"How Could This Happen in America?" Why Police Are Treating Americans Like Military Threats
(AlterNet) -- by William Hogeland --
...The police behavior at U.C. Davis -- manifestly not "rogue-cop," a trained, planned exercise -- reveals the cool military thinking behind the operation. Pepper-spraying looked surgical, preemptive, even robotic. The strategic directive must have been to conserve police effort and maintain police maneuverability at virtually any cost. Such efficiencies and capabilities would be important in a riot; they're not important when hoping to evict unarmed, seated protesters. It's not as if officers have been resorting to battle gear under otherwise unmanageable pressure or initiating violence only as a last resort. They've been arriving in battle gear. They've been construing noncompliance as potential attack. They've moved preemptively to disable attack where none existed, not just trying to evict but seemingly hoping to inspire fear, to punish and defeat.
The mood these operations convey is that failure to achieve police objectives must result in something awful for the body politic. In reality, leaving citizens sitting around a park or campus a few more days, even possibly illegally, might be frustrating for police and others; it's hardly the end of the world. Sometimes taking a few deep breaths is the only thing to do. But military training, tactics, and weaponry seem to inspire the idea in civic strategists that failure to achieve an objective is tantamount to fatal defeat by a hostile enemy. Intolerable. Not an option.
That mentality tends to place American governments at enmity with their dissident citizens -- and vice versa. The fact that much militarizing of police, over the past twenty years, has federal sources raises endlessly complicated questions that reflect strangely on the histories of American federalism and government suppression. A horrific theme of the Civil Rights Movement was police violence, and many Americans have branded on their brains the watercannons, clubs, dogs, fists, and boots used against nonviolent protesters in the 1950s; police involved were generally state and local. Then in 1957 federal troops -- the 101st Airborne Paratroopers -- entered Little Rock, Arkansas, with fixed bayonets, to enforce federal law by ensuring the entry of African American students to state school there; states-rights advocates talked about federal overreaching and police state, the end of liberty. Then again, in the 1960s and '70s the federal government, via its law-enforcement arm the FBI, carried out a covert war -- involving assassination, it's fairly uncontroversial to say -- on the militant activist group the Black Panthers, who it's fairly uncontroversial to say were not always peaceful protesters.
Responding now to police efforts against demonstrators, liberals and leftists have begun raising anew the issue of inappropriate police militarization and violence. Yet it's the libertarian right that has done much of the reporting and research on the issue in recent decades (Democracy Now! is among left-liberal institutions that have also covered the issue for many years). The current state of heightened awareness means there's a possibly interesting opportunity for people of varying backgrounds and politics to begin a new conversation. That conversation would involve some very strange bedfellows -- and might spark new enmities. The Salon columnist Joan Walsh's suggestion last weekend on Twitter that if police violence has federal sources, then President Obama bears some responsibility set off a torrent of invective violent even by Twitter standards...MORE...LINK