Monday, October 16, 2017

You Holding Up the Mirror The Only Thing Worse Than Babylon Seeing Itself...,


TomDispatch |  As in Baghdad, so in Baltimore. It’s connected, you see. Scholars, pundits, politicians, most of us in fact like our worlds to remain discretely and comfortably separated. That’s why so few articles, reports, or op-ed columns even think to link police violence at home to our imperial pursuits abroad or the militarization of the policing of urban America to our wars across the Greater Middle East and Africa. I mean, how many profiles of the Black Lives Matter movement even mention America’s 16-year war on terror across huge swaths of the planet? Conversely, can you remember a foreign policy piece that cited Ferguson? I doubt it.

Nonetheless, take a moment to consider the ways in which counterinsurgency abroad and urban policing at home might, in these years, have come to resemble each other and might actually be connected phenomena:

*The degradations involved: So often, both counterinsurgency and urban policing involve countless routine humiliations of a mostly innocent populace.  No matter how we’ve cloaked the terms -- “partnering,” “advising,” “assisting,” and so on -- the American military has acted like an occupier of Iraq and Afghanistan in these years.  Those thousands of ubiquitous post-invasion U.S. Army foot and vehicle patrols in both countries tended to highlight the lack of sovereignty of their peoples.  Similarly, as long ago as 1966, author James Baldwin recognized that New York City’s ghettoes resembled, in his phrase, “occupied territory.”  In that regard, matters have only worsened since.  Just ask the black community in Baltimore or for that matter Ferguson, Missouri.  It’s hard to deny America’s police are becoming progressively more defiant; just last month St. Louis cops taunted protestors by chanting “whose streets? Our streets,” at a gathering crowd.  Pardon me, but since when has it been okay for police to rule America’s streets?  Aren’t they there to protect and serve us?  Something tells me the exceedingly libertarian Founding Fathers would be appalled by such arrogance.

*The racial and ethnic stereotyping.  In Baghdad, many U.S. troops called the locals hajis, ragheads, or worse still, sandniggers.  There should be no surprise in that.  The frustrations involved in occupation duty and the fear of death inherent in counterinsurgency campaigns lead soldiers to stereotype, and sometimes even hate, the populations they’re (doctrinally) supposed to protect.  Ordinary Iraqis or Afghans became the enemy, an “other,” worthy only of racial pejoratives and (sometimes) petty cruelties.  Sound familiar?  Listen to the private conversations of America’s exasperated urban police, or the occasionally public insults they throw at the population they’re paid to “protect.”  I, for one, can’t forget the video of an infuriated white officer taunting Ferguson protestors: “Bring it on, you f**king animals!”  Or how about a white Staten Island cop caught on the phone bragging to his girlfriend about how he’d framed a young black man or, in his words, “fried another nigger.”  Dehumanization of the enemy, either at home or abroad, is as old as empire itself.

*The searches: Searches, searches, and yet more searches. Back in the day in Iraq -- I’m speaking of 2006 and 2007 -- we didn’t exactly need a search warrant to look anywhere we pleased. The Iraqi courts, police, and judicial system were then barely operational.  We searched houses, shacks, apartments, and high rises for weapons, explosives, or other “contraband.”  No family -- guilty or innocent (and they were nearly all innocent) -- was safe from the small, daily indignities of a military search.  Back here in the U.S., a similar phenomenon rules, as it has since the “war on drugs” era of the 1980s.  It’s now routine for police SWAT teams to execute rubber-stamped or “no knock” search warrants on suspected drug dealers’ homes (often only for marijuana stashes) with an aggressiveness most soldiers from our distant wars would applaud.  Then there are the millions of random, warrantless, body searches on America’s urban, often minority-laden streets.  Take New York, for example, where a discriminatory regime of “stop-and-frisk” tactics terrorized blacks and Hispanics for decades.  Millions of (mostly) minority youths were halted and searched by New York police officers who had to cite only such opaque explanations as “furtive movements,” or “fits relevant description” -- hardly explicit probable cause -- to execute such daily indignities.  As numerous studies have shown (and a judicial ruling found), such “stop-and-frisk” procedures were discriminatory and likely unconstitutional.