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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.

Zainab Khan

Zainab Khan is a recent graduate from Georgia State University, having studied Political Science. She is an Atlanta based organizer, experienced with working on issues surrounding homelessness and Palestinian solidarity.

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  1. just on December 15, 2019, 11:36 am

    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 I know” defense.

    I read the following article earlier in the week with horror, and did immediately think that where in Hades did these monsters at the border and their ‘higher ups’ get this gruesome idea and practice?

    “US immigration officials bar doctors from giving flu shots to detained kids …

    US immigration authorities blocked doctors from giving flu vaccines to detained migrant children this week, a move that physicians say will lead to more deaths behind bars.

    Customs and Border Protection (CBP) refused to grant a group of doctors access to provide vaccines in San Diego on Monday despite at least three recent flu deaths of children in US immigration custody, aged two, six and 16, and growing concerns about health hazards and unsafe conditions for asylum seekers in detention.

    Licensed physicians arrived at the Chula Vista border patrol station in San Ysidro prepared to operate a free flu clinic for the detained migrants, but CBP would not let them inside, claiming it was not “feasible” to provide the medical care.

    “More people will die without the vaccine,” said Dr Hannah Janeway, an emergency medicine physician turned away by CBP. “There’s no doubt. They are being locked in cages in cold weather together, without any vaccination, in a year that is supposed to bring a horrible flu epidemic.”

    Janeway, a Los Angeles-based doctor who also works with asylum seekers in Tijuana, said CBP had a moral obligation to provide vaccines: “Our government, who is creating these conditions and allowing them to persist, is basically saying some people’s lives are worth more than others, and it’s OK for children to die.” …

    A CBP spokesman, Matthew Dyman, said in an email on Tuesday that individuals in the agency’s custody “should generally not be held for longer than 72 hours”, adding: “Every effort is made to hold detainees for the minimum amount of time required.”

    Dyman said CBP did not administer vaccines but was “part of a larger system that has these processes in place”, noting that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice), which operates long-term detention, has “comprehensive medical support services”.

    Government records, however, have shown that children and adults have been held in CBP custody in crowded conditions for longer than 72 hours, and lawyers representing migrants in the region have reported clients being held for weeks with little explanation. …

    A Department of Homeland security spokesperson criticized the doctors in a tweet on Tuesday, saying: “Of course Border Patrol isn’t going to let a random group of radical political activists show up and start injecting people with drugs.”

    Doctors argued that regardless of the length of detention, CBP should be providing life-saving services, noting that it would be efficient and free for the group of volunteers to administer vaccines.

    “We see this as medical negligence on the part of the US government,” said Dr Bonnie Arzuaga, co-founder of Doctors for Camp Closure, one of the groups offering services. “People are being held in close confinement and usually are under a lot of physical and emotional stress … and may be malnourished and may not have access to hygiene supplies. That puts them at risk.”

    Arzuaga said the group of roughly 60 doctors and advocates were ready with 120 doses of the vaccine on Monday and prepared to operate an urgent mobile clinic. She estimated it could have taken as little as 30 minutes to complete the entire process.

    “All they really needed to do was open the gate,” she said. “To be on the other side of the fence with all the resources we had available to us and to not be able to share those resources with the people who needed it most felt frustrating and disappointing.” …

    On Tuesday, the groups visited the San Diego border patrol headquarters to demand a meeting with officials. Some demonstrators blocked an entrance to the facility and lay on the ground, with six people ultimately arrested. Four of the people detained were doctors, according to organizers, and they were cited for “failure to comply with the lawful directions of a federal police officer” before being released.

    Danielle Deines, a neonatologist working with the group, said she was able to speak with several local CBP officials on Monday who continued to express resistance.

    “They are having difficulty prioritizing something like this, because they have so far dehumanized people,” she said, adding that one CBP official said something along the lines of: “‘It’s not like we can offer the flu vaccine to every Central American who comes knocking on our door.’”

    “My question is, why not?” she said. “If you want to hold people in detention, you can provide people the basic flu vaccine … You’re saying death is acceptable to you, and that you don’t value human life.”

    A number of Trump administration anti-immigration policies have created what lawyers say is a humanitarian crisis at the border, and migrants in detention have reported difficulties taking care of basic hygiene and medical needs. At least six migrant youths have died in immigration custody or shortly after their release.

    “As medical professionals, we deem this an emergency,” said Deines, who is based in Virginia. “It is our duty to help them and stand up for them.””

  2. just on December 16, 2019, 8:52 pm

    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, a Vietnamese tour guide asked where I was from. When I answered Israel, he smiled and said that Israel is a strong country, and that the country’s relationship with Vietnam was growing. It turned out that this “relationship” he was referring had to do with police and military training.

    Traveling around the world, I am used to people describing their experiences with other Israelis, reacting to our politics and the occupation, or making remarks about the “holy land.” That’s why the tour guide’s reaction was so intriguing: how is it that Israeli security training is the first thing that comes to the mind of someone who not only lives on the other side of the world, but has no relation to the military establishment?

    Over the past decade, Israel’s ever-growing arms industry has increasingly shifted its focus from the west, with Europe and the Americas as its main clients, to the east, with India now being the largest importer of Israeli arms in the world. The International Defense Cooperation Directorate of the Israeli Ministry of Defense (SIBAT) published a new plan last week to expand its global exports. Along increasing outreach and sales by small military companies, SIBAT will be focusing on six countries — the U.S., Finland, India, and three unnamed countries in Asia — as targets for weapons exports. …”


    Just today, this was published in Haaretz:

    “Israel Signs $35 Million Weapons System Deal With Montenegro

    The three-year contract to supply vehicle—mounted weapons systems costs nearly half of the small NATO state’s military expenditure per year …”


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