At the beginning of the trouble in Ferguson, Missouri, a friend wrote on his Facebook page, “What is going on in Ferguson?”
To which I replied, “An American intifada.”
To be sure, it is not a perfect analogy, but the sight of popular civilian protests facing off against an army firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowds, training their automatic weapons on civilians as they patrolled the streets in helmets and camouflage, seemed apropos.
The comparison has been made by others, including Palestinian human rights activists who tweeted hard-won advice to the citizens of Ferguson about engaging with the police-army, dealing with tear gas, and other practical matters.
Not a perfect parallel, but consider this:
Saint Louis County police chief Timothy Fitch, along with other US law enforcement officials, has gone to Israel for training and advice. Fitch joined a delegation of American law enforcement on a trip to Israel sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League in April 2011.
The pro-Israel lobby in the United States has been making good use of the fear of terrorism in this country, bringing police chiefs from American cities to Israel to learn from the experts.
In 2008, the ADL sponsored policing delegations from Miami, Philadelphia, Lexington, KY, Mobile, AL, Salt Lake City, UT among ten others.
The Jewish United Fund, along with the Israeli government, hosted a delegation of law enforcement officials from Chicago in 2010, who were given a seminar in policing techniques, including a field trip to occupied East Jerusalem and its checkpoints. Every major division of Chicago law enforcement (Bureau of Investigative Services, Emergency Management, Organized Crime, SWAT) has been to Israel on such trips.
In October 2012, the American Jewish Committee brought police officers from New York City, Los Angeles, Oakland, Austin, and Houston to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. They visited Megiddo Prison, near Haifa, notorious for its appalling conditions and for torturing inmates—many of them “administrative detainees” held without charge or trial.
Ali Abunimah, in his powerful book The Battle for Justice in Palestine, reports:
The Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs…says it has brought more than one hundred federal, state, and local law enforcement officials to Israel as part of its Law Enforcement Exchange Program and has trained eleven thousand more law enforcement officers from across the United States since 2002.
Israel—with its “field tested” weapons and techniques used to subdue the Palestinians—is being held up as the model for US law enforcement. US police officers and law enforcement officials are being supplied with techniques and strategies of how a military occupation deals with a hostile population, how an official ethnocracy deals with officially disenfranchised minorities.
Think about that for a minute.
Whatever you personally believe about Israel or the Palestinians—just think about the fact that in the United States of America, police departments across the country are learning how to deal with its citizenry (who they are supposedly charged to protect) from a country that is illegally occupying another people’s land—and all that this implies in terms of military force.
Much electronic ink has been spilled over the last week about the increasing militarization of police departments around the US. Local police forces are acquiring weapons and equipment downloaded from federal US armed forces—armored personnel carriers, automatic rifles, flash bang grenades, and more.
The War On Drugs has met its equally nefarious lover, The War On Terror, and this, dear reader, is their offspring. Ferguson, MO makes visible in stark terms what has been happening in the United States for at least a generation. African American communities and individuals—youth and young men in particular—are under siege in a new way.
The massive effort, in a supposedly “post racial” society, to reinvent the terms of slavery and Jim Crow through the machinations of law enforcement has become well known through the writing of Michelle Alexander, and the movements against mass incarceration and minimum drug sentencing that her book, The New Jim Crow, helped inspire.
The conditions of this re-deployment of state power against people of color is dangerous, violent, and acts with increasing impunity. As it always has.
And the machinations of the reinvented conditions of slavery and Jim Crow are increasingly militarized. The Bull Connor of old is now driving an armored vehicle, equipped with automatic rifles.
Are citizens of the United States being targeted as enemy combatants by a military force? Are we a population to be subdued through curfews, checkpoints, arrest, torture, searches, seizures and other forms of state violence?
If our situation is analogous to military occupation, are the events in Ferguson an insurrection?
What would it take for us to have a widespread civilian uprising against this occupation?
In what ways can we refuse to cooperate, on a mass scale, with the occupation? How do we—collectively, individually—withdraw our power from it?