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.

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.