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Michael Gould-Wartofsky: the New Age of Counterinsurgency Policing
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In the part of Baltimore hardest hit by the recent riots and arson, more than a third of families live in poverty, median income is $24,000, the unemployment rate is over 50%, some areas burnt out in the riots of 1968 have never been rebuilt, incarceration rates are sky high, 33% of the homes are vacant (thanks to an ongoing foreclosure crisis), and water service is being shut off for people who can’t afford to pay rising water rates. Residents, mainly black, live in what is really an unofficially segregated, hollowed-out Rust Belt city that just happens to be located on the East Coast.

As Max Blumenthal pointed out when the city’s mayor started denouncing “outside agitators,” more than 70% of Baltimore’s police force lives beyond the city limits, at least 10% of them out-of-state. The Baltimore PD is also notorious for its brutality, for the numbers of (black) residents it seems to gun down, and for its give-not-an-inch “broken windows” policing policies. In a city that is 62% black and 28% white, police officers are still 46% white and 80% outsiders heading into neighborhoods that are almost totally black. Unlike the residents of such neighborhoods, Baltimore’s police lack for little. Thanks in part to Pentagon and other government programs, the force is armed to the teeth in the increasingly military fashion that has become the post-9/11 state of things (and that TomDispatch has been covering since 2004.) It acts as if it were, that is, an occupying army, not a neighborhood protector. In this sense, “community policing” is now a joke in the U.S.

When the CVS stores go up in flames and local stores are looted, politicians denounce what’s happened and demand an instant return to law and order, while calling on police departments to wear body cameras and rethink their attitudes. But there’s another reality that has to be faced. Give some credit to Hillary Clinton. In her recent speech on the police killings of black men from Ferguson to Baltimore, she included this single on-the-mark sentence: “We can start [building on what works] by making sure that federal funds for state and local law enforcement are used to bolster best practices, rather than to buy weapons of war that have no place on our streets.” Put another way, you can’t arm and militarize the police, as both the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security have been doing since 9/11, and send them into impoverished communities as if for war, sporting a mind-set from the global war on terror, without getting what you’ve functionally wished for. In a sense, in the arms race that is America today, you might say that you are what you “carry.”

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Among the illusions of our age, there’s this: the idea that the U.S. can fight wars in whatever fashion it pleases, year after year, in distant lands without changing our society as well. In fact, those wars have been coming home for a long time in myriad ways, and never more obviously than with American police forces and their practices. It’s not just that the police (and SWAT units) are now filled with vets from the war on terror, or that they are armed with weaponry directly off its battlefields, but that the mentality that has made those wars such disasters has come home with the troops and weaponry.

As Michael Gould-Wartofsky, author of the new book The Occupiers: The Making of the 99 Percent Movement, suggests, thoroughly militarized, surveillance-heavy forces are bringing counterinsurgency thinking from Iraq and Afghanistan back to this country. The record of such thinking abroad brings to mind a question first raised by State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren about Washington’s new war in Iraq: What could possibly go wrong?

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
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  1. I’m sorry, this is just too ridiculous to let pass. I worked in downtown Baltimore for thirteen years and travelled the city widely for both professional and recreational reasons. I know it very well indeed. It’s problem IS MOST DEFINITELY NOT that its police force has too many veterans who live out of state and wield heavy firepower. Or that the government AT ANY LEVEL has hesitated IN ANY WAY FOR FORTY YEARS to ladle the place over with oceans of other people’s money. As the Wu-Tang Clan might opine in the face of such absurd provocations: “nigga please!”

  2. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    This article is almost as bad and that Junior college equity B/S they sling over at Salon. By the way “community policing” is nothing but a buzz word made up during the Rodney King fisaco. Community policing is the last thing just about anyone really wants. No one wants to do the dirty work ,that’s why we have cops in the first place.

  3. Tom, the Hillary statement/analogy doesn’t work. It has an inherent oxymoron built in when you write:

    But there’s another reality that has to be faced. Give some credit to Hillary Clinton. In her recent speech on the police killings of black men from Ferguson to Baltimore, she included this single on-the-mark sentence: “We can start [building on what works] by making sure that federal funds for state and local law enforcement are used to bolster best practices, rather than to buy weapons of war that have no place on our streets.” Put another way, you can’t arm and militarize the police, as both the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security have been doing since 9/11, and send them into impoverished communities as if for war, sporting a mind-set from the global war on terror, without getting what you’ve functionally wished for. In a sense, in the arms race that is America today, you might say that you are what you “carry”

    Firstly, Hillary is responsible for much of the “in the arms race that is America today, you might say that you are what you “carry””

    This is the woman who’d been a serious cog in the machine that overthrew Gaddafi and put Libya into chaos and was on the point with initiating the chaos that is today’s Syria.

    How this plays in today’s domestic policing is the ‘veterans preference’ laws where the ‘it’s us versus the enemy’ mindset is carried over to America’s neighborhoods. It’s not only the weapons, it is the mentality. The police have been shaped with hiring practices where the most rudimentary lessons of social psychology determine we will have a militarized police:

    http://ronaldthomaswest.com/2014/12/09/metadata-panorama/

    Secondly, noting Hillary has been as responsible as anyone for the war or terror policies you purport to decry elsewhere in your articles, you should note a bit more closely just who you have thrown a bone for the 2016 election cycle:

    According to Mother Jones Magazine, in Hillary’s own words, she is under the spiritual tutelage of Doug Coe:

    “Coe, she writes, “is a unique presence in Washington: a genuinely loving spiritual mentor and guide to anyone, regardless of party or faith, who wants to deepen his or her relationship with God.”

    And according to the excellent investigative reporting of Jeff Sharlet on ‘The Family’, the cult which sponsors the ‘National Prayer Breakfast’, Coe, in his own words, is no stranger to violence in politics:

    “Doug Coe offered Pol Pot and Osama bin Laden as men whose commitment to their causes is to be emulated. Preaching on the meaning of Christ’s words, he says, “You know Jesus said ‘You got to put Him before mother-father-brother sister? Hitler, Lenin, Mao, that’s what they taught the kids. Mao even had the kids killing their own mother and father. But it wasn’t murder. It was for building the new nation. The new kingdom”

    http://ronaldthomaswest.com/2014/08/09/hillary-clinton-in-four-short-paragraphs/

    ^ If I give Engelhardt’s journalism little respect, I have little reason to make apology.

  4. Is Baltimore’s lack of black police officer proportional to its black population somehow a function of the lack of qualified blacks – that lack exacerbated by the high proportion of blacks whose felony records disqualify them from becoming police officers?

    Before the ill-consequences of the 1965 Hart-Cellers Open Immigration Act and suicidal refugee resettlement rackets took effect, did U.S. municipalities, counties or states need police forces armed to the teeth with military weaponry?

    Invade The World, Import The Third World, Outsource To The World has grave consequences indeed, and Hillary has been in the forefront of that blind, stupid, suicidal conjunction of policies which has gone a long way toward destroying what’s left of what used to be our country, what’s left of what used to be Western Civilization.

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