I have told this story before, but in the present crisis it is worth repeating. Some years back Dorchester People for Peace was trying to build a coalition to cut the military budget, recruiting a variety of people-of-color-led organizations in Boston to work on a campaign to fund our neighborhoods rather than the Pentagon. We convened a meeting to examine and respond to what we understood as resistance to reducing military spending in the light of perceived threats to the safety of our country from “terrorism” among other dangers. We were prepared to explain how little “al-Qaeda” and other foreign actors were a credible threats to us here at home. We began the meeting with an exercise to bring out and respond to these supposed fears.
Going around the room, we asked attendees to respond to the question:
WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL UNSAFE? One after another, the people of color from various organizations responded: THE POLICE! We were surprised, but shouldn’t have been.
The police in this crisis have been bad enough, violently attacking protesters and members of the press with little restraint. Meanwhile, Trump is threatening to deploy US troops – in addition to state-controlled National Guard units already patrolling across many cities – to further repress protests. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), a neocon who supports US wars anywhere and everywhere, took to the NYTimes in an op-ed titled “Send In The Troops” to threaten:
“One thing above all else will restore order to our streets: an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers. But local law enforcement in some cities desperately needs backup, while delusional politicians in other cities refuse to do what’s necessary to uphold the rule of law… In these circumstances, the Insurrection Act authorizes the president to employ the military “or any other means” in “cases of insurrection, or obstruction to the laws.”
This was so off the wall that several Times employees complained they felt personally endangered. Meanwhile, the pathetic national Democratic leadership could not find any candidate to run against Cotton, who is up for re-election this year.
US military leaders are urging restraint in upholding the constitution– whether out of genuine concern for the protesters and citizens’ rights or fear that such an action would undermine (misplaced) public support for the military.
And as to violence and looting attributed to protesters — but often the work of provocateurs or the police themselves — we should remember these remarks more than 50 ago by Martin Luther King:
“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men… I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so …if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”
More than 10,000 people have already been arrested nationwide for protesting and possibly damaging property. But Washington is full of war criminals responsible for murdering millions of people around the world who will never face trial. In fact, they are still welcomed as members in good standing of the establishment elite that runs our nation.
We live in a country where police can apparently stock unlimited supplies of riot shields and batons, that can spend a $trillion every year on “defense” — but which is incapable of keeping an adequate emergency supply of face-masks and ventilators.