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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 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Poorly Financed Causes Of Little People”: In Black Lives Matter Protest, Corporate Rights Trump Free Speech

Minnesotans protesting police violence and institutional racism could face “staggering” fees and criminal charges for a protest at Mall of America, with the City of Bloomington announcing plans to force organizers to pay for the mall’s lost revenue during the exercise of their free speech rights, highlighting important questions about free speech in an era of privatized public spaces.

“Youth leaders of color [are] under attack,” Black Lives Matter-Minnesota said in a statement. “It’s clear that the Bloomington City government, at the behest of one of the largest centers of commerce in the country, hopes to set a precedent that will stifle dissent and instill fear into young people of color and allies who refuse to watch their brothers and sisters get gunned down in the streets with no consequences.”

Around 3,000 people flooded the mall on Saturday, December 20, to sing carols and chants following police killings of unarmed African-American men like Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Dontre Hamilton. The protests were peaceful, and some mall workers stepped outside of their businesses and raised their hands in support. Police closed around 80 stores during the two-and-a-half hour protests, and locked down several mall entrances.

Days after the action, Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson announced that she will not only seek criminal trespass and unlawful assembly charges against the protesters, but will also seek to have them pay for the mall’s lost revenue and overtime for police officers–a cost that she says will be “staggering.”

Can the Mall of America prohibit the exercise of free speech and assembly on its premises? And can it pick-and-choose who it allows to assemble? Last year, for example, the Mall allowed around 7,000 people to gather in the same rotunda to honor a young white man who died of cancer.

The First Amendment protects against government suppression of speech, but not private responses to the exercise of free speech and expression. And the Mall of America is considered private property, despite receiving hundreds of millions in public subsidies since it was built, including an additional $250 million approved last year.

For decades, courts have struggled with how to protect free speech in public forums that have grown increasingly privatized.

Mall “Born of a Union with Government,” but Not a Public Space 

In many communities, town squares and downtown business districts have largely been replaced by privately-owned shopping malls, particularly in suburban areas. In Bloomington, Minnesota, for example, there is no public space that offers the same level of visibility as a protest at the Mall of America–which is why protesters chose the location on December 20.

Even traditional public spaces like parks are increasingly owned by private entities, most famously in New York’s Zuccotti Park, where Occupy Wall Street was born, and where Occupiers faced eviction after the park’s owners changed the rules.

Mall of America’s status as a public space under the Minnesota state constitution was challenged in the 1990s by anti-fur activists who wanted to protest outside Macy’s. A Minnesota trial court initially found that, thanks to the Mall’s substantial public subsidies, the Mall of America was “born of a union with government” and could only impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on protest.

The Minnesota Supreme Court, though, reversed the lower court in 1998 and declared that the state constitution’s protection of free speech “does not apply to a privately owned shopping center such as the Mall of America, although developed in part with public financing.”

Suburban Malls as Public Spaces? 

Initially, however, the U.S. Supreme Court viewed privately-owned suburban shopping malls through the same lens as the public town squares they were replacing.

In 1968, in an opinion authored by Justice Thurgood Marshall, the Court held that suburban shopping malls were serving the same public function as a town square, and therefore should be subject to similar constitutional constraints.

“The shopping center premises are open to the public to the same extent that as the commercial center of a normal town,” Marshall wrote in the case, which involved the Logan Valley Mall in Pennsylvania. “So far as can be determined, the main distinction in practice between use by the public of the Logan Valley Mall and of any other business district … would be that those members of the general public who sought to use the mall premises in a manner contrary to the wishes of the [owners] could be prevented from so doing.”

Subsequent decisions, however, chipped away at that “public function” doctrine, most notably in a 1972 decision authored by Justice Louis Powell.

Powell, a former corporate lawyer who had authored the Powell Memo for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce the previous year, declared in the Lloyd Corp. v. Tanner decision that a mall does not “lose its private character merely because the public is generally invited to use it for designated purposes.”

A new opening for states to protect free speech in shopping malls emerged in the 1980 Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robbins decision. In that case, the Court opened the door to states finding that their own constitutions protect free speech in shopping malls or other privately-owned public spaces. The California constitution’s broader free speech protections, for example, allow for protests and leafletting in that state’s malls.

Minnesota’s Supreme Court, though, came to a different outcome in that 1998 case involving the fur protesters. The state constitution, the justices declared, does not bar Mall of America’s owners from limiting the exercise of free speech on mall property, or choosing to allow some forms of speech but not others.

“The Poorly Financed Causes of Little People” Yield to Corporate Rights

In recent years, the First Amendment has undergone a revolution in the U.S. Supreme Court–in cases like Citizens United, Hobby Lobby, and McCutcheon–but largely in favor of expanding the “free speech rights” of corporations and the wealthy few, rather than protecting what Justice Hugo Black described in 1945 as “the poorly financed causes of little people.” When average Americans raise their voices in protest, they can still be muffled by corporate interests.


By: Brendan Fischer, The Center For Media And Democracy, December 26, 2014

December 29, 2014 Posted by | Corporations, Free Speech, Mall of America | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Unworthy Of Attention”: Why Is No One Talking About The NYPD Shooter’s Other Target?

New York City’s police commissioner is laying blame for the Saturday shooting of two of the city’s police officers at the feet of protesters participating in #BlackLivesMatter actions. Patrick Lynch, the head of the police union, claimed there’s “blood on the hands” of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who, Lynch has said, didn’t do enough to disavow and put an end to local protests.

None of this is surprising, unfortunately. The tragic killing of two officers by an emotionally and psychologically unstable shooter is being used to further the political goals of an establishment that’s been challenged through effective, largely nonviolent protest. Despite that movement’s focus on the criminal justice system as a whole, from policing to the role of district attorneys and the grand jury system, police leadership and rank and file are using this moment to claim victim status, ramping up rhetoric and participating in symbolic moves such as officers and union leaders turning their backs on de Blasio during a public appearance over the weekend.

What’s equally predictable and disappointing is the near-erasure of Shaneka Thompson from the story of Ismaaiyl Brinsley’s shooting spree. Thompson is the 29-year-old ex-girlfriend whose Maryland apartment Brinsley entered before shooting her in the stomach and leaving her to scream for help. “I can’t die like this. Please, please help me,” she is reported to have shouted as she banged on a neighbor’s door. According to news reports, Thompson is a health insurance specialist with the Veterans Administration and an Air Force reservist. Brinsley took her phone with him as he headed north to New York, using it to post self-incriminating rants to Instagram before killing Officers Ramos and Liu and, finally, himself.

Thompson is hospitalized and was, as of Sunday, in critical but stable condition. She is also the latest in a series of women who have been brutalized by men whose violence only became notable when they took on targets deemed more important, more relevant to a national or international debate already in play. On Monday Muna Mire, a former Nation intern, noted on Facebook similarities between Thompson and Noleen Hayson Pal, slain ex-wife of Man Haron Monis. Monis is the gunman behind the sixteen-hour standoff in an Australian café that earlier this month left three people (including him) dead. He had a history of violence against women and at the time of the café attack was out on bail on charges including dozens of counts of sexual assault. He had also been charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, with whom he had a custody dispute. He allegedly conspired with a girlfriend, who then set Pal on fire and stabbed her eighteen times. To frame that hostage crisis as one simply driven by religious fanaticism leaves out a key element: Monis seems to have been quite sick and is alleged to have used women’s bodies as a place to target that sickness.

Monis had been charged with these crimes recently, but he wasn’t due back in court until February. This past weekend, Baltimore police started tracking Shaneka Thompson’s phone, which Brinsley had in his possession, around 6:30 am, less than an hour after she was shot. According to The New York Times, they knew Brinsley’s whereabouts, but didn’t contact New York police until after noon. They faxed a wanted poster to a Brooklyn precinct just after 2 pm.

There may well be legitimate reasons why law enforcement could not have apprehended Brinsley earlier, even though they knew his whereabouts as he traveled north from Baltimore to New York. But in both this case and the Sydney incident, there seem to have been assumptions that public safety was not at risk despite the allegations and evidence of violence against women. Why does the threat level and stoking of public fear skyrocket when a madman is thought to be tied to an ideology that’s generally hated in the mainstream—anti-police sentiment or Islamic fundamentalism—but not when that madness has threatened a woman’s life or safety?

Salamishah Tillett raised a similar question during the trial of George Zimmerman, who had been accused of molesting a cousin as a child and of abusing a former fiancée before killing Trayvon Martin. As Tillett wrote, “Zimmerman’s attorneys successfully argued that those acts were inadmissible or irrelevant. But these accusations offer us other truths: that violence against girls and women is often an overlooked and unchecked indicator of future violence.”

It’s predictable that some opponents of police reform want to use Brinsley’s shooting spree to discredit and mischaracterize the #BlackLivesMatter movement and any politician who hasn’t tried to stamp it out. Let’s not go an equally predictable route and ignore that a woman bore the brunt of Brinsley’s instability first, before he went on to commit the type of crime that media and law enforcement consider worthy of their full attention.


By: Dani McClain, The Nation, December 23, 2014

December 26, 2014 Posted by | NYPD, Violence Against Women | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Tribal America”: How Do We Bridge the Gap Between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’?

Within hours of the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island, protests erupted across America. Sometimes peaceful, sometimes violent, they brought the issue of race and policing to the front burner once again. The heat has now ignited a man who assassinated two New York police officers in a fit of calculated retaliation. The peaceful protesters condemned those murders. The police condemned the protesters, and both condemn politicians. Welcome to tribal America.

In his provocative book, Moral Tribes, Joshua Greene argues that morality evolved to solve the problem of fighting among those who had to cooperate in order to survive. Shared moral rules were evolution’s way of keeping “you” and “me” from mutual destructiveness. “You” and “me” became “we” in service to our shared needs. But when other groups showed up, “we” became “us,” a tribe opposed to “them.” Violence and destruction too often followed, and we still search for a shared morality that works across tribes.

Tribes today can be close geographically as well as virtually, aided in both cases by social media. Common values, customs and ways of thinking bind each “us” and separate it from “them.” Widely dispersed Americans angry at racial injustice form a tribe, as do strong supporters of law enforcement – no matter where any of them live.

Tribes can be helpful or harmful, depending on whether their members work to bridge the “us-them” divide or deepen it. Unfortunately, what we are seeing as police and protesters square off is unproductive.

Ferguson and New York are brush strokes on a wider canvass of tribal behavior in America. On a host of social, political, economic, environmental, and educational issues, tribes abound. Like-minded people find each other and push their agendas. To a point, that is both appropriate and useful as well as consistent with American republican government. But when it goes too far, as it does on many issues, it frays the fabric of the very society it aims to fix. When protestors loot and burn, when an angry man kills police officers, when a mayor tries to distance himself from the police, when police officers turn their back on the mayor, when a former mayor blames the president, and when the chief of police tells the mayor he has blood on his hands, what good is served?

We rightly condemn destructive tribal behavior in places as far flung as the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe. Why don’t we recognize and restrain it at home? If we want to cure our country, it’s time for tribes – and those who wish to lead them – to have the courage to act differently.

Tribes need to listen. This means managing their emotions and practicing the art of dialogue. Listening (not talking) and understanding (not necessarily accepting) the values and views of others helps set angry advocacy aside. Such a respectful, open stance humanizes “them” as well as “us.” When people listen to “them,” it tells them that they have been heard. Until this happens in Ferguson and New York, where most people in both tribes still claim they have not been heard, collaborative solutions will be elusive.

Tribes need to learn. Their tendency is insular – to see from the vantage point of their own biases. They defend and rationalize rather than explore their core assumptions. They get information by cherry picking from sources that are “trusted” because they agree with tribal views. They have an ax to grind, but axes cut things down rather than build them up. Protesters need to learn what the police fear and understand how many are killed or injured in the line of duty. Police need to understand what a black man feels when a police officer approaches and how to alter their own behavior during those encounters. When tribes embrace learning, their views (and then their actions) will change.

Tribes need to focus on the purposes they share with other tribes. Citizens and police both want safe streets and communities. But right now, they are dug in around their positions – what they demand from others, not what they can do for each other and by working together.

Tribes need leadership – from within and without – that does not seek personal gain by showing how much anger they share but seeks to bridge the chasm between them and other tribes. Where is the protest leadership that asks its tribe to calm down, respect the great bulk of police who are doing their best under trying circumstances, and offers solutions that demonstrate not only their own needs but the rightful demands of others? Where are the police chiefs and mayors who are willing to acknowledge and admit that they sometimes make terrible mistakes, that they can and must do better, and that they are asking their communities for constructive suggestions?

Tribes also need supportive politicians and media. The former have been too quick to take sides and inflame. The latter have been too willing to hype the conflict. What percentage of news stories on the events since Michael Brown’s death have focused on those seeking to foster better police-citizen cooperation and understanding? How much coverage have the media given to quiet healers as opposed to those whose anger makes a more enticing sound bite?

We will soon celebrate the birthday and life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribal behavior was rampant in his day as well, but King was a “crossover” figure. He urged his followers to love their opponents, and his goal went beyond desegregation to a universal brotherhood. Police and protestors today could learn a lot from this man, for whom there was only one tribe, the tribe of humanity.


By: Terry Newell, Founder, Leadership for a Responsible Society; The Blog, The Huffington Post, December 24, 2014

December 26, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Law Enforcement, Politicians | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Who’s Been Naughty And Who’s Been Nice?”: A Few Suggestions To Help St. Nick Complete His List

He’s making a list, checking it twice, going to find out who’s naughty or nice . . .”

Santa Claus does not, of course, need any help in deciding among the deserving and undeserving this holiday season. But with Christmas only days away and the North Pole toy shop backed up with orders, here are, in the spirit of the season, a few suggestions to help St. Nick complete his lists so he and his reindeer can get on their way, and on time.

Naughty: Elizabeth Lauten, the Republican congressional communications director who dissed Sasha and Malia Obama for their clothes and facial expressions during the president’s pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey.

Nice: The nation’s beautiful first daughters, who handle their unsought duties with grace, dignity and a maturity found lacking in many twice their ages.

Naughty: The 63.6 percent of Americans in our democracy who didn’t vote in 2014.

Nice: The 36.4 percent who chose to exercise that precious and fundamental right.

Naughty (worse than that): Police officers in Ferguson, Cleveland and Staten Island whose actions made sure a Missouri teenager, a 12-year-old Ohio boy with an air pistol and a New York father won’t be home — or anywhere else on this earth — on Christmas Day.

Nice: My multiracial neighbors and hundreds like them who lined 16th Street NW from the White House to Silver Spring in a candlelight vigil for justice for all people, including the victims who were united — as were the cops— by the color of their skin.

Naughty: The Ferguson protesters who resorted to vandalism and looting.

Nice: The Ferguson demonstrators who exercised their First Amendment rights within the law.

Naughty: The Beta Sigma chapter of the Delta Gamma sorority at the University of Maryland, which posted a photo featuring a sorority member posing with an alcohol-bottle and cupcake-laden 21st-birthday cake that, according to WTTG-TV (Channel 5), included the “N” word and “a sexual act that is performed on an African-American man.” Ouch. Naughty is not the word for the behavior of these flowers of America’s future.

Nice: The Howard University students who staged a powerful protest, which included their hands outstretched in a “Don’t Shoot” pose.

Naughty: The black offenders who make crime a serious problem in African American communities.

Nice: The African American cops, prosecutors, judges and black-dominated juries that are arresting, trying, convicting and sending to jail these offenders, hence putting a lie to the myth that “black-on-black” crime is tolerated or excused. Just as it is nonsense to bewail “white-on-white” crime because most white folks killed are done in by other white folks. Santa ought to reward the black, white, brown, etc., people, including police officers who risk their lives to protect us and who refuse to buy into the myth.

Naughty: Congressional Republicans, instigated by Maryland Rep. Andy Harris , who are trampling all over the D.C. Home Rule Act to block the city from implementing a democratically passed referendum to legalize marijuana. They deserve coal in their stockings.

Nice: The citizens who recognize when principle is at stake and are willing to step forward and stand up to the bullies on Capitol Hill. Those fine Americans deserve sugar plums or some such thing dancing above their heads.

If that weren’t enough, Santa’s got a little more to add on his lists.

Naughty: Those unreconstructed demagogues on the right who slander President Obama as a radical leftist out to destroy capitalism, even though he saved the auto industry, rescued Wall Street and has taken the lead in undermining Vladimir Putin and the Russian economy. Those Obama enemies deserve nothing if for no other reason than their ingratitude.

Naughty: Sony Pictures Entertainment executives who showed their true colors when it comes to race, and the hackers who are waging a cyberattack against the company. This is more of a thought than recognition of the deserving: Put the Sony Pictures execs and the hackers together in a cage and let them have at each other.

Nice: Objective and fearless journalists who bring truth and light to all who would draw near and listen or — as the case may be — read. Shower them fulsomely with your gifts, dear Santa.

Naughty: That Mr. Hyde, allegedly free of conscience, filled with darker impulses, depraved and a defiler of drugged women, known in some quarters as Bill Cosby.

Nice: The sociable, respectable and morally decent Dr. Jekyll, a.k.a. Bill Cosby, said by Camille, his wife of 50 years, to be “a kind man, a generous man, a funny man and a wonderful husband, father and friend.”

(Sorry, but your call, big fella.)

Merry Christmas, happy holidays and to all a good night.


By: Colbert King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 19, 2014

December 24, 2014 Posted by | Christmas, Naughty and Nice, Santa Claus | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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