Police Militarism in America

The apparent murder by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, of Mike Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black youth who was shot a number of times while he was allegedly on his knees with his hands up in the air, pleading “Don’t shoot, I’m not armed,” is exposing everything that is wrong with policing in the US today.

The Ferguson Police Department, reportedly nearly all white, patrols a St. Louis suburban community that is largely African-American, which is already a recipe for disaster in a country that is drenched in racism. The Ferguson PD is also reportedly using the kind of aggressive policing — arresting people over minor infractions — that can quickly escalate into violent confrontations. In this case, it appears Brown’s offense was jay-walking and perhaps talking back to the police officer — the first being a citation offense, and the second not even illegal.

When this shooting happened, instead of immediately attempting to calm things down, the Ferguson Police Department went all paramilitary, sending massive numbers of up-armed cops in military gear into the community, backed by armored vehicles. They  responded to understandable community protests with tear gas and, later, with solid wooden and rubber bullets designed to hurt and injure but not kill (though clearly at close range there is always that danger). Several more people have already been shot by police, leaving them in critical condition.

Adding to community outrage is the refusal by police to release the name of the officer responsible for killing Brown, or even to release the initial report of his autopsy — both the kind information that would be readily available were the shooter not a police officer.

What’s wrong here? So many things that it’s hard to know where to begin.police state3

First of all, unless an officer is under attack, or unless members of the public are threatened, there is simply no justification for a police officer to unholster a service revolver or worse, to fire at, a person who is allegedly committing some minor offense.

Nor, even after having fired shots, is there any justification for an officer to continue to fire at someone who is manifestly unarmed and who is not threatening anyone, as appears to have been the case when this officer continued to fire at the kneeling Brown.

Second, once a tragic outrage like this has occurred, it is totally unacceptable for the police department involved to withhold the information concerning the officer’s identity. Police are not CIA agents. They are public employees responsible to the community in which they work. When they decide to become “peace officers,” they are signing on to be responsible members of the community they are policing. In a democratic society they cannot be permitted to hide behind their badges.  Public knowledge of who is doing that policing is a  critical deterrent to the dangerous tendency for police to see themselves in an oppositional role with respect to the community they are policing — as a sort of occupying army.

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said he is withholding the name of the officer who killed Brown (who has been put on paid administrative leave from his patrol assignment), because of fears that he and his family could be at risk, but that is not an acceptable justification. Police, as I already mentioned, are public employees and know the risks they are taking when they decide to be cops. Their spouses also know the risks. If the police are worried about security, they can provide protection for the officer  and the officer’s family, but in an incident like this the community, and the family of the victim of this killing, also have rights — including the right to know who the officer is and what his prior history has been. For example, did he have a history of abusive arrests or other questionable shootings?

As for the withholding of the autopsy, police say they are awaiting the result of toxicology tests on the body. That’s a common ploy of police in shootings, on the theory that if they can find evidence of alcohol or drugs, it will somehow diminish public outrage over the shooting. But in this, as in many such police shooting cases, whether or not Brown was inebriated or drug addled would have no bearing at all on the justification for the shooting. According to witnesses Brown was on his knees with his hands raised when the officer, who had already shot the him at least once, walked up to him and fired more shots at him, killing him in the street. Toxicology tests are irrelevant. What is important is how many shots were fired, where they hit him, and what the trajectories of the bullets were. And the public has a right to know this information as soon as possible.

Particularly since 9-11 and the launching of the so-called War on Terror, police across the country have been deliberately mythologized into “heroes,” and have effectively been morphed from “peace officers” into “combat troops” in an amorphous and largely imaginary “war.”  In this “war,” the enemy, initially unseen and largely nonexistent foreign “terrorists,” gradually shifted to become a larger group of “others” –  in particular darker-skinned immigrants and, especially, African-Americans. Increasingly white people too have been added to this “enemy” category as police have become ever more militarized. (This author was threatened with arrest last year by a thuggish local suburban Pennsylvania cop when I questioned, correctly, the officer’s false assertion that hitch-hiking was illegal in the state. Had I continued to protest and to insist that I had a legal right to stand on the side of a secondary road, out of the roadway, with my thumb out, I would likely have been roughly grabbed, hand-cuffed, and hauled off to jail for something which, even if I had been too close to traffic, would have been a non-criminal charge, like a parking violation.)

In many communities of color today, police routinely patrol the streets all decked out in military-style gear, complete with kevlar helmets, semi-automatic weapons, and body armor. They do this not because they are in danger — the incidence of officers being shot in the line of duty has fallen to rates not seen since the late 19th century — but in order to make them more intimidating.

Back in the mid-1960s, when police forces in most cities were almost lily-white, black areas of major cities across the country erupted in riots over the same kinds of incidents as what just happened in Ferguson. Out of those riots, a resistance grew, including the founding of the Black Panthers. That kind or community resistance, while it  was brutally challenged by police and by the FBI, also led to reforms, such as the hiring of many minority police officers, to the establishment of civilian police review boards, and to the election of minority mayors and council members.

9-11 undid much of that.

In most communities in the US, we now have police who are described, quite appropriately, as law “enforcers.”  The term “peace officer” today sounds anachronistic.

We urgently need a new era of reforms that puts police back in the role of “public servant,” and  both of those words needs to be equally emphasized. As public employees, police must not be permitted to hide anonymously behind their badges. Their actions must be open to public inspection. And they need it to be made clear by their supervisors, and by the elected officials who ultimately are their bosses, that they are “servants” of the citizens of the community in which they work.

Such a change will not come easily. The police will not willingly surrender their new powers as “enforcers.”  Those powers will have to be wrested away from them. And doing that will require the kind of community organizing and resistance that we saw in the 1960s.

I’m not calling here for vigilantism, or street warfare. I am calling for a peaceful but militant community resistance to existing police militarism.

I’m reminded of an incident back in the late 1970s when I was living in Los Angeles. I had just come out of a theater where I had watched a showing of Ralph Bakshi’s excellent dystopic film “Wizards.” As I walked towards my car in the mall parking lot near the inter-racial working-class community of Silver Lake, I saw police helicopters and dozens of squad cars converging on a residential neighborhood across the main street. Curious to see what was going on, I trotted over to have a look.

I came upon the scene, flood-lit by noisy helicopters hovering above, of a car that had just been stopped by several LAPD squad cars. It had apparently been stolen by three joy-riding Latino teenagers. As I looked on, the three were yanked out of the vehicle by officers, some of whom had guns drawn. The boys were brutally slammed against the car amid a lot of yelling by the officers, whose numbers were growing by the minute as new squad cars arrived.

It was getting ugly, and I was worried about the boys, who were not very big. Suddenly a crowd began to grow, as local people, mostly Latino, from the surrounding houses, poured out into their yards to see what was going on. These local men and women began to yell at the cops:

“Don’t you hurt those boys!”

“We see you, and we see that they are not injured! Make sure they stay that way!”

“We’re watching you! If they get hurt, we’re going to report you!”

The scene visibly calmed down. The cops stopped yelling. The boys, cuffed, were led to squad cars to be brought downtown for booking. But there was no violence. None of the kids ended up getting hit.  I don’t know what happened to them later at Parker Center downtown, but what was developing into a nasty situation was defused by the presence of the community, who stood in solidarity against the cops.

This is what we need today: community resistance to police abuse, and a demilitarization of policing.

In too many communities across America today, as in Ferguson, Missouri, the “terrorists” in our midst are the police themselves. We need to end that situation.

Academy’s Robin Williams Tweet Criticized by Suicide Prevention Group

A tweet from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences about Robin Williams’ death has proven popular, but not with one suicide-prevention group.

The tweet, sent out Monday at 5:56 p.m., shows the genie from the 1992 “Aladdin” with the message, “Genie, you’re free,” which is a line from the film. The item was retweeted more than 320,000 times and received a staggering 69 million impressions. The Internet and Twitter have been filled with tributes to Williams, who voiced the genie in the film.

However, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention worries about the subliminal message. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer at the AFSP, expressed concern about the tweet, telling the Washington Post Tuesday, “Suicide should never be presented as an option,” before adding, “(it) presents suicide in too celebratory a light.”

Several others also tweeted the line from the film, including Evan Rachel Wood. Her message was retweeted 100,000 times while Buzzfeed called the Academy tweet “a real tearjerker.” But since the Academy hands out Oscars, its tweet got the most attention, including positive mentions on “Good Morning America” and in PR Week.

After Williams’ death was confirmed Monday, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention posted a a statement on its website in response. In the Tuesday posting, the org points out that suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S., killing someone every 13 minutes. “We have to do more to prevent such tragic deaths through greater awareness of mental health issues, warning signs, effective interventions and treatment,” said the statement. “Suicide is preventable and we all have a role to play to end the tragedy of suicide.”

Some people who retweeted the Academy’s message added comments. A few balked, but many were positive, adding such statements as “Says it all” and “Immediate lump in the throat.” Reps from the Academy had no comment and reps from AFSP were unavailable.

  • Published in Culture

U.S. Painter: "In my Soul I am Cuban"

Visiting Cuba to inaugurate a collective exhibition of abstract paintings of nine Afro-American artists, the outstanding painter Ben Jones talked exclusively with Cubasí...  

He was born and lives in the United States, but he carries a small island in the heart and he dedicates part of his amazing energy to give the best of him: art. Ben Jones is a creator well aware of his origin, committed with his time and authentic as only possible under those norms.

I arrived at the National Museum of Fine Arts to meet one of the most outstanding Afro-American artists and I found a simple man who with extraordinary modesty spoke in Spanish more about the other rather than of himself.

The purpose of this visit to Cuba was to inaugurate a collective exhibition where nine of his Afro-American colleagues who work abstraction participate:

"For many years I have had the idea of bringing an exhibition of Afro-American artists with great careers in the United States and the world. I wanted those artists to be working in abstraction. I don't think the fine Arts Museum has had an exhibition like this before. The exhibition is really small, but it’s got a lot of history because it’s the first one… besides, abstract art is a universal language, its color, its texture, its composition, images, it’s like when you are listening to music that has no theme, it’s universal."

Jones also lives art as a vehicle to share and multiply man’s ideas and purposes of the revolutionary man he is that’s why he traveled alone: There are many people in the United States who want to visit Cuba, I had more than a hundred of people from all over the U.S. who wanted to come with me for the exhibition, from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, different cities. Most of them are museum directors, curators, collectors, art professors, art critics, plastic art artists… two jazz musicians also came with us, and they gave a concert with Cuban jazz players".

Ben Jones travels to Cuba more than once every year and he appreciates of this land much more than its art: "I am very much in favor of the Cuban Revolution, I support the Cuban Revolution, many of the people who came with me are interested in Cuba, in their people, in their culture… "

In fact, he works to strengthen a relationship he considers essential: "I think it’s very important the exchange between the people of the United States and Cuba, as I was telling you, in my country there are a lot of people who want to know Cuba, but U.S. laws don’t allow all North Americans to visit Cuba, then people working at cultural institutions, art museums, universities have the possibility to come, but only for these sort of activities, but am I trying for all North Americans, because when I tell people “I’m leaving for the Dominican Republic", they tell me "oh, have a nice trip", if I say “I’m leaving for Puerto Rico", they tell me "have a nice trip", but when I say “I’m leaving for Cuba", people ask me at once "how is it possible for me to go with you, because I want to go to Cuba? And I think it’s because the Cuban culture is very strong, when Cuban musicians, painters, artists visit the United States the whole public is really interested for them."

The attempt is a two-way exchange: "right now we are organizing things to invite artists who work the Afro-Cuban theme to the U.S., to the galleries, universities and different cultural institutions to expose their work there."

Jones tells with satisfaction the results of this visit whose programme was lively and advantageous: "We had many activities with my group, we went to the Folkloric Assemble, the House of Africa, the Yoruba Cultural Society and all learned a lot about the Afro-Cuban culture here. We visited museums, galleries, artists' workshops, we had an encounter with film director Rigoberto Lopez, he has a place to show the movies about the Afro-Cuban culture. I can say on my behalf and on behalf of my group that all of them want to return, many people of my group want to organize their own groups to return, they found many artists, many charming Cubans, made friendships and are organizing groups to return."

They also visited the higher Institute of Art, San Alejandro Academy, schools of different teaching levels, an experimental art center, Belkys Ayon’s house, among others: "We came for ten days, but we need at least a month, because there’s a lot to see. Havana is not like New York, but it’s similar in that there’s a lot of energy in this city, a lot of culture, like in New York"

Issues and words that so many refuse to speak about, return over and over in the conversation of the artist who with more than 70 years old works tirelessly: " I am socialist in my thinking, then it’s very easy for me to have a relationship with Cuba, because I share its ideas, the fact that education is free, health is free, in my country those of kind of things don’t happen, in my country many cannot go to the doctor’s because they have no money, there are some programs for the poor, but it is not enough.

"I have come to Cuba 63 times and I have a great influence of the Cuban culture, of the Cuban Revolution in my art, I have made four exhibitions in Cuba and in the future I will have others. I always tell people I am Cuban, in my soul I am Cuban, in the past I said I’m leaving for Cuba, but now I say I’m leaving for my country, Cuba is my country."

  • Published in Culture

Ron Paul: US 'likely hiding truth' on downed Malaysian Flight MH17

Former Congressman Ron Paul said the US knows ‘more than it is telling’ about the Malaysian aircraft that crashed in eastern Ukraine last month, killing 298 people on board and seriously damaging US-Russian relations in the process.

In an effort to inject some balance of opinion, not to mention pure sanity, into the ongoing debate over what happened to Malaysian Flight MH17, Ron Paul is convinced the US government is withholding information on the catastrophe.

"The US government has grown strangely quiet on the accusation that it was Russia or her allies that brought down the Malaysian airliner with a Buk anti-aircraft missile," Paul said on his news website on Thursday.

Paul’s comments are in sharp contrast to the echo chamber of one-sided opinion inside Western mainstream media, which has almost unanimously blamed anti-Kiev militia for bringing down the commercial airline. Incredibly, in many cases Washington had nothing to show as evidence to incriminate pro-Russian rebels aside from tenuous references to social media.

“We’ve seen that there were heavy weapons moved from Russia to Ukraine, that they have moved into the hands of separatist leaders,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “And according to social media reports, those weapons include the SA-11 [Buk missile] system.”

In another instance, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters “the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine, and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions.” When veteran AP reporter Matthew Lee asked for proof, he was to be disappointed.

“I can’t get into the sources and methods behind it,” Harf responded. “I can’t tell you what the information is based on.” Lee said the allegations made by the State Department on Ukraine have fallen far short of “definitive proof.”

Just days after US intelligence officials admitted they had no conclusive evidence to prove Russia was behind the downing of the airliner, Kiev published satellite images as ‘proof’ it didn’t deploy anti-aircraft batteries around the MH17 crash site. However, these images have altered time-stamps and are from the days after the MH17 tragedy, the Russian Defense Ministry revealed, fully discrediting the Ukrainian claims.

In yet another inexplicable occurrence, Russian military detected a Ukrainian SU-25 fighter jet approaching the MH17 Boeing on the day of the catastrophe. No acceptable explanation has ever been given by Kiev as to why this fighter aircraft was so close to the doomed passenger jet moments before it was brought down.

“[We] would like to get an explanation as to why the military jet was flying along a civil aviation corridor at almost the same time and at the same level as a passenger plane,” Russian Lieutenant-General Andrey Kartopolov demanded days after the crash.

Paul has slammed the Obama administration, despite its arsenal of surveillance technologies at its disposal, for its failure to provide a single grain of evidence to solve the mystery of the Malaysian airliner.

"It’s hard to believe that the US, with all of its spy satellites available for monitoring everything in Ukraine, that precise proof of who did what and when is not available," the two-time presidential candidate said.

"Too bad we can’t count on our government to just tell us the truth and show us the evidence," Paul added. "I’m convinced that it knows a lot more than it’s telling us."

Although no sufficient evidence has been presented to prove that the anti-Kiev militia was responsible for the downing of the international flight, such an inconvenient oversight has not stopped the United States and Europe from slapping economic sanctions and travel bans against Russia.

Moscow hit back, saying it would place a ban on agricultural imports from the United States and the European Union. Russia’s tit-for-tat ban will certainly be felt, as food and agricultural imports from the US amounted to $1.3 billion last year, according to the US Department of Agriculture. In 2013, meanwhile, the EU’s agricultural exports to Russia totaled 11.8 billion euros ($15.8 billion).

After the crash, Ron Paul was one of a few voices calling for calm as US officials were pointing fingers without a shred of evidence to support their claims. Paul has not been afraid to say the painfully obvious things the US media, for any number of reasons, cannot find the courage to articulate.

“They will not report that the crisis in Ukraine started late last year, when EU and US-supported protesters plotted the overthrow of the elected Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych,” Paul said. “Without US-sponsored ‘regime change,’ it is unlikely that hundreds would have been killed in the unrest that followed. Nor would the Malaysian Airlines crash have happened.”

Paul also found it outrageous that Western media, parroting the government line, has reported that the Malaysian flight must have been downed by “Russian-backed separatists,” because the BUK missile that reportedly brought down the aircraft was Russian made.

“They will not report that the Ukrainian government also uses the exact same Russian-made weapons,” he emphasized.

  • Published in World

How one Cuba scoop led to another

While the so-called Cuban dissidents, like Yoani Sanchez make hundreds of thousands of dollars to repeat the editorial policy of the media campaigns from the U.S. government against Cuba, the AP staff of journalists who revealed the USAID’s conspiracy to send young people as missionaries of subversion to Cuba only earned a reward of 500 dollars.

  • Published in Cuba

US Unemployment Claims Fall

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In the week ending August 2, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 289,000, a decrease of 14,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 302,000 to 303,000.

  • Published in World

Brigade defies U.S. travel ban on Cuba

Twenty-two courageous U.S. citizens, members of the 45th Venceremos Brigade, crossed the Peace Bridge from Erie, Ontario, Canada, into Buffalo, N.Y., on Aug. 3, proudly declaring that they had defied their own government’s ban on travel to Cuba. Along with groups of supporters, they held demonstrations on both sides of the border, confronted U.S. customs ­officials and asserted the importance of challenging the decades-old U.S. blockade of Cuba.

The Venceremos Brigade is a U.S.-based anti-imperialist educational work project that organizes travel to Cuba annually, breaking the travel ban to stand in solidarity with Cuba and allowing thousands of U.S. citizens the opportunity to see Cuba for themselves.

The Brigade was welcomed to Cuba this year by Fernando González, who, along with Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and René González, was arrested in 1998 in the U.S. All five were given harsh and unfair sentences for monitoring Miami-based terrorist groups operating against Cuba. They are known as the Cuban Five. René González and Fernando González are back in Cuba after serving their full prison sentences, and both of them are fighting for the return of their other three comrades to their families in Cuba.

As the brigadistas marched back into the U.S. with fists and voices raised, they chanted over and over, “It’s time to end the damn travel ban!” The solidarity rally that greeted them picked up the chant, holding banners that demanded, “End the blockade against Cuba!” and “Free the Cuban 5!”

  • Published in Cuba
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