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The Democratic nomenklatura and #BlackLivesMatter

Interesting story in WaPo today: Why Hillary Clinton and her rivals are struggling to grasp Black Lives Matter. Just in case they buried the lead, I started reading at the end:

[Clinton's] post drew some praise from activists online. [@deray] Mckesson, the organizer who had been invited to attend Clinton’s announcement speech, told his Twitter followers that it was “solid.”

But he added a dose of skepticism: Compared with her rivals, after all, she got off easy.

“She also had time to craft it,” Mckesson wrote. “She should’ve been at Netroots.”

And Clinton wasn't at Netroots. Did she not care? Perhaps not, given 2008. Or was she warned? Say, by the Netroots leadership or the chair of the panel that #BlackLivesMatter disrupted*? It will be interesting to see if any Clinton events are actually disrupted over the next few news cycles, as in activists storming the stage. If nothing like that happens...

Well, there's another major Democratic figure loyalists don't criticize either, isn't there? Sadly, because such criticism -- and I wish somebody in the Sanders campaign would figure out how to do this -- is so very warranted both on the foreclosure crisis (bad all the way up to the black bourgeosie in Prince George's County) and on unemployment (disproportionately black as well). Both are also economic stressors, shown statistically to take lives, including black lives.

Still reading WaPo upward:

“While it’s inconvenient, or it makes some people uncomfortable, we can’t go back,” said Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist who has taken heat in recent weeks for defending Clinton against criticisms from some Black Lives Matter activists. “Politicians need to tune in.”

Brazile doesn't qualify "politicians," so we'll assume Obama and Clinton both need to "tune in" as well. So we'll be waiting for them to experience discomfort! Here let me help out Brazile by posing one obvious question for Obama: "Do you feel comfortable about militarizing the police so heavily under the Pentagon's 1033 program?"

For background, Mother Jones describes the 1033 program here:

Take the 1033 program. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) may be an obscure agency within the Department of Defense, but through the 1033 program, which it oversees, it's one of the core enablers of American policing's excessive militarization. Beginning in 1990, Congress authorized the Pentagon to transfer its surplus property free of charge to federal, state, and local police departments to wage the war on drugs. In 1997, Congress expanded the purpose of the program to include counterterrorism in section 1033 of the defense authorization bill. In one single page of a 450-page law, Congress helped sow the seeds of today's warrior cops.

The amount of military hardware transferred through the program has grown astronomically over the years. In 1990, the Pentagon gave $1 million worth of equipment to US law enforcement. That number had jumped to nearly $450 million in 2013. Overall, the program has shipped off more than $4.3 billion worth of materiel to state and local cops, according to the DLA.

Of course, seeing a date range like 1990 to 2013... Well, one wonders if there is an inflection point, right? As it turns out, there is. NPR has a handy chart, which I have annotated:

So, at least for Vehicles, Construction Equipment, Aircraft, Communications & Detection, Medical Equipment, Clothing, Electric Wire (!), Tractors, Fire Control, and Weapons, there have been significant increases across the board during the Obama administration, in most cases from zero or very low levels. (To be fair, some of the categories increased, then decreased, but I don't know enough about how materiel is allocated under 1033 to say why.)

Let's talk about "Vehicles." NPR again: "The 1033 program is the key source of the most visible, big-ticket, military item being sent to local law enforcement: mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs). For your reference, here is an MRAP at Ferguson:

Here's another:

I'd be interested to hear whether Brazile -- and Obama -- are comfortable about #BlackLivesMatter demonstrators being confronted by armored vehicles.

Moving further toward WaPo's lead:

The strained interactions [betwen #BlackLivesMatter and O'Malley and Sanders at Netroots] demonstrate the extent to which a vibrant new force on the left has disrupted traditional presidential politics, creating challenges for Democratic candidates who are facing intense pressure to put police brutality and other race-related issues on the front burner ahead of the 2016 election.

Well, I'd like very much to believe in a "vibrant new force on the left." And I'd like to see that force challenge powerful Democrats, as well as long-shots like O'Malley and Sanders. But Ferguson is almost a year ago, now. That's a lot of tweets, a lot of new followers, and time for the Democratic nomenklatura to get their playbook off the shelf, dust it off, and get on the field. Glen Ford writes in "Getting Rid of Al Sharpton and the Misleadership Class":

Although many of the young activists may not have been aware that they were crossing a kind of Rubicon, the threat that “Ferguson” represented to the post-Sixties order was immediately evident to the Black misleaders that have colluded with the mass incarceration regime for the past two generations. Instinctively drawn to the service of Power, and determined to protect the legacy of the Black icon in the White House, the collaborating Black classes moved quickly to limit Ferguson-related demands to those that were politically palatable to the president, such as body-cameras for cops, and to divert the nascent movement away from confrontation with the State and its police.

It soon became obvious that the Al Sharptons of the community were attempting to isolate the core Ferguson activists and prevent the coalescing of a youth-led national Black movement – especially one that might act in concert with non-Blacks in the remnants of the anti-war and Occupy movements.

The size, political content and momentum of the movement-in-the-making has caused the ground to shift beneath the Black misleaders’ feet. “Black Lives Matter” means all Black lives, not just the privileged minority that was catapulted into leadership by the demise of legal apartheid half a century ago and has pursued its own selfish class interests, ever since. “I Can’t Breathe” is a cry from those whose hopes and dreams have been put on permanent lockdown by a police and penal system that is specially designed to strangle Black liberationist aspirations, yet operates at full throttle in the nominally Black-controlled cities of the nation under the maintenance and protection of Black Democrats.

Black activist youth – a self-aware cohort that grows larger every day – did not pick a fight with Black elected officials and the “traditional” civil rights organizations. Generally speaking, Black young people want to fight the white powers-that-be, and have little appetite for confrontation with the Black community’s secular and clergy notables. However, Ferguson’s defiance of both the police and local and national Black political pacifiers set the stage for an intra-Black struggle that will likely determine the future of progressive politics in the United States. Sharpton’s crude lunge to capture and corral the anti-police protest has put youth activists on notice that a battle for national Black leadership has begun. From this point forward, Sharpton and his colleagues in the old line civil rights groups and Democratic Party Black caucuses will deploy every scheme imaginable to hijack, subvert and otherwise thwart the growth of a radical, youth-dominated, Black grassroots movement strategically aligned with non-white radicals.

The growing rift should be welcomed. Until the Ferguson “breakout,” there seemed to be nothing in Black America’s immediate future except more misery, followed by the onset of mass Black postpartum-like psychological depression once the Obamas exit the White House, in January, 2017. I have for years been predicting that the sudden withdrawal of the First Black President would likely result in a Great Hangover with as debilitating an effect on the Black polity as the Great Delirium of insane exhilaration that ushered in the Age of Obama. The events that began in Ferguson may have altered that prognosis. ...

In the absence of a Black mass movement, the Democratic wing of finance capital and their Black operatives will once again divert African Americans from mounting their own challenges to the evils that oppress them, and we will witness another sickening circling of the wagons around the supposedly Lesser Evil blue donkey – the trap that has neutralized Blacks as an independent social force in the U.S. The next year of struggle in the streets will determine if Black America can break the cycle of entrapment through a movement that seeks to uproot existing relations of power, rather than becoming more tightly bound to the oppressor’s institutions.

The struggle begins at the point of the most intense Black confrontation with the state – the police, as has been the case since the first Black urban rebellion of the modern age, in Harlem, in 1935. Ferguson is part of that continuum. The logic of the struggle is to dismantle the Black Mass Incarceration State, the institutional executioner of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and thousands more.

Does anybody really believe that the playbook that brought us Al Sharpton won't be used on a new generation? It seems to me that the Pentagon's 1033 program, which is handing the police the military materiel to make black lives not matter, is a very simple litmus test and starting point to answer that question. Will Hillary -- or Obama -- be "tuned in" by anybody asking Democrats with real power uncomfortable questions like: "Do you feel comfortable about militarizing the police so heavily under the Pentagon's 1033 program?"

NOTE * For the avoidance of doubt, I have no issue with disruption, as such. That's why we have campaigns!

NOTE The single category that was higher under Bush than Obama is weapons. But this is America; for good or ill, we expect the police to be armed (although I personally think they should be disarmed and made to walk the beat). But what militarized the police -- turned them into an army, an occupying force -- was all the materiel that Obama gave them, materiel that one would expect of the military, not law enforcement: Armored vehicles, airplanes (!!), clothing, communications, and even possibly medical equipment (for field hospitals), all of which make the Bush-era SWAT teams seem comparatively innocent.

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paintedjaguar's picture
Submitted by paintedjaguar on

Nah, the police were already militarized, way before Obama. It's about attitude and training more than materiel. Anybody else remember the 1985 MOVE bombing in Philadelphia? When the Philly police conducted aerial bombing against a radical group and burned out a whole neighborhood?

http://globalgrind.com/2013/09/26/11-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-tim...

Submitted by lambert on

Well, let's look at the post.

1) The question is:

"Do you feel comfortable about militarizing the police so heavily under the Pentagon's 1033 program?"

That's a good question regardless of the state of police militarization in Philly in the 80s. I mean, are you comfortable with it?

2) I quote Mother Jones to the effect that 1033 has been going on since the 90s; clearly we're in agreement that the process started before Obama. But what the post argues, and what the chart shows, is that the increases in 1033 under Obama are in inflection point. We are also agreed, at the very least, that Obama didn't reverse it. Are you comfortable with that?

3) On Philly, the MOVE killing and Clusterfuck was the result, IRRC, of a bomb dropped from a helicopter. But I'm making a separate argument, see the note at the end:

But what militarized the police -- turned them into an army, an occupying force -- was all the materiel that Obama gave them, materiel that one would expect of the military, not law enforcement: Armored vehicles, airplanes (!!), clothing, communications, and even possibly medical equipment (for field hospitals), all of which make the Bush-era SWAT teams seem comparatively innocent.

Perhaps the word "militarized" isn't quite what I mean. I'm arguing that the police have been turned into a military, capable of carrying war to any corner of the continent (as the 17- coordinated crackdown of Occupy -- carried on by Mayors who were all Democrats, except for Bloomberg -- proves). To which I would add and should have added that the DHS Fusion Centers offered a way to communicate (but presumably that's what all that communciation equipment is for). And you're right that materiel alone is not a sufficient explanation; in a longer post I should research training, funding, police think tanks, and so on.

Sure, thuggish and brutal attitudes by lethal cops are part of the problem, and have been for a long time. Which makes my original question all the more pointed, don't you agree?

"Do you feel comfortable about militarizing the police so heavily under the Pentagon's 1033 program?"

I mean, why give these guys armored vehicles? Why would Obama do that? Because only "good cops" will be riding them?

paintedjaguar's picture
Submitted by paintedjaguar on

Oh, I think you're asking the right sort of question. ("Do you feel comfortable about militarizing the police so heavily under the Pentagon's 1033 program?"). If I sound like I'm nit-picking, it's probably due to my feeling that I'm not the audience that matters here. Like you, I wonder would the bunch who wanted to take over Bernie's podium have asked anything like that? And of whom?

"I have for years been predicting that the sudden withdrawal of the First Black President would likely result in a Great Hangover..." I hadn't thought about things that way -- could be interesting times ahead. Or maybe we'll just spend the next eight years talking about how much the Republicans hate women.

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

I am not only not comfortable, I'm firmly against the militarization of police.
What militarized them? 9/11 and the fascist elements of the right wing. Historically the military was not used for policing because that is not what they were trained to do.
Today, there is effectively no difference.
American society is two tiered; the wealthy empowered class and their enforcement arm, and the rest of us. The nation used to be a nation of laws, not men. That also went with 9/11; we're a nation of men (corrupt to the core), not laws.
As a point of reference; in the 70's I was staff at a Portland (Or) street clinic and worked closely with the police on a number of occasions and our relationship was very positive. That would not be possible today.

As the U.S. slides out of pre-eminence as the center of the universe, one can expect things to get worse, IMO.