If we want to prevent more insurrections in the US, we must demilitarize the police

  • Off-duty police officers were among the mob that attacked the US Capitol last week.
  • Body cam footage from Boston civil rights protests shows how police are out of control.
  • In order to secure the country from insurrectionists, these institutions must be demilitarized.
  • Eoin Higgins is a journalist in New England.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

In the wake of last week's Capitol riots, the danger of the American right-wing has become impossible to ignore. 

But if Americans—and particularly Democrats—are serious about addressing the conditions that led to the riot and the burgeoning fascist movement that last week threatened to topple the US government, they'll need to address the role of law enforcement in supporting far right agendas across the country, as well as police participation in the Capitol riot. 

Cops on the ground

Off duty cops were a presence in the crowd that stormed the Capitol, according to numerous reports. They flashed their badges at Capitol Police and told the on duty officers, "We're doing this for you." 

Thus far, officers from New York, California, Washington, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arkansas have been suspended and/or are under investigation for their participation in the riot. Two Capitol Police officers are under investigation and suspended.

Police unions, which overwhelmingly backed Trump's reelection bid, have been outspoken in their support of the riot. Chicago police union president John Catanzara defended the mob and suggested that Antifa infiltrators were the main instigators — a baseless conspiracy theory. Mike Solan, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, tweeted that the "far left" shared some of the blame for the riot after retweeting far-right propagandist Andy Ngo. 

A history of violence

Trump has a strong base in law enforcement, who are seldom accountable to the municipalities they serve while having hyper-militarized equipment and gear. Decades of increasing militarization of departments around the country have led to riot cops looking and acting like an occupying army. 

Legislation to remove barriers to police being fully unaccountable at the federal and state level predates Trump but has gone into overdrive since he's been president. The fascistic Blue Lives Matter movement, which grew out of a rejection of the idea that Black Lives Matter, has mushroomed in size since Trump took office, with flags bearing the blue line across a black and white flag festooning the stage at the outgoing president's rallies. 

This didn't start with Trump. During his two terms in office, former President Barack Obama continued the 1033 program, a Department of Defense project that transfers surplus equipment to municipalities that came under fire during the Iraq War. Though Obama signed an executive order restricting the program in 2015, an investigation by journalist Seth Kershner revealed 1033 continued unabated until at least September 2016. Obama also signed the "Blue Alert" law in 2016, legislation that set up special police alerts for officer safety but was rightly viewed by activists and progressives as a counter to the civil rights demonstrations that followed police killings around the country during his term.

While Trump is not the originator of modern American policing, he's nonetheless shown a zeal for their unaccountable violence that his forerunners publicly avoided. Police showed their appreciation during civil rights protests this summer in what could be a preview of what's to come. 

Caught on camera

As demonstrations raged across the country this summer in response to police killings of Black men, police received a message from the president, again and again: I am on your side. They responded accordingly.

As I reported for The Appeal last month, exclusive body cam footage from Boston Black Lives Matter demonstrations in late May show a consistent and disturbing lack of control or care in how officers dealt with demonstrators —attacking, pepper-spraying, and otherwise abusing them throughout the night at will. 

Footage showed indisputable proof of the aggression and brutality toward civil rights protesters from well-armed police in military formations, and that was a stark contrast to their reserved treatment of the Capitol mob and other right-wing protesters around the country. 

Video and accounts from the Capitol riot indicate the police on site were overwhelmed at best by the riot, with officers appearing to let the mob through without challenge on numerous occasions. In return, the far-right crowd dragged police officers down the Capitol steps, beating them mercilessly. 

It was part and parcel for how the right is treated by police officers around the country. Police use their power against the left during demonstrations in ways that they would never against the right. Right-wing protesters flooded the Michigan State House last April, threatening politicians and officers alike as they railed against shutdowns and mask mandates. Police stood by for the most part, as they have at right-wing protests across the country for years.

This treatment provides a striking contrast with how police respond to progressives and civil rights demonstrators. Police and politicians spread fears of antifa, the left movement that has killed exactly nobody over the past few decades while far-right extremists have lodged quite a body count—with five added last week. 

Even Biden, who by no stretch of the imagination is on the left of the issue of criminal justice, pointed out the disparity in his remarks about the violence on January 7.

"No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn't have been treated very, very differently from the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol," Biden said. "We all know that's true."

Disarm, defund, demilitarize

As chaos continues to swirl around Washington,the role of police officers in keeping the peace has become an open question. With off-duty officers in the crowds and members of the Capitol's force having questionable loyalties, American policing is a hindrance to public safety. 

In order to address the growing insurrectionist movement in the US, Biden and the Democrats must take action to demilitarize the police across the country—reclaiming federally subsidized military equipment and passing police reform at the federal level that holds officers accountable for their actions must be a priority. 

Without that kind of bold and immediate action the police will continue to act as an unaccountable paramilitary force in the country, presenting a barrier to progress and overcoming the political instability resulting from the ongoing coup attempts that are being planned around the country. 

For Biden and the Democrats, the impulse to respond to the insurrection with more police powers and new anti-terror laws will be difficult to overcome. But such a response will only put in place the tools for more repression in the future, even if it temporarily beats back the far-right tide. Instead, the role of police in the ongoing insurrection must be addressed and their power curtailed. It's for the good of the country.

Source: Read Full Article

click fraud detection