Moderator’s Note: I had been working on a blog post comparing the struggles against police brutality in #Ferguson and Albuquerque when I received an email from my colleague, Jimmy Franco, Sr., with a link to an essay he just posted to his blog, Latino POV. This is a very insightful and well-written piece and it is our privilege to repost with the permission of the author.
I will follow up shortly with a historical analysis of the militarization of the U.S. in which I argue that, from the invasion and conquest of the Americas forward, what became the USA has always been a militaristic and war-like culture. The militarization of the police is neither surprising nor unexpected. Mr. Franco warns us: “We either take a stand to stop this march toward militarization or accept an eventual loss of personal liberties and rights to a regime that resembles ‘Big Brother’”.
Albuquerque to Ferguson: A need to Demilitarize our Society
Jimmy Franco Sr. | Albuquerque, NM | August 23, 2014
The present surge in the use of heavy weaponry and violence on the international front by the leaders of our government is beginning to penetrate all facets of our society. This increase in militarism and the use of aggressive tactics to resolve problems are now becoming the political norm in US foreign policy relations, responses to the surging anger of minority communities here at home, and the practice of spying and surveillance on the US public through the illegal collection of their personal information and activities by the NSA.
|Police with military weapons surround and arrest a reporter in Ferguson, MO.|
Culturally, this use of imagery portraying violence and weaponry has also penetrated the growing realm of video games, films, television programming and even sports events and fan behavior. The militant police tactics of stop-and-frisk in New York City have resulted in the continuing harassment of minority youth and to the recent killing of a young man who was choked to death by the police.
There has been a strong response by the community in Albuquerque, New Mexico to ongoing police misconduct and a pattern of civilian deaths at the hands of that city’s police. In addition, two men detained by the LA Police have recently died, one shot and the other from a lack of medical attention. Also, a court has just awarded five million dollars to the family of a mentally ill veteran who was shot and killed by the LAPD.
Meanwhile, the rogue L.A. County Sheriffs Department still remains out-of-control as a recent vote by the L.A. Board of Supervisors rejected a proposal to create a civilian review board to oversee that troubled department. The responsibility of this review board would have been to monitor the conduct of the sheriffs department and reduce their level of abuse and misconduct by making them accountable to civilian authority.
In the meantime, the continuing flow of heavy Albuquerque residents struggling to stop killings and abuse by police weaponry from the federal government to local law enforcement now includes armored vehicles, military assault rifles, tanks, tear gas and other lethal hardware. The possession of such an arsenal of deadly weapons will eventually be used against communities as this trend continues to transform local police departments from protect and serve civil servants into aggressive paramilitary forces.
Albuquerque residents struggling to stop killings
and abuse by police.
The increasing use of heavily-armed police who launch war-like operations such as discriminatory gang injunctions, drug busts by SWAT teams who resemble soldiers and police responses to incidents armed with deadly firepower often result in over reaction and injuries to innocent people. In many cases, the use of these weapons and aggressive tactics further inflames the existing anger within ethnic communities, which is what has occurred in Ferguson, Missouri and other communities that are already suffering from a lack of decent social services and heavy-handed tactics and racial profiling by the police.
Militarization and armed confrontation cannot resolve our social problems
The US public is the world’s largest consumer of illegal drugs and this profitable market continues to expand. Attempting to repress the suppliers of this growing demand through a billion-dollar ‘War on Drugs’ only creates more heavily armed gangs, rampant violence and overflowing prisons, which have now become schools for crime. Also, the complex issue of immigration reform requires a logical political process and just resolution that is mutually acceptable to all concerned.
The militarization of our society uses funds for
bombs instead of books.
The government’s policy of declaring a ‘war on immigration’ which resorts to tactics of mass deportations, a heavily-armed blockade of the border and a rapid increase in the armed forces and weaponry to man this 2000 mile frontier is economically and politically unsustainable. The political decision to utilize a military solution to resolve this problem rather than using common sense, economics and principled negotiations will ultimately result in failure. The negative outcomes of this political madness are desperate immigrants who continue to die in the desert or are being killed after being deported to their homelands, an increase in violence and extortion at the hands of smuggling cartels, and the need to use valuable resources to fund overcrowded immigration detention centers filled with frightened refugee children.
Domestically, the ongoing ‘war on gangs’ ignores any concrete solutions to the underlying social problems that motivate these young people to choose and live this dangerous life style. The crusade of heavily-armed police being used against gangs targets this growing problem by utilizing racial profiling to stop suspects, mass gang injunctions and organizing combative sweeps and raids into minority communities. These aggressive anti-gang sweeps utilize deadly surplus weapons left over from numerous US conflicts abroad and are patterned after wartime operations. These operations, which are increasingly being carried out against minority communities, mainly result in filling up prisons with young people and antagonizing innocent civilians within the targeted communities. This use of repression has not eliminated the root problems of youth gangs as they continue to exist and grow.
Another group that is increasingly being victimized by these combative police responses are the mentally ill and homeless. As the number of mentally-ill people within the country increases and the level of medical care provided to them declines, their behavior on the streets is increasingly being viewed as a criminal threat by police who are trained to respond to emotional outbursts and abnormal behavior by immediately shooting to kill. All of these pressing social problems within our society, which range from drugs, immigration, gangs, the mentally ill and homeless have a cause and effect relationship.
The root causes of these problems are generally ignored by government officials who instead focus on the effects and then automatically respond to them in an irrational and belligerent manner that utilizes aggression and force to supposedly solve these problems. This dogmatic and superficial approach to solving social problems and maintaining the status quo is presently failing and is doomed to fail in the years ahead if continued.
Trying to keep people in line here and abroad through military means
US foreign policy and strategy presently consists of designating certain countries, governments and leaders as ‘enemies’ of US interests’. Being placed within this enemy category is then followed by antagonistic and punitive actions, which in a growing number of cases involves military intervention and bombing. This militaristic and aggressive foreign policy has become the behavioral norm for maintaining hegemony within certain regions such as the Middle East or for eliminating a leader or government that is perceived as a ‘threat’ to US power. The list of prospective enemies to American interests which essentially means economic interests now include the governments of China, North Korea, Russia, eastern Ukraine, Syria, Gaza, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and portions of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq along with various groups within those countries. Bombings and drone attacks ordered by Obama have and are being inflicted upon eight of the above countries while US threats, which include economic and political pressure, are being exerted to change ‘uncooperative’ governments in other countries.
|750 billion dollar military budget and endless wars equals cuts to social needs.|
As a contrast in behavior, we should compare this growing US list of supposed enemies and continual warfare with the foreign policies of Germany and France who do not create adversaries due to minding their own business and utilizing their resources to take care of their own people’s social needs. The reaction to such warfare and constant military interventions is an increase in anti-US nationalism, resistance and even militant and extreme religious movements.
Latin America has experienced this type of US bullying and armed intervention in the past and a majority of countries in that region are now uniting economically and politically in order to fend off this American pressure to undermine their national sovereignty. The drastic rise in collateral damage due to ongoing American wars and armed conflicts is a nice euphemistic term for civilian deaths. Collateral damage that is inflicted by US forces is considered to simply be an unfortunate and trivial consequence of this militarism and its aggressive interventions in numerous countries which consistently violates international law and sovereign borders.
This strategy and heavy weaponry which comprise the dominant element of US foreign policy and which is designed to keep certain countries and governments in line through the use of force is now being applied to communities within our society. These communities comprised of lower-income residents, minority youth, immigrants, the mentally ill and the homeless are the sectors that are increasingly targeted by domestic authorities as those who need to be kept in their place and prevented from getting out of line. This belligerent governmental attitude and policy of ‘us versus them’ and ‘good guys versus bad guys’ has now been linked militarily for implementation both internationally and domestically.
The policy and practice of creating antagonistic relationships with foreign governments by resorting to violent solutions in order to resolve complex problems has created negative consequences for our society. This has resulted in viewing certain minority communities through a military perspective and treating them as enemy combatants who need to be periodically occupied with heavily armed police and order maintained through the use of force. In addition, the use of the military term collateral damage is now used by authorities within our society to refer to people ‘mistakenly’ killed by the police.
This linkage of foreign and domestic military actions simply reinforces the present and backward mindset of negating the causes of social problems by primarily focusing on their harmful effects and then irrationally attempting to use aggressive tactics and force as a quick solution. Treating certain communities as the enemy who need to be periodically repressed and kept in their subordinate position within our society will only backfire and eventually create more anger and resistance as shown by the residents of Ferguson, Missouri who refuse to be intimidated by the massive show of armed force arrayed against them.
|Chaos in US & violation of rights are being questioned by other countries.|
The increasing use of military-style campaigns by local police forces will not resolve any of our deeply-rooted social problems. A fresh and alternative approach is needed which requires a careful analysis of the causes of our pressing social problems and the formulation of logical and realistic policies that are practical, less costly and which will work in the real world.
For example, if we use our resources to fund and improve the educational level of people in our society, then poverty will be reduced as well as the lure of youth gangs and the eventual imprisonment of young people. If we legalize, regulate and tax drugs as was done with alcohol when Prohibition ended and combine this solution with prevention and rehabilitation, then, the present problem of addiction, violent cartels and overflowing prisons will recede.
Meanwhile, reaching a just political agreement on immigration will result in reducing the amount of weaponry and violence along the border and decreasing the number of people deported and locked up in immigration detention centers. The funds that are saved could be used to invest in the economies of Central American countries where new economic opportunities would encourage people to stay in their homelands instead of trekking through treacherous deserts. In addition, the creation of civilian review boards to oversee and monitor local police departments who are essentially independent paramilitary organizations will result in more accountability to the members of their respective communities and reduce the present level of police misconduct.
The militarization of our society is proceeding in an incremental manner and this process is contradictory to maintaining democratic rights within our society. A militaristic outlook, mentality and repressive methods are incompatible with that of a democratic ideology that condones diverse ideas, methods and free expression. We cannot have both which leaves us with two clear alternatives: either roll over and passively accept this growing totalitarian trend or stand firm, speak up and oppose it.
Some middle-class people take the attitude that this issue doesn’t affect them as they don’t live in a barrio or ghetto. Yet, this undemocratic trend of militarization affects all of us in regard to our quality of life, the use of our taxes, our political right to protest and having to endure continual violence and countless new enemies. So, we either take a stand to stop this march toward militarization or accept an eventual loss of personal liberties and rights to a regime that resembles ‘Big Brother’.