While journalists, politicians and others may be reluctant to describe the decades-long conflicts between the black community and the police as war, the police themselves often make no attempt to call it anything other than war. Given the rapid deployment of tanks and other military weaponry in hot spots such as Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 and 2017, it is apparent that the law enforcement establishment remains in a state of warfare readiness 24×7. Police proclaim that they are prepared to use warfare against us anytime we visibly rise up in resistance.
A federal government email titled The “Other” Warfighter, dated April 20, 2004, stated that law enforcement’s warfare “has all of the risks, excitement, and dangers of conventional warfare, and the stakes are equally high.”
The Department of Justice published what was essentially a war report in October 2016 that dissected and analyzed the microbes that poison relations between police and black people. In the report, investigators representing the justice department’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) acknowledged that a large segment of black America, to include many military veterans, adamantly maintain that police have morphed into enemy soldiers. A young black man told investigators that the imposing combatants function as “an occupying force fighting a war against us.”
The report concluded that “the struggle between police and black people is an “ongoing, daily struggle” that “has the characteristics of war as death occurs on both sides.”
This conclusion puts a brace on the knee-jerk assumption that since this war does not exist because it is not comprised of bloody, pitched battles that are televised on the nightly news.
In fact, live action does occur, but is most often witnessed only by the police and a few horrified bystanders whose voices are mostly all but ignored by the media, except for the soundbites, tearful mourning and curbside clumps of teddy bears and flowers that are flashed across the screen and just as quickly forgotten.
The justice department investigation revealed the raw data from the battlegrounds and crafted this war report narrative: “The statistics are grim for both African Americans and the police: roughly 29 percent of Americans shot by police were African-American. African Americans make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population and 42 percent of cop killers when the race of the offender is known. In 2014 alone, more than 46 police officers were shot dead … In retaliation to the killing of Mr. (Eric) Garner, Ismaaiyl Brinsley wrote on his Instagram account: ‘I’m putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours, let’s take 2 of theirs’ … Brinsley would later assassinate New York City officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu before taking his own life. Hatred for police is so embedded in the minds of many minority youth that self-protection is seen as the logical response. One African-American teenage girl stated: ‘I have more faith in my papa’s gun than the police. They ain’t no good.’”
Trusting in one’s own ability to defend oneself rather than trusting the police is rather common among black people. But most would never use their guns to protect themselves from the police. And no wonder, since cops are quick to come out in force, sometimes with their tanks rolling into position, helicopters hovering above, tear gas canisters and Tazers at the ready and cops in military-grade fatigues and body armor.
At moments like this, the drama in The War in America mirrors the action in foreign wars. Suddenly, local news reporters and photographers become war correspondents. Editorial boards describe scenes from the streets in the same way they would scenes from Syria.
On August 14, 2014, the fifth day after the start of the Ferguson uprising, the St, Louis Post-Dispatch published an editorial that gave an eye witness account of “a cop in body armor training his sniper rifle through a cloud of tear gas on young, black protesters.”
One of the newspaper’s photographer, a meek-looking white guy whose assignments typically focused on quiet local goings on in and around St, Louis, found himself in the midst of chaos.
He shot the quintessential photograph of the uprising, which depicted a single dreadlocked protestor, Edward Crawford, wearing an American flag t-shirt and using his right hand to heave a tear gas canister back at police while holding a bag of potato chips in his left hand.
“That one photo is not indicative of a lot of my work,” the photographer Robert Cohen said. “I’m not a war photographer. I’m a community journalist.” The poignant photo was arguably the most powerful part of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Pulitzer-winning portfolio of images from their coverage of the Ferguson, Missouri uprising.
As stated earlier, the militarization of police forces is not happening through osmosis. Under the auspices of being prepared to fight against terrorists, the police are actually carefully carrying out an orchestrated plan to be ready at all times to kick black men’s assess whenever one or more black men dares challenge their authority.
Yet, there is a bit of osmosis at play. Police department hiring organically though not fully benignly attract potential hires that with military backgrounds.
According to The Marshall Project:
A Marshall Project investigation indicates that the prevalence of military veterans can also complicate relations between police and the communities they are meant to serve.
… Our investigation obtained data from two major-city law enforcement agencies, and considerable anecdotal evidence, suggesting veterans are more likely to get physical, and some police executives agree.
But any large-scale comparison of the use of force by vets and non-vets is hampered by a chronic lack of reliable official record-keeping on issues of police violence.
Most law enforcement agencies, because of factors including a culture of machismo and a number of legal restraints, do little or no mental health screening for cops who return from military deployment, and provide little in the way of treatment.
Hiring preferences for former service members that tend to benefit whites disproportionately make it harder to build police forces that resemble and understand diverse communities.
Additional roof that police are increasingly becoming military-minded is readily available through studies and research as well as objective evidence, and anecdotal narratives by law enforcement insiders and observers.
The studies and stories are often hard-hitting and provocative as they pry open the secret places where cops hide the truth. The revealing facts paint a picture of a law enforcement system that encourages police to adopt a warlike mentality. It starts in the police academy, where rookie cops are essentially brainwashed into thinking that they should fear the public rather than protect them. Cynical on the job training under the tutelage of seasoned recruits to hold black men in contempt and prone to use violence to restrain them and teach them lessons, if they challenge a cop’s authority.
The terrible and needless casualties resulting from this ready-for-war, cynical and contemptuous attitude are heartbreaking. Consider this gut wrenching war story snippet offered by law professor and author Paul Butler. “Carnell Russ was not fortunate enough to escape with his life. In 1971, a Pine Bluff, Ark., cop shot him between the eyes after Russ asked for a receipt when the cop required him to pay a traffic ticket on the spot. The officer was acquitted by an all-white jury, but at least that cop was prosecuted, unlike NYPD officer Donald Brown, who, in 1994 in Staten Island, asphyxiated to death an unarmed black man named Ernest Sayon, setting off protests but no grand jury indictment.”
“This that and the other …
Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization o… (Paperback) by Radley Balko Study: Police are purchasing tanks and grenade lauchers Police today are armed, dressed, trained and conditioned like soldiers … Police today share a bond tighter than that shared by soldiers who fight in wars together … Lying and exaggerating in police reports and on the witness stand isn’t just common it’s routine and expected … . “ XXX writes that he soldiers in foreign wars, are “more accountable and disciplined than many police departments today.” Military vets have told him that “military raids on residences where they suspected insurgents may be hiding are done more carefully and with more deference to the rights of potential innocents than some of the AWAT raids they see and read about today. The police today may be more militarized than the military.” He adds: “P]erhaps we have entered a police state writ small. At the indidivial level, a police officer’s power and authority over the people he interacts with day to day is near complete.” Though The War in America is prosecuted one cop at a time, there is an overarching systemic practice by the entire law enforcement system that influences each cop to feel confident that no matter what he does, he will be protected by the system – right or wrong. This mindset leads to a state of tyranny. Even when video evidence clearly shows police abuse of power, “his superiors, the courts, and prosecutors will nearly always defer to the officer.” If the police abuse is witnessed by other officers, “there are policies in place—official and unofficial—to encourage them to back one another up.” The system is designed to encourage police abuse and to allow bad cops to remain on police force instead of getting rid of them.
- The former chief of internal affairs for the NYPD police department wrote a book, Blue on Blue, that catalogs some of the tragic one-sided aggressions on the battlefields of law enforcement. His book has documented multiple war stories that he was involved in or witnessed. The author, XXX Campisi writes: Xxx, xxxx,xxx
- Cops say: “We are at War.”
- Marshall Report: study revealed that ex-military personnel are joining police forces and are bringing those practices into the communities they serve … Poynter Institute”
Highly respected individuals and organizations have given interviews and issued news reports and commentary, studies, essays and pronouncements, both recently and over the course of decades, that describe the tyrannical, warlike conflicts between law men and black men.
Consider these facts and observations.
- A former police chief told me that more dangerous than the military artillery police garner is the warrior attitude of many cops. He witnessed a rookie cop who graduated police academy at the top of his class tell his fellow young law enforcers at the graduation ceremony: “It’s us against them! This is war and we must stick together no matter what.” The audience roared its approval. The ex-chief told me: “That kind of thinking is common place now. It is not helpful. There was a time when the police were passionate about protecting people, not attacking them.”
- Don’t call that sucker a soldier
- The Independent Review, The Militarization of U. D. Domestic Policing: “Instead of maintaining a focus on “keeping the peace,” many police have assumed the characteristics of soldiers and have adopted a militaristic strategy in their domestic activities … There are hundreds of reports of police “no-knock” raids and other tactics that resulted in the injury or death of unarmed, nonviolent, and innocent civilians. (Cooper 2004; Balko 2006; Brown 2010; Lodge 2011).
- War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing: “Militarization of policing encourages officers to adopt a ‘warrior’ mentality and think of the people they are supposed to serve as enemies … Across the country, heavily armed Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams are forcing their way into people’s homes in the middle of the night, often deploying explosive devices such as flashbang grenades to temporarily blind and deafen residents, simply to serve a search warrant on the suspicion that someone may be in possession of a small amount of drugs. Neighborhoods are not warzones, and our police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies. However, the ACLU encountered this type of story over and over when studying the militarization of state and local law enforcement agencies.”
- The Washington Post Fatal Force Database: “Race remains the most volatile flash point in any accounting of police shootings. Although black men make up only 6 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 40 percent of the unarmed men shot to death by police this year, The Post’s database shows.”
- Uniform Crime Report 2012: Whites commit 70% of all crime in the United States, yet compared to percent incarcerated.
- Blogging in the Huffington Post, Loyola University law professor Bill Quigley stated that racist factors in the justice system create a state of war: “This domestic war relies on the same technology that the US uses internationally. More and more we see the militarization of this country’s police. Likewise, the goals of the US justice system are the same as the US war on terror – domination and control by capture, immobilization, punishment and liquidation.Using research provided by groups such as the Sentencing Commission, he listed more than a dozen pieces of evidence that prove that blacks are under attack. Here are just a few:Blacks comprise 13% of the US population and 14% of monthly drug users they are 37% of the people arrested for drug offenses … Once arrested, blacks are 33 percent more likely to remain in prison awaiting trial than whites … Prosecutors, like gangsters, intimidate black men into confessing to crimes they did not commit. As one black man told him: “Who wouldn’t rather do three years for a crime they didn’t commit than risk twenty-five years for a crime they didn’t do?”
- The International Committee of the Red Cross, whose mission is to aid the innocent and the injured during times of war, has stated that “attacking (unarmed) civilians constitutes a war crime.”
- The dynamic former Dallas, Texas Chief of Police David Brown admitted that police military artillery “has been used in the wrong way. It’s not being used to protect officers. It’s being used to intimidate citizens who are protesting.”
There is an ongoing black uprising against excessive, militarized policing. A sampling of the evidence: HOW MANY PROTESTS AND RIOTS AND ARRESTS?
- Repeated protests, demonstrations, riots and physical attacks against the police represent counter-offenses and return fire: These political-emotional expressions and actions are often spontaneous, organic and unplanned. Typically, they emerge from the woodwork of society after word circulates in the black community following suspicious violent incidents involving armed police violence and unarmed black bodies.
- National reporting, by such journalists as Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post: In his book, They Can’t Kill Us All [pg. 230], he discusses his coverage of the uprising. Paraphrasing an activist in the uprising, Brittany Packnett, cofounder of Campaign Zero, he wrote “Packnett explains the protest movement as a series of escalating waves. Its conception came from the deaths of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, which mobilized black Americans in a demand for justice. It’s grand birth, first in Ferguson and then throughout the nation in the fall of 2014, was prompted by the death of Eric Garner, John Crawford, and Michael Brown, the cases that showed … black Americans that justice for those killed by the police was not forthcoming. As the list of names grew—each week, each day providing XXXX—so did the urgency of the uprising that would become a movement.”
- Incessant political and artistic expressions focused on raising the consciousness of the populace and urging that major change and accountability occur within the law enforcement system. (The most widely known artistic example: Outspoken super star entertainer Beyonce Knowles, backed by a massive ensemble of supporting performers, presented a 2015 Super Bowl tribute to the Black Lives Matter Movement, Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, better known as the Black Panthers. The song, XXX, triggered headlines around the world. For example, Brietbert news: “Singer Beyoncé Knowles brought black liberation politics to the Super Bowl halftime show.” CNN reported that police unions launched vicious media attacks against Beyonce’s performance as well as the video promoting the song, which features “a young African-American boy in a hoodie dancing in front of a line of police officers wearing riot gear; then, the words ‘Stop Shooting Us’ appear in graffiti on a wall.”)
- Following Colin Kapernic’s lead, hundreds of NFL players kneel during the national anthem, Star Spangled Banner, attempting to draw the nation’s attention to … police violence.
- As an extension of the NFL protests, and days after President Trump called the players “sons of bitches,” Cannon, former host of the hit TV show, America’s Got Talent, who quit the show after producers asked him to act more like a white guy, released a video called Stand For What? The video IT denoubces te whole ide of honoring a flag that has reperesented oppression for black people… and remains so to this day.
- Increasingly caustic chatter, in churches, on the street and via social media, centered around the idea of black people rising up and using violence against law enforcement and staging a “revolution.” For example, after a viral video out of McKinney, Texas showed a raging, profanity-spewing white cop manhandling a frantic, bikini-clad black girl and slamming her face into the ground, the Ronald Wright, the flustered executive director of Justice Seekers Texas, said, “We’re setting the stage” for violent attacks “against these unjust law officers and people who continue to allow racism to grow into this city.”
- In a 2015 YouTube.com video, Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, told his supporters: “’If the forces of falsehood are so powerful that your truth does not move them to give you … justice, then you have to do something else … You gotta move the forces of falsehood physically. Fight the forces of falsehood. Drive them out.’”
- In the same year, on his official Facebook page, Farrakhan posted this: “There comes a time in a people’s life when they have to take the quest for justice in their own hands … If the government of America will not protect our lives … then we have no alternative but to fight to the grave and take them down with us.” The Facebook post has received thousands of likes and shares and hundreds of comments, many along the lines of this one posted by a poster named Devonia: “I’m ready, let’s go cuz this is too painful to watch. They won’t stop until they taste their own blood.”
- A poster named Vincent responded to Farrakhan with this Facebook comment: “All we need is a Commander to give us the Command SIR!!! AND MAY ALLAH (GOD) be with us Brothers… Ameen.”
- ADD MORE INFO FROM OFFICIAL POLICE ETC. REPORTS
Based on news stories, social media, legal cases, anecdotal evidence, scholarly studies and my direct personal experience looking into the barrel of a police officer’s gun, and being handcuffed, beaten and jailed by racist/abusive white and black police officers, I can affirm that black men generally have an abiding animus towards police officers and a handful each year kill them.
My research did not find any mainstream journalists or political leaders that seriously approached the issue of police brutality as a literal war. This is not to say that I did not discover anyone who used the term seriously. I did, but I did not find anyone who had driven this discourse in a full-throttled manner as is being attempted here.
As stated earlier, scholars and other thought leaders have used the term “war” as a dramatic trope during media interviews and news programs or when wild, tear-gassed street conflicts between militarized police forces and predominantly black protestors made it irresistible to use the term. In these cases, the normally hidden war became blatant and disturbing. People had to find some word to describe what they were seeing. When folk are fighting in the street, war is the “go to” descriptor to use. Oh my God, … gee, golly, wow … it looks like a war zone out there!
When the flashing lights, tear gas and gunfire die down, the war continues, but the use of the term subsides as scholars and others temper the way they use the descriptor. Essentially, they say, Well … ah, I don’t actually mean there is a real war between police and black men. For instance, in his book Tears We Cannot Stop, Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson, made an assessment of two black men who killed cops in retaliation for police oppression. He described them as “hateful … poisonous” and said that each devised a “perverted plot to kill innocent cops.” Dyson wrote: “Both men expressed their outrage at enforcement’s seeming war on vulnerable and innocent black folk.” (Emphasis added.)
The War in America seems like war, because it is war. It is a war in which police bombard black men individually—one target at a time. Each encounter is a potential battle and each battle has the potential to leave the black man a victim—whether he committed a crime or not. Rarely, will you see a band of cops rounding up dozens of black people all at once and taking them to jail, or engaging in pitched gun fights with them on a mission to seize control of black communities. Such missions are utterly unnecessary when you already have control of those areas and the men and boys trapped there have already been neutralized. Now all you have to do is wage a war of attrition and maintain the status quo.
No, you will hardly ever see police carrying out traditional military missions in black communities. Not, yet. The War in America has been for centuries a one micro battle at a time and mostly hidden affair. However, that may change as the nation bounces on a bumpy road towards the year 2020.