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“Perpetuating Itself”: America’s War Machine Sells Fear And Loathing Beyond Ferguson; Black And Brown People Pay The Price

The War Machine is the violent nexus of military and economic forces that grinds us up to perpetuate itself. With politicians of all stripes in its pockets and buoyed by lobbyists, the War Machine is beyond the reach of civil government and easily tramples individual souls, especially when they inhabit bodies of color. War is a big, multi-trillion-dollar business, requiring the sales, construction and operation of guns, drones, missiles, governmental armies, private armies, public prisons, private prisons and the like.

While the War Machine has been operated most obviously overseas in places like the Middle East, and domestically behind bars, it is now increasingly clear that the War Machine is also operating on America’s streets.

The War Machine has always made for strange bedfellows. Even as the conflict in Afghanistan, America’s longest foreign war, ostensibly ends, America’s largest police department and its union are in sometimes open conflict against their civilian commander, supported by a right wing that normally hates public unions.

The NYPD’s beef with its chief? That Mayor Bill de Blasio merely said he had “the talk” about police that all parents of black boys have with their sons. My father had it with me, as did every parent of every black person I know. But the War Machine will accept no criticism, ever: not for torturing brown people overseas, nor for making brown children fear police at home.

Beware she who dares to speak out at such times. When a Fox affiliate selectively edits the words of Baltimore protester Tawanda Jones to make it sound as if she said “kill a cop” when she did not, it is an example of how the War Machine hates dissent. Speech feels as under assault now as it did after 9/11, because it’s one thing for the press to express its belief, however misguided, that the exercise of free speech isn’t warranted. But it should be another for government officials to declare if, when and how dissent is appropriate. In 2001, George W Bush’s press secretary, Ari Fleischer, once warned “all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do”; in 2014, de Blasio declared after the shooting of two police officers that it was time to “put aside political debates, put aside protests”. Protest and dissent scare the War Machine.

Moments of crisis are a prime time to sell fear, and “patriotic” policy, and guns. Demanding considerations of peace leading up to a foreign war threaten those sales. Demanding a consideration of the 1,100 people killed by American police last year, even after two police officers have been killed, may similarly threaten the standard narrative – and that’s why it’s so important for protesters to keep forcing this conversation, about real lives and real justice and real reform, right now.

Because Washington won’t. Our national consciousness may now be raised about the dangers of arming of our local police departments with military-grade weapons after citizens across the nation demanded that black lives, indeed, matter. Our eyes may have been opened to torture committed by our military. But neither the right nor the “left” in Washington have any plans to punish the torturers – nor stem the flow of military equipment intended for use against civilians into Ferguson, Brooklyn and beyond – anytime soon.

When I watched, with horror, as the mother of Antonio Martin realized live on Ustream that her son had just been shot by police, I thought to myself, “The War Machine will be gunning for her next.” It will blame her for being the cause of police violence against black bodies, and not examine the context in which that violence occurred. The War Machine does not want us as a society to ask of ourselves the difficult questions about why it is that black people, abroad and at home, have been kept in the margins and away from economic opportunity, employment, education and safety. It prefers that we maintain the status quo and uncritically support the state, no matter how violent and oppressive.

The War Machine will say, at best, that the answer to such violence against civilians is merely technological, because driving up the sale of body-cams and more guns is what it does so well. But, more likely, the War Machine will want to make an example of Antonio Martin’s mother: that she and her son are a good excuse for more surveillance of black bodies, even though we know over-policing does not reduce crime.

Of course, the War Machine doesn’t care particularly about black mothers or black women. The story of a deranged man from Georgia going on a shooting spree has been entirely about the death of two police officers in New York, and hardly at all about the shooting of Shaneka Thompson in Baltimore. Similarly, the War Machine doesn’t care especially about Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos as individuals; like Ismaaiyl Brinsley did, it just sees them as cops. To the War Machine, violence must repeat itself: that’s why those officers’ deaths are being heralded as an occasion to suspend dissent – as a moment of “grieving, not grievance” – and not as a time to question American violence overall.

The War Machine has always had an insatiable need for bodies of color from before the birth of this nation. The genocide of Native Americans, the Atlantic Slave trade of Africans, the conquest of Mexicans, the colonization of Filipinos and Hawaiians, the mass importation of Chinese workers subsequently denied citizenship under the Chinese Exclusion Act: the War Machine created and then expanded the size of the United States using non-white bodies, waging war against them, and making them second-class citizens (when it deigned to make them citizens at all). Though the 13th Amendment ended legal slavery, it did not end the War Machine’s assault on black people, which has simply morphed from slavery, sharecropping and Jim Crow segregation, to modern day schools which are just as segregated, police violence, economic exploitation and mass incarceration. The War Machine has so effectively decimated the black community, for example, that for the few of us who do manage to get, say, an education, it is almost meaningless as a way to move up in the world.

The Black Lives Matter movement is about more than just justice for our deaths: it’s about the depreciation of black life in the service of accumulation of stuff for white people, from slavery to “security” to shopping. This status quo is protected, often violently, by police. And now as the War on Terror (allegedly) scales down, there is an oversupply of “stuff” used to commit violence in the name of quelling it – and an undersupply of violence to quell. The “ongoing slippage between policing and war that still visibly characterizes the present”, as the historian Nikhil Pal Singh recently observed, shouldn’t be seen as mere coincidence: it’s the War Machine coming home, and coming home as hungry as ever.


By: Steven W. Thrasher, The Guardian, January 5, 2014

January 7, 2015 - Posted by | NYPD, Police Abuse, War Machine | , , , , , , ,

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