Monday, August 25, 2014

Interrelated, But Separate, Problems

While the right minimizes or defends the shooting death of in Ferguson, Missouri, reaction on the left falls along two separate tracks: there is a "war" on black men in the U.S.A., and the militarization of police throughout the nation threatens citizens and the commonweal alike.

You probably know where I'm going, and it's not where the white male Josh Barr of The New York Times and political consultant L. Joy Williams, a black woman, went on Saturday's Up with Steve Kornacki (video of segment, below).

I could have left their race out. There is no race problem in America, the right tells us, now that we've elected to the Presidency a black man the right criticizes whenever there is an opportunity, or even when there isn't.

Both Barro and Williams recognize the danger posed by law enforcement authorities who view the community as an enemy to be conquered rather than a group of citizens to be protected. But for them (Williams, more overtly) it stops there. In the video below, Barro maintains "the bigger and more important question is about ordinary everyday policing and whether that is being done in a racially just way and I think that's where the huge gap remains."  Moreover, "I think the everyday policing part is a much tougher nut to crack."

Williams, more enthusiastically, argues

we can't let people off the hook including Democrats, because it's a state run by a Democratic governor, that we can't let people off the hook and just have them focus on the miltarization of the police. It's larger than that- you know, the larger issue is how law enforcement deals with black Americans and not seeing all of us as criminals.

There is no danger of a free pass because Governor Jay Nixon has a (D) in front of his name. He is not a national Democratic figure and, anyway, it's easy to criticize a Nixon.  Nor is the militarization of the police a minor problem, nor  focusing on it "let(ting) people off the hook."

Alex Kane writes

The companies getting mileage out of the unrest in Ferguson are vast. The LRAD Corporation manufactures the long-range acoustic devices that have emitted piercing noises at protesters in Missouri. These sound devices can cause headaches and other types of pain. The police in Ferguson are also using the Bearcat armored truck manufactured by Lenco. That vehicle, costing $360,000, was paid for with Department of Homeland Security grant money, according to the New York Times. Since 2003, over $9 million in grants from Homeland Security have flowed to police in St. Louis, according to the Times. Overall, since the September 11 terror attacks, $34 billion in such grants have been given to law enforcement agencies across the country, showing it is the federal government fueling police militarization.

The Ferguson police department has received two armored Humvees, a generator and a trailer from the U.S. military, according to the Associated Press. Police departments around the nation have received the military’s surplus equipment, which has brought weapons used in Afghanistan and Iraq to local towns and cities. Congress first passed a law authorizing the funneling of surplus military equipmentto domestic law enforcement in 1990. It’s now known as the 1033 program, referring to the section of the program in the Pentagon budget.

The Justice Department has also gotten in on the action. Justice Department grants have paid for tear gas and rubber bullets, though it’s not clear if police in Ferguson used those grants to buy their own tear gas.

Whoever paid for it, the companies that make tear-gas are sure to benefit from the Ferguson demonstrations. Two corporations’ tear-gas products have been fired on demonstrators in recent days: Combined Tactical Systems (CTS) and Defense Technology. CTS, headquartered in Pennsylvania, is well-known for being a leading supplier of tear gas around the world, including to the governments of Israel, Egypt and Bahrain, which buy the weapons with the generous amounts of U.S. military aid given to them. Defense Technology, also based in Pennsylvania, has likewise profited from tear gas sold to Israel, Egypt and Bahrain, in addition to Yemen, Turkey and Tunisia.

Yet another company that will profit from the tensions in Missouri is Taser International. In the days since the shooting of Michael Brown, the company’s stock has risen 28 percent, CNN reported.According to the news outlet, the key reason its stock has risen is because of expectations that the images of police brutality and excess will lead to body cameras—a product Taser International makes—being outfitted on cops there.

Many of the corporations’ products that are being turned on protesters in Ferguson will be put on display next month—in Missouri. From September 17-19, a Military Police Expo will take place in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. “The Expo will provide opportunity for vendors to showcase their products and services to Military Police Soldiers, senior leaders and key decision makers…In addition, civilian law enforcement and Chiefs of Police will also be invited to attend,” the event’s website explains. Vendors participating include Combined Tactical Systems, Taser International, LRAD, L-3 Warrior Systems and many others.

The purpose of the convention is to “get these businesses in front of some of these government entities,” Chalette Davis, an exhibit hall manager for eventPower, which is planning the expo, told AlterNet.

It’s unclear how many of the civilian law enforcement agencies firing militarized weapons in Ferguson will be on hand. But at least one, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, will be there as a vendor. In addition to that role, it’s likely the patrol will be checking out the weaponry on display. “A lot of business is done that way,” said Davis.

Contrary to the fears of L. Joy Williams, efforts to de-militarize law enforcement will be more difficult than getting police not to "see them all as criminals," which in some jurisdictions is no problem at all..     While taking the toys away would step on business, not so with facilitating a better relationship with the poor black communities which have to bear the brunt of discriminatory practices.   And unlike restraining the militarization of law enforcement, curbing evidently racially biased police practices has its own special interest group, one of civil rights organizations (thirteen so far, says Williams) weary of a justice system with an apparent double standard.

The militarization of police has been, Barro claims, the "politically safe place for politicians to jump in on this. Nevertheless, the National Review already has counterattacked. Starbursts in his eyes, editor Rich Lowry is defending all things police in Ferguson and blaming disorder on "protestors (sic)  bent on mayhem."  Much of the right will follow, and it will be a tough slog getting back to the point at which "to serve and protect" is more than a slogan.

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