ANALYSIS: The militarization of police agencies from Ferguson to the Middle East


Image credit: Todo Poder al Pueblo Media Operations


Dedicated to the victorious people of Palestine and Ferguson, MO.

The Todo Poder al Pueblo Collective is proud to present the following perspective on the militarized operations of domestic police agencies, which are formulated, planned, and tested alongside overseas allies of U.S. imperialism, such as the Israeli Occupation in Palestine and the Gulf Arab regimes, who are united in waging war against the oppressed.

Police violence towards our communities isn’t an “accident” or freak occurrence, but is the exact plan and purpose of the police and other armed bodies of occupation connected to the state. Within the United States, these practices are carried out not only through armed force, but through institutionalized violence: in Salinas, CA, counterinsurgency practices drawn up in collaboration with the U.S. Military are utilized against immigrant communities; throughout the country data-sharing programs with the federal government such as fusion centers and the poli-Migra “Secure Communities” programs have led to record deportations; meanwhile, in communities of color such as Oxnard, Fresno, Los Angeles, and Orange County, anti-gang civil injunctions have been imposed which effectively revoke the rights of residents in the affected areas.

We thank Roqayah Chamseddine for writing this important article and we hope that organizers, workers, students, and families recognize the importance of studying and sharing it, and fighting back to take control of our communities.

The militarization of police agencies from Ferguson to the Middle East

Originally published on Al-Akhbar English (Lebanon)

The arming of US police agencies with military-grade weaponry and tactics can be traced back, at the very least, to the creation of the paramilitary “Special Weapons and Tactics” Unit (SWAT) in 1967. In Overkill: Rise of Paramilitary Policing journalist Radley Balko notes that what inspired the heavily militarized SWAT team of today was “a specialized force in Delano, California, made up of crowd control officers, riot police, and snipers, assembled to counter the farm worker uprisings led by Cesar Chavez.” Balko writes in August 2013 for The Wall Street Journal that by 1975 from this first experimental SWAT unit grew to “approximately 500 such units. Today, there are thousands. According to surveys conducted by criminologist Peter Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University, just 13 percent of towns between 25,000 and 50,000 people had a SWAT team in 1983. By 2005, the figure was up to 80 percent.”

LEFT:  ROB VARELA/THE STAR A SWAT team member deploys a flash-bang device outside the garage of an apartment where an armed suspect was believed to be barricaded in Port Hueneme. (Rob Varela—Ventura County Star) RIGHT: Israeli military patrols the streets in the West Bank city of Hebron on July 6, 2014 (Abed Al Hashlamoun—EPA)

LEFT: A SWAT team member deploys a flash-bang device outside the garage of an apartment where an armed suspect was believed to be barricaded in Port Hueneme. (Rob Varela—Ventura County Star) RIGHT: Israeli military patrols the streets in the West Bank city of Hebron on July 6, 2014 (Abed Al Hashlamoun—EPA)

In War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing, published in June 2014 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), it is reported that federal programs “are arming state and local law enforcement agencies with the weapons and tactics of war with almost no public discussion or oversight.” One such policy is the Department of Defense (DoD) Excess Property Program, or the 1033 Program, which “provides surplus DoD military equipment to state and local civilian law enforcement agencies for use in counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism operations, and to enhance officer safety.” Items provided by the DoD include, but are not limited to, mine-resistant ambush protected armored vehicles, aircrafts, grenade launchers, countless machine guns, magazines, bomb suits, forced entry tools and units of surveillance.

In the small city of Ferguson, Missouri, an unarmed African American teenager, Michael Brown, was shot multiple times by a police officer on August 9. Witnesses say that the police officer had initiated a confrontation with Brown, and then physically assaulted him, as reported by Margaret Hartmann for New York Magazine:

“Brown’s friend, Dorin Johnson, says they were walking in the street when the officer pulled up and told them to “get the eff onto the sidewalk.” Johnson says the officer then reached “his arm out the window and grabbed my friend around the neck.” Witness Piaget Crenshaw said he saw the officer chasing Brown. “They shot him and he fell. He put his arms up to let them know that he was compliant and he was unarmed, and they shot him twice more and he fell to the ground and died.”

Image: Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man

After the murder of Michael Brown, protests began to quickly take shape in Ferguson in response, not only at the scene of the crime but in front of the Ferguson Police Department headquarters. The police response to these protesters, many of whom literally had their hands raised above their heads while shouting “don’t shoot!”, was alarming – dogs were called, and heavily armed police officers lined up, intimidating the men, women and children of Ferguson. At least one police officer was recorded shouting, “Bring it, all you fucking animals! Bring it!” Extremely troubling was the implementation of a no-fly zone over Ferguson, meant “to stop media from flying over the area to film.”

The targeting of Black communities by law enforcement is historic and ubiquitous; it has long colored every aspect of life for even those indirectly impacted by police actions – when systematic racism meets a militarized police force the outcome is continued dehumanization of Black bodies,

"Only in America can a dead black boy go on trial for his own murder." - Syreeta McFadden

“Only in America can a dead black boy go on trial for his own murder.” – Syreeta McFadden

societal acceptance of black deaths at the hands of the police and a disastrous escalation, oftentimes with public approval, of violent tactics against the Black people and communities of color. Modern US police departments share a colonial history that gives context to police violence of today – recognizing this framework is essential when examining how police brutality has developed historically. From constables in the 1600s who made up a sort of “neighborhood watch,” wherein they would capture slaves and prevent them from organizing for payment, the slave patrols of the early 1700s, the brazen appointment of police officers by way of their political affiliations in the 1880’s and stop-and-frisk, adopted from English common law, we learn that not only is violence an inherent part of the institution itself but it is a necessary component which allows for the state to control its citizens, and it has emerged and developed in the most destructive of ways. Police officers are trained to use force and are given the most lethal of weapons in order for them to do so and, according to data presented in the June 2014 report by the ACLU, this violence is overwhelmingly directed towards people of color. “Sixty-one percent of all the people impacted by SWAT raids in drug cases were minorities” and a majority are Black:

“[W]hen the data was examined by agency (and with local population taken into consideration), racial disparities in SWAT deployments were extreme. As shown in the table and graph below, in every agency, Blacks were disproportionately more likely to be impacted by a SWAT raid than whites, sometimes substantially so. For example, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Blacks were nearly 24 times more likely to be impacted by a SWAT raid than whites were, and in Huntington, West Virginia, Blacks were 37 times more likely. Further, in Ogden, Utah, Blacks were 40 times more likely to be impacted by a SWAT raid than whites were.”

Despite this, the focus on the actions of individual officers, while warranted, should not overwhelm the discourse – the data presented by the ACLU is not only an indictment of police officers alone but of the police institution itself. Police agencies have created an environment which not only employs violence against minorities but encourages violence against them.

Present-day US law enforcement as an institution has cooperated with a long list of state agencies which are integral components of the larger machinery of government as well as international police forces. The joint training between the United States and Israel is one such example. In May 2010, 50 retired US admirals and generals vigorously argued that Israel is a security asset in a letter to President Obama, that “American police and law 10458316_10103658762986466_7693147555744320440_nenforcement officials have reaped the benefit of close cooperation with Israeli professionals in the areas of domestic counter-terrorism practices and first response to terrorist attacks,” they wrote in part. In 2010, the Anti-Defamation League publicized that it had sponsored 15 senior law enforcement officials – including from the FBI, NYPD and Boston Police – to take part in an intensive “counter-terrorism training mission” in Israel so that they could share “information, strategies and tactics,” then again in 2011 and 2013. This program, which was first established in 2003, has sent over 115 state, federal and local law enforcement executives to Israel. In 2013, members of a US bomb squad from Arizona, including a US deputy, traveled to Israel for training which included “going to a West Bank outpost with the Israeli National Police bomb squad… learning about port inspections as they relate to counter explosives and counter IED operations.”

One of the reasons for this training? “To improve techniques and tactics they use along the US-Mexico border.”

The ADL is not the only organization boasting of this militarized US-Israel

Jerusalem Post, 3/2/14: Israeli defense firm Elbit has been awarded a $145 million contract by the Department of Homeland Security to construct a series of surveillance towers on the Arizona-Mexico border.

Jerusalem Post, 3/2/14: Israeli defense firm Elbit has been awarded a $145 million contract by the Department of Homeland Security to construct a series of surveillance towers on the Arizona-Mexico border.

partnership. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has an entire publication dedicated to this “strategic partnership,” noting that “Israel has worked with multiple American agencies, including the FBI, NYPD, LAPD, and the Washington, D.C. Police Department.” According to the pamphlet not only have the U.S. Capitol Police undergone training in “Israeli counterterrorism techniques” but the partnership between these two colonial entities is far reaching, even beyond the scope of traditional law enforcement, with FEMA and the National Guard “often [traveling] to Israel to participate in Israeli homeland security drills.” The United States is not only learning from the brutality of the Israeli occupation forces but sharing their knowledge with other nations. The Middle Eastern Law Enforcement Training Center, which is co-sponsored by the FBI and the U.A.E. at the Dubai Police Academy, where FBI agents offer special training courses that “[involve] many aspects of law enforcement, including ways to combat white-collar crime, violent crime, forensics and counter-terrorism.” The United States also conducts military exchange programs in places like Egypt where US forces and Egyptian forces take part in joint military exercises, and offers FBI training to Egypt’s secret police who “routinely tortured detainees and suppressed political opposition” according to victim testimony.

mILITARIZATIONredWhiteBluePolice institutions, which continue to work and expand under the guise of law while merging with the most prominent characters behind war-making, including the arms industry, lobbyists, and politicians, demand that communities, most often those of color, surrender what little autonomy they have so that they may receive “protection.” That they are ever permitted to collect on this guardianship is of no consequence because these institutions define protection and determine, for everyone, what is a most satisfactory response to any and all actions on the part of the community members.

Black men and women have long fought, with their blood, for the decentralization and democratization of the police and the right of their communities to determine their future without threat of police brutality – the Black Panther’s Ten Point Program, written in 1966, is a clear-cut example. “We Want An Immediate End To Police Brutality And Murder Of Black People,” the program reads in part. “We believe we can end police brutality in our Black community by organizing Black self-defense groups that are dedicated to defending our Black community from racist police oppression and brutality.” An article in the Palm Beach Post, published in 1969, reads “Decentralized Police Sought By Black Panthers”:

“Six intense Black Panthers have come in out of the West as advance men for a national conference which will drumbeat a simplistic theme – decentralize the police systems of big cities, place the cops under neighborhood control and give each community its own police commissioner.”

US police forces uphold white supremacy with their racist implementation of violence, where in places like Ogden, Utah, Black people “were 40 times more likely to be impacted by a SWAT raid than whites were,” according to the ACLU. These forces work towards the preservation of capitalism, and the police, as an institution, use elitism, violence and authoritarianism in order to preserve the state.

Decentralization is not only possible but proving to be a necessary process in order to dismantle the structuralized and militarized brutality that communities of color face at the hands of racist paramilitary police forces. The police have proven that they are not accountable to the communities they allegedly “serve and protect,” and so in order to implement restorative justice the institution itself should be dismantled and replaced with an organization that is transparent, represents the diversity of these communities and which, most importantly, is limited in regards to the scope of the organization’s power.

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Sydney based Lebanese-American journalist and commentator. She tweets @roqchams and writes ‘Letters From the Underground.


Artwork by Corina Dross: New poster to raise money for those arrested in Ferguson. All profit goes to Anti-State STL, who are organizing financial support for folks on the ground.

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