Sunday, August 24, 2014

Normalizing the Pathologies of Power

Things have been relatively calm in Ferguson recently, and the situation in St. Louis proper, following the police execution of Kajieme Powell and release of the video showing what happened, has never been as overtly rebellious and resistant as it has been in Ferguson. 

The police killings of black men in New York and Los Angeles have resulted in protests and demonstrations, marching in the streets and calls for change, actions which continue, as do the protests in Ferguson, but they have never had as high a media profile as the rebellion in Ferguson. There is a reason for that which I'll get to or at least try to as I weave this story together. 

This summer's anti-police-murder protests have been characterized by a certain militancy that often seems to arise against the Powers That Be these days, but then it dissipates in the face of overwhelming force or simply due to the exhaustion inherent in non-violently fighting the System and getting nowhere. Minor cosmetic changes may come in due time, but in the end, nothing substantive happens as a result of popular outrage at police misconduct (misconduct from the point of view of the victims at any rate, not misconduct at all by the standards of the police and the Powers which protect them). The problem often remains unchanged, the killing continues without let up. It might even intensify as a result of the protests against it.

I was involved peripherally in the movement against police abuse in Albuquerque starting well before the police execution of James Boyd in the foothills of the Sandias in March of this year (though it seems an age ago now). I don't live in Albuquerque, so it's not really my ballywick,  except that one of the police snipers -- a state police officer, not an APD officer -- was sent out to the area where I live to deal with a local man who was having an episode with a gun at his parents' home. As I understand it, the situation was under control by the local sheriff's deputies and the sheriff himself was on scene. The state was called as back up. 

They sent their sniper -- who'd killed a man in Albuquerque a couple of months before, a man who witnesses and relatives say was not the culprit the police were after, but who's counting, right? -- and within twenty minutes of his arrival, he executed the man holed up in his parents' house, executed him as his parents and the sheriff were negotiating with him to put his gun down and come out. The negotiation was a long, involved process, but the situation was under control. The sheriff, the parents, everyone was shocked and appalled at the state police sniper's action. It wasn't really called for. And it was not why the sheriff had called the state police for backup. But it was done, and once it was done, all those involved could do was carry on as best they knew how.

One more trouble maker had been eliminated, and that's a good thing, right? That's what the police are for, right? Get rid of the problem people, lock them up or shoot them, their choice. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. Be thankful, be proud of the protection the police provide, and shut up. What's done is done. And it is good.


Well, no. It's not right. It's very wrong. But this wrong has been so normalized over the years to the extent that most people accept it as the way things are supposed to be, and only a minority protests and says no. 

The protests in Albuquerque against police brutality, murder and misconduct became quite intense after the release of video of the murder of James Boyd, and those intensified protests -- which included Anonymous hacking attacks and anarchist direct actions on the ground -- were met with a heavily militarized police response, including armored vehicles, mounted officers, tear gas and other "less lethal" means. The intense and militant protests were broken up and dissipated by these means, but other protest actions continued through the spring, culminating with a big march and demonstration on June 21, after which it seems the movement went into a kind of hibernation. 

The protests had accomplished something. They got the DoJ involved and they got a scathing report issued regarding APD violations of standards of Constitutional policing including numerous unjustified killings of Albuquerque residents. Once the report was issued it seemed the police went into a kind of overdrive, almost a killing spree, before they backed off a bit and helped other agencies including -- federal marshals -- conduct the necessary summary executions while "reform" of the APD was under way. Or negotiations for "reform." Or something.

The killing continued, initially under APD auspices, but now apparently all the agencies of the Law are participating equally, and the shootings and shootouts are routinized and normalized like so many of the rest of the pathologies of power.

Is this the inevitable result? I don't know. But I know that the concept of policing that has led to all these police killings of mentally disturbed, drug-addled, or acting out "troublemakers" is wrong, through and through, and it must change.

It won't, though, as long as we the people, or the rabble as the case may be, continue to enable the Powers That Be through devotion to process rather than action.

The people of Ferguson rose up in righteous outrage against the police murder of Michael Brown and they were met with a savage and extraordinarily violent response beginning the afternoon that Michael Brown was killed. Dogs and assault weapons were deployed that afternoon against the angry and deeply wounded residents of the apartment complex where Michael Brown's grandmother lives. They were angry and hurt, but they were not committing violence. The use of dogs and assault weapons that afternoon and later that night was a matter of intimidation and control, nothing more. It was to make clear to Those People, the Negroes of Ferguson, that they would not be allowed to get out of line, no matter what the police did to one of them or what Those People thought they could do. 

It was a threat which would later be carried out with ever greater displays and deployments of armor and firepower in the streets of Ferguson, ultimately involving a kind of randomized terror of the community documented chillingly in Elon James White's recording of his encounters with this random terror posted below. 

And lies. Oh My God the lies.

Lies about shootings and guns and gangs, lies about firebombs, lies about agitators, lies about looters, lies about a whole community in distress, anguish and pain. The lies were -- and still are -- constant from the authorities. Ultimately, the community was beaten down. The increasingly violent and militarized police response happened night after night. The worst episodes of police violence happened after "Magic Negro" Captain Ron Johnson was appointed to oversee the suppression of the Negroes of Ferguson, after the President spoke, after the DoJ was assigned and Holder announced that he was on his way. The violence by the police wore the people down, terrorized them into submission. Or at least into an exhausted stalemate.

This is the routine, though the level of violence employed in Ferguson, together with the barrage of propaganda and lies about what was going on was something new, at least new in the sense that we haven't seen anything quite like this .... Except we have. We've seen it many times since the civil unrest of the '60s.

The claim is made that he Negroes of Ferguson were rioting, but they never did. The police rioted, much as they did at the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968; the people of Ferguson did not, not once. 

But what about all the looting and the shooting and the firebombings and the urine being thrown at the cops? 

Yeah, what about it? The fact is, there was very little looting and property destruction, and from the very first instance, the people of Ferguson were puzzled because it was not them doing it.  It appeared to be targeted symbolically, starting with the QuickTrip where it was alleged Mike Brown had been accused of shoplifting or some other minor crime before he was shot by Darren Wilson. Only it turned out the accusation hadn't come from the QuickTrip, it didn't involve the QuickTrip at all; but the looting and burning of the QuickTrip -- by elements unknown -- a very telegenic and symbolic act of destruction by Those People. 

Then something amazing and unanticipated happened. The ruined QuickTrip became the hub of the community, its parking lot became the Ferguson public square, and the people of Ferguson acted on their own volition to clean up and protect the property -- or what was left of it -- as a symbol of their own grief and determination. But also of their belief in something better to come.

The symbol changed from destruction to creation. 

This had to be stopped, and it was. Gathering at the QuickTrip was forbidden, prohibited on pain of immediate arrest, and the site was and is fenced off. No access permitted, even pausing on the sidewalk was verboten. Why? Well, because. The popular transformation of a space like that, from the scene of destruction to the site of the creation of a strong and resistant community was a direct threat to Power. The fact is that people gathered there, discussed their situation, planned their actions, built a sense of common purpose and community and by doing so, they threatened to create their own narrative and exert their own power against the forces arrayed against them. 

It's come to light that the government of the City of Ferguson and the police in concert with the almost all-white ownership class was engaged in what could be called "Negro farming." That is to say, they regarded the majority of the population of Ferguson as a cash crop to be harvested from time to time through traffic citations, fees, fines, and endless warrants. Someone did a statistical analysis and found that there were three warrants issued for every household in Ferguson, and the warrants were strongly concentrated among the 67% of the population that is black. This "farming" produced more than $2 million in revenue for the city every year, helping to keep the taxes on the mostly white-owned properties in town remarkably low. Given these facts and statistics, there is little wonder that Officer Wilson approached Michael Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson who were walking in the middle of Canfield Dr. He could have cited them then and there and put them on the city Negro farm treadmill. Instead, he ordered them onto the sidewalk, and when they didn't immediately comply, he apparently decided to challenge them and threaten them. Things deteriorated quickly from that point, and Officer Wilson, rather than citing Brown and Johnson for jaywalking instead chose to shoot Michael Brown dead in the street.

The "farming" aspects of city government certainly were not unique to Ferguson; they're rather typical of many small towns and not a few larger cities which see segments of their populations as exploitable crops and financial resources rather than as citizens, but from the testimonies I've seen, the residents of Ferguson considered the practices of the police and the city government and courts to be harassment to the point where some felt they were under siege by an almost all-white civic authority. This was a particular problem for poor people, but it affected all. 

There was resistance prior to the killing of Michael Brown, but apparently it was relatively low key and subtle. The killing of Michael Brown unleashed a much more overt and assertive resistance to the police that was met with increasing, indeed absurd, levels of police violence against the people.

Teri49 emailed me with some of her findings in the #Ferguson Twitter stream, findings which show that the police response to resistance in Ferguson is part of a much broader pattern and practice, one that really affects everyone everywhere in the country, and it should be deeply troubling. 

With her permission, I'm posting what she found:

5s aug 20 11:30 am
Claims of police raid on an activist center at a church providing supplies for activists -- particularly for tear gas exposure -- developing
Response to above:
@rdevro it's true. Just keep reading #staywoke

Then there's this:
RT Capt Johnson of #FERGUSON was walking in middle of road pointing out journos to be arrested

Here's an article about the above.  I know, prison planet, geez, but one of the  guys in that twitter feed is a reporter with prison planet and supposedly witnessed this in person.


Now here is a really interesting thing.  These guys can't spell worth shit, but it appears that they are a real mercenary group operating a training center in St. Louis.  The right-wing blogs are all busting at the seams with the news that mercenaries are to be deployed to Ferguson.  However, their second "tweet" clarifies that they are being sent in to protect an individual, not to assist the police.  No mention made of who they are protecting.  It's doubtful it would be Holder, as he would have Secret Service.  Maybe some celebrity hired them?  Such strange goings-on, and none of them good.:

‏@AsymmetricUSA  aug 19 1:04 pm
We've been to Baghdad, Kabul, KL, Manilla, Peshwar, Bogata.  Never guessed we would deploy a high threat team in our own city.  #furgeson

9h  aug 20 3:16 am
To clarify we are not protecting state, law enforcement or those exercising their right to assemble. Escort detail augment for individual.

1800 Acre Special Operations Training Facility Staffed by combat experienced SpecOps vets - Army Green Berets, Army Delta, Navy SEALs, SEAL 6, and Agency SOF.
St. Louis, MO
Thought you might find some of this interesting.

Yes, well I did. Find it -- and so many other things going on in and around Ferguson -- interesting. Clearly, something is going on there that has been built on the lessons learned from previous episodes of suppression of civil disturbances and imposition of quasi martial law, including the suppression of Occupy, the Boston Lockdown -- er, "Voluntary Shelter In Place" -- and so on. They are all built on the premise that a National Special Security Event is taking place, such as the WTO conference that resulted in the infamous "Battle of Seattle" in 1999.

During these events, the Constitution is suspended and for all intents and purposes, residents and activists have no rights the authorities are bound to respect. Protest may or may not be "permitted," but protest and activism is extensively surveilled and is controlled with often ridiculous levels of brutality. Mass arrest of innocent people is commonplace, "snatch and grab" actions by police frequent, tear gassing, LRAD deployment, and so forth used to break up crowds. Deployment of military-style hardware amid masses of police is routine.

This has been going on for many years, and Americans are pretty used to it by now, though it seems that there is little or no understanding that what takes place is due to the declaration of a National Special Security Event and is led from the top -- typically DHS. It's not a spontaneous local police reaction to crowds of protesters at all. It's all planned at the top over months or even years. Many times, crowds have been seeded with provocateurs, some of whom have been caught and exposed. The point being that peaceful -- or at least nonviolent -- protests are often disrupted by the actions of a few provocateurs working on behalf of the police or other authority. Such disruptions are part of the plan.

Note also that disruption of political activism is part of the plan from the outset. Prior to the 2008 Republican Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul, there were raids on houses where political activists were gathering in preparation for the Convention, and many arrests on bogus charges were made. The harassment of these activists has continued to the present day, with numerous arrests and property seizures ongoing.

Media is targeted for special treatment as well. There is typically an attempt to separate "credentialed" from independent media, and to confine media to particular locations, as well as embedding selected media with the authorities and police. This is obviously an effort to control what the public sees and knows of what is going on, and this overt control of the media is one reason people don't understand what is really going on and it's part of the reason why even now, a majority of people often believe that the protesters get what they deserve from the police.

There is often an effort to portray protesters as "rioters" and protests as "riots," even when -- or maybe especially when -- the police are the ones who are rioting (a la Chicago 68). Instigators are commonplace, as they seem to have been in Ferguson when "riots" were happening. The looting and property destruction that took place in Ferguson, like similar actions in other cities under the quasi-martial law of a NSSE, is questionable on a number of levels. Often it -- looting and rioting -- seems to be part of the plan of action by the authorities.

In Ferguson the authorities, for example, did nothing whatever to interfere with looters and those who were engaged in property destruction. In fact, they seemed to be encouraging looters and destroyers while they were arresting paramedics, media, and community activists. Interesting priorities.

The authorities in Ferguson were constantly complaining about gunfire aimed at them, and they repeatedly whined about all the bottles, rocks and Molotov cocktails thrown at them. But interestingly, when people were shot as a few were (but not, note well, police) they did nothing. No investigation, no follow up, in some cases no reports were taken. This gave rise to questions regarding who was actually firing guns in Ferguson. The only ones anyone was sure was firing was police. Police were never known to be wounded by gunfire in Ferguson, only random people on their way home or whatever. The shooters were never identified or found. There was apparently never any attempt to locate or arrest them. This understandably gives rise to speculation that the shooters were either police themselves or were provocateurs working for the police.

Only five guns are known to have been confiscated. Five. In a place supposedly filled with murderous gangstas and rampaging savages. Right. Until Michael Brown was killed, there hadn't been a murder in Ferguson for years. Not one. If there were gangstas, they were sure circumspect. None of the guns confiscated were the property of members of the protest crowds, they were all seized from motorists stopped at checkpoints. In other words, there is no evidence at all, despite the repeated claims of the police, that participants in protests in Ferguson were armed, or if they were armed that they intended to use their weapons against police.

There is not a shred of evidence that even one Molotov cocktail was thrown at police despite nightly claims by the police that they were being barraged by "firebombs" and so on. Nor is evidence that more than a very few bottles of any kind were thrown at police, and then typically only after police began an action against the crowds, though there were a few instances where a single bottle thrown by someone unknown within the crowds which were triggers for police action, and thus were suspected to have been thrown by provocateurs.

Police raids on safe places and gathering places, such as the church mentioned in the tweet above and various parking lots along W. Florissant, were clearly intended to make it difficult or impossible for people to feel safe anywhere or to be able to create and maintain any public space. During one police rampage in Ferguson, neighborhoods were being teargassed and people were being targeted and shot with rubber bullets at random. This is documented in the audio posted below, but there were many other reports as well. But these incidents happened after the media was ordered out of the area. Many of the reporters sent to Ferguson still don't know about the gassing of neighborhoods -- they weren't there.

I could go on and on, but all this and more is a matter of routinizing the pathologies of power. From the killing of Michael Brown onwards, the authorities in Ferguson acted belligerently and contemptuously toward the residents. Toward the Black residents. While there have been many white participants in the protests, some of them residents of Ferguson, the police have been mostly concerned with controlling the Blacks -- but strangely they have not interfered with looting and property destruction. The very worst and most brutal nights of protest suppression have taken place under the command of Captain Ron Johnson -- who became something of a rock star and hero briefly -- but under whose command some of the worst abuses happened. I wondered whether he was a Judas goat, but now it's likely he will be made a scapegoat. Put a Black man in charge of the suppression of Blacks, and there are liable to be unforeseen consequences. That kind of cynical action is part of the pathology of power as well.

The displays of military style hardware and camo-fatigue wearing "troops", the automatic rifles pointed directly at people, the machine gunners, the tear gas and smoke grenades launched at defiant but nonviolent crowds, the rubber bullets that wounded so many (numbers unknown at this point), the raids on safe places, the snatch and grabs, the assaults, the threats, the lies, all of it is part of the normalizing of ever greater levels of power pathology. The assignment of the National Guard to protect the police is a fascinating development that I can't recall any precedent for.

Something else was going on too. The authorities -- apparently under the command of Captain Johnson -- recruited "community leaders" to help police and control the crowds. They seemed to be relying principally on recruits from the Nation of Islam and the New Black Panthers, which is interesting as can be, and which I may have more to say about in a subsequent post, but it is worth pointing out at this point that police conducted raids on a well established local church and community center where help and safety were available for residents, while the police were recruiting and utilizing the services of the New Black Panthers and Nation of Islam which, so far as I'm aware, had no deep roots in the community. Further indication of the pathology of power? I'd say so, yes.

The summer media frenzy was concentrated in Ferguson, at least while the protests and their telegenic suppression was on display. Most media left when the action died down. The media was being very cynically and consciously used to spread a message of terror to anyone else who might rise against the power of the state and authority. Most of the mainstream was content with spreading official lies and images of terror as far and wide as they could. Effectively, they were acting as propagandists for the State. Independent media tried to find, state and show the truth as best they could. But it was a losing effort in my view as the major mass media has a much greater reach. The truth is out there, and an honest picture is being assembled, but it will take years I think before what is really going on is widely known, and by then, something else will be going on, perhaps quite a bit worse.

The only way I know of to alter the situation is through intervention. There was a moment when something of the sort took place in Ferguson, when clergy and media together formed a line to prevent a police attack on the crowd, and they succeeded in defusing the situation for at least a few minutes. That can happen again, it needs to happen again on a much broader scale. The massive demonstration on Staten Island yesterday in honor of Eric Garner and Michael Brown and others killed by police was -- perhaps -- another example of how an intervention might occur. It takes a lot of dedicated people putting their bodies -- and perhaps their lives -- on the line to stand between the police and the people to prevent violence not instigate it. On the other hand, the mass demonstration may become just another routine signifying nothing, while the pathologies of power continue their march into madness.

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