Monday, November 24, 2014

Welcome To the Police State

The preemptive mobilization of state police and the National Guard in Ferguson, MO, in anticipation of a grand jury's long-awaited verdict on whether or not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed unarmed black man, Michael Brown, gives credence to what many activists have long claimed: We live in a police state.

In a highly controversial move, Missouri's ironically named, Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, has already mobilized police and military forces in anticipation of rioting, looting, and vandalism by protesters. (Curiously, though a decision is expected from the grand jury any day now, many are already predicting Wilson will be exonerated.)

Gov. Nixon claimed, in a recent press conference declaring the state of emergency, that previous protests over the shooting led to wanton acts of violence by the protesters. According to Nixon, "Vandals smashed the windows of small businesses. Criminals looted and set fire to stores. Gunshots and Molotov cocktails endangered citizens exercising their First Amendment rights and law enforcement attempting to maintain peace."

But the Socialist Worker's Elizabeth Schulte disputes this version of events, maintaining the protests following Brown's death were entirely peaceful. Rather, she insists, it was the police and National Guard that caused the damage and destruction Nixon cites ("Demonizing dissent in Ferguson," 11/17/2014).

Indeed, CNN's Jake Tapper compared the police presence in Ferguson to "a scene out of U.S.-occupied Afghanistan," in his coverage of those August protests.

"Nobody is threatening anything," Tapper said of the peaceful protesters. "Nobody is doing anything. None of the stores here that I can see are being looted. There is no violence."

Tapper goes on to observe that the police are "dressed for combat."

Free speech? First Amendment rights? Right of the people to "peaceably assemble... for a redress of grievances"? Such lofty ideals are promptly discarded when the corporate state shows its true oppressive face.

And yet, what is happening in Ferguson right now is nothing new. It represents the same racist, authoritarian forms of control black Americans have endured since this nation's founding.

Yet, sadly, many white Americans still do not get it. They insist on demonizing black Americans as "The Other," or claiming, in typical right-wing blame-the-victim fashion, that they only have themselves to blame for their problems.

Conservative race-baiters like Maine blogger, Tom McLaughlin and Fox News' Bill O' Reilly snidely attribute the struggles of young African American men to their alleged lack of good parenting, positive role models, and absent fathers. (Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey have also been longtime proponents of this "blame-the-negligent-fathers" mindset, much to black America's detriment.)

McLaughlin, in his latest post ("Lacking Temper," 11/18/2014), even goes so far as to claim Americans are "not buying the media spin [sic] on the incident in Ferguson...since the facts of the case don't support it."

Yet, in typical fashion, McLaughlin does not bother to back up such a claim with any substantiated evidence whatsoever. Allow me to pick up the slack when it comes to McLaughlin's shoddy "reporting." Everything one needs to know about the shooting of Michael Brown is enumerated in Ryan Devereaux's point-by-point chronicle of the incident, which he contributed to The Intercept.

Neither McLaughlin nor O' Reilly mentions the staggering prison rates among black Americans--particularly young black men. African Americans constitute 1 million of the nearly 2.3 million Americans in prison, according to the NAACP. Likewise, a recent report by the Washington D.C.-based advocacy group, The Sentencing Project, estimates one in three black males will go to prison "at some point in their lives." The vast majority of these men are imprisoned for petty felonies or minor drug-possession charges.

Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is essential reading on the subject of race in the 21st century.

"Arguably the most important parallel between mass incarceration and Jim Crow," Alexander writes, "is that both have served to define the meaning and significance of race in America."

Indeed, a primary function of any racial caste system is to define the meaning of race in its time. Slavery defined what it meant to be black (a slave), and Jim Crow defined what it meant to be black (a second-class citizen). Today mass incarceration defines the meaning of blackness in America: black people, especially black men, are criminals. That is what it means to be black.

The corporate state has shown its draconian hand when it comes to its preferred method of dealing with peaceful protests: It calls the police. Rather than addressing the legitimate concerns of Occupy Wall Street protesters, for example, then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg opted to first denigrate and then crush them with force.

Fellow activists routinely attribute Occupy Wall Street's "failure" to the movement's "fizzling out," or "lack of a coherent message." Yet this popular narrative blatantly ignores the fact that the original encampment in Zuccotti Park was forcibly shutdown by the corporate state.

Occupy did not fail on its own merits as this misleading account suggests. It was destroyed.

Indeed, many of the police forces sent to dismantle Occupy protests were more or less hired by Wall Street banks like JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs. As ProPublica's Justin Elliott revealed in a story for ("The NYPD, now sponsored by Wall Street," 10/07/2011), in the lead up to the 2011 Occupy demonstrations several Wall Street institutions contributed millions of dollars to the NYPD, "in an arrangement that critics say compromises" the police force. JP Morgan alone donated $4.6 million.

Not that this practice of the police acting as capitalism's armed-guards is anything new, of course. Even trash-talk radio host, Rush Limbaugh, understands the job of the police is to "protect wealth."

As the communal writers' group, CrimethInc. write in their anti-capitalist manifesto, Work:

The more unequal the distribution of resources and power [in society], the more force it takes to maintain it....
[A]t bottom, political repression and crime prevention serve the same purpose. Shrewd police spokesmen can shift their rhetoric seamlessly from fighting crime to fighting political extremism and back again according to what is most convenient.

And President Barack Obama's codification of the NSA's massive warrantless surveillance program has only furthered the police state. We are the most spied-upon, most video-taped and photographed people in history. Thanks to the revelations of Edward Snowden, we understand just how widespread and mind-bogglingly comprehensive the surveillance state is. Indeed, it goes far beyond anything George Orwell could have envisioned.

There is no way any of this can be considered democracy. A citizenry this spied-upon, that faces constant repression by the police is in no way free.

And that is why we must all stand in solidarity with the residents of Ferguson. Their fight is our fight.

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