These days, living in the United States and having a questioning mind is becoming more and more hazardous, forcing many of us to consider our options as to where we might want to spend the next few years. While no country is perfect, it is the continuous erosion of rights that has made many Americans look at options available in living abroad, because the increasing militarization of the police forces has frightening fascist overtones. There are more Americans afraid of their own government today than there ever have been… and justifiably so!
Meanwhile, all around the world, people are taking to the streets in protest of their governments. From Greece to Chile, from the UK to the US, anger and social networking have brought people out of their living rooms and into the public square in ever-increasing numbers. On October 15, the worldwide “Occupy” movement gathered people together for protests large and small in hundreds of cities throughout the world, with the most massive turnouts occurring in Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Chile. These protests often end up in violent clashes with government forces that range from police officers who are trigger-happy with their pepper spray to militarized riot police wielding an armory of “non-lethal” weaponry aggressively moving to corral the dissidents and disperse the crowds. The dramatic images hark back to that time of violence and civil unrest in the United States that was the 1960’s.
A Brief History of Police Militarization in the United States
Many of my readers were around to see the Chicago riots at the 1968 Democratic national convention. The convention to select the Democratic Party candidate for president was overshadowed by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy. Dr. King was murdered on April 4 1968 in Memphis TN. Senator Kennedy was likewise assassinated on June 5, 1968 in Los Angeles. Both of the assassinations conveniently had a fall guy who was accused of the murders, and neither was ever traced back beyond the initially accused perpetrators. Sort of like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Groups such as The Youth International Party, Students for a Democratic Society, and the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam were organizing events to coincide with the convention on August 26-29. But the most corrupt of all mayors in the history of Chicago, Richard J. Daley, decided this was going to be his chance to show the world what a law-and-order hero he was. He had already made headlines with his “shoot to kill” directive to the police during the riots that broke out upon the death of Dr. King in the poorer West side neighborhoods of Chicago as part of a wave that washed over 100 cities across the nation. Stalling and corrupt legal tactics denied the organizations of the convention protests any permits to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to peaceably assemble. So the 10,000 protesters were met by 23,000 police and National Guardsmen, who had a free for all, bashing heads and arresting people en masse.
This and the wave of opposition to the draft and the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the women’s liberation movement, student movements, and the anti-authoritarian sentiment on display in youth culture gave rise to the US Justice Department Law Enforcement Assistance Administration’s extensive grant program, which passed out hundreds of millions of dollars in federal taxpayer dollars to even the smallest of local police departments.
SWAT teams also came to be during the civil rights movement. Contrary to folklore, the first SWAT team did not originate in Los Angeles, but in the small farming community of Delano, CA, where César Chavez’ United Farm Workers Union held non-violent protests and sit-in’s at a cold storage facility. The local Delano police formed ad-hoc units to terrorize those wetback troublemakers and received worldwide television coverage by stations broadcasting the events. Members of the LAPD were so impressed that they formed their own highly armed SWAT team. After the success of the TV series, SWAT teams became a must-have for any police department. Federal funds for these programs were flowing freely; all you had to do was apply and presto bingo, the justice department sent money, trainers and equipment.
More recently, of course, we have been “blessed” with the inappropriately named “Patriot Act” and the equally misnamed “Homeland Security Act,” both of which were hastily passed blocks of legislation that were designed to take away the citizens’ civil rights under the guise of protecting them from foreign and domestic enemies, while enabling the various police and intelligence agencies to listen in on conversations, to arrest and hold citizens without proper cause, and to accumulate massive inventories of weapons for urban combat against any potential protest or unrest.
The two acts passed by cowed and corrupted politicians have a chilling effect on dissent. They give police sweeping powers to infiltrate peaceful organizations that are in disagreement with official policies and to silence journalists covering these stories, which is exactly what happened at the Democratic national convention in Denver in 2008 as well as the Republican national convention in Minneapolis. In both instances, civil rights of protestors and members of the press who were documenting the situation were brutally and willfully violated after infiltrators exposed them to masked and heavily uniformed riot police who are sworn to “protect and serve.” Of course, that slogan is incomplete: it should be to “protect and serve our corporate masters.”
Now, as more and more American citizens take to the streets to protest the rip off that all the “too big to fail” financial institutions have perpetrated on the American public with the help of those special-interest-owned politicians, they know that they will be met by more police forces stomping on their rights and trying to stop them from voicing their rage. Many of you have probably seen the images on TV of the New York City Policeman in white shirt spraying mace into the eyes of peaceful protestors. I personally hope that finally the American people will stop being the complacent sheep they have been since the end of the Vietnam War, and try to take control back from the multinational Military Industrial Complex, big pharmaceutical companies, mega-agribusinesses, and all others that have become institutionalized in their government with the help of lobbyists, America’s institutionalized corruption.
There is however a mighty struggle ahead. New York’s neo-con mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who has been on Wall Street since he was in diapers, has vowed to get rid of the anarchists in Zuccotti Park. They are complaining that the protestors are disrupting local businesses by using their restrooms, yet the city has refused to grant permits to allow the protesters to bring in portable toilets. How long before he will order the police to clear the streets with armored personnel carriers, capable of destroying anything and anybody in their way. And now the gift of real tanks from the army!
Ever since Ronald Reagan in 1981 helped draw up the Military Cooperation With Law Enforcement Act, quickly passed by a very cooperative congress, effectively circumventing the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 by codifying military cooperation with law enforcement, the military has been encouraged to give any and all law enforcement agencies unfettered access to all military resources, training and hardware included. The military equipment was designed to be used by American fighting forces in combat with “the enemy,” but since a law was passed in 1994, the Pentagon has been able to donate all surplus war materiel to America’s police departments. The National Journal has compiled a number of statistics showing that in the first three years after the 1994 law came into effect, the “Department of Offense” stocked police departments with 3800 M-16 assault rifles, 2185 M-14’s, 73 grenade launchers, and 112 armored personnel carriers, as well as untold number of bayonets, tanks, helicopters, and even some airplanes.
Regardless who will be in power in the future, the militarization of the police will continue. After all, who wants to appear as being soft on crime? These days, a chief of police’s office is like a doctor’s office, but instead of getting swamped with drug salesmen, they have very congenial visits with the merchants of popular oppression, the salesmen of weapons, various chemical agents, Tasers, body armor, and all kinds of tracking software, surveillance gear, and anything else the department may need for crowd control and to infiltrate dissidents, which are no more than US citizens wanting to restore the republic to its rightful place.
As the situation in the United States grows increasingly unsettling, it is no wonder that so many are looking toward expatriating to get away from it all. But what about civil unrest and the militarized response abroad?
In Europe, after decades of peace and prosperity, it was in 2009 when governments, in response to the economic crisis, began implementing drastic austerity measures, cutting pensions, public services, and education spending.
Greek workers and students staged demonstrations and called for general strikes in May 2010 over plans to cut spending and raise taxes. Anger over inefficiency and corruption of the Greek government, which had run up a huge deficit while the economy was humming, was fueled by high unemployment in a shipping and tourism based economy that was devastated by the economic downturn. Large protests and general strikes have continued to make headlines each time the Greek parliament makes more cutbacks as a stipulation for receiving bailout loans from the European Union.