Yesterday sickening news screamed across social media, emails, and airwaves: a second African-American man was brutally killed by police this week.
In Minneapolis, Philando Castille, a 32 year old black man and popular school nutrition services supervisor, was stopped for a broken tail light with his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds and four year old daughter. Minutes later, after he informed police that he had a legal license to carry a weapon and was asked for his wallet, he lay slumped forward in the car bleeding from a spray of police bullets, all documented on Diamond’s cellphone with her surreal narration, broadcast on Facebook to a horrified viral world.
Then Alton Sterling, a 37 year old black man selling DVDs and CDs in front of the Baton Rouge Triple S Food Mart, (which last I checked was not a capital offense), was shot while on the ground, tackled by two large policemen and killed at close range after someone shouted “He’s got a gun!” Louisiana has open carry gun laws, although Sterling would not have qualified due to his criminal record, which also locked him out of most legitimate employment in the state. You might say that whatever prison sentence he had already served never actually ended.
Of note, according to The New Yorker, 7/7/16, “Men with criminal records constitute a third of the unemployed males between ages twenty-five and fifty-four. Sterling earned his living the way untold numbers of men in such circumstances do: vending on the streets.” This is a world where hustling for change has replaced the possibility of legitimate employment and increased the risk of being shot by police. (see Eric Garner and loose cigarettes)
Other critical statistics include the fact that “a black man is thirteen times more likely to be murdered in this country than a white person; eighty-four per cent of the time it involves a firearm.” These statistics evoke the tragic memories of a long list of dead black people including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Keith Childress in Las Vegas, Bettie Jones in Chicago, the list is long. I suggest you sit with the 102 murdered black folks from 2015: http://mappingpoliceviolence.org/unarmed/ and think about why this is happening. Think about why unarmed black people were killed by police at five times the rate of unarmed white people. Think about the fact that almost no officers were charged and almost none were convicted. What does this say about our society?
This is clearly about racism and politics, the failures of our mental health and prison systems which unfortunately are often one and the same or at least cover for each other’s inadequacies. This is about the school to prison pipeline, our failed educational systems, and lack of opportunity for the have nots in our society. This is about the power of the gun lobbies, social stereotypes, economic injustice, and a failed “war on drugs”. It is about white police men who see black people as inherently dangerous and threatening and who act out of fear, revenge, incitement; who see their jobs less as protecting the public and de-escalating dangerous situations and more as an occupying force in our cities, particularly our ghettos and poorer neighborhoods of color. By frequently demonizing the victim and engaging in a virtual Blue code of silence, this is also about white supremacy in our country.
So why is this essay an international view? I just read that Adalah, the Israeli civil rights organization parallel to our NAACP, recently petitioned the Israeli courts for documents relating to the Israeli police live fire rules of engagement. Although this has been obvious to anyone paying attention, the document now confirms that police officers are authorized to use live fire against stone throwers, sling shots, and fire crackers thrown at officers, moving cars, armored, and armed security forces.
If you are unclear on the concept, here is the translation: Young Palestinian boys and their older brothers and sisters whose lives have been strangled by occupation, who have seen their parents and grandparents humiliated at checkpoints by 20 year old Israeli soldiers, who have watched settlers burn their olive groves and steal their water, who live in the shadows of eight meter high walls that dissect their villages and universities and agricultural lands, can now be shot and killed for throwing a stone.
It’s really as simple as that.
And this compounds the thousands of Palestinian children arrested in the middle of the night, the years of administrative detention, the steady numbers of prison hunger strikers, the growing number of isolated Palestinian youth (even as young as 14) who have been shot for threatening Israeli soldiers which sometimes really happens and sometimes does not, but we will never know since the soldier is both judge and executioner and almost never faces trial. That is how an occupying power behaves; that is how soldiers who view Palestinians as less human and less valuable than their Jewish sisters and brothers and fathers and mothers, approach the occupied and warehoused human beings struggling to survive and flourish under occupation and siege.
So why is this relevant? Since 9/11, at least 300 high ranking US sheriffs and police, FBI, US Customs and Border Protection agents have traveled to Israel to learn through the military justice system how to subdue a population under the guise of fighting terrorism. The focus is on paramilitary and counterinsurgency tactics. Thousands of US police have been trained in Israeli police and military units and it has been reported that the New York City Police Department has opened a branch in Tel Aviv. These efforts have been organized and funded by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
It is not an accident that equipment frequently used by the Israeli military for (read Palestinian) crowd control, such as tear gas grenades, triple chaser gas canisters, stun grenades and LRAD (long-range acoustic devices), are now part of the US police force armamentarium. This was all exacerbated when the Pentagon and Home Land Security offered surplus military grade equipment to local law enforcement as well. While the carnage in our cities is certainly related to our own history of slavery and modern day racism and lack of gun control, and a host of societal forces, having a police force influenced and trained by an occupying military force that sees another group of brown people (Arabs) as the enemy has certainly heightened the issue. The Israelis have exported their arms, homeland security, and policing “expertise” to places like India, Canada, and China, but the US has as always been their best customer; the parallels between white racism and Jewish supremacy flourish here and abroad.
And today I awoke to another horrific catastrophe: a peaceful protest rally in Dallas ended when snipers shot 12 police, killing five. Revealing a total and frightening ignorance to the many causes for such a tragedy, former Tea Party congressman Joe Walsh hit Twitter:
10 cops shot.
You did this Obama.
You did this liberals
You did this #BLM
Time to defend our Cops. Wake up.
OK everybody get your guns, barricade yourselves, and shoot all those do gooders and brown people destroying the country. A really sensible plan. I suspect Trump will soon be on this bandwagon.
We may learn much more about these snipers. I can only wonder if we are seeing the toxic and tragic consequences for people without adequate mental health care in a polarized, racist country awash in guns who have been brutalized by what has now become our own occupying army.
This post first appeared on Alice Rothchild’s site today.