From MOVE To Dallas: Increased Powers & Militarization Of Police Should Scare Us | #BlackLivesMatter
Thursday, July 7th, 2016 was a watershed event in the history of American militarized police action. It was yet another instance in which a police commander pushed the boundary of social ethics into a new realm. A previous comparable police action was the decision by then Mayor Wilson Goode and his police chief, Gregore Sambor to drop a bomb into a house full of Black people.
The MOVE bombing refers to the Philadelphia police’s 1985 Mother’s Day operation against a home inhabited by Black activists in which all but two of the occupants were burned alive when a aerial bomb was dropped on their home. That home was known to be inhabited by adults and children.
How is that comparable to Thursday’s action in Dallas in which a police bomb-disposal robot outfitted with a bomb was, was guided remotely and detonated near Micah Johnson? The first similarity is in the decision to turn a standoff into a kill operation. The second is in the usage of military equipment to carry out a police action. The third is the race of the target of the police action. The fourth, though reversed, is in the racial background of those making the decisions. Of special note is Dallas Police Chief David Brown’s tragic profile; one that includes deep and tragic personal losses of his son, a brother, and his partner in senseless police-related deaths.
In, How America’s Police Became An Army: The 1033 Program, Taylor Wofford writes:
“Faced with a bloated military and what it perceived as a worsening drug crisis, the 101st Congress in 1990 enacted the National Defense Authorization Act. Section 1208 of the NDAA allowed the Secretary of Defense to “transfer to Federal and State agencies personal property of the Department of Defense, including small arms and ammunition, that the Secretary determines is— (A) suitable for use by such agencies in counter-drug activities; and (B) excess to the needs of the Department of Defense.” It was called the 1208 Program. In 1996, Congress replaced Section 1208 with Section 1033.
The idea was that if the U.S. wanted its police to act like drug warriors, it should equip them like warriors, which it has—to the tune of around $4.3 billion in equipment, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union.”
Police departments around the country, big and small, have been receiving military-grade equipment for 16 years now and, in spite of all the talk of demilitarizing police, militarization continues to this day. In “Dallas Police Force’s Use Of Bomb-Carrying Robot Could Set Dangerous Precedent,” Jessica Schulberg writes:
“Over 200 law enforcement agencies across the country have the same technology Dallas officers used to kill Micah Johnson.
The same type of bomb-carrying robot that Dallas police used to kill a sniper who shot and killed five officers during a Black Lives Matter rally could easily be fashioned and deployed by dozens of other police forces across the country.
The robot that officers used to kill Micah Xavier Johnson is designed to find and disarm bombs, not deliver them. But after a standoff Thursday night, police outfitted the robot with an explosive device and detonated it near Johnson. Robotics experts said the incident was the first time law enforcement has used a robot in a targeted killing in the U.S.
These bomb-detecting robots are fairly inexpensive, often costing less than $10,000 each. But local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies can also request the devices at no cost through the military’s 1033 program, which gives used military equipment that would otherwise be thrown away to U.S. law enforcement agencies. The recipients have to justify a “need” for the equipment and cover the cost of transportation. The law enforcement agencies, not the military, are responsible for teaching their officers how to use the equipment.”
Dallas PD’s deployment of a robot bearing a bomb is a huge departure from established ethics norms and one that has not been given a public airing out. There have been no public discussions about intervening in the offensive manner in which Dallas PD acted on July 7th.
It is sickening to realize that while we, as a society, say we revere our war veterans and servicemen, we do so poorly when it comes to caring for them when they return wounded mentally and physically. Even more sickening is the realization that Micah Johnson wasn’t even given a second thought, when it came to capturing him alive or neutralizing him in some fashion in order to bring him to justice or to the medical care psychological and legal authorities might have deemed him in need of. Johnson was holed up at a location at a nearby community college and no longer randomly shooting in an open street. Why did police not wait until Johnson exhausted his munitions? Why such a relatively swift decision made to end his life? Who made it and with what authority?
How difficult is it to look at someone like Micah Johnson and see a Black soldier who went to war for his country and came home to find that, by virtue of the color of his skin, there is a war going on and he is a target? How much empathy does it take to look at a Micah Johnson and understand how, with, say, PTSD or some other syndrome caused by war, Johnson might have been a broken and dangerous man?
Johnson was executed by the police without a trial, using a decision making process that, so far, is unknown. Who will demand the creation of mechanisms and procedures in anticipation of other cases like this one. At a minimum, there should be a chain of command that includes a judge and processes before drastic action is taken by police. Is it imaginable, at some future point, that such use of force might be made in a Columbine-like situation? The use of bombs against citizens is one that is morally and ethically repugnant and should be forbidden in all cases.
It is sickening to come to the realization that this development is the culmination of conscious efforts by police departments and their fraternal orders at instituting no-risk policing through the passage of ordinances and laws that endow many of this nation’s police forces with special bills of rights, since the passage of the original 1033 program.
Politicians and the media’s role in feeding into the skewing of priorities must be noted here. Practically all coverage of the week’s police brutality cases was replaced by the murders of police officers at the hands of Micah Johnson, the instant his attack on began and hasn’t resumed since. As has become customary, any and all references to police deaths, by virtue of deferential language used by politicians, media personalities and journalists, supplant in tone the importance accorded to the deaths of minorities at the hands of police. Why the two-tiered levels of coverage and deference? Are the deaths of the five heroic Dallas police officers more worthy of our deference than those who fell to police brutality? This is yet another way in which bias is normalized in the public sphere and nothing is done, consciously, by anyone to even attempt to keep some semblance of balance.
Thanks to Black Lives Matter, the nation has a newfound awareness of the racism inherent in police brutality cases and it sickens to finally realize just who these laws target. One is reminded that just a year ago, when a young white man sat in a Black church and, in cold blood, murdered the nine people he’d just prayed with. His heinous deed done, Dylann Root was then able to exercise his white privilege, not only in escaping the authorities for hours on end, but in being able to secure his safe surrender to police and, for his orderly capitulation and a trouble free arrest, even earned the reward of of enjoying a Burger King meal, courtesy of his jailers. James Holmes was arrested calmly and peacefully in his car after committing a massacre inside a crowded movie theater. The Federal authorities were just a tad less courteous to the insurgents at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada and, again, in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. The Bundys and their followers survived both insurgencies completely unscathed. Going back further in memory, we can look back at the capture of Ted Kaczinsky, the Unabomber. It, too, was a relatively peaceful undertaking.
These cases demonstrate two glaring facts:
- If you commit a massacre and you’re white, you are more likely to survive your arrest and be brought to justice.
- Our police forces are more than capable of bringing a perpetrator to justice when they want.
“When they want” is the thing we must concern ourselves greatly about. Justice is supposed to be meted out equally. Clearly, it isn’t. Police are supposed to follow the law and bring criminals to justice. They do in some cases and, in singularly particular cases, they summarily mete out their own form of justice under the umbrella pretext of fear for one’s life.
When discussing the reasonableness of officers’ claims of fear of personal endangerment, one must stress that police work comes with well-established risks. Being a policeman is a dangerous occupation with great responsibility. There is a serious problem, not in how police use their mandate to do their jobs, but with how the law itself is interpreted by the courts, as well as the mistaken expectation by citizens that police are there to perform their duties selflessly and with others’ safety first and foremost in their minds. Few public expectations are more erroneous than this one. Linda Greenhouse, in a 2005 article on the Castle Rock v. Gonzales Supreme Court decision:
“The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the police did not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm, even a woman who had obtained a court-issued protective order against a violent husband making an arrest mandatory for a violation.
The decision, with an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia and dissents from Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, overturned a ruling by a federal appeals court in Colorado. The appeals court had permitted a lawsuit to proceed against a Colorado town, Castle Rock, for the failure of the police to respond to a woman’s pleas for help after her estranged husband violated a protective order by kidnapping their three young daughters, whom he eventually killed.”
In this case, the majority of Supreme Court justices ruled that a police officer has no duty to save a citizen’s life, even if there is an outstanding order of protection from a judge. Now that the court is split evenly due to Justice Scalia’s passing and soon to have a Liberal appointment, it seems an appropriate time for a new case to wind its way up and challenge this decision as it surely will hinder in attempts at police reform, unless Congress steps in to fix the law that sets the rights and responsibilities of our police forces as part of a reform package.
That said, in today’s America, there are plenty of reasons for citizens and police alike to fear for their safety. There are as many guns in circulation as there are Americans, and in fewer hands. Credit for this insane state of affairs must be given both to the NRA and our broken and corrupt political system in which not even logic can prevail over money and the influence of special interests. In the wake of the massacre in Orlando and last week’s senseless murder by a Minneapolis police officer of Philando Castile, who was legally carrying a weapon and dutifully informed the police officer who stopped him, the NRA cannot even find it in itself to protect a membership on whose behalf it purports to work, laying bare, in the most cynical of ways, its true intent: the mass-sales of arms for the profit of its masters, the gun manufacturing industry.
— igorvolsky (@igorvolsky) July 8, 2016
Without new gun and police reforms, the more citizens who legally carry a weapon are stopped, especially gun owners of color, the greater the chances that more tragedies like Philando Castile’s will occur, as nervous police officers keep unholstering their weapons out of an abundance of fear fueled by the proliferation of guns among greater segments of America’s population. With no effort to enact and then implement national police reforms to dial back police brutality, the militarization of police departments big and small and, most of all, a major effort to attenuate subconscious bias and overt racism in the nation’s police forces, the escalation in police incidents will keep rising. At a minimum, states and municipalities should put in place new regulations greatly curtaining the kinds of situations in which a police officer can unholster their weapon. A routine traffic stop in which there are children inside a car would seem an obvious instance in which police should be ordered to waive the driver through.
As of July 10th, the UK’s The Counted page by The Guardian reports that 569 Americans have been killed by police, so far in 2016. We are well on track to matching nearly 1100 killings in 2015. Philando Castile was stopped for a busted tail light. Alton Sterling’s case bore an eerie similarity to that of Eric Garner, in that both men were stopped for selling merchandise on the street. Neither case, misdemeanors, if that, should have escalated into a physical altercation which, in both cases, was begun by the police officers.
After the tragic events in Dallas last week, one should expect the proponents of a new Blue Lives Matter law to put an even greater amount of pressure on legislatures and governors to pass it. This law grants minority status to police officers, firefighters, EMT’s and other emergency personnel and adds special fines and additional jail time to those convicted of a hate crime against this new class of citizen. This law was passed last week, on the same day two Baton Rouge officers murdered Alton Sterling, a Black man who was selling CDs outside a convenience store. Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards signed the bill into law without so much as a whimper from the public. After the killing of Micah Johnson, who will dare stand up and speak out against the dangers and the injustice of Blue Lives Matter legislation?
Will it be the Justice Department whose report on Ferguson is barely a year old. Blue Lives Matter renders moot one of the biggest findings: the victimization of minorities and the over-fining and criminalization of poverty, and escalates the excuse most often used, fear for one’s life, to a hate crime? That seems unlikely given the recent signing into law by President Obama of The Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu National Blue Alert Act of 2015, named for the two New York Police Department officers who were killed in an ambush attack by a deranged man in December 2014.
While it is right and proper to ensure that there is a mechanism by which to alert police departments of threats to police officers, why is there nothing yet to protect minorities from racist police? After all, the number of killed by police is exponentially larger than the number of police killed by citizens, not that anyone is striving for parity here. Justice, in the way of police reforms continues to be sorely needed. Right after the murders of Philando Castile in Minneapolis and Alton Sterling in Louisiana, reports have been streaming in about instances of racist postings by police officers. According to USA Today, in Tennessee, three police officers were suspended after making racist comments on their Facebook pages. Raw Story reports about one of those officers:
“In Nashville, Officer Anthony Venable, an eight-year veteran of the force, was “decommissioned” after posting, “Yeah. I would have done 5,” in a Facebook conversation regarding the shooting death of Castile, who was shot four times during a traffic stop. Venable said the comment was meant to be sarcastic.”
Venable was suspended when he should have been summarily fired.
The USA Today piece also includes a long list of incidents from around the nation, in which police officials were suspended for making racist comments or engaging in questionable activities in social media. All of those officers should have been fired upon verification that they indeed made comments or posted inappropriate materials.
Retaining officers who have been disciplined for racist behaviors only perpetuates racism in policing, decreases any chance of true reforms, and gives known racists a chance to advance through the ranks to leadership positions, not to mention assures the continued exposure and risk to minorities who are policed by these individuals.
This time last year, the topic of police reform and racial justice was front and center in the news cycle, with Black Lives Matter’s interventions in the primary process. In the last few months since the emergence of presumptive winners, those interventions have ceased and the platforms of the candidates who have prevailed are the weaker ones. On the political left, a split seems to be crystallizing between neoliberal and progressive forces. The neoliberal center and center right is slow to accept a new progressive ascendancy. A weakened neoliberal majority may just be going through the motions of appeasement by very slowly and unconvincingly making concessions, at a time when progressives won’t be appeased, and in a time of more generalized deprivation than during King’s Poor People Campaign. Black Lives Matter is a necessary movement not only for America’s Blacks, but also for America’s whites. It appears that, this political cycle, there is a set of socio-political conditions very similar to that of the late 1960’s. It would behoove progressives to now grab this opportunity with both hands and join with today’s movements for civil rights in order to finally finish what Martin Luther King started. We can’t move forward without realizing his vision of a joining of America’s Blacks and whites in the pursuit of racial, criminal, economic and social justice.
As the next phase begins in the national election process, one can only urge Black Lives Matter to boldly and forcefully resume intervening in the political process, with a renewed determination in demanding the adoption of exhaustive racial and criminal justice agendas by the candidates and their parties, as well as extracting from each of them a firm commitment that they will see them through if elected into office.
Artwork credit: L. L.E. Regas
Authorities in Dallas used a “bomb robot” to kill one of multiple suspects in a sniping spree that left five police officers dead on Thursday, an unprecedented act in the history of American policing that raises concerns about due process and the use of remotely triggered lethal force by law enforcement.
The robot was used after an hours-long standoff to kill Micah Johnson, who police believe “did some of the shooting,” according to Dallas Police Chief David Brown.
Brown told reporters Friday that prior to using the robot, Dallas police exchanged gunfire with Johnson on the second floor of a parking garage.
Read the rest at Motherboard.com