Time to end the Georgia Law Enforcement Exchange program

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Anthony Hill. Scout Schultz. Shukri Ali Said. The common denominator between these individuals is that they were all shot to death by police officers in Georgia while in the midst of a mental health crisis, although in differing circumstances. In all three situations, the victims’ families expected police to protect these individuals, to provide wellness checks, to guarantee their safety. Instead, 9-1-1 calls to the police resulted in these individuals being gunned down

The killings of the above three speak to the undeniable relationship between institutionalized state violence, the over-policing of Black and Brown people in the U.S., and the blatant aggression we continue to witness against minority groups across ethnic, religious, gender, and sexual lines. Just within the state of Georgia, deaths in cases of officer-involved killings have doubled from 2017 to 2018.

It is necessary to take a particular look at the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) program in light of this ongoing police brutality and understand the role of militarization both at home and abroad.

Created in 1992 for the purpose of providing security for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, GILEE is largely responsible for facilitating police exchanges with Israel. GILEE’s mission statement states that the law enforcement exchange encourages international cooperation for the purpose of protecting civil rights. It also states it concentrates on anti-terrorism training, and specifically mentions 9/11 as an event that intensified focus on homeland security. Among the police departments in Georgia that have participated in GILEE are the Fulton County Police Department, Georgia Tech Police Department, Dekalb County Police Department, and Johns Creek Police Department. In other words, all of these police departments have sent delegates to Israel for training through GILEE.

GILEE deserves considerable attention in conversations surrounding police accountability because it is a tool to further militarize local law enforcement by teaching them Israeli policing methods that have long been deployed upon an occupied people, the Palestinian people who are viewed as enemies by Israel. While these policing strategies are characterized as advancements in urban policing and counter-terrorism, in practice it is an exchange of “methods of state violence and control, including mass surveillance, racial profiling, and suppression of protest and dissent,” according to Jewish Voice for Peace in their report “Deadly Exchange.” What’s more, the exact strategies Georgia’s police learn in Israel have never been publicly disclosed, according to a letter sent earlier this year to Atlanta’s mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms from more than 30 human rights and racial justice organizations condemning the program.

In a questionnaire for the Georgia Muslim Voter Project, Lance Bottoms said they should consider pausing the program. Yet in every public event when she has been confronted with the issue, she has said she never made a commitment to stop it.

It is impossible to fathom the idea that U.S. police forces can better protect by learning militarized tactics from Israel. If we realize the historical and institutional foundation of the U.S. police is that of anti-blackness and capitalism, then we then understand that the police serve as an opposing force to civil and human rights.

The ongoing track record of violations that the international community has brought forth against Israel, such as demolishing Palestinian homes, subjecting Palestinians to discriminatory ID policies, or opening fire on Palestinian protestors, is a testament to the contrary.

The GILEE program did not emerge out of a context of holding police accountable in order to protect domestic rights. It emerged alongside a political objective to reinforce the relationship between the U.S and Israel. Since 1947, the US has budgeted over $134.7 billion in aid to Israel, with over $30 million in the last decade alone.

Since 9/11, anti-terrorism efforts have profiled and targeted Muslims and Arabs, and Black and Indigenous communities of color. Yet a majority of those who have committed acts of domestic terrorism are white nationalists or far-right extremists. Even looking at Georgia and the first major instance of domestic terrorism after the GILEE program was introduced, the 1996 Olympic bomber was not a Muslim or Arab, he was a white man.

The methods which GILEE passes onto Georgia police actually perpetuates white supremacy rather than combat it by integrating it into the very fabric of our institutions. Former GBI Director Vernon Keenan has said that GILEE taught him “the primary threat to democratic countries was terrorism by radical Islam”. The founder and director of GILEE, Dr. Robert Friedman, is an open Islamophobe, quoted on multiple occasions during which he made offensive and ignorant comments regardings Muslims and Arabs such as: “The problem is, because of the First Amendment, the FBI won’t go into mosques” and “Meanwhile self-styled Arab-American advocacy groups continue to support terror while focusing their efforts on mounting frivolous complaints about violations of their ‘rights.’”

GILEE is branded as a beneficiary relationship that will guarantee increased safety for our Georgia communities, while in reality, such training does not facilitate a safe community for all.

Israeli policing methods have also been adopted in Atlanta’s Video Integration System, modeled after Israel’s command and control center in the Old City of Jerusalem, which is a means to surveil Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem. Similarly in New York City, the NYPD developed a demographics unit to spy on Muslims, and officials in the unit have stated it was modeled after Israeli practices. The program never resulted in a single arrest was disbanded after three lawsuits challenged the constitutionality of the unit. Georgia must now understand that replicating methods used to occupy a people is no way to train its police force.

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What are these municipalities, counties, and states thinking? Do they really think that engaging with the vicious, militarized, and deeply racist Israeli forces will somehow enrich them or improve their delivery of services to the citizens and laws that they are supposed to serve and protect??? It’s benighted beyond belief, and I don’t think that any court of law or jury will fall for the “the Israelis made me do it and taught me everything… Read more »

So, it’s not just GA nor the US that is engaging with Israel wrt ‘law enforcement’: “Israeli weapons are heading for Asia — with no concern for human rights We don’t know all the countries Israel’s secretive arms industry is targeting for future sales. What we do know is that the people of Myanmar, Kashmir, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Palestine, and others will pay the price. During a ride on a small bus in the Cambodian countryside,… Read more »