A lot of people have been noting how “extraordinary and abnormal” the police response in Ferguson has been, a response to legitimate community commands about a police shooting. People talk about the police response - with all their tanks, APCs, body armor, etc. - as looking like something more out of Gaza or Egypt ie. something that only happens “over there” (until America chooses to intervene that is). Of course, such a response is only possible if one is completely ignorant of the history of white supremacist America. Since the founding of Jamestown the history of America is one of the exploitation, containment, and racialization of people. In just the example of the police, the history of government police forces goes back to the organized gangs that hunted escaped slaves, while the first SWAT teams were used during the LA Watts riots/uprisings.
These comments are also based on an ignorance of much more recent history. Police violence has continued apace in the Obama era: stand your ground laws, stop and frisk in NYC, increased immigration deportation, the militarization of the police including drones. When I see images out of Ferguson I am most reminded of the excessive police violence used against Occupy Wall Street and other encampments, a violence that was so quickly glossed over and hidden by the mainstream media. Occupiers already got a glimpse of militarized police first hand, with tear gas, sound cannons, and SWAT teams all used in the clearing of Occupy camps.
I have been thinking of something I wrote already two years ago about Occupy:
In the moments when OWS actually tried to negotiate with the NYPD and individual police officers, the message they were often trying to convey was that members of the police are themselves part of the 99% and have an interest in combating the same economic injustices that OWS does. I think, however, that from the perspective of the NYPD, OWS was never viewed more than a problem of public order. Understanding the NYPD’s hostility to OWS does not require grand conspiracies of collusion between government and the 1%—not to deny that at a certain level such collusion does happen—but that the NYPD views its own mission as one of maintaining public order.
It is a common mistake among white people to think that the first purpose of the police is for their safety. This is a wrong idea. As a system the police aim chiefly to maintain the integrity and order of the state and, also incredibly important, to reproduce their own powers and prerogatives. This means police will always fight meaningful attempts at citizen control or oversight, unless things escalate to the point where the state itself becomes threatened. In this sense then the police in Ferguson are doing exactly what they are trained to do. They’re only mistake is that they let the media get out of hand so that a lot more (white) people than usual are seeing what happens when the police actually do their job.
There is a lot of liberal chiding going on about the Ferguson police being too armed, too militarized. This is of course true, but that does not mean the solution is for police to just have their “normal” weapons (didn’t the officer who shot Mike Brown just have his gun?). As the battle for justice for Mike Brown continues, as it must, it’s important to keep in mind that, for all the spectacle, there is nothing unusual about what the police have done so far. Indeed, it is the normality of it that should trouble all of us most of all.