“The tyranny that the Athenian empire imposed on others, it finally imposed on itself.” – Thucydides.
One of the consequences of an empire leading brutal and ruthless policies overseas is that those same policies are brought back to the homeland. In the US this is manifest in the form of intrusive blanket surveillance, increasingly militarised police, mass encarceration, the indiscriminant use of lethal force on the city streets, and the destruction of the most basic civil liberties.
The police in America, generally speaking, are little more than mindless thugs. The police establishment attracts some the most brutal sadists and psychopaths of the country, arms them with military grade weapons and equipment, and trains them to see everybody as a threat and shoot to kill. When the inevitable bloodbath occurs, the legal system prevents any repercussions against the offenders, leaving them to escalate their cycle of violence and criminality. Those who enter the police force with good intentions are either fired, drummed out of the job or corrupted into becoming criminals themselves, and those who dare to try to bring the offenders to justice fall to terrible fates, including perhaps even assassination.
Do these look like police officers to you?
This is what you faced if you dared to protest against police brutality in Ferguson after another of your citizens was murdered by the police with impunity. Remove the word “police” from the vests and you could be looking at the soldiers invading Afghanistan or Iraq, or perhaps a mercenary army on the streets. Why do police officers in a town of 20,000 people need military grade assault rifles and a mine-resistant military vehicle?
The US military is so bloated and over-funded that it cannot use all of the weapons that it purchases. Rather than cancel or reduce spending with arms manufacturers it prefers to simply hand over its surplus weapons to the police. The 1033 program, implemented by the Clinton administration in 1997, is a means by which the federal government gives away military-grade equipment to police departments around the country. It does not provide any training or oversight. Among the vast quantity of military-grade equipment, the 1033 program has given over 80,000 assault rifles, 200 grenade launchers, 12,000 bayonets, 4000 combat knives, 50 aeroplanes, and 500 bomb detonator robots, to local police forces. Very few of the recipients are from areas with high crime rates. You can see what was given to each county here (if you live in the US you might be interested to learn what your local police force has as its disposal).
Additionally, just to ensure that the arms manufacturers get to exploit every avenue of life in the US, local governments have received around $35 billion from the Department of Homeland Security to buy their own military equipment from private suppliers.
The provision of these completely unnecessary weapons of destruction includes the implied incentive for the police to use the equipment, out of fear that they might lose it. Unsurprisingly, the number of SWAT raids has increased dramatically over the last 20 years. As of 2015 there were 20,000 no-knock SWAT raids each year, or one raid every 30 minutes. These unnecessarily escalate peaceful situations, terrorise innocent people and have led to the deaths of hundreds, including children, bystanders, and unarmed and innocent suspects.
There were 105 fatal shootings by police in Australia over the 22 year period from 1990 to 2011. In America it took just one month for the police to kill the same number of people: 109 people were killed by police in the first month of 2018 alone. Last year, US police killed 1,129 people, or an average of three people every day. Most of them (64%) were suspects in nonviolent offences, stopped for traffic violations, or had committed no crime at all. Only 12 police officers (1%) were charged with a crime related to the shooting death.
The culture of criminality
While it might be hard to believe, some people actually do join the police because they want to make a positive difference to their community. They don’t last long. In the bad culture of the police, you either succumb to the bad culture or you leave, one way or another.
In terms of their actions and attitudes, the police is just another gang on the street. According to Michael Wood there is a saying among Baltimore police: “There is only one gang in Baltimore: the one that wears blue.”
When police criminality reaches the press the narrative is always the same: Just a few bad apples. Consider these “bad apples”:
(1) Los Angeles, August 2014: Ezell Ford, a 25-year old unarmed black man, who suffered from bi-polar disorder and schitzophrenia, was stopped by two police officers because they thought he looked nervous. The police sprawled him on the ground and then, after no struggle at all, shot him in the back, killing him. The Los Angelos Board of Police Commissioners unanimously agreed that the police had used excessive force. Nonetheless, the two offenders, Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas, were cleared of wrongdoing. On average, the police in LA shoot a person once a week, and not one of them has been charged in 15 years. The two killers later sued the city of Los Angeles because of their being denied assignments, transfers, overtime, etc.
(2) Cleveland, November 2014: A 12-year old boy, Temir Rice was playing with a toy gun at the city’s Recreation Center. Police shot the child within seconds of arriving on the scene. You can see the murder here; it looks like a drive-by shooting. The murderer, Timothy Leohmann, who had already been removed from a prior policing job because of a problem with firearm violence, was not held criminally responsible. The city of Cleveland later sued the Rice family for not paying the $500 bill for the ambulance that took their murdered son to the hospital.
(3) North Charlestown, April 2015: An unarmed man, Walter Scott, was shot in the back five times by a police officer as he ran away from them. The officer made no attempt to pursue the man and then casually strolled up to his body, planted a taser next to the dead body, and then proceeded to handcuff it. You can see it all here. The video footage was very clear, and in a very rare case the officer, Michael Slager, was actually brought to trial for murder. The judge declared a mistrial in 2015 and prosecutors accepted a plea bargain for him in 2017 where they would drop the murder charges if he pled guilty to a civil rights charge.
(4) Waller County, July 2015: A young woman, Sandra Bland was stopped by police during a routine traffic stop. As can be seen in this video the officer deliberately provoked Sandra, probably as an excuse to escalate the situation. He dragged her out of the car and arrested her. She died in custody three days later. The officer, Brian Encinia, was fired and later charged with perjury over his claims that he dragged her out of the car to “further conduct a safe traffic investigation.” The charges were dismissed.
(5) Baton Rouge, July 2016: Two police pinned an unarmed man, Alton Sterling to the ground and shot him six times after he had been restrained. The scene was caught on camera and can be seen here. When additional police arrived they confiscated the phone of the man who filmed the murder (store owner Abdullah Muflahi), then locked him up in their patrol car while they raided his store and stole its surveillance system. The police responsible for the murder, kidnapping and theft were not charged.
(6) Saint Paul, July 2016: A man, Philandro Castile, was pulled over for a routine traffic violation and was shot after disclosing that he had a firearm in the car. He legally owned the firearm, was required by law to disclose that he had it, and followed all of the directions given to him by the police officer. The officer shot him anyway, and then did nothing as he bled to death next to his girlfriend and 4-year old daughter. His girlfriend filmed his final moments. The murdering officer, Jeronimo Yanez, was acquitted of all charges.
(7) Salt Lake, July 2017: A nurse, Alex Wubbles, refused to let police officers draw blood from one of her patients, since the patient was unconscious and could not give consent. She correctly citied hospital policy and provided the appropriate paperwork. She was brutalised and arrested by police. The arresting brute, Jeff Payne, was eventually fired, but with no criminal prosecution.
(8) Chicago, November 2017: Police officers were convicted for running a drug and protection racket. There was no effort by Chicago police to take them off the streets while they were being investigated. Cook County prosecutors tossed out the convictions of 15 men who were framed by the police, which will likely to lead to lawsuits for wrongful arrest. The city of Chicago spent more than $500 million in settlements for police misconduct between 2004 and 2014 and, prior to December 2015, had not charged a Chicago officer for an on-duty fatality in 35 years.
(9) Columbus, January 2018: an unarmed 16 year child was shot and killed by the police inside a courthouse, during an altercation. The deputy has not been identified for security reasons, security that has been permanently denied to the teenager.
(10) Baltimore, February 2018: Police officers are on trial for racketeering: this report speaks of a culture of violence, corruption and criminality, including robbing suspects and innocent people, raiding homes without warrants, selling confiscated drugs, and even carrying toy guns to plant on people they shot.
This is just a selection of 10 examples from around the country over the last five years. Do you see the theme? Police criminals and murderers being caught on film and still escaping justice? These are just the cases that have been widely publicized but it should be obvious that such violations occur routinely in the US. How many bad apples must one find before one concludes that the entire crate is rotten? The problem is a systemic one, it is nationwide, and it is escalating.
In closing, consider the following. The police are given firearms and a license to kill. Society provides them with this license, supposedly with a heavy burden; to put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public. Heroes put the safety of others before themselves. Contrarily, the police are trained to protect themselves above all else.
They are not heroes. They are no more deserving of our respect or admiration as any common thug.
Thanks to Chris Hedges for bringing the Thucydides quote to my attention.