† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
Militarization, Surveillance, and the Police State, Part 2
by nancy a heitzeg
“It is white power that makes the laws, and it is violent white power in the form of armed white cops that enforces those laws with guns and nightsticks.” Stokely Carmichael, Towards Black Liberation 1966
Or maybe with tanks and drones. Add a few officers of color too.
Carmichael’s central premise remains unchanged, but the technology, and perhaps too the scope of the dragnet has changed.
In recent posts – Tagging, Tasers, and the Police State, Part 1 and Unpacking “Chiraq”: Repression, RICO, and War on Terror Tactics – CI has explored the deepening connections between policing and war, the alignment of those two deadlyindustrial complexes of our time – prison and military. The connections are both literal in terms of the use of military technology, but conceptual as well. The citizenry as “enemy” to be battled and defeated.
No questions. No quarter.
Of course, this has been the experience of communities of color since colonial days, but the rapid expansion of the technology of mass surveillance and the tactics of war have spilled out into the populace at large, threatening even those they were once designed to protect.
Who Protects Us from You? Race, Class, Gender and The Police State
Increasingly, there is a hew and cry over expanding police powers, from both the white libertarian right (e.g Cato Institute and assorted alum) and segments of the white left. Rightly, there is concern expressed over excessive use of force, paramilitary policing of protests and the War on Drugs, and loss of privacy due to seemingly endless surveillance via cameras, drones, TSA checks, and the electronic reaches of the NSA and PRISM.
While these concerns are warranted, they overlook the long history of both police and military suppression of communities of color. Too long to fully recount here: a USA police force with a legacy in slave patrols – “the first distinctively American police system.” A non-stop genocidal campaign against American Indians from Day 1 to Wounded Knee 1 and 2 and beyond. A bloody history of official and officially sanctioned vigilantes and posses empowered to police the literal and figurative boundaries of whiteness and its’ attendant property. The dogs, fire-hoses, bombs – the terrorism – of Birmingham and more. The endless surveillance -physical and electronic – of Civil Rights leaders. The police as an “occupational army” containing “ghettos” and “urban unrest”. COINTELPRO.
It is no historical accident that both the Black Panther Party and AIM emerged initially as street patrols intended to protect community members from police brutality. It is no accident either that both were targeted with the full force of local state and federal police powers, or that they in fact fore-shadowed, no, prophesied, the rise of the prison industrial complex.
Eyes on the Prize, Episode 12: A Nation of Law? (1968-1971)
Let us remember too that the machinery honed by policing racial boundaries is easily turned on those — white or not – who challenge the white supremacist patriarchal capitalist foundations of this country. Poor. Women. Queer. The Ludlow Massacre. The Haymarket Riots. The Red Scare. Chicago 1968. Stonewall. EarthFirst!, Judi Bari and the Pepper Spray Eight. WTO Protests Seattle 1999. Occupy Wall Street, especially NYC and Oakland. Endless.
So are the intrusions really that new? Or is the critique one of scale and scope? Certainly there is a case to made that there has been a real expansion of military technologies and tactics. There is a case to be made too that the extension of the police state and the attendant war metaphors has splashed beyond the “usual suspects”, and in fact, potentially envelopes us all.
Blurred Lines: The Militarization of the Police
It is fair to say that the mass militarization of the police is an official response of local, state, and federal law enforcement to the civil unrest and social movement successes of the 1960s. The first glimpse of this comes. unsurprisingly, from LA where Chief of Police Daryl Gates is credited/blamed with the creation of the first police Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team. This, in response to the Watts Uprising of 1965.
The late 1960s bring further development of this paramilitary approach, especially in the Nixon “Law and Order ” Era, with increased deployments of the National Guard and U. S. Marshalls to control protests and unrest, the creation of the DEA and early salvos in the “War on Drugs”, and of course, massive FBI surveillance, disruption, infiltration and COINTELPRO.
It is not until the Reagan 1980s, however, the increased links between the military and local and state law enforcement become fully possible. Reagan declared the War on Drugs a “national security” issue and encouraged Congressional passage of the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act of 1981. Prior to the legislation, cooperation between police and military was severely limited by The Posse Comitatus Act that was passed on June 18, 1878. This, in combination with the Insurrection Act of 1807, limits the powers of Federal government in using federal military personnel to enforce the State laws. (As the language and dates might suggest, this was a response to the military occupation of the defeated South legislation by Union military. Hence, the persistent and current interest from the state’s rights crowd.)
The Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act allowed local, state, and federal police access to military bases, research, and equipment, and further allowed military personnel to train police. The floodgates now open, additional legislation in the late 1980s and 1990s allowed the National Guard to aid in drug investigations/arrests and authorized the Pentagon to donate surplus military equipment to local police departments. SWAT teams and raids — up to 80,000 per year – proliferated accordingly as the War on Drugs become a no longer rhetorical but literal War.
Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, U of Chicago, 2013
Post 9/11, the militarization of the police escalates further, as The War on Drugs now is joined by the ephemeral War on Terror. While these two “Wars” are often perceived by the public to be separate endeavors, in reality, they are linked through overt ad campaigns and practical overlap in enforcement and technology use. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security provides a major impetus here, with it endless grants to local law enforcement for the latest in high tech equipment. As Mother Jones reports:
Since 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security alone has doled out somewhere between $30 billion and $40 billion in direct grants to state and local law enforcement, as well as other first responders. At the same time, defense contractors have proven endlessly inventive in adapting sales pitches originally honed for the military on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan to the desires of police on the streets of San Francisco and lower Manhattan…
All told, the federal government has appropriated about $635 billion, accounting for inflation, for homeland security-related activities and equipment since the 9/11 attacks. To conclude, though, that “the police” have become increasingly militarized casts too narrow a net. The truth is that virtually the entire apparatus of government has been mobilized and militarized right down to the university campus…
This figure probably does not accurately reflect the total costs as additional federal agencies are involved in funding as well and local costs/uses are impossible to trace. To that point, the ACLU recently filed more than 255 public records requests to determine the extent to which local police departments are using federally subsidized military technology and tactics that are traditionally used overseas.
There is little evidence to suggest that these paramilitary tactics have made us safer. To the contrary, both the presence of these weapons and the War mentality that goes with them has lead to what appears to be rampant misuse. As a former Reagan official once observed, “Soldiers are trained to vaporize, not Mirandize.” Radley Balko, former CATO consultant and author of The Rise of the Warrior Cop notes this:
The post-September 11 era has also seen the role of SWAT teams and paramilitary police units expand to enforce nonviolent crimes beyond even the drug war. SWAT teams have been used to break up neighborhood poker games, sent into bars and fraternities suspected of allowing underage drinking, and even to enforce alcohol and occupational licensing regulations. Earlier this year, the Department of Education sent its SWAT team to the home of someone suspected of defrauding the federal student loan program…
The results have been both costly and deadly. Consider the following examples – just a few – supplied by the ACLU:
Civil Liberties: Physical and Digital Surveillance.
The militarization of the police coincides with a climate that increasingly allows governmental intrusions into personal and private spaces. At the heart of the matter is the practical meaning of the Fourth Amendment with regard to both actual physical surveillance of people and their property and electronic/digital surveillance of their communications.
Legal scholars are in some agreement that the rights of citizens have been significantly eroded in the decades since the War on Drugs and the War on Terror have been underway. No knock warrants, once an anomaly, are now a feature of most SWAT drug raids. The SCOTUS has allowed pretextual police stops, despite their relationship to racial profiling, and dubious “consent ” searches are a staple of “stop and frisk” policing everywhere. Of course the mother lode of Fourth Amendment undoing is found in The USA Patriot Act , with its roving wiretaps, intelligence sharing and especially “sneak and peak” searches, 75% of which have been used in drug raids not terrorism cases.
The line between the military’s role in national security and the police function of domestic crime control becomes increasingly blurred. Long before outrage over NSA trawling for phone and internet data, the Department of Homeland Security was busy funding “fusion centers”. Again, Mother Jones:
Homeland Security has played a big role in creating one particularly potent element in the nation’s expanding database network. Working with the Department of Justice in the wake of 9/11, it launched what has grown into 72 interlinked state “fusion centers”—repositories for everything from Immigration Customs Enforcement data and photographs to local police reports and even gossip. “Suspicious Activity Reports” gathered from public tipsters—thanks to Homeland Security’s “if you see something, say something” program—are now flowing into state centers. Those fusion centers are possibly the greatest facilitators of dish in history, and have vast potential for disseminating dubious information and stigmatizing purely political activity. And most Americans have never even heard of them. Yet fusion centers now operate in every state, centralizing intelligence gathering and facilitating dissemination of material of every sort across the country.
So where is the line between the military and domestic law enforcement? Is there even one any more? No wonder NYC soon to be ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg brags of having “the world’s 7th largest army” at his disposal. No wonder NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelley thinks he is qualified to become the next head of the Department of Homeland Security. Practice.
The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at NYPD’s Stop and Frisk
This week’s issue of New York magazine a story, The NYPD Division of Un-American Activities : After 9/11, the NYPD built in effect its own CIA—and its Demographics Unit delved deeper into the lives of citizens than did the NSA , illustrates the multitude of troubles already outlined here:
Kelly called for a new approach, the likes of which America had never seen. Over the ensuing decade, the FBI, CIA, and NSA would build surveillance programs that monitored bank transactions, phone records, and the e-mail routing fields known as metadata, which have recently erupted in the scandal surrounding Edward Snowden’s revelations. But the NYPD went even further than the federal government. The activities Kelly set in motion after 9/11 pushed deeply into the private lives of New Yorkers, surveilling Muslims in their mosques, their sporting fields, their businesses, their social clubs, even their homes in a way not seen in America since the FBI and CIA monitored antiwar activists during the Nixon administration. It was a proactive approach, but, in constitutional terms, a novel one.
This is the very same Kelley who ensconced and still defends the now unconstitutional NYC stop and frisk. (See Floyd v City of New York) The program was essentially a veritable occupation of the city’s Black and Latino/a communities, whose residents accounted for nearly 90% of all stops/frisks. While NYC’s blatant version has received national attention, racial profiling is common practice everywhere (here’s Chicago), and has been – some would say – for centuries. James Braxton Patterson in The Grio:
Yet how can we have a discussion about civil liberties and security, privacy and safety without connecting it to the physical surveillance to which black and brown Americans have been historically subject? In short, why aren’t the champions of Snowden, Manning, and others saying anything at all about stop-and-frisk and Stand Your Ground laws/policies. They have been and remain silent on the historical and perpetual encroachment upon the civil liberties – the freedom to walk the streets without being detained or shot – of black and brown citizens of the United States…
Digital surveillance summons fears about privacy. State-sanctioned physical surveillance produces fears about safety and ultimately fear for one’s life…To speak of digital surveillance and national security without even considering physical surveillance and the humiliation and sometimes murder of innocents is a gross oversight that sadly seems to thrive along class, gender and racial fault lines. (Where were all of the privacy advocates/journalists protesting the proposed trans-vaginal probe laws?) In this context, outrage about the NSA seems hollow to those of us who are sensitive to the ways in which racial profiling undermines the fabric of our communities.
And now we are back to where we started…Yes, we do live in an expanding surveillance state with a heavily militarized police force that is inclined to view much of the public as enemies to be defeated rather than as citizens to be protected and served. The level of military technology and the corresponding mentality are relatively recent phenomenon, shaped by the “Wars” on drugs and terror. This phenomenon is shockingly new to many white middle-class Americans, whose experience with policing has been one of trust – the “thin -blue line” that offered protection and safety from, you know, “Others”. Indeed public embrace of “safety and security” both created and enabled the climate for the police state some now decry as it is turned back toward them. But for those “Others”, whose daily lives, both public and private, have been policed for centuries, the surveillance state, paramilitary policing, the rhetoric and reality of war has, in fact, been the case from the outset.
In lieu of any specific recommendations, here are two last words of caution.
As noted earlier, opposition to the militarization of the police and the expanding surveillance state comes not just from the left, but from libertarians as well (mostly right although some like to say they are “progressive”) . They similarly oppose the War on Drugs. Does this make them trustworthy comrades, a potential source of coalition politics in the struggle against the prison industrial complex?
I say No. Being for Civil Liberties and being for Civil Rights are two different matters. The libertarian position focuses exclusively on individual freedoms, particularly the rights to privacy, property, and “free market” profiteering. A quick glance at the Cato Institute or Reason magazine will reveal opposition to the drug war and the police state, yes, but also an interpretation of the 14th Amendment in light of property rights alone, a rejection of any governmental health, education or welfare programs, and support for Citizens United.
Their opposition to the militarization of the police is not grounded in concern over discriminatory practices, but rather privacy concerns that now impact a white male privileged demographic that was once largely immune. Case in point, recent on-line conversation turned to outrage over a new Chicago Police program that involves a “heat list” of mostly young minority males that will now be targeted by police for additional surveillance, including unsolicited and unwarranted visits to their homes. One of the leading experts on the rise of the warrior cop, expressed some doubt on Twitter as to whether he agreed with this program or not. Why ? What doubts? Racial profiling, multiple 4th Amendment issues, all that right? So what and who is all the underlying focus of all the new concern over the police state for then? It surely isn’t the Civil Rights of targeted racial/ethnic groups.
Don’t take my word for it . Do your own research -take a look around. See where how many so-called “progressives” now at the vanguard of police state resistance really came from. See where they were/are on issues of surveillance and mass criminalization that impact the poor, women, queers, communities of color. Please revisit Smoke and Mirrors?, Con Artists, Profit and Community Corrections and Confidence Men & “Prison Reform”. Think about if you really believe the Cato crew will be ready to shut down the profiteering that is the prison industrial complex.
This leads to the second point. One of the great and tragic ironies of the rise of the police/military surveillance/war state is this: many – including some now opposed — asked for this. Fear of crime and gangs and thugs and terrorists (all color-coded) contributed to much public support for the current regime of mass incarceration, endless watching and militarized policing. As CI co-founder and contributing editor Kay Whitlock often says, “we can’t police our way to safety and security.” She’s right.
You can’t pick and choose. You can’t selectively support the criminalization of “some” and the policing/incarceration of “others” and expect that it won’t someday blow back on you. You must stand against it all — against stop and frisk everywhere, the school to prison pipeline, policing of black/brown/all gendered bodies, the criminalization of style and poverty, endless intrusions, the expansion of terrorism lists, death/vengeance, mass incarceration under torturous conditions, the racist and classist foundations of the entire endeavor. All of it.
You have to love justice. As bell hooks recently put it in an interview on the Trayvon Martin case, “You have to love justice more than your allegiance to your race, sexuality and gender. “ And we always hope for that here.
And, in the event that you cannot or will not do that, then please resist for your own raw self-interest. There is a cautionary tale here in the total merger of the military and prison industrial complexes. And this is it – Sooner or later, they will come for you.
I leave you with Martin Niemöller (1892-1984):
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.