Ferguson and the criminalization of American life

David Graeber writes: The Department of Justice’s investigation of the Ferguson Police Department has scandalized the nation, and justly so. But the department’s institutional racism, while shocking, isn’t the report’s most striking revelation.

More damning is this: in a major American city, the criminal justice system perceives a large part of that city’s population not as citizens to be protected, but as potential targets for what can only be described as a shake-down operation designed to wring money out of the poorest and most vulnerable by any means they could, and that as a result, the overwhelming majority of Ferguson’s citizens had outstanding warrants.

Many will try to write off this pattern of economic exploitation as some kind of strange anomaly. In fact, it’s anything but. What the racism of Ferguson’s criminal justice system produced is simply a nightmarish caricature of something that is beginning to happen on every level of American life; something which is beginning to transform our most basic sense of who we are, and how we — or most of us, anyway — relate to the central institutions of our society, in ways that are genuinely disastrous.

The DOJ’s report has made us all familiar with the details: the constant pressure on police to issue as many citations as possible for minor infractions (such as parking or seat-belt violations) and the equal pressure on the courts to make the fines as high as possible; the arcane court rules apparently designed to be almost impossible to follow (the court’s own web page contained incorrect information); the way citizens who had never been found guilty — indeed, never even been accused — of an actual crime were rounded up, jailed, threatened with “indefinite” incarceration in fetid cells, risking disease and serious injury, until their destitute families could assemble hundreds if not thousands of dollars in fines, fees, and penalties to pay their jailers.

As a result of such practices, over three quarters of the population had warrants out for the arrest at any given time. The entire population was criminalized. [Continue reading…]

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Enraged by Netanyahu’s rhetoric, White House officials believe Israeli-U.S. relations fundamentally changed

Peter Beinart writes: On Wednesday, I asked a senior Obama administration official whether there was anything Benjamin Netanyahu could do to repair the damage done by his comments late in his reelection campaign. The official’s answer: “You can’t unring the bell.” Other officials, off the record, put it far, far more harshly than that.

Top Obama officials loathed Netanyahu already. But three of his campaign comments drove them to new levels of fury.

The first was Netanyahu’s comment about “Arab voters coming out in droves,” which some in the administration view as racist. There is little President Obama considers more loathsome, administration officials note, than stoking racism to win votes. “Given our own history we have a unique perspective on the idea that minorities’ voting is not something to be condemned or feared,” said one administration official. The analogy is significant because the civil rights movement is Obama’s moral compass. For an administration official to compare Netanyahu to George Wallace or Bull Connor, even obliquely, says a lot about which side of history they believe he’s on.

The second comment that enraged Team Obama was Netanyahu’s boast that he built the settlement of Har Homa as “a way of stopping Bethlehem from moving toward Jerusalem.” Bibi, said a senior administration official, was “confirming that settlement policy has been a means of undermining a Palestinian state.” Which is to say: Netanyahu was confirming that by continuing settlement expansion, he had knowingly sabotaged John Kerry’s peace negotiations. White House officials believed that already. But they didn’t expect Bibi to publicly rub it in their face.

Thirdly, of course, Bibi said he would not allow a Palestinian state. Administration officials expect their Israeli counterparts to parse Bibi’s words in an attempt to downplay their importance. In private conversations, top AIPAC officials have already tried. But people inside the administration find that effort laughable, in part because they never thought Bibi wanted a Palestinian state even when he was on record as supporting one.

It is the Palestinian state comments, in particular, that are leading the Obama administration to, in one official’s words, “reassess our options.” The administration’s basic problem is this: For years, America has fought Palestinian efforts at the UN by insisting that bilateral negotiations offered the only path to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Administration officials stress the extraordinary, exhausting, diplomatically costly lengths to which they went to stymie various Palestinian UN moves. Obama and Kerry lobbied world leaders personally. Now, they argue, Netanyahu has destroyed their argument. How can they tell other countries that negotiations offer the best path to a Palestinian state when the leader of Israel has said he will not allow a Palestinian state? “It’s the prime minister taking this position,” says a senior administration official, “that forces this reassessment.” [Continue reading…]

Haaretz adds: U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday evening spoke by phone with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and protested remarks made by the latter during his election campaign against the establishment of a Palestinian state and Israel’s Arab citizens.

Obama did not accept the explanations Netanyahu provided during an interview with NBC, in which he backtracked on some of the statements he has made.

According to a senior White House official, Obama told Netanyahu that the U.S. will need to reassess its options regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in light of the prime minister’s new position rejecting Palestinian statehood.

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Spitting in the face of Israel’s Arab citizens

Haggai Matar and Yael Marom write: Nearly one quarter of Israeli voters cast their ballots for a prime minister whose central message to the public on election day was that Arab citizens of Israel are the enemy.

An almost equal number of people cast their votes for: the guy who joined him in delivering that message, the head of the most right-wing party in the Knesset (Naftali Bennett); the guy who based his entire campaign on incitement against Arabs (Avigdor Liberman); the guy who said he would not sit in a government that relies on the votes of Arabs (Moshe Kahlon); and, the guy who rejected an outstretched hand from the Arab parties offering to form an alliance of the oppressed (Arye Deri). Their levels of support are even higher if you look only at the Jewish voting public.

Meet the 34th government of Israel, ladies and gentlemen.

Do not discount the message delivered at the ballot box on Tuesday, especially considering the massive victory of the Joint List, the third-largest party in the next Knesset. With 14 seats representing over 400,000 voters, and with above-average voter participation, the success of the Joint List is the Palestinian public in Israel’s message to its Jewish compatriots, which was the antithesis of the message it got in return.

For weeks, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh has been all over Israeli television, radio, newspapers and every type of online media. He broadcast a message of openness, of partnership, of striving for equality, of democracy, of a struggle for social justice — for all Israelis. He spoke of reconciliation and of turning a new leaf. [Continue reading…]

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50 years after Malcolm X

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FBI monitored and critiqued African American writers for decades

Alison Flood writes: Newly declassified documents from the FBI reveal how the US federal agency under J Edgar Hoover monitored the activities of dozens of prominent African American writers for decades, devoting thousands of pages to detailing their activities and critiquing their work.

Academic William Maxwell first stumbled upon the extent of the surveillance when he submitted a freedom of information request for the FBI file of Claude McKay. The Jamaican-born writer was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, author of the sonnet If We Must Die, supposedly recited by Winston Churchill, and Maxwell was preparing an edition of his complete poems. When the file came through from the FBI, it stretched to 193 pages and, said Maxwell, revealed “that the bureau had closely read and aggressively chased McKay” – describing him as a “notorious negro revolutionary” – “all across the Atlantic world, and into Moscow”.

Maxwell, associate professor of English and African American studies at Washington University in St Louis, decided to investigate further, knowing that other scholars had already found files on well-known black writers such as Langston Hughes and James Baldwin. He made 106 freedom of information requests about what he describes as “noteworthy Afro-modernists” to the FBI; 51 of those writers had files, ranging from three to 1,884 pages each. [Continue reading…]

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Auschwitz remembered

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The Holocaust’s forgotten victims: The 5 million non-Jewish people killed by the Nazis

The Huffington Post reports: Six million Jewish people were murdered during the genocide in Europe in the years leading up to 1945, and the Jews are rightly remembered as the group that Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party most savagely persecuted during the Holocaust.

But the Nazis targeted many other groups: for their race, beliefs or what they did.

Historians estimate the total number of deaths to be 11 million, with the victims encompassing gay people, priests, gypsies, people with mental or physical disabilities, communists, trade unionists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anarchists, Poles and other Slavic peoples, and resistance fighters. [Continue reading…]

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If France is to build a new identity, it must address its apartheid

Francis Ghiles writes: Some French intellectuals and leading figures in the media argue that terrorism is the inevitable and extreme expression of a “true” Islam which entails the denial of the other, the imposition of strict rules in the guise of sharia law and ultimately jihad. Olivier Roy, a lucid analyst of his country’s politics, says that Muslims in France today are viewed as having Qur’anic software hardwired in their sub-conscious, which renders them incapable of assimilation into French society. Their only salvation lies in repeating their allegiance to France’s Republican values, preferably when pushed to do so on a live television show.

It is little understood, however, that the Republic’s cherished values of secularism and freedom of speech historically have a darker side. The civil liberties now idealised emerged during a period of colonial rule. As the historian Arthur Asseraf reminds us, France’s iconic freedom of the press law, passed in 1881 and still enforced today, was designed in part to exclude France’s Muslim subjects. The law protected the rights of all French citizens, explicitly all those in Algeria and the colonies, but excluded the subjects who were the majority of the population. In colonial Algeria, “citizens” were all those who were not Muslims, and the terms musulman or indigène usually overlapped. Muslim was a racialised legal category stripped of any religious significance.

Maybe the banlieues of today could be best understood as the Algeria of the 19th century: the legacy of French apartheid must be borne in mind when considering the problems of minorities. In the starkest indictment ever of French society by a senior government official, Valls said on Wednesday that “a geographic, social, ethnic apartheid has developed in our country”. The furious reaction to his remark hardly augurs well for a reasoned debate. Yet, in the banlieues of Paris, more than 50% of young people, often Muslim, are unemployed. They are hitting the glass wall between them and the workplace; prisoners with a north African father outnumber prisoners with a French father by nine to one for the 18-29 age group, and six to one in the 20-39 age group. This points to a massive failure of French society to integrate minority groups. [Continue reading…]

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French PM says ‘apartheid’ is leaving minorities on the fringe

The New York Times reports: Prime Minister Manuel Valls of France on Tuesday cited a deep divide in the country, likening it to a state of “territorial, social, ethnic apartheid” that has left part of the population on the cultural fringe.

Mr. Valls, often regarded as the most popular politician in the leftist government of President François Hollande, has been known for his outspokenness and tough stance on radical Islam. A day after the end of the attacks in the Paris area that left 17 people dead at the hands of three Muslim extremists from France, Mr. Valls spoke of waging a war “against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam, against everything that is aimed at breaking fraternity, freedom, solidarity.”

But during a traditional New Year’s speech on Tuesday, Mr. Valls acknowledged that France had a deeply rooted problem that, he implied, had resulted in a divided society.

“These last few days have emphasized many of the evils which have undermined our country from within, or challenges we have to face,” he said. “To that, we must add all the divisions, the tensions that have been brewing for too long and that we mention sporadically.”

“A territorial, social, ethnic apartheid has spread across our country,” he said.

Mr. Valls avoided singling out Muslims, but it was clear that his remarks were a response to the terrorist attacks this month and addressed growing concerns about the situation of “two Frances” that, he said, has relegated the poor and heavily immigrant population to ghetto-like suburbs of Paris, where many Muslims from North African backgrounds live. [Continue reading…]

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An inside view of Greece’s Golden Dawn

Alexander Clapp writes: In Kalamata I introduce myself as an American neo-fascist with a strong interest in Greek history. Sceptically at first, later with fervour, a few members of the Golden Dawn invite me to attend meetings. Their offices tend to be located off main squares, usually in residential buildings in quiet neighbourhoods. Large Greek flags hang on the walls, along with news clippings and redrawn maps: Greece in possession of Skopje and bits of Bulgaria, Greece in possession of northern Turkey, Greece in possession of Cyprus and southern Albania. Swastikas (‘ancient Greek symbols’) are everywhere: on pencil-holders, clock faces, a paperweight. On the walls of a room in Gytheio there are reproductions of Hitler’s watercolours. Last autumn, two Dawners were gunned down by Athenian anarchists. Their profiles are pasted on refrigerators and desk drawers. No one says their names. They are just the Athanatoi, the ‘deathless ones’. Kala palikaria itan, the older Dawners murmur. ‘Those were good lads.’ They cross themselves.

Meetings last two hours. Dawners spend the first hour talking and drinking instant coffee; a lecture follows. Some offices will play black metal albums by Naer Mataron, the unofficial party band. (Giorgos Germenis, a Golden Dawn MP, is the bassist; Dawners call him ‘Kaiadas’, after the gorge where the Spartans tossed their unfit newborn.) We gather in a few rows of chairs. The Dawn hymn is handed out, sometimes accompanied by a recent article by Nikolaos Michaloliakos, Dawn’s founder. The party’s website has been revived – WordPress shut it down after it kept posting threats to journalists – but the Dawners prefer print. There are two party weeklies, the Wednesday Chrysi Avgi and the Saturday Empros, as well as the Maiandros, a monthly cultural review. Each has a circulation of roughly 3500. Most Dawners wear black at meetings; shorts and sandals are prohibited. About one in four attendees is a woman; I’ve seen kids on two occasions: three teenage girls in Athens and a family of five in Gytheio. The men are big. Dawners like to stress the importance of exercise: they run martial arts camps in the Taygetos Mountains, send a team to the Athens marathon, and claim not to watch television. [Continue reading…]

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How Israel’s nationality bill mirrors the xenophobic nationality laws of 1930s Europe

Daniel Blatman writes: Quite a few states in the 20th century passed, or tried to pass, nationality laws, through efforts that share certain similarities. All took place in countries with at least one national minority (sometimes more than one) that sought full equality in the state or in a territory that had become part of the state and in which it had lived for generations.

Nationality laws were passed in societies that felt threatened by these minorities’ aspirations of integration and demands for equality, resulting in regimes that turned xenophobia into major tropes.

Nationality laws were passed in states that were grounded in one ethnic identity, defined in contrast to the identity of the other, leading to persecution of and codified discrimination against minorities. Jews were the first victims of these regimes, in which phobias and suspicion replaced the principles of social and political pluralism.

In 1937, the Polish economist Olgierd Górka wrote that the Polish state was an economic asset whose legal owners could do as they pleased with it. Decisions on national issues were thus similar to the choices made by a factory owner. The state belonged to the major group that shaped its essence and spirit, and which exercised its ownership of it — the ethnic Poles. Polish Catholicism gave the Poles the right to own the national asset known as the Polish state.

Knesset member Yariv Levin’s explanations of his nationality bill suggests that he is following Górka’s path. According to Levin, the state’s Jewish expressions reflect the fact that Israel is not only the Jews’ nation-state, but also a state whose very lifeblood is Judaism — a situation that is unique in all the world. A unique situation in the Western, democratic world, but it has a historical precedent in the Poles’ attempt to create a state that pushed its minorities out of the national partnership.

Romania, too — a state with many minorities, including a large Jewish one — was gripped by a fervor to be defined as the Romania nation-state.

In an essay, the national historian Constantin Giurescu wrote that the ideal of the resurgent Romanian nation was to ensure the optimal development of the most eminent population group, the Romanians. The Romanian nation-state must advance the dominant ethnic group, he wrote, while the minorities were a “problem” that should be seen as “guest groups” or groups under the protection of the true citizens. He did not specify the rights that would be granted to such groups.

Romania’s policy toward minorities became clearer after Ion Antonescu came to power. During World War II it went from attempting an “ethnic cleansing” of the Bulgarians to the expulsion and annihilation of the Jews and the Roma, also known as Gypsies. But few believed the debate over nationality laws in the interwar period would end in an effort to solve the nationality question by purging the nation of its minorities. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli cabinet backs nationality bill that risks wider rift with Arab minority

The New York Times reports: The Israeli cabinet on Sunday approved draft legislation that emphasized Israel’s Jewish character above its democratic nature in a move that critics said could undermine the fragile relationship with the country’s Arab minority at a time of heightened tensions.

The promotion of a so-called nationality law has long stirred fierce debate in Israel, where opponents fear that any legislation that gives pre-eminence to Israel’s Jewishness could lead to an internal rift as well as damage Israel’s relations with Jews in other countries and with the country’s international allies.

The vote on Sunday also highlighted political fissures within the governing coalition amid increasing talk of early elections. The bill, a proposal for a basic law titled “Israel, the Nation-State of the Jewish People,” passed 14 to 6, with two centrist coalition parties opposing it. Parliament still has to approve the bill for it to become law. [Continue reading…]

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Anger over Israel mayor’s ban on Israeli-Arab workers

Al Jazeera reports: An Israeli mayor’s decision to bar Israeli-Arab construction workers from jobs in local preschools over security concerns has triggered widespread condemnation with a rights group calling it racist.

Itamar Shimoni, the mayor of the southern city of Ashkelon, announced on Thursday that Israeli-Arab labourers renovating bomb shelters in local kindergartens would be barred from their jobs. He also ordered security stepped up at construction sites where Arab labourers are employed.

His decision came days after a spate of attacks by Palestinians, including a deadly attack on a Jerusalem synagogue that left five Israelis dead.

“Anyone who thinks this is illegal can take me to court,” Shimoni said. “At this time, I prefer to be taken to court and not, God forbid, to attend the funeral of one of the children from kindergartens,” Shimoni said.

The workers in Ashkelon are Arab citizens of Israel, in contrast to the Palestinian attackers from the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni called the ban illegal and ordered the attorney general to take action.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also criticised the mayor’s decision. “We must not generalise about an entire public due to a small and violent minority. The vast majority of Israel’s Arab citizens are law abiding and whoever breaks the law – we will take determined and vigorous action against him.”

Shimoni’s decision highlighted the distrust sweeping the region in the aftermath of rising tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. [Continue reading…]

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David Sheen on Israeli incitement to genocide

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Aviva Chomsky: What’s at stake in the border debate

The militarization of the police has been underway since 9/11, but only in the aftermath of the six-shot killing of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, with photos of streets in a St. Louis suburb that looked like occupied Iraq or Afghanistan, has the fact of it, the shock of it, seemed to hit home widely.  Congressional representatives are now proposing bills to stop the Pentagon from giving the latest in war equipment to local police forces.  The president even interrupted his golfing vacation on Martha’s Vineyard to return to Washington, in part for “briefings” on the ongoing crisis in Ferguson.  So militarization is finally a major story.

And that’s no small thing.  On the other hand, the news from Ferguson can’t begin to catch the full process of militarization this society has been undergoing or the way America’s distant wars are coming home. We have, at least, a fine book by Radley Balko on how the police have been militarized.  Unfortunately, on the subject of the militarization of the country, there is none.  And yet from armed soldiers in railway stations to the mass surveillance of Americans, from the endless celebration of our “warriors” to the domestic use of drones, this country has been undergoing a significant process of militarization (and, if there were such a word, national securitization).

Perhaps nowhere has this been truer than on America’s borders and on the subject of immigration.  It’s no longer “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  The U.S. is in the process of becoming a citadel nation with up-armored, locked-down borders and a Border Patrol operating in a “Constitution-free zone” deep into the country.  The news is regularly filled with discussions of the need to “bolster border security” in ways that would have been unimaginable to previous generations.  In the meantime, the Border Patrol is producing its own set of Ferguson-style killings as, like SWAT teams around the U.S., it adopts an ever more militarized mindset and the weaponry to go with it.  As James Tomsheck, the former head of internal affairs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, put it recently, “It has been suggested by Border Patrol leadership that they are the Marine Corps of the U.S. law enforcement community.  The Border Patrol has a self-identity of a paramilitary border security force and not that of a law enforcement organization.”

It’s in this context that the emotional flare-up over undocumented Central American children crossing the southern border by the thousands took place.  In fact, without the process of militarization, that “debate” — with its discussion of “invasions,” “surges,” “terrorists,” and “tip of the spear” solutions — makes no sense.  Its language was far more appropriate to the invasion and occupation of Iraq than the arrival in this country of desperate kids, fleeing hellish conditions, and often looking for their parents.

Aviva Chomsky is the author of a new history of just how the words “immigration” and “illegal” became wedded — it wasn’t talked about that way not so many decades ago — and how immigrants became demonized in ways that are familiar in American history.  The Los Angeles Times has hailed Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal for adding “smart, new, and provocative scholarship to the immigration debate.” As in her book, so today at TomDispatch, Chomsky puts the most recent version of the immigration “debate” into a larger context, revealing just what we prefer not to see in our increasingly up-armored nation. Tom Engelhardt

America’s continuing border crisis
The real story behind the “invasion” of the children
By Aviva Chomsky

Call it irony or call it a nightmare, but the “crisis” of Central American children crossing the U.S.-Mexican border, which lasted for months amid fervent and angry debate, is now fading from the news.  The media stories have been legion, the words expended many.  And yet, as the “crisis” leaves town, as the sound and fury die down and attention shifts elsewhere (even though the children continue to arrive), the real factors that would have made sense of what’s been happening remain essentially untouched and largely unmentioned.  It couldn’t be stranger — or sadder.

Since late June 2014, the “surge” of those thousands of desperate children entering this country has been in the news.  Sensational stories were followed by fervent demonstrations and counter-demonstrations with emotions running high.  And it’s not a debate that stayed near the southern border either.  In my home state, Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick tearfully offered to detain some of the children — and that was somehow turned into a humanitarian gesture that liberals applauded and anti-immigrant activists decried.  Meanwhile the mayor of Lynn, a city north of Boston, echoed nativists on the border, announcing that her town didn’t want any more immigrants.  The months of this sort of emotion, partisanship, and one-upmanship have, however, diverted attention from the real issues.  As so often is the case, there is so much more to the story than what we’ve been hearing in the news.

[Read more…]

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Ferguson and Gaza: The definitive study of how they are and are not similar

David Palumbo-Liu writes: As photographs and videoclips from Ferguson overwhelmed our mediascapes, they created a strange double-optic. They seemed overlaid upon representations of events that had previously dominated our public consciousness: Images of the massive and on-going destruction of Gaza by the Israeli military. This stereoscopic image immediately drew bloggers, pundits and op-ed writers to rush to draw parallels. Indeed, in graphic terms alone the image of tear gas canisters filling the air with toxic smoke and of protesters hurling them back defiantly seemed exactly the same. And when tweets offering advice to demonstrators in Ferguson emerged from Palestinians, and reports of Ferguson police having been trained by Israelis surfaced, all that only seemed to complete the equation: Ferguson is Gaza.

There are many parallels and resonances to be sure, and below I will get to some key ones. But I have delayed responding because, as a comparatist, and also as someone concerned about racism in the U.S. and the racist policies of Israel, it is important to weigh things in as dispassionate a way as possible, to do justice to both sides.

Many years ago, the eminent British Marxist historian Raymond Williams reflected on conversations he was having with Palestinian literary critic and activist Edward Said. Williams was particularly interested in seeing just how much of his work on British working class culture, history, and society could be understood as having to do in any way with Said’s concerns regarding Israel-Palestine, most especially with regard to what was going on then: the brutal Israeli bombing and invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Regarding that catastrophe, Hadas Thier writes, “During the course of Israel’s bombardment of the country, civilians and civilian infrastructure were systematically attacked, refugee camps and Lebanese towns were leveled, Beirut was battered for seventy-five days, and after all military objectives were met, the affair concluded with a grotesque massacre of women, children, and the elderly at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.” Williams’ conclusion is instructive:

The analysis of history is not a subject separate from history, but the representations are part of the history, contribute to the history, are active elements in the way that history continues; in the way forces are distributed; in the way people perceive situations, both from inside their own pressing realities and from outside them; if we are saying this is a real method, then the empirical test it’s being put to here is that comparable methods of analysis are being applied to situations which are very far apart in space, have many differences of texture, and have very different consequences in the contemporary world. There is an obvious distance from what is happening in the English countryside, or in the English inner cities, to the chaos in Lebanon. Yet nevertheless I think it is true that the method, the underlying method, found a congruity.

This discretion, this caution to pay attention to how history is represented and to get the historical record straight despite surface similarities, is found as well in the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel on Biafra, “Half of a Yellow Sun.” At one point she tells of a journalist’s hesitation at making comparisons between Biafra and other historical events: “After he writes this, he mentions the German women who fled Hamburg with the charred bodies of their children stuffed in suitcases, the Rwandan women who pocketed tiny parts of their mauled babies. But he is careful not to draw parallels.”

How then can we strike a balance between on the one hand reacting viscerally to the images from Ferguson, which point to the long and constantly replenished history of police assaults on black bodies, and the images of Israel’s murderous rampage in Gaza, an assault continuous with Israel’s history of oppression and persecution of an entire people, while on the other hand resisting drawing too quickly an immediate, provocative, but inexact parallel?

It is in the median space between declaring an equivalence and withdrawing into discreet silence that we should concentrate our energies. Comparisons may be “odious,” to quote Shakespeare, but they can also be instructive. They help us tease out the specifics while coming to understand basic and important similarities. To do this one needs to employ a “congruent” method.

Here are five ways we can see congruence in what is happening in Ferguson and in Gaza. [Continue reading…]

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Matthew Harwood: One nation under SWAT

Think of it as a different kind of blowback.  Even when you fight wars in countries thousands of miles distant, they still have an eerie way of making the long trip home.

Take the latest news from Bergen County, New Jersey, one of the richest counties in the country.  Its sheriff’s department is getting two mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs — 15 tons of protective equipment — for a song from the Pentagon.  And there’s nothing special in that.  The Pentagon has handed out 600 of them for nothing since 2013, with plenty more to come.  They’re surplus equipment, mostly from our recent wars, and perhaps they will indeed prove handy for a sheriff fretting about insurgent IEDs (roadside bombs) in New Jersey or elsewhere in the country.  When it comes to the up-armoring and militarization of America’s police forces, this is completely run-of-the-mill stuff.

The only thing newsworthy in the Bergen story is that someone complained.  To be exact, Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan spoke up in opposition to the transfer of the equipment.  “I think,” she said, “we have lost our way if you start talking about military vehicles on the streets of Bergen County.”  And she bluntly criticized the decision to accept the MRAPs as the “absolute wrong thing to do in Bergen County to try to militarize our county.”  Her chief of staff offered a similar comment: “They are combat vehicles. Why do we need a combat vehicle on the streets of Bergen County?”

Sheriff Michael Saudino, on the other hand, insists that the MRAPs aren’t “combat vehicles” at all.  Forget the fact that they were developed for and used in combat situations.  He suggests instead that one good reason for having them — other than the fact that they are free (except for postage, gas, and upkeep) — is essentially to keep up with the Joneses.  As he pointed out, the Bergen County police already have two MRAPs, and his department has none and, hey, self-respect matters!  (“Should our SWAT guys be any less protected than the county guys?” he asked in a debate with Donovan.)

striking recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union indicates that, as in Bergen County, policing is being militarized nationwide in all sorts of unsettling ways.  It is, more precisely, being SWATified (a word that doesn’t yet exist, but certainly should).  Matthew Harwood, senior writer and editor for the ACLU, as well as TomDispatch regular, offers a graphic look at just where policing in America is heading. Welcome to Kabul, USA. Tom Engelhardt

To terrify and occupy
How the excessive militarization of the police is turning cops into counterinsurgents
By Matthew Harwood

Jason Westcott was afraid.

One night last fall, he discovered via Facebook that a friend of a friend was planning with some co-conspirators to break in to his home. They were intent on stealing Wescott’s handgun and a couple of TV sets. According to the Facebook message, the suspect was planning on “burning” Westcott, who promptly called the Tampa Bay police and reported the plot.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the investigating officers responding to Westcott’s call had a simple message for him: “If anyone breaks into this house, grab your gun and shoot to kill.”

Around 7:30 pm on May 27th, the intruders arrived. Westcott followed the officers’ advice, grabbed his gun to defend his home, and died pointing it at the intruders.  They used a semiautomatic shotgun and handgun to shoot down the 29-year-old motorcycle mechanic.  He was hit three times, once in the arm and twice in his side, and pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

[Read more…]

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Racists are rampaging through #Israel

Philip Kleinfeld writes: In Israel, racism and extremism are exploding. It began shortly after the kidnapping of three Israeli boys—Naftali, Gilad and Eyal—in Gush Etzion, that led to the assault in Gaza which has seen over 1,000 killed. A Facebook page calling for the murder of Palestinians went viral. In one photo, a soldier posed broodingly with his gun, the word “vengeance” written on his chest. In another two teenage girls smiled happily with a banner that read: “Hating Arabs is not racism, it’s values.”

A few days later, at the boys’ funeral in Modiin, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu fanned the flames. “May God avenge their blood,” he said to the gathered mourners. “Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created,” he tweeted later.

Bibi got his wish. Over the weeks that followed, videos began to emerge almost daily of right-wing mobs roving across cities from Jerusalem to Beer Sheva, waving Israeli flags and screaming “Death to Arabs!”

Many ended in physical assaults. Last Thursday two Palestinian men were attacked on Jaffer Street in West Jerusalem as they delivered food to a grocery market. The following day two more Palestinians, Amir Shwiki and Samer Mahfouz, were beaten unconscious in the Eastern part of the city by a gang of 30 young Israelis wielding sticks and metal bars. [Continue reading…]

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