurisdiction.

Several processes are at work, enticing local police departments to be attracted to the “upgrading” of their technologies of violence as part of the “toolbox” of law enforcement. Sophisticated technology has its own attraction. Tools of violence have the added attraction of great power over life and death. For police administrators, the price is attractive: it’s mostly free, and there are grants too. All the department has to do is generate sufficient drug arrests (in poor minority communities) to show their commitment to the “War on Drugs”. Right, “War.” The appeal of the image of the Warrior Cop resonates with the power image of military equipment. Violent individuals often self-select into jobs as policemen, a serious problem that departments have either ignored or encouraged. These are just some of the elements that have converted what we used to think of as “peace officers” to Warrior Cops.

Cult of Destruction

I mentioned Raul Hilberg’s, The Destruction of the European Jews, in my July 21 post, “Living in Fear of the Other.”[1] The process of destruction described by Hilberg is a gradually developing sequence of escalating brutality of action by the overwhelmingly more powerful actor in an asymmetric conflict. The oppressed class or ethnic group is systematically isolated from the basic means of living. In every case, the dominant power incrementally takes steps that further isolate, restrict, disempower, and eventually destroy the weaker population.

The social form of the process of destruction may differ, but at its core it is the same. The systematic destruction of the people of the “outdoor prison” that is Gaza, explicitly targets everyone – half are children – as “the enemy.” The process of destruction of people of color in the U.S. is more diffuse than the Israeli destruction of the people of Gaza. Overt public expressions of racism are no longer acceptable in the U.S. Many people allow themselves to be comfortable in the illusion that racism is no longer an issue. Events, however, demonstrate quite the opposite. The illusions of a “post-racial America” partially mask that. But it is just as real, though not as focused or intense, as the destruction of Gaza. In what way does the multi-agency force that now occupies Ferguson not look like a military occupation?

People as Enemy

The corporate media generally ignore incidents like that in Ferguson. Yet since Trayvon Martin’s legitimized murder by a warrior-cop wannabe, the growing number of racist killings by police, publicly exposed via witness phone-video cannot be ignored once it has gone viral. “Stand your ground” law supporters and Warrior Cops share a culture of death. As the police become increasingly militarized, their self-image grows closer to that of a combat soldier facing a racialized “Enemy” that must be destroyed. The deployment of military hardware, personal body armor and high-power weapons, encourages the Warrior Cop mentality and the excessive and unjustified use of force. The Warrior-cop mentality is combined with the underlying legacy of racism and self-selection of violent tendencies among police recruits. The consequences are all too often extremely dangerous modes of militaristic policing as population suppression. More cases of excessive force are inevitable, and they are more likely to be exposed as political and human rights are written off.

Despite the miserable and very expensive failure of the “war on drugs,” the majority of SWAT deployments (62%) have been for drug searches. [2] These home invasions often involve forced entry with a battering ram by heavily armed assault teams, resulting in serious property damage. Such violent breeches also terrify young children and elderly in the house. They are the same tactics used by U.S. assault teams in Iraq and Afghanistan. Such violence is used even when there is no evidence of potential resistance or violence by the targets. It is absurd overkill, designed more to exercise the prowess of the Warrior Cop and his erectile equipment than to control the mostly petty crime involved. Yet drug-war economics and the national militarist mentality lead to a desire to initiate war-like engagements with citizens treated as enemies.

Of course, the majority impacted by paramilitary police tactics are people of color living in economic prisons. Police assault teams do not break into white suburban homes or college dorms. The New Jim Crow [3] is enforced by the U.S. Warrior Cops. Though more diffused and less intense, their assaults on Americans are not all that much different from the Israeli attacks on the people of Gaza. Hatred for the feared Other spurs on the process of destruction. Militaristic police behavior is an evil hammer pounding nails in the coffin of freedom.
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[1] https://thehopefulrealist.com/2014/07/21/living-in-fear-of-the-other-the-process-of-destruction/
[2] WAR COMES HOME: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing. New York: American Civil Liberties Union, 2014.
[3] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New Press, 2010.

The Incredible Darkness of Being…Confronted by a Racist Cop

The recent police killing of a young black male which has gained national media attention is in most ways not unique. We never hear of most of them. What distinguished Michael Brown’s murder and generated so much outrage was the fact that it was so clearly a “killing of choice,” not of necessity. It’s not easy being a cop in America today. But it’s a lot harder being confronted by one if you are a young black male.

The events following the killing brought an explosion of direct public attention in the mass media and social media to the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. Why? Because, those events are emblematic of a widespread pattern of official violence that a growing number of us now recognize. Many who had believed in the illusion of a “post-racial America,” have gradually come to realize that it is quite integral to the American Culture of Violence.

Gaza, USA
The militarization of local police in the U.S. seems nearly complete. Most small towns all across the country have been armed and equipped with “surplus” weapons and equipment. These are the guns, uniforms, armored personnel carriers, etc., used by the military in “combat zones” around the world. They are changing the personal identities of officers. What does this mean to a black teenager in his own home town? It means fear.  In the Bantustans of Apartheid there was fear, but the African population was needed by the post-colonial rulers for their work in the mines, etc. In Palestine, the prisoners of Gaza (and in the West bank) are defined by Israeli authorities (but not by all Israelis) as entirely without legitimacy as a people. They are the feared/hated Other. The Other is the Enemy. What’s the difference here?

The fear any young black male experiences when confronted by an “officer of the law” has very little to do with his behavior. It has everything to do with DWB – “driving while black,” or walking while black, or in a mall shopping while black – or, as often as not, any of the above while Latino. Bottom line: if you are a youth of color you are guilty until proven innocent. The rest of us? Well, we are merely suspects. It would take a lot of pages to recount the many encounters of indignity my college students of color (male and female) endured at shopping malls in southern California. In attempting to shop at major department stores they were followed around and harassed by security personnel, assumed to be criminals. Same result for driving in area suburbs – where some of them lived!

In Gaza, Palestine, it’s really the same problem only more intense and concentrated in one densely populated area many have called an “outdoor prison.” The people are surrounded and cut off from economic viability by secured physical borders. Many American towns and neighborhoods are also cut off from economic viability. But their isolation is not by fences with armed guards. They are isolated by social and economic barriers that have much the same effect. And their populations are defined as the Enemy Others by the growing numbers of warrior cops.

A 2011 press release announced that St. Louis Police Chief Timothy Fitch would attend anti-terrorist training with Israeli Defense Force and Israeli National Police. His regional “Terrorism Early Warning (TEW) Group” emphasizes “the protection of critical infrastructures,” but does not mention protecting the people. Outfitted like a special forces operator, the Warrior Cop builds a self-image as Final Authority, over the death of The Other, the Enemy – which is ultimately the people. This, of course, blends in with legacy American Racism self-selected into police departments for totalitarian control of ‘restless’ populations. Whites ought to be afraid too, but not nearly so much as peoples of color — unless they are poor, of course. It’s Gaza, U.S.A. in Ferguson and elsewhere.

The Process of Destruction
Part of the dehumanization of The Other involves demonization. The mental outlook of the Warrior Cop and of too many other Americans could be paraphrased thus: “All Palestinians are Terrorists.” “All young Black/Brown males are criminals.” “All Muslims are Al Qaeda terrorists.” Etc., etc., etc. The terrorist meme and the criminal meme are convenient mechanisms for propagating the process of destruction of a people.  “The New Jim Crow” system of mass incarceration of young people of color creates a caste of demonized isolates and a process of their social destruction.

How could the media discussion turn so easily to speculate on the character of Michael Brown in subtle terms of whether he “deserved to die”? A video was conveniently released by the police chief of someone who looked like Michael Brown, shoplifting at a convenience store. Any such prior event has nothing whatsoever to do with his murder. In fact, a police officer shot Michael Brown to death on a street in Ferguson without any evidence of a cause to do so. The video release was an obvious and blatant attempt to divert attention away from the perpetrator and to demonize the victim who he had destroyed.

An entire book could be written, and probably will, to fully analyze the sequence of “after-incident” police misconduct in Ferguson after the killing of Michael Brown. Silence about the officer involved. Deploying full military forces, including snipers atop armored vehicles was their absurd attempt to suppress an entirely legitimate peaceful protest.  that would be farce if it were not so tragic.

Whatever Michael Brown may or may not have done or have been later suspected of doing is entirely irrelevant to his killing. The police even admitted that the officer-shooter did not know of any connection of Mr. Brown to the convenience store incident. The old scam of ‘blaming the victim’ is alive and well. But then, young black males are routinely demonized anyway.

Until this nation gets a grip on its imperious racist present, and caring people stand up to the totalitarian trend, the process of destruction will continue.  For now, it appears that the social blindness of “law enforcement” institutions prevails.  Their assumption is that the appropriate response to increasing tension and anger is to call in ever more chaotic demonstrations of force  But as Michael Brown’s mother so wisely argued, only justice can establish peace.  And justice is not achieved by suppressing dissent; it is achieved by addressing the grievances of the people.

State Secrecy: Collapse or Transformation

A number of books and articles have appeared over the past few years raising the specter of societal collapse. The crises of climate disruption and hyper-inequality in an increasingly unstable U.S. and global economy are converging toward destabilization. These converging destabilizing forces will likely produce some form of radical change –like it or not. But what will it look like? That will depend on us.

Societal Collapse
One of the most comprehensive works on historical cases of societal collapse is Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Focused entirely on how and why things happened in the societies he studied, Diamond cautiously avoids any direct contemporary predictions. He steadfastly avoids inferences from the catastrophic collapses of Mayan civilization, the Easter Islander society, or several others he studied. But a number of implications seem obvious. For example, in each case, when confronted with ecological crises, elites squandered declining resources on self-aggrandizing displays of wealth or power, accelerating the approach of collapse. These were all societies dependant on irreplaceable local or regional ecological resources. Today, we arguably face the same kind of problems, but at a planetary scale. Only a massive “Great Transformation” has any likelihood of staving off a global collapse of both economy and ecology. We are used to moving on to the next land to plunder. No more.

Like the examples Jared Diamond describes, our power elites engage in denial and projection as they busily accumulate more and more phantom wealth and power. They entrench themselves in an increasingly totalitarian security state they think will insulate them from the world. Their state benefactors, obsessed with a perceived need for secrecy and military control of everything, give them a false sense of security. The corporate-state response to almost any problem is violent repression. From 9-11 to Gaza, from Viet Nam to Ukraine, each power elite, whether here or there, acts in the same way. It posits an all-powerful enemy – the evil Other – who can only be defended against by overwhelming superiority of weaponry and violence.

The Secrecy of the Surveillance State
Robert David Steele’s book, The Open-Source Everything Manifesto, is striking because it proposes a radically different framework for “intelligence,” and for avoiding societal collapse. It identifies massive systemic fraud and corruption in the secretive ‘top-down’ violence-driven intelligence establishment and he calls for its abandonment. But what is most stunning is that Steele is a respected and accomplished member of the military and intelligence communities. Steele would abolish and replace those institutions. Based on his extensive professional experience, Steele argues that “intelligence” produced by secret agencies is mostly dysfunctional and often just wrong. Steele’s take on the modern form of totalitarianism with a democratic façade is grounded in the insider perspective of a professional spy. In contrast, Sheldon Wolin’s Democracy, Inc. describes a creeping “inverted totalitarianism,” from a political scientist’s outsider viewpoint. But the implications for democracy and its survival are remarkably similar.

Steele’s case for universal “open source intelligence” rests on a model of shared information in which the ever-growing secrecy establishment would be counter-productive. After all, the more secrecy in a system, the more opportunity corrupt elites have to “manage democracy” in their own interests. To the extent that society’s major institutions are shrouded in secrecy, democracy is destined to become a façade for totalitarianism. The evidence is overwhelming that both state and corporate secrecy and unrestricted spying are seriously dysfunctional and lead to oppression. Open source intelligence demands an entirely new way of thinking about nation states and various social formations. Effective human systems operate as whole systems and whole systems require whole-systems thinking and participation – by everyone, not just elites.

The combination of predatory capital and power technology operated by a secretive military-industrial corporate state destroys true democratic processes. The secrecy based intelligence establishment inevitably further concentrates power and wealth in the institutions that are controlled by the less-than-1%. These trends have reached their breaking point.

The Unknown Transformation
No, the center will not hold – it’s not even the center anymore. Internal contradictions quite different than Marx predicted are driving the social hierarchy to a chaotic collapse. With all the inter-dependencies of Big-System Society and its global reach, collapse may well spread broadly. The big question is what will replace the corporate state and how. A great transformation is inevitable, but how it occurs and with what result is not. Hierarchical information control has so far assured elite dominance, but dysfunction is accelerating; it cannot be sustained. We seem to be headed for widespread political and economic chaos. One plausible result may be massive breakdowns of systems of supply of industrial and consumer products, even the very necessities of life.

Then, there is the Achilles heel of the so called “global economy.” Complex systems have internal vulnerabilities. Moreover, both climate chaos and the limits of the growth economy predict the end of the corporate state – it just can’t cope. Allies such as the World Trade Association and the International Monetary Fund, have no value other than to the failing system they attempt to support. Nor does the array of military alliances that support global empire.

Very little serious work has been done on the question of how a viable transformation can be accomplished without high levels of chaos and damage to both people and environments. The works of Diamond and Steele provide two hard sources (and there are others) for beginning to shape a new social intelligence that can help transform the old institutions to meet the needs of the post-industrial era.

Living in Fear of the Other: The Process of Destruction

No power elite in the world is immune from becoming a perpetrator of the process of destruction of a population of Others. Unwarranted extreme power of corrupt officials is often enhanced by manipulation of the mass media to demonize an “out group” of Others. Information control and propaganda allow elites to control “public opinion” and see “the Other” as the epitome of danger. With these tools, a political-military elite can lead the way to a classic “process of destruction” of a subjugated population.

Such was the situation in the classic case of institutionalized demonizing of Jews leading to the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. Similar processes have arisen in South African apartheid, the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine, and even to the “New Jim Crow” and “illegal aliens” in the U.S. In the post-911 world of U.S. wars of choice collectively characterized as “the war on terror,” all peoples of the Muslim religion have become the collectively demonized Other.

Of course, violence works both ways, but the process of destruction is usually extremely asymmetrical. America is demonized by the victims of its military incursions into their societies. But they have little recourse. The processes of destruction – in the form of U.S. state terror – perpetrated upon populations of Others, breeds new hatreds and more non-state terrorists with little resources to commit violence, but whose outrage sustains fanatical commitment. Drone attacks on villages and night raids killing whole families in their homes breed more “insurgents” than they capture or kill “terrorists.” The application of the word “terrorist” to all victims of indiscriminate military assaults demonstrates the absurdity of efforts to justify the process of destruction.

In wars between actual armies, a certain symmetry emerges in the process of destruction, to the extent that technological power disparities allow. But in highly asymmetrical conflicts, the relative power of the two sides is so disparate that the destruction is almost entirely one-sided. Whatever atrocities are committed on either side, the extreme disparity of destructive power, its use, and effects is a moral trap the dominant power cannot escape without exercising considerable restraint. Such self restraint is uncommon at best.

Elites and the Process of Destruction

Throughout history, corrupt elites have inflamed the fear of the Other to secure their own political power. Propaganda demonizing a subjugated population of Others encourages broad participation or willingness to accept a process of destruction of Others. Elites motivate their followers to condone or participate in inhumane treatment of an oppressed population of Others. Gradually exploitation and criminal violence, sanctioned by the state, are escalated, institutionalized, and rationalized as “justice.” Destruction is conducted with impunity against those who are deemed outside the ‘chosen’ population. In a recent post on TruthDig.org, Chris Hedges quotes a crucial passage from Raul Hilberg’s monumental work, “The Destruction of the European Jews”:

“The process of destruction [of the European Jews] unfolded in a definite pattern,” Hilberg wrote. “It did not, however, proceed from a basic plan. No bureaucrat in 1933 could have predicted what kind of measures would be taken in 1938, nor was it possible in 1938 to foretell the configuration of the undertaking in 1942. The destructive process was a step-by-step operation, and the administrator could seldom see more than one step ahead.”

Destructive Fear of the Other

And so it has been with other historical and contemporary examples of “the process of destruction.” The Cheney-Bush invasion and occupation of Iraq was stupid and naïve (though more brutal than Saddam ever was, and far more destructive). Each foolish step seemed a blind effort to recover from the previous blunder. Ultimately, the entire enterprise emulated an “outdoor prison.” The entire Iraqi population was in effect tortured by destroying the country’s infrastructure and means of survival for many of its people.

The all but forgotten genocidal ‘carpet bombing” of the people of Viet Nam resulted from a gradual ‘escalation’ of the impositiion of destruction in a vain attempt to control an entirely misunderstood people.

The latest assault by the Israeli Defense Forces’ massive fire power against the civilian population of Gaza, Palestine, is the result of a similar “mission creep” grounded in an irrational fear of the dehumanized, subjugated, and dis-empowered Palestinian people. Its vastly disproportionate destruction of an impoverished subordinate population is excused by the flimsiest of applications of the ‘terrorist’ meme to a powerless people.

The mass incarceration of urban youth of color in the U.S. is another escalation of “the process of destruction” that Hilberg elucidates. Steadily over decades, the young black and brown populations of U.S. cities have become a caste of isolates. They are denied any meaningful way to engage in the economy and tainted as ‘felons’ for the rest of their lives. In U.S. cities, young men of color are stigmatized because of the profits law enforcement agencies accrue by incarcerating them. “Law enforcement” is rewarded with funding and equipment as part of the “war on drugs.” Yet young whites, who use drugs in equal proportion with the Others remain unscathed, for they are not “Others.”

In each case, ‘the authorities’ expand their level of violence in the process of destruction by building the fear of the Other and by demonizing and punishing a whole population for the alleged crimes of a few. In each case, the process of destruction is driven by the business of profiting from official violence. Orwell understood it all.