Netanyahu indicates Gaza ceasefire paves way for wider war

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By Jean Shaoul
1 September 2014

Speaking on Israel’s Channel 2, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered his most expansive explanation thus far for agreeing an “indefinite ceasefire” in Gaza.

Netanyahu has faced sustained criticism from within his Likud party and his coalition government for calling off military action short of his declared intention of obliterating Hamas and without consulting his security cabinet.

He has also incurred the hostility of those Israelis who felt revulsion at the brutality of the military operations whose cost they will bear in the form of higher taxes and cuts in public services. On Sunday, Netanyah announced plans to slash government spending by 2 percent in order to finance the $2.5 billion Gaza assault. Education funding will be hardest hit.

Opposed by both sides of the political spectrum, the prime minister has seen his support in the opinion polls fall from 63 to 38 percent in just a few weeks.

Netanyahu’s remarks, formulated as a response to his right-wing critics, were a tacit admission that Israel is preparing to take its place in wider US-led war plans nominally targeting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

In bellicose language Netanyahu said of Gaza, “I never removed the goal of toppling Hamas, and I am not doing that now… I cannot rule out the occupation of Gaza. I don’t know if we will get to that. I thought the best thing is to crush them.”

Cabinet members—Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan—would have been secretly pleased that they did not have to vote on the issue, he added.

Turning to the regional situation, Netanyahu identified the scope of his military ambitions, declaring, “I am preparing for a reality in the Middle East that is very problematic.”

“I look around and see al-Qaida on the fence, ISIS moving toward Jordan and already in Lebanon, with Hezbollah there already, supported by Iran,” he elaborated.

He identified the possibility of new diplomatic and military alliances emerging. There were, he said, “not a small number of states who see the threats around us, as threats to them as well and as a result do not see Israel as an enemy, but as a potential partner.”

Netanyahu did not specify which states he was referring to, but events leading up to his about-face indicate that he acted under order from Washington and after receiving supportive assurances from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States. Indeed his comments came after US Secretary of State John Kerry, in a piece for the New York Times, called for a “global coalition” against Islamic extremists who are “perilously close to Israel.”

The Obama administration’s preparations for a wider war in Iraq and Syria to protect its geo-strategic interests in the energy-rich region and contain and isolate Iran, Russia and China requires precisely such a diplomatic cover in the form of a new “coalition of the willing.”

For this reason, the US, which had initially backed the war, determined the 50-day war in Gaza had become a destabilising factor, having provoked a growing protest movement against Israeli brutality that made it impossible for the US to clothe its regional ambitions in the garb of humanitarianism.

Moreover, the Arab regimes could not be seen supporting a military campaign in Iraq and Syria at the same time as they left the Palestinians to Israel’s tender mercies.

Regionally, Israel’s war on Gaza relied above all on Egypt’s military dictator General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and his sponsors, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who supported it in order to isolate and militarily weaken Hamas, which rules Gaza. Hamas is the Palestinian offshoot of Egypt’s now banned Muslim Brotherhood, which is anathema to most of the Arab bourgeoisie and the Gulf monarchs—with the exception of Qatar—because as a rival capitalist party it challenges their commercial interests and political domination.

The war on Hamas was also seen as a means of isolating Iran, which, despite its recent falling out with Hamas, was obliged to make a show of support.

The Egyptian regime patrolled the Sinai border to prevent militant groups launching attacks alongside Hamas. It sealed the Rafah crossing to prevent Palestinians fleeing the Israeli military or seeking treatment in hospitals in Egypt or medical delegations and aid convoys reaching Gaza.

Above all, al-Sisi provided a crucial cover for Israel’s air and ground assault by brokering a ceasefire proposal after discussion with Saudi Arabia, the Arab League and Washington that was initially rejected by Hamas. A key element of the proposal was the end of Hamas’ rule in Gaza and return of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) to the territory after being expelled in 2007 following a coup by Hamas, the victor of elections in January 2006 in the West Bank and Gaza. Egypt insisted that it would not reopen the Rafah crossing until it was guarded by the PA, under the control of strongman Mohammed Dahlan, Israel’s preferred successor to PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

While demonstrations in support of the Palestinians took place around the world, they were outlawed and suppressed in the Arab countries, including the West Bank, fueling the antipathy of the Arab masses towards their rulers. Such conditions would have made it impossible to mount a military campaign to protect US and Sunni Arab interests in Iraq against the encroachment of ISIS. Initially supported and trained by the CIA, Turkey, Jordan and Israel as a proxy force to overthrow Assad, ISIS has now captured whole swathes of Iraq and Syria, threatening Baghdad as well as the Jordanian monarchy, another US client regime.

As a result, Israel came under sustained pressure from the US, with the backing of the Arab regimes, to call a halt to the war. Saudi Arabia sent a team of ministers to Qatar to try and end its support for Hamas, while Jordan’s King Abdullah brokered secret talks between Netanyahu and Abbas in Amman, their first meeting since September 2010.

Egypt again played a crucial role. Al-Sisi brokered a “peace deal” which is no different in its essentials from the July proposals, thereby sidelining Qatar and Turkey, the main sponsors of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas’ acceptance of the terms of the deal meant opposing Khaled Mershaal, its political bureau chief in Qatar, jeopardising Qatar’s financial and diplomatic support. But, in the final analysis, Cairo was more important: Hamas’ very existence depended upon the lifeline provided by Egypt—the Rafah crossing.

Talks are to begin in one month’s time over the release of hundreds of Hamas prisoners rounded up in the West Bank following the killing of three Israeli settler youths in June, and the construction of a port and international airport in Gaza. But Netanyahu has demanded Gaza’s demilitarisation and said he will not accede to the Palestinians’ demands.

The US is to resume arms shipments to Israel, after the Obama administration had earlier called a halt to the delivery of new materiel to Israel without the explicit approval of the White House and State Department. This could be an occasion for the start of a massive increase in military aid for Israel from the US, in line with Netanyahu’s call in his interview for increases in the defence budget. Indeed the Israel Defence Force needs a massive one-off sum of 9 billion NIS ($2.5 billion) just to pay for the war, and an additional 11 billion NIS for its 2015 budget.

US government-funded database created to track “subversive propaganda” online

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By Matthew MacEgan
30 August 2014

The creation of the Truthy database by Indiana University researchers has drawn sharp criticism from free-speech advocates and others concerned over government censorship of political expression.

According to the award abstract accompanying the funding provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Truthy project aims to demonstrate “why some ideas cause viral explosions while others are quickly forgotten.” In order to answer this and other questions, the resulting database will actively “[collect] and [analyze] massive streams of public microblogging data.”

Once the database is up and running, anyone can use its “service” to monitor “trends, bursts, and suspicious memes.” Several of the researchers suggested that the public will be able to discover the use of “shady machinery” by election campaigners who push faulty information to social media users to manipulate them politically.

As a seeming afterthought, the abstract concludes that this open-source project “could mitigate the diffusion of false and misleading ideas, detect hate speech and subversive propaganda, and assist in the preservation of open debate.”

This last statement provoked widespread criticism as troubling and even Orwellian. Right-wing media outlets Fox News and the Washington Times attacked the reference to “hate speech,” in which they specialize, without highlighting the reference to “subversive propaganda,” a term of abuse usually reserved for left-wing criticism of American government and society.

While the leaders of this government-funded operation have sought to fend off attacks with the explanation that this database is merely designed to study the diffusion of information on social media networks, there is no mistaking the repressive overtones of the project.

Filippo Menczer, the project’s principal investigator and a professor at Indiana University, has responded to allegations by issuing a statement through the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research, explaining that Truthy is not “a political watchdog, a government probe of social media,” or “an attempt to suppress free speech.” He states that Truthy is incapable of determining whether a particular scrap of data constitutes “misinformation,” and reiterates the notion that “target” is the mere study of “patterns of information diffusion.”

However, within the same statement, Menczer also echoes the abstract’s final conclusion, stating that “an important goal of the Truthy project is to better understand how social media can be abused.” This seems to contradict the claim that the database is focused only on how information is diffused, rather than its content.

Results of the project have already been widely published in peer-reviewed journals and have been presented at several conferences around the world. One of these studies shows how the researchers, including Menczer, studied the growth of Occupy Wall Street over a 15-month period. This was done by identifying Occupy-related content on Twitter and creating a dataset that “contained approximately 1.82 million tweets produced by 447,241 distinct accounts.”

In addition, the researchers also selected 25,000 of these users at random and monitored their behavior in order to study how these users may have changed over time. This effort included the compilation of the hashtags used by each user, their engagement with foreign social movements, and the extent to which these users interacted with one another.

In other words, while the creators of Truthy have presented their service as a means for the public to expose elected officials who inject misleading information into news feeds for electoral propaganda purposes, one of the primary uses is to track and keep tabs on individuals who engage in political discussions deemed “subversive” by US authorities. A previous report has already shown that local police departments were engaged in similar coordinated efforts to spy on Occupy protesters throughout the same 15-month period.

The revelations of Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks have shown the extent of domestic spying of national governments on their own citizens and the erosion of Constitutional rights to privacy and freedom of expression. Despite Menczer’s claim that the system was not “designed” to be a government watchdog program, there is no assurance that this project will not be used for that purpose.

The 25,000 Twitter users who were studied and tracked by the project’s developers certainly did not give permission to have their behaviors and tweets recorded and studied. Truthy will enable anyone, including federal officials, to similarly track and follow the actions of groups and individuals deemed to be “diffusing” ideas labeled as “misleading.” The fact that the United States government has already contributed more than $900,000 to this project only exacerbates this fear.

Companies sell mobile phone spying tools to governments worldwide

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By Thomas Gaist
26 August 2014

Cell phone location tracking technologies long used by the US National Security Agency and British GCHQ are increasingly available for purchase by other governments throughout the world, the Washington Post reported Monday.

Cell phone location data tracking systems, which include a range of associated intelligence gathering capabilities, are constantly being developed and marketed by private security contractors. The technology enables governments and private entities to track the movements of cell phone users across national boundaries, in many cases pinpointing users’ precise locations within a few meters.

One surveillance firm, called Defentek, boasts on its web page that its Infiltrator Global Real-Time Tracking System can “locate and track any phone number in the world.” The Infiltrator System is “a strategic solution that infiltrates and is undetected and unknown by the network, carrier, or the target,” the site says.

Analysis of cell phone location tracking software by the watchdog group Privacy International highlighted the role of Verint, a sophisticated Israeli-American private security and intelligence contractor that employs former government agents, including special forces soldiers.

Verint reports on its web page that the company’s systems are used by “more than 10,000 organizations in over 180 countries,” the Washington Post reported.

The spread of such cutting-edge surveillance systems by private security and intelligence firms is taking place with the help of the major telecommunications corporations. Verint states that it has installed location data capture software on cellular networks in numerous countries with the knowledge and cooperation of major telecommunications providers.

A confidential Verint advertising brochure posted online by Privacy International detailed the wide array of surveillance capabilities offered by Verint to clients. According to its advertising material, Verint’s “Solution’s Portfolio” includes “Cellular Interception and Control, Mobile Satellite Interception, Global Cellular Location, and IP Interception and Tampering.” The brochure notes that the company sells “Monitoring Centres that can operate at nationwide levels and has been known to have had installations in Slovakia, Ivory Coast, India and Vietnam.”

For the right price, Verint will also carry out and/or facilitate a number of other intelligence-related operations on behalf of its clients, including:

* Identifying potential targets and building an intelligence picture over cellular networks

* Passively and covertly collecting cellular traffic in an area and analyzing it in real time to identify potential targets

* Identifying suspicious communication patterns using a range of analysis tools, including Location, Speech Recognition, Link Analysis, Text Matching

* Intercepting voice calls and text messages of potential targets

* Identifying, intercepting, decoding, manipulating and analyzing WiFi-enabled devices such as tablets, smartphones, and laptops

Verint also claims that it can break into encrypted communications and remotely activate microphones on cell phones, and the company offers training sessions simulating a range of tactical scenarios with its in-house veteran military and intelligence personnel.

Reports from the summer of 2013 showed that Verint provided systems used by the Mexican government during the administration of President Felipe Calderon to capture and analyze all types of communications in that country beginning in 2007, as part of operations initiated in coordination with the US State Department.

In its report, the Washington Post noted that surveillance agencies and private companies are increasingly deploying “IMSI catchers,” also referred to as StingRays, which enable users to send fake text messages, inject malware into targeted phones, and intercept the content of various forms of cellphone-based communications.

In addition to using StingRays, surveillance agencies can tap directly into cell phone towers to identify movement patterns of nearby telephone users. Location data from cell phone towers, moreover, is regularly transferred in bulk to federal, state, and local security agencies across the US through a procedure known as “tower dumps.”

Revelations from December of 2013 have already shown that the NSA’s CO-TRAVELLER program gathers around 5 billion pieces of cell phone location data worldwide on a daily basis, and has been capable of tracking the location of cellphones, even when switched off, since 2004. Location data gathered by the NSA allows the agency to map the overall movement pattern of targeted individuals, their daily routes and habitual meeting places.

The US uses related technology to orchestrate its drone wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. As part of a program codenamed GILGAMESH, the NSA’s “Geo Cell” program, which sports the motto “We Track ‘Em, You Whack ‘Em,” guides drone strikes against alleged terrorists by tracking the location of SIM cards inside their cellphones.

All of these surveillance and tracking programs are part of the efforts of the US and other imperialist states to compile comprehensive databases on their respective populations in response to growing popular opposition to the growth of social inequality and attacks on democratic rights.

Why moral perversity of U.S. position in Gaza is stunning

Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters:

I think it’s safe to say that if U.S. neighborhoods were living under siege, folks like Rand Paul wouldn’t take it

Pink Floyd's Roger Waters: Why moral perversity of U.S. position in Gaza is stunning

Roger Waters (Credit: Reuters/Chip East)

The carnage in Gaza continues after the latest collapse of cease-fire talks and over four weeks of asymmetrical bombardment by Israel. With the death of more than 2,000 Palestinians, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands more, the complicity of the American government has been exposed to the world as never before. Yet the mantra repeated ad nauseam by the U.S. government and media alike remains the same: Israel has a right to defend itself.

The moral perversity of the U.S. position is stunning. How can the U.S. government ask Israel to be more careful about civilian lives while simultaneously arming and then rearming the IDF so it can more effectively inflict such devastation on an imprisoned and occupied people?

The U.S. could act to stop the senseless slaughter but it won’t. Instead, it’s cheerleading.  Members of Congress are mindlessly parroting Israeli talking points without a thought given to the Palestinian perspective or to preserving human life. Brimming with righteousness, they argue for turning Israel loose – Sen. Rand Paul in particular – and invoke Israel’s right to self-defense, despite the fact that, as the occupying power, Israel has an obligation to protect the Palestinians it rules, not massacre them.

Do congressional leaders ever stop to wonder what they would do if they were born Palestinian, had their homes and private property stolen from them, and were forced to live without freedom under an illegal Israeli occupation for 47 years? Do they know what it means to be on the receiving end of Israel’s barbaric “mow the lawn” euphemism?  Scarcely a word is said about the rights of Palestinians who are being pummeled from the sky and shot dead in their neighborhoods by the region’s most powerful military.  What, I wonder, would Americans do if it were their neighborhoods being invaded and if they were the ones living under siege? I think it’s safe to say Americans wouldn’t stand for it.

Despite these realities, it’s far more advantageous in Washington to come down like a ton of bricks on the Palestinians and maintain that they are the cause of their own suffering. No politician’s career has ever been hurt by blaming Palestinians or by applauding Israel’s illegal occupation, colonization and war crimes.



Pressure on American politicians to conform to the party line is abetted by skewed media coverage.  For instance, CNN, while purporting to be a news channel, relentlessly churns out Israeli propaganda.

It is easy for those of us who do not live under the tyranny of the occupation to condemn the military wing of Hamas for using randomly fired rockets that might cause civilian casualties in neighboring Israel, and I do unreservedly condemn it. Having said that, an occupied population has the legal right to resist the military of the occupier. The occupier has a legal obligation to protect the occupied. Under these circumstances the reporting on CNN is biased beyond all belief.

Numerically, one can readily see the bias. Far more pro-Israel guests than pro-Palestinian experts are invited on air to make their case.

An exception to that general rule, and obviously not on CNN, is Henry Siegman, a prominent Jewish voice and a former national director of the American Jewish Congress, who recently got the opportunity to expose the shortcomings of Israeli talking points. Siegman was interviewed fairly and in depth by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!  Sadly Democracy Now! is not mainstream media. If only it were!

Contrast that appearance with the reception Yousef Munayyer received during an extraordinarily “unfair” Fox News interview by the execrable Sean Hannity. Actually, to dignify Hannity’s rude and infantile shouting and finger pointing as an “interview” would be wrong.

If only CNN – or Fox, for that matter – would sometimes rely for their analyses on someone as intelligent and humane as Siegman.  Unfortunately, however, CNN persisted for weeks with the extremely biased analysis of Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren. Even CNN appears to have recognized how biased a contributor Oren was as it recently changed his title from CNN analyst to former ambassador.

Staunchly pro-Israel voices like Oren’s have resoundingly proclaimed: Any resistance, violent or nonviolent, in fact any criticism of Israeli colonization and denial of Palestinian rights, is off limits. What they are advocating, in essence, is perpetual armed conflict until greater Israel is a fait accompli, and complete Israeli domination over any surviving Palestinians is accepted as a reasonable status quo. Commentators such as Oren feign interest in a two-state peaceful solution but they and the state they represent resist all attempts to implement such a plan.

On a positive note, I take heart from the fact that support for Jewish Voice for Peace has skyrocketed over the last month as members of the American Jewish community, appalled at Israel’s actions, have looked for a place to register their concern. JVP advocates for an end to occupation and the siege on Gaza, for Palestinian rights – as dictated by international law – and peace with justice for Palestinians and Israelis alike. It primarily does so by educating people with basic facts and by using the tools of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions to apply pressure on Israel to cease its human rights abuses.

Additionally, we welcome Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz to the swelling ranks of celebrity dissenters.  Their courageous stand is a beacon to us all. We need many more like them if we are to shift the discourse and persuade the American and Israeli governments to adopt more realistic, humane and hopefully fruitful policies. To paraphrase Siegman, “If you want to stop the rockets, end the siege of Gaza and the occupation of both Gaza and the West Bank.”  He sounds like a sage but this is just common sense. If I might stick in my two pennies’ worth, why not then engage in serious conversations with the Unity Palestinian Government, which up to now Israel has seemed determined to destroy.

The U.S. Congress, far too beholden to the right-wing Israel lobby, will be the last to figure out this tragic jigsaw puzzle and human catastrophe and grasp the critical need for a political solution.  And mainstream media, if unchallenged, will continue to distort reality and embolden the counterproductive, AIPAC-driven unrealistic position that it portrays as fact.

On a personal note, I am pro-human rights for all peoples all over the world.  I am pro-peace for all Israelis and Palestinians.  I am not singling out Israel.  I deplore all abuses and violence, whether in Syria, China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, England, the USA, Egypt, Libya, wherever.  That said, international law was designed to protect against such human rights violations and should be applied fairly to all.

In the case of Israel/Palestine, legal channels have yet to be seriously pursued. Consequently, change will continue to be led by popular efforts.  Specifically, the growing nonviolent BDS campaign offers the best chance of successfully pressuring Israel to alter its ways and allow for Palestinian freedom and rights. Despite major efforts to destroy it, more and more people are joining the BDS movement. It is this growing momentum that gives me hope that, together, the people of the world will eventually help deliver what governments have been unwilling to secure: justice and a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

I wrote a short poem a few days ago that I have been encouraged to append here.

It is called “Crystal Clear Brooks.”  Although it expresses my feelings, I cannot but think that the children in Gaza would give anything but their birthright and their pride and their basic human rights for a glass of crystal clear water. And, I think too, of the Bakr children, the sons of fishermen, who were slain while playing on a Gaza beach.

 

Crystal clear brooks

When the time comes

And the last day dawns

And the air of the piper warms

The high crags of the old country

When the holy writ blows

Like burned paper away

And wise men concede

That there’s more than one way

More than one path

More than one book

 More than one fisherman

More than one hook

When the cats have been skinned

And the fish have been hooked

When the masters of war

Are our masters no more

When old friends take their whiskey

Outside on the porch

We will have done well

If we’re able to say

As the sun settles down

On that final day

That we never gave in

That we did all we could

So the kids could go fishing

In crystal clear brooks.

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/08/25/pink_floyds_roger_waters_why_moral_perversity_of_u_s_position_in_gaza_is_stunning/?source=newsletter

What happens in Ferguson does not stay in Ferguson

by Jerome Roos on August 24, 2014

Post image for What happens in Ferguson does not stay in Ferguson

For African Americans, the state of emergency has long been a permanent one. Now, under neoliberalism, it is fast becoming generalized across the globe.

Last week, the Governor of Missouri declared a state of emergency and deployed the National Guard to the St Louis suburb of Ferguson to quell a fortnight of civil unrest following the police murder of the unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. It was the first time since the Los Angeles riots of 1992, after the severe police beating of another black man, Rodney King, and the Battle of Seattle during the WTO trade negotiations seven years later, that the army had been called in to restore public order within US borders.

But while images of phalanxes of militarized riot police firing teargas and rubber bullets at mostly peaceful protesters have captured the attention of the world, the media circus surrounding the “riot” actually risks obscuring a largely unseen everyday reality that simmers just beneath the surface. For African Americans, the real racist violence resides not in the spectacle but in the mundane; not in the headlines but in between. As Walter Benjamin so pointedly observed at the height of the persecution in Nazi Germany, “the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of exception’ in which we live is the rule.”

It should be clear by now that the Ferguson riots do not appear in a political vacuum. The militarization of police, the institutionalization of racism, the criminalization of the poor, the systematic marginalization of African Americans and other minorities, the rampant intensification of historical patterns of inequality, the spatial segregation along the lines of class and color, the impunity with which the forces of the law kill, maim and humiliate the dispossessed — these are all symptoms of a series of political and economic trends, some long-term and historical, others more recent.

Clearly, then, what happens in Ferguson does not stay in Ferguson — and the state of emergency declared by Governor Nixon merely serves to highlight a social emergency that has been quietly brewing for decades. Faced with a long, grinding history of racist oppression on the one hand, going back to the days of slavery and segregation, and a more recent pattern in police militarization and economic marginalization on the other, Ferguson has as much to do with long-established patterns of white supremacism and racist policing as it has with the consequences of state power and the neoliberal imaginary run amok.

A Global and Permanent State of Exception

It is precisely in this confluence of temporalities that the state of emergency reveals its true colors. Walter Benjamin, before meeting his tragic end as a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, insisted repeatedly upon the centrality of the Ausnahmezustand, or ‘state of exception’, to sovereign power. Today, the most influential theorist of the concept is the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, who — building on the adage by the Nazi thinker Carl Schmitt: “sovereign is he who decides upon the state of exception” — has crafted a refined analysis and a dystopian vision of the myriad ways in which the state of exception has become not just a technique of government, but its very logic.

“Faced with the unstoppable progression of what has been called a ‘global civil war’,” Agamben writes, “the state of exception tends increasingly to appear as the dominant paradigm of government in contemporary politics [and] has today reached its maximum worldwide deployment.” From Fallujah to Ferguson, the similarities run deeper than the military attire or the heavy weaponry of the troops on the ground. Both places appear at a threshold of indistinction between law and lawlessness, order and disorder — a space of anomie in which human life exists largely at the mercy of the soldiers and policemen who effectively act as a sovereign power upon it.

Here, in this permanent and globalized state of exception, the classical division between public and private increasingly begins to blur. In Fallujah, private contractors were brought in to keep public order, while the US military — at the expense of the public debt — made sure to protect private interests around the clock. In Ferguson, private property is protected from looting while the public is shot at even while standing on their private porches. America wastes public money waging foreign wars for private gain, while at the same time allowing private interests to directly fund local police departments — now armed with the surplus weaponry of these same wars — to maintain public order at home. Security becomes the overarching concern of government, even as government almost always defers to private interests in slashing security when it is social.

Between Democracy and Absolutism

One of the key features of neoliberal governmentality, then, is that it insists on combining a politics of absolute liberalism in world markets with an increasingly authoritarian paradigm in national government. Even as capital flows freely across borders, rivers of migrants and refugees are either blocked and diverted or dammed and detained. Even as the barriers to global commerce are smashed with a religious zealotry reminiscent of the early crusaders, new walls are erected everywhere to keep out the dark-skinned and the poor. Even as liberal “visionaries” press for universal integration, the global reality remains one of systematic exclusion. Where wealth concentrates in ever fewer hands, where gated communities mushroom amidst the squalor of a planet of slums, the vaunted “democracy” of the global marketplace finally meets the totalitarian ambitions of the nation state. “The state of exception,” Agamben writes, “appears as the threshold of indeterminacy between democracy and absolutism.”

Given this growing indeterminacy between democracy and absolutism, war and peace, order and disorder, it should perhaps not come as a surprise that the events in Ferguson have resonated so strongly in a faraway occupied warzone like Gaza, where the absolutism of Israeli sovereignty is brutally brought down on life — to the point where Israel has even determined the exact allowed calorie intake for the strip’s 1.6 million inhabitants: 2.279 per day, to be precise. Of course, Ferguson is not Gaza (at least not yet), but there is an undeniable resonance between the two struggles, and it is not limited to Palestinian solidarity tweets for Ferguson protesters or practical advise on how to deal with tear gas and advancing police lines.

Much more than this, Palestinian/African American solidarity is the explicit subaltern expression of a recognition that not only the struggle but also the enemy is common. From the brand of tear gas to the assault tactics of the riot squads, Gaza and Ferguson are closer than many would feel comfortable to admit. Investigations have revealed that US law enforcement maintains close ties with its Israeli counterparts, and two of the four police forces deployed to Ferguson received their training in crowd control in Israel. Running an occupation is serious business, and US police departments have much to learn from their Israeli counterparts if they are to maintain America’s internal spaces of segregation in an era of deepening inequalities and growing racial tensions.

The Ghetto as an Open-Air Prison Camp

For Agamben, the state of exception finds its topological expression in the camp, which “delimits a space in which the normal order is de facto suspended and in which whether or not atrocities are committed depends not on law but on the civility and ethical sense of the police who temporarily act as sovereign.” For those on the wrong side of the war on terror, the camps are called Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay. For African Americans, the camp is prison — or, increasingly often, the labor camp. If current incarceration trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend at least part of their lives behind bars. While only 12 percent of the US population is black, African American males make up 40 percent of the total 2.1 million prison population. More black men are in prison today than were enslaved before the Civil War in 1850.

As the state of exception becomes generalized, however, the boundaries between inside and outside begin to blur and the two gradually blend into one another. Bit by bit, the logic of the camp spills over into society at large. Gaza, which has been described even by UK Prime Minister David Cameron as an open-air prison camp, is perhaps the clearest contemporary expression of this phenomenon. But similar (though much less extreme) processes are afoot in the US and elsewhere, as spatial segregation becomes the hallmark of the neoliberal urban geography. Today, the ghettos of Detroit and the outer neighborhoods of St Louis, like the townships of Johannesburg and the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, increasingly take on the form of open-air prison camps, in which the police permanently act as temporary sovereign, and in which poor blacks — and male youths in particular — are simply considered free game for the racist fantasies of white officers.

Patterns of Neoliberal Segregation

The contemporary nature of the ghetto and the slum as open-air prison camps is closely connected to deepening patterns of racial inequality and spatial segregation. Far from abolished, in many respects segregation — cultural and material alike — has only deepened as a result of the neoliberal restructuring of the economy. Not coincidentally, the state of Missouri, the city of St Louis and especially its restive suburb of Ferguson are among the clearest examples of these patterns of neoliberal apartheid in the US today. In 1970, only 1 percent of Ferguson’s inhabitants was black. By 2010, that share had risen to nearly 70 percent. The transformation of the town’s racial composition can be ascribed to a white exodus — partly the result of a collapse of the working class as a result of de-industrialization, with white workers moving away from the Midwest “Rustbelt”; and partly the result of an influx of cheap credit drawing a seemingly upwardly mobile white middle class out towards the suburbs.

As housing prices fell, black residents moved into the neighborhood, and pre-established local inequalities (between rental homes and self-owned properties, for instance) were only further accentuated. Meanwhile, the taxable base of local government eroded, leading to reduced budgets for public services and law enforcement. The Ferguson police department, of course, remained almost exclusively white, with obvious consequences for the black newcomers in the neighborhood: according to FBI data, 92 percent of people arrested in Ferguson on charges of “disorderly conduct” are black, while African Americans account for 86 percent of all vehicle stops. Far from protecting the peace, undertrained and overarmed police officers now consider it their job to keep a marginalized population in check through continuous harassment and accusations of petty crime. These are all mechanisms of social control.

In neoliberal America, questions of race and class have thus become nearly impossible to disentangle, and it is precisely at the intersection of the two that the neoliberal counterrevolution has struck African American families extra hard. Economic data shows that the gap in household income between blacks and whites has not been reduced since the end of de jure segregation in the 1950s and 1960s, while wealth disparities have only been deepened by the housing crisis of 2007-’08 and the subsequent recession, which affected African American households particularly badly (not least as a result of the racial profiling in Wall Street’s predatory lending practices). Today, 45 percent of black children grow up in areas of concentrated poverty, and the schools they attend are more segregated than they were in 1980. As class disparities are accentuated, so are the deeply intermeshed racial inequalities.

The Destituent Power of a Political Riot

For African Americans, therefore, the state of emergency has always been a permanent one — it did not start with the shooting of Michael Brown and it certainly will not end with Governor Nixon withdrawing the National Guard from Ferguson. What is different this time around is that the people rose up in defiance of the police murder of yet another young black man, and chose to answer the legal violence of the subsequent police crackdown with an extra-legal violence of their own. Suddenly, their mundane acts of everyday resistance coalesced into a collective act of refusal, giving rise to a political riot. And it is precisely this combination of broad-based peaceful protest with a refusal to respect the violence of the law that has instilled such fear in the halls of power.

The reason the authorities fear Ferguson is, first and foremost, the risk of “contamination” (or what we would call resonance). As the Rodney King riots of 1992 showed, a single spark can quickly set ablaze the dessicated prairies of America’s supposedly post-racial urban constellation. But there is a deeper reason why the authorities fear Ferguson, which is that sovereign power — which stands at once within and without the legal framework, capable of both enforcing and suspending the rule of law — cannot tolerate the existence of a pure form of violence outside the law. As Walter Benjamin noted in his Critique of Violence, “the existence of violence outside the law, as pure immediate violence, furnishes proof that revolutionary violence, the highest manifestation of unalloyed violence by man, is possible.” The fear, then, is that this local uprising could reveal a latent revolutionary potential in the very belly of the beast.

But even if this revolutionary potential is never fully realized, the movement towards it does appear to embody what Agamben would call a form of destituent power — a power that stands completely outside the law and that, by acting to dismantle sovereign power rather than to reform it, has the capacity to diminish the ability of the state to resort to violence and, in the final analysis, to abolish the cycle of law-making and law-preserving violence altogether. “On the breaking of this cycle maintained by mythical forms of law,” Water Benjamin once wrote, still full of hope, “on the suspension of law with all the forces on which it depends as they depend on it, finally therefore in the abolition of state power, a new historical epoch is founded.”

If we are to follow this line of analysis, the supposed “violence” of the Ferguson protests — which absolutely pales in comparison to the violence of finance capital and the state — may yet prove to be highly productive. And while the idea of a “pure” violence outside the law may sound ominous to some, we should remember that the urban riot, for all its seemingly irrational destruction and spectacular evanescence, has historically been a great force for progress. What we now call democracy would not have been possible without it. Indeed, in times of great injustice and institutional deadlock, when the violence of the law drowns out the voice of the oppressed, few things could be more welcome than the destituent power of a political riot to help recalibrate the scales of justice. This, at least, is how it starts. What happens in Ferguson does not stay in Ferguson.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. This article was written as part of his weekly column for TeleSUR English.

 

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In Thailand, a political crisis with global implications

by Ben Case on August 23, 2014

Post image for In Thailand, a political crisis with global implications
The social upheaval and military coup in Thailand reveal a crisis of democracy that may have implications for the future of democracies everywhere.
On May 20, the Thai army declared a state of martial law, deposing and arresting the democratically elected Prime Minister. General Prayuth Chan-ocha took the stage to announce the coup (which he initially denied was a coup), declaring his leadership and the rule of the new “National Council for Peace and Order” (NCPO). According to Prayuth, the move was necessary to end escalating protests that were part of a decade-long feud between opposing social movements. In order to save the country from civil war, Prayuth said, democracy must be suspended indefinitely.

Over the past eight years, two social movements in Thailand have organized spectacular mass mobilizations and aggressive direct actions that rival the most iconic events of the world’s 21st century revolutions. One side occupied and shut down both international airports in Bangkok in 2008; the other side shut down central Bangkok for months in 2010, at one point setting fire to the stock exchange and one of the largest malls in Asia. Both sides have occupied Bangkok parks and streets multiple times.

Yet the international media have been curiously inattentive to this struggle. The recent coup propelled Thailand into the international limelight, but as with the previous flare-ups, the attention quickly faded. General Prayuth’s military government suffered almost no international flak whatsoever for his seizure of power. Discussion and analysis of the movements in Thailand have been scarce from the left as well.

One reason why Thailand may be largely neglected by the left is the confusion generated by the unique scenario of having two powerful, popular, opposing social movements, neither of which represents the left. However, the confusion in many ways reflects a complex, changing global political environment that is easy to misjudge. The recent coup in Thailand has implications far beyond the country’s borders. It has a great deal to teach us about organizing, mobilizing, and identifying allies, and it may even have implications for the evolution of liberal democracy around the world.

Political Context

Thailand has been in and out of crisis since 2006, when a military coup ousted popular Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin is a billionaire media mogul who now lives in Dubai to escape post-coup corruption charges. The leaders of two competing social movements, one supporting Thaksin and one opposing him, have taken turns running Thailand’s government and overthrowing it since then.

Despite the back-and-forth, one side is in the clear national majority. The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), dubbed “red shirts,” supports Thaksin and his sister Yingluck, who was elected prime minister in 2011 and was deposed in the latest coup. The Shinawatra family’s populist platform, including subsidies for small farmers and near-free public healthcare schemes, has consistently and decisively won elections since 2001.

Their opponents, who hail largely from the Democrat Party, originally called themselves “yellow shirts,” after the color of the king, and conveniently distinguishing them from their red shirt opponents. They have since abandoned the yellow in favor of the symbolism — and sometimes name — of “Occupy Bangkok,” and they now use the official title People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).

The Democrat Party is overwhelmingly popular in Bangkok and much of the tourist-centered south, but has proven incapable of winning national elections. Their numerical inferiority combined with their intolerance of the Shinawatra family in office has led the Democrat Party and PDRC to abandon democracy, paradoxically in the name of democracy — boycotting elections and advocating an unelected government to rule Thailand for the foreseeable future.

In the past decade, they have managed to topple three democratic governments with mass mobilization backed by army coups. The first two times the red shirts used mass protests, occupations and riots to force elections that brought their side back to power. In the latest coup, the NCPO claimed to be neutral to the struggle between red and yellow, and at first made a show of arresting leaders of both sides. However, it is clear which side got their way in the aftermath of the coup. The military’s actions have conformed almost perfectly to the demands of the PDRC — the removal of the entire Shinawatra government and the indefinite suspension of democracy. Like Egypt in 2013, street protests cleared the way for the tanks to roll in, as the army claimed to save the country from imminent collapse. In this case, though, it was precisely what the protesters were asking for.

The military has since appointed a 197-member legislative body to enact laws, more than half of whom are military or police officers, and the NCPO has made it clear that they retain ultimate legal authority. The new legislature, called the National Legislative Assembly, has selected Pornpetch Wichitcholchai as their new president; Pornpetch is a judge from the former Supreme Court – a body that had repeatedly sided with anti-Thaksin forces.

Since its takeover, the military government has engaged in an unprecedented PR campaign, sponsoring festivals, concerts, and free movies. General Prayuth himself wrote a song called “Return Happiness to Thailand,” which is now played on Thai radio, TV, and in public concerts. However, Prayuth’s “happiness” has gone hand in hand with ruthless suppression of dissent. Red shirt leaders, protesters, journalists and opposition politicians have remained in custody without charge.

The military has also warned against incendiary language on social media, harassing and detaining those who post disagreeable content. Most recently, the editor of a popular magazine was arrested for making critical comments on his Facebook page. The Orwellian character of the military government’s seamless combination of “happiness” and repression has sparked a spontaneous wave of micro-dissent in which Thais show off their copies of 1984 in public. The red shirt leadership has been driven underground for the time being, but if the escalation of the past decade has been any guide, the calm will not last long.

One particularly volatile aspect of the Thai situation is the monarchy. Thailand is (was) a constitutional monarchy, governed democratically under the “moral leadership” of the king. This particular king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, is widely adored in Thailand. At 86, he is the longest-reigning monarch in the world, and Thais credit him with all kinds of incredible career feats. While a full exploration of the role of the monarchy is beyond the scope of this article, it is worth noting that the king is in poor health, has not appeared in public since the coup, and his succession is not entirely clear. Some have even claimed that this coup is really about who will be in power when the next monarch is chosen. One way or another, the king’s eventual death will not be a stabilizing factor.

The Mask of the Left

Both movements are capable of organizing themselves in ways traditionally associated with the left, but neither is, strictly speaking, left-wing. The PDRC is fairly straightforward in its right-wing character, and they seek traditionally reactionary outcomes: stability, economic growth, and concentration of decision-making among educated, urban professionals. They are fighting for the leadership of the Thai elite, and their rhetoric is filled with condescension for the uneducated rabble they see as composing the red shirt ranks. They also align themselves with the royal family and the moral quality of the king’s leadership, attached to a nationalistic history of the Thai monarchy that stretches back many centuries.

Beyond the left-associated direct action tactics they have employed, the PDRC has also adopted the look of the anti-authoritarian left. Despite being against democracy, the PDRC, Democrat Party, and their allies all claim the word “democracy” as their own. At a glance, PDRC actions look a lot like anarchist ones. They wear bandanas and Guy Fawkes masks on their faces and flaunt slogans like “liberate Thailand” and “time for change.”

Whether they took on this look organically as a result of PDRC members being inspired by the popularity of the Occupy movements, or whether it was a more conscious appropriation for the sake of media coverage is unclear, but the look has confused more than a few international observers, and led some on the left into supporting “Occupy Bangkok.” It is worth remarking that PDRC support appears to have found wide appeal in Bangkok and the south, including among workers, and many of their corruption allegations against the Shinawatra family are probably accurate. Nevertheless, underneath the mask is unambiguous proto-fascism.

The red shirts are in some ways closer to the left, and have been ascribed leftist potential by some analysts. However, they have sometimes been mistaken as wholly left by more casual onlookers due to their class composition and the color of their shirts. In fact, their singular goal is the leadership of a political party led by the country’s richest man, and their rhetoric completely lacks ideological vision. Meanwhile, credible rumors claim Thaksin single-handedly finances the red shirts’ operations and incentivizes participation in rural areas with cash.

At the same time, red shirt support appears to be genuinely rooted in communities in central, north and northeast Thailand, and their narrative is one of the marginalized poor seeking a piece of the economic and political pie, while holding up the figurehead of Thaksin as the one who can deliver. Finding a category for the red shirts on the increasingly problematic left-right spectrum is difficult. Whether or not those interested in social justice choose to support the red shirts, making the decision with an understanding of the complex political context is crucial.

With multiple, conflicting reports of both sides having decentralized decision-making versus obeying orders from their leadership, it is largely unclear how unified or authentic either side is. Putting it crudely, the red shirts represent the “business right” supported by the genuine aspirations of the rural poor, while the PDRC represents the “military/monarchist right” and cultural elite, supported by urban professionals and workers.

The Future of Electoral Democracy

Internationally, the left has been debating how to, or whether to, engage with electoral democracy for generations. Liberal democracy is imbued with a tension between the primacy of democracy as a method for choosing governments and the desire to see one’s political side govern. That tension reaches a critical point when a democratic actor cannot have both.

In Thailand, we see the Democrat Party and a host of allied protest groups, their names littered with the D-word, fighting for a non-democratic government in the name of democracy. This phenomenon is a product of national winner-takes-all elections in which everyone in a certain area can share a political opinion, making them feel as though their opinion is popular and valid, despite representing a minority in the whole country.

Perpetual losses at the polls generate a dilemma for those minority-position groups that also claim to believe in democracy where the question becomes: which is more important, your political goals or the practice of democracy? The situation in Thailand represents an acute example of this dilemma. The Democrats believe the Shinawatra family is corrupt and is bleeding the country, but found themselves unable to win elections to fix the problem. They fell back on a common argument — that their opponents win elections on the ballots of ignorant “takers” and poor, bribed voters. If the Shinawatras and their influence were purged and the poor were better educated, democracy would have a chance, they say. The Democrat Party’s solution: abandon democracy to achieve their political goals, a move they ultimately frame as saving democracy.

Of course, there are other ways of defining and performing democracy apart from national winner-take-all elections, but parliamentary and winner-take-all systems are the validated types of political democracy in the world today. The upheaval in Thailand reveals a crisis in liberal democracy that is not particular to Thailand. Indeed, the crisis of democracy in Thailand may have implications for the future of democracies everywhere. Economic stagnation, political impasse and ecological destruction create a sense of urgency that is driving political opinions away from the center. The further people’s political positions diverge and the more intolerant they become of one another’s, the less likely they are to passively accept their opponents in national office. At the same time, the more divergent political opinions get, the harder it becomes to win national elections.

For example, the rise of the “Tea Party” faction within (and increasingly without) the Republican Party may be the embryo of a Thai-style crisis in the US. Tea Partiers have political views that are extreme enough to dis-align them with mainstream Republicans, but those same extreme views foreclose on their chances of winning a national election. (Demographic trends indicate the entire Republican Party may face this problem before long.)

The Tea Party continues to walk the line between political party and social movement, but they have powerful funders and allies in the country’s business elite, who find themselves less and less tolerant of moderate government policies. The US right’s defense and ownership of the term “democracy” as a truly “American” principle of the founding fathers — while nevertheless attacking the democratically elected president for being, among other things, a fascist, a socialist, and a tyrant — is eerily similar to the floating meaning of democracy in Thailand. Perhaps tellingly, a Thai NDRC protestor quoted by The New York Times in January compared the anti-government “shutdown” of Bangkok to the Tea Party-sponsored US “government shutdown” of October 2013.

Meanwhile, many around the world were startled by the spectacular success of neo-fascist right-wing parties in the 2014 European Parliament elections. While some analysts have argued that this episode is a facet of European elections, where turnout is low, right-wing parties have been increasingly successful in national elections in Europe as well, using populist rhetoric and supporting good jobs and social welfare for nationals. Increased success at the polls will whet right-wingers’ appetites for state power, but fortunately their ability to win national majorities is still dubious. However, this might exacerbate the same tension driving the Thai crisis of democracy, where the right feels popular, but must either settle for perpetual marginalization or abandon democracy outright.

In and of itself, the potential of the radical right to abandon liberal democracy to achieve its own goals is nothing new. But when they hit the streets in mass mobilizations, brandishing left symbols and shouting about democracy, we can’t be fooled into thinking we are all on the same team. Electoral democracy seems increasingly unable to handle the widening and hardening political views of citizens. The less voting is a satisfactory outlet for people’s frustrations, the more those on all sides will turn to social movements and direct action to obtain their political objectives.

Building Power, Not Just Fighting It

Among other lessons, Thailand serves as a reminder that the left is not the only side opposing the status quo. As the military state crumbled Egypt in 2011, the well-organized Muslim Brotherhood was able to take advantage of the vacuum, and the pushback to their short-lived regime set the stage for the return of the military to power. In Thailand, the red shirts have had an enormous capacity for mobilizing and direct action, but their success has been limited by their single-minded support for Thaksin. The red shirts’ focus on putting one family in office has hamstrung possible attempts to build power in communities in a way that could sustain their power in the face of a countermovement backed by the military. For them, the ability to mobilize to topple the government in an acute moment of crisis has not been sufficient to push their agenda and achieve their goals of a better standard of living for the rural poor.

On the left, we sometimes view the far-right as being allied with the state, and of course in many cases they are. But there are groups seeking the fall of the state, as well as groups that would take advantage of a sudden collapse, which have an entirely different vision of a future society. As with Thailand, the side the military falls on matters, and that rarely bodes well for the left. In the absence of strong, interconnected, prefigurative organizing, the collapse of the current system is an invitation to better organized – and much better armed – forces on the right, especially as their tactics, rhetoric and style look more and more like ours.

Organizing is essential, and our organizing must be based in our communities and our workplaces, connected to each other through active solidarity, and staunchly based in principles of egalitarianism, freedom, and liberation from all forms of oppression. Without it, our mobilization alone runs the grave risk of opening the door to even more authoritarian forces, or worse, losing sight of which side is which in the exhilarating fog of a revolution.

Ben Case is a political organizer and activist from New Jersey and a PhD student in Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh. He spent time in Thailand between 2007 and 2010 and has written about the ongoing struggle there, as well as on revolutionary movements in Egypt, Iraq, Libya and India. He is co-founder of Think: International and Human Security, and is a member of Organization for a Free Society.

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Ferguson in Context: Anti-Police Brutality Organizing in 1960s St. Louis

Anti-Police Brutality Organizing in 1960s St. Louis
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by BRYAN WINSTON

The sustained protests and direct action from people in Ferguson, Missouri have changed the debate on police brutality and received substantive responses from government.  Street demonstrations and targeted property destruction have shook a white governing structure that has become alarmed by collective action amongst blacks.  St. Louis – or Ferguson for that matter – is not well known for militancy, but it has created a spark for a burgeoning movement against police brutality and extrajudicial killings.  Even the video-taped police murder of Eric Garner in New York City in July has not seen a strong collective response – Reverend Al Sharpton recently backed down on a plan to hold a march over a city bridge at the request of the police commissioner and Mayor.

But people in Ferguson have taken things to a new level.  Piven and Cloward’s old adage rings deafening: “A placid poor get nothing, but a turbulent poor sometimes get something.”

The local police have officially been taken off the case, the FBI is investigating the situation, and President Obama – not a figure typically critical of cops – has condemned police abuses.  The protests have also pushed conversations about the militarization of the police into mainstream news sources.  Although it may seem surprising that unrest has grown in a suburb of a city like St. Louis, it is not out of line with the city’s rich history of collective struggle.  Nor is the murder of Michael Brown without historical precedent.  It is worth looking back on a long lineage of police violence and collective struggle in St. Louis to better understand what is happening now.  Struggle during the Civil Rights era is case in point.

Police Violence During the Civil Rights Era

Police brutality in St. Louis during the 1960s was met with a vibrant movement of resistance.  Throughout this period, black St. Louisans challenged police violence with myriad tactics that ranged from legislative change to direct action.  Street demonstrations, legislation, community meetings, and confrontations with the police were an important part of defending African Americans from police violence.  Shootings and death were the worst violence inflicted on these communities, but police harassment also took the form of beatings, arbitrary stops and racial insults.  Police were enforcers of a white power structure in the 1960s and continue to enforce racial lines in highly segregated St. Louis.

“Down with trigger-happy cops” read signs at a demonstration convened to protest the shooting of a black youth by a 74-year-old white police officer in the all black St. Louis suburb of Kinloch in 1962.  The protest in Kinloch took place in the same streets that had witnessed massive civil unrest just the night before, as mostly young adults demonstrated and rebelled.  A 300-strong mob marched to city hall and the police station, starting fires along the way.  Angered citizens shot at the police station and the police chief’s home was set on fire.  This condemnation of the police reflected many community members’ feelings, and afterwards, Kinloch citizens adopted a six-point program to ease tensions.  The program advocated for mandatory training of police officers and placement of citizens on the police board.[i]  The immediate outrage, direct attacks on the police, picketing, and demands for reform in Kinloch mimicked the long-term strategies of the larger movement against police brutality in St. Louis during the 1960s.  Activists and organizations tackled a multitude of issues facing African Americans in the postwar era, contributing to a vibrant Black Freedom movement.[ii]  One pressing issue addressed by this movement was a police force that disrupted and destabilized life in the African American community through intimidation, racial slurs, restriction of movement, and violence.  St. Louisans countered police abuse and sought to change the police force with a diverse movement that transformed as the decade progressed.  Local chapters of the NAACP and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) along with organizations specific to St. Louis, such as the Action Committee to Improve Opportunities for Negroes (ACTION) and the Black Liberators, addressed police brutality.  In addition, unorganized community action that took the form of civil unrest, spontaneous demonstrations, property destruction, and attacks on officers were all an integral part of the St. Louis movement against police brutality.  Many of these tactics have emerged in the effort to bring justice for the murder of Michael Brown.

African Americans were the victims of police shootings in 1960, 1962, 1963, and multiple instances in 1965.  In 1965, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) produced a troubling report after examining the preceding two years of police records pertaining to firearm use.  The St. Louis Civil Liberties Committee was alarmed with the frequency with which police fired their weapons unprovoked, and particularly alarmed when officers did not have strong suspicion that a felony had been committed.  The absence of disciplinary action against the police force for this violent lack of discretion was dangerous for the black community.[iii]  A lack of disciplinary action against violent police officers continues to fuel a reckless police force and community outrage today.

While police shootings were the most visible transgressions against black St. Louisans, police abuse took many different forms, with everyday stops and intimidation.  The police force introduced plainclothes officers in 1966, which resulted in a wave of street stops and interrogations and these new policing tactics enforced segregation and curtailed freedom of movement among black citizens.[iv]  The president of the board of police commissioners, Col. Dowd, articulated exactly what the police were doing in black neighborhoods; at an NAACP workshop, he asserted, “everyone going home late at night is suspect by police,” as he justified racial profiling.[v]  Racial slurs often accompanied stops and arrests.[vi]  To African Americans, the role of the police was not one of protector, but as an enforcer of the segregated white power structure of St. Louis.

In response to this period of pronounced police violence and racial discrimination a diverse movement of St. Louisans began to organize, gaining steam among civil rights organizations in St. Louis as the decade progressed.  Groups made substantial strides in the middle of the decade to bring widespread attention to the issue.

The shooting of Melvin Cravens in 1965 outraged Black St. Louisans.  The 17-year-old youth was mercilessly shot while handcuffed at the 9th District police station.  This prompted action from the NAACP as they formally protested to municipal officials and demanded investigations into the shooting, while CORE carried this response further by advocating for a civilian review board of the police.[vii]  The NAACP and CORE envisioned a safer police force through civilian oversight and stronger community involvement.  At the same time, ACTION led pickets at the Deer Street police station showcasing the model of disruptive action to bring change.[viii]  The diversity of opinions and strategies between groups resulted in a stronger and more varied movement to advocate for the end of police brutality.  ACTION and CORE responded to a third shooting in the fall of 1965 with a 250-strong demonstration at city hall and police headquarters.  Leaders of the NAACP and other organizations rearticulated policy suggestions they believed would reduce tensions, while Mayor Alfonso Cervantes promised investigations into claims of brutality.[ix]  The different groups coalesced as a multi-organizational attack on racism and violence within the policing institution of St. Louis.

The increased militancy of the Black Freedom Movement coincided with the emergence of Black Power and Black Nationalist groups in St. Louis that fought police brutality to increase black community control.  The Black Liberators were the most prominent Black Nationalist group of St. Louis, but half a dozen others also surfaced during this time.[x]  The Liberators, similar to the Black Panther Party, patrolled their neighborhoods to protect the community from violence.[xi]   Civilian review boards and black officers, the solutions advocated by CORE and the NAACP, were not enough for the Liberators, who believed that the way to regain community control was through removal of the police and their violence from black neighborhoods.  The Liberators’ ten beliefs and five objectives demanded:

“2. We want every Black person to be free to live without being discriminated against for being Black. 3. We want an end to Negro and white policemen killing our people in the streets. 4. We want an end to policemen patrolling Black communities… (and they sought) 4. To establish a Black guard which will protect the Black community from racist cops.” [xii]

Their beliefs can be viewed as an organizational form of the indignity expressed during urban uprisings and protests against police brutality.

Civil unrest, along with spontaneous protests and attacks on police officers (like the uprising in Kinloch in 1962) also took place as a form of African Americans’ rejection of police brutality and an attempt to assert power in their community.  Violence, disruption, and property damage is often regarded as an expression of power by the working poor and should be viewed this way in St. Louis.[xiii]  Large-scale civil unrest exploded in June of 1964, this time in North St. Louis.  After police officers beat two black youths, a crowd of 500 to 750 people threw bricks and bottles at police cars and police officers.  Fifty people split off from the group and attacked the 9th district police station, directly targeting the institutional base of their anger.  Over the course of the night, 15 officers were injured as the community demanded control of their streets.[xiv]  Area residents almost unanimously supported the actions taken against the police and even those that did not participate thought the neighborhood youth were justified in fighting back.[xv]  Members of the community spoke to a local black newspaper and connected their struggle against police to fighting racism and the national Black Freedom Movement.  Residents remarked, “all of us are getting tired of being shoved around by these white policemen,” and “this ain’t Alabama”, as they denounced the police.[xvi]  Such a massive response, focused mainly on police, clearly names the tension between the African American community and police officers.  The outrage witnessed in Ferguson resembles the same reflection of a community consistently confronted by police and their violence.  This was not an isolated incident, but the worst culmination of a system that treats people of color as second-class citizens.

Smaller spontaneous outbursts were also part of the unorganized response to police brutality.  Black St. Louisans attacked police officers on three separate occasions throughout July following the North St. Louis uprising of 1964.  Each altercation occurred after an attempted arrest, as crowds gathered to survey the scene.  To show disapproval of police behavior the groups struck police cars and threw objects at officers.[xvii]  Large gatherings to oversee arrests and attacks on officers continued in 1965, as black St. Louisans expressed their demand for community control.  On separate occasions, crowds of about 300 people attacked officers responding to disturbance calls.[xviii]  The consistency of these actions demonstrates more than just anger, but an organic strategy to counter police violence.

St. Louisans addressed police brutality in a multitude of ways, as they contextualized the widespread police violence they were experiencing within the larger critique of inequality advanced by the Black Freedom Movement.  At the organizational and grassroots levels, they managed to bring attention to police brutality through legislative campaigns, concrete suggestions for reform and accountability, increased media exposure, protest, community patrols, and direct confrontation with police.  Looking at the history of St. Louis we can see that protests and disruption in Ferguson are an effort to stop police brutality and to seek justice for Michael Brown.  The 1960s movement’s creation of a new and multifaceted space of contestation amplified a multitude of voices opposed to police brutality, and has allowed us to better understand methods of resistance to police violence in St. Louis.

Bryan Winston is a PhD student of history at St. Louis University, with an emphasis on 20th century U.S. history.  This work is the result of extensive research of 1960s St. Louis and has been presented at the Missouri Conference on History.

Notes.


[i] Robert Jackson, “Pickets Label Kinloch Police ‘Trigger Happy’,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, September 26, 1962, Negro Scrapbook, Vol. 2, Missouri Historical Society and Research Center (MHS); “Kinloch Calm after Mob Violence and Shootings.” St. Louis Argus, September 28, 1962, 1, 4A; “Aged Couple Flees Home to Avert Flames,” Globe-Democrat, Negro Scrapbook, Vol. 2 MHS; Clarence Lang, Grassroots at the Gateway: Class Politics and Black Freedom Struggle in St. Louis, 1936-75 (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2009), 151.

[ii] For the Black Freedom Movement in St. Louis see: George Lipsitz, A Life in the Struggle: Ivory Perry and the Culture of Opposition (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988); Kenneth Jolly, Black Liberation in the Midwest: The Struggle in St. Louis Missouri, 1964-1970 (New York: Routledge, 2006); Lang, Grassroots at the Gateway.

[iii] “Youth Shot in Stolen Automobile,” Argus, September 23, 1960, 4A; “2 Police Cars Damaged When Autos Collide,” Argus, February 15, 1963, 1, 4A; “Policemen Shoots Youth,” Argus, September, 10, 1965, 1; Buddy Lonesome,  “Youth-Handcuffed-Shot to Death By a Policeman Here: NAACP Demands Inquiry!,” Argus, June 18, 1965, 1, 4A; “NAACP Police Meeting turns into Lively Affair,” Argus, September 17, 1965; St. Louis Civil Liberties Committee to Board of Police Commissioners, November 23, 1965, ACLU of Eastern Missouri Papers, Series 2, Subseries 1, Box 2, Folder 2, University Archives, Department of Special Collections, Washington University Libraries (WU).

[iv] John W. Kinsella, “Police Dressed as Civilians Put into Crime Fight,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 19, 1966, ACLU of Eastern Missouri Papers, Series 2, Subseries 4, Box 4, Folder 2, WU; Frank Leeming Jr., “Anti-crime Unit Arrests 16 on First Night”, Post-Dispatch, January 20, 1966, ACLU of Eastern Missouri Papers, Series 2, Subseries 4, Box 4, Folder 2, WU.

[v] “Police Head Stop Frisk Will Continue,” St. Louis Argus, February 11, 1966, 1,4A.

[vi] “African says policeman was Insulting, Rude,” Argus, January 4, 1963, 1,4A; St. Louis Civil Liberties Committee, “Report on City of St. Louis Police Complaint Practices,” June 2, 1967, ACLU of Eastern Missouri Papers, Series 2, Subseries 4, Box 4, Folder 2, WU; “ACTION Members Say Police Beat, Harassed Them,” St. Louis Argus, June 16, 1967, 1,4A.

[vii] Buddy Lonesome, “Rights Groups Oppose Cop Slaying of Handcuffed Youth: Urban League, NAACP, ACTION, Alderman Act,” St. Louis Argus, June 25, 1965, 1,4A; Lonesome, “Youth-Handcuffed-Shot to Death By a Policeman Here: NAACP Demands Inquiry!,” Argus, June 18, 1965, 1, 4A.

[viii] Carol Thomas, “Pickets Protest – But Police Demonstration Fizzles: Less than 75 Appear at 9th District,”, Argus, July 2, 1965, 1,4A.

[ix] “Call For Review Board After Police Shootings”, St. Louis Argus, September 24, 1965, 1,4A; “Policeman Shoots Youth,” Argus, September 10, 1965, 1.

[x] Jolly, Black Liberation in the Midwest, 71-96; For Black Panther Party concepts of community control see Philip. S Foner, ed., The Black Panthers Speak (New York: De Capo Press, 1970)

[xi] Ibid, 74-75.

[xii] Jolly, 73.

[xiii] For examples of everyday resistance and disruption as an expression of power in the United States, particularly among African Americans, see: Robin Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class (New York: The Free Press, 1994); Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward, Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail (New York: Vintage Books, 1979)

[xiv] Lonesome, “NAACP to Meet Sat; League Acts,” Argus, July 10, 1964, 1,4A; “4 Gas Bombs Hurled into Negro Crowd,” Globe-Democrat, July 7, 1964, Negro Scrapbook, Vol. 2, MHS.

[xv] Lonesome, “Youngsters Formed Hard Core of Gang,” Argus, July 10, 1964, 1,4A.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] “St. Louis Police Fight Off Crowds After Arrests” Argus, July 31, 1964, 8B.

[xviii] Lonesome, “Youth-Handcuffed-Shot to Death By a Policeman Here: NAACP Demands Inquiry!,” Argus, June 18, 1965, 1, 4A.

 

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