Last week’s killing of an unarmed 18 year old Micheal Brown by an officer called Darren Wilson, gave the world not only a glimpse of the racialisation of policing in the United States but a shocking window into how local police forces are amping up their military capacity.
Much of the social media surprise around this latest cold killing in the States has been over the military grade weaponry and tactics broken out when anger led to street protests. Radley Balko is a journalist with The Washington Post and The Huffington Post. For syears now he’s provided a prescient anaylsis of the state of policing in the good old US of A, charting the rise of what he calls “the warrior cop” and how a culture of militarisation has bled out beyond SWAT teams.
Just days ago he spoke to the reader funded Democracy Now show and placed the military appearance of Missouri cops within a decades long build up of police capacity:
“You know, it seemed particularly bad in Ferguson, but a lot of what we saw in Ferguson was the St. Louis County Police Department sending in their SWAT teams and tactical teams to, I guess what they would call, preserve order in Ferguson. You know, this has been happening, as I said, since about the early 1980s. The transfers from the Pentagon of surplus military equipment—we’re talking tanks, armored personnel carriers, grenade launchers, helicopters—that began early in the Reagan administration informally and then was formalized by Congress in the 1990s. We’ve had millions—literally millions of pieces of military equipment have been exchanged this way. And then, after September 11th, the Department of Homeland Security started sending out checks to buy new military-grade equipment from companies that have now sprung up to build that equipment. So, you know, this—what we’re seeing in Ferguson, this is not a local issue, really. I mean, this is something that’s been driven by national policies, by policies that Congress has approved of and has oversight of, and could end tomorrow, if they wanted to.”
Later in the interview, he mentions a small US town that managed to fight off attempts by a corporation called Lenco to flog military style gear to its police department. It’s worth looking at the hyped up video sales pitch for it’s famous bearcat armored personal carriers: the very ones that made an appearance in Ferguson. Camouflaged action men race around, tearing down doors and pumping gas into domestic houses – all to the macho beat of AC/DC. These are police forces being psyched up by arms dealers and then itching to play with their new toys.
The consequences of politicians preaching about a war on drugs and terror leads to a raising of the stakes when rhetoric meets reality and preservation of the peace spills over into a mentality of straight up occupation. Picking up on the connections between this language of battle and brutal policing, the American Council of Civil Liberties has produced a report called The War Comes Home. It looks at how:
“State and local law enforcement agencies have amassed military arsenals purportedly to wage the failed War on Drugs, the battlegrounds of which have disproportionately been in communities of colours. But these arsenals are by no means cost free for communities. Instead, the use of hyper-aggressive tools and tactics results in tragedy for civilians and police officers, escalates the risk of needless violence, destroys property and undermines individual liberties.”
Writing for the Electronic Intifada site, Rania Khalek breaks down how cops become soldiers with former tools of combat passed down to local forces. What we are seeing here is the deployment of counter-insurgency tactics on civilian populations. But what surprise, for years now US police departments have been sending personal to Israel for training in population control and crowd control strategies. Rania Khalek continues and directly links members of the St. Louis County Police Department with training in Israel:
“Decades of testing and perfecting methods of domination and control on a captive and disenfranchised Palestinian population has given rise to a booming “homeland security industry” in Israel that refashions occupation-style repression for use on marginalized populations in other parts of the world, including St. Louis.
Under the cover of counterterrorism training, nearly every major police agency in the United States has traveled to Israel for lessons in occupation enforcement, a phenomenon that journalist Max Blumenthal dubbed “theIsraelification of America’s security apparatus.” Israeli forces and U.S. police departments are so entrenched that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) has opened a branch in Tel Aviv.”
You can watch Radley Balko go much further into the feeding frenzy of the police industrial complex on the Majority Report here.