Reversing The Gaze: What Is Left For The Police To Kill In A Morally Corrupt Nation?

by Ruchir 'Ferrero' Sharma - Jun 3, 2020 12:44 AM +05:30 IST
Reversing The Gaze: What Is Left For The Police To Kill In A Morally Corrupt Nation?George Floyd protests, Columbus (Wikimedia Commons) 
  • In the second part of our analysis on the violent protests rocking the United States, our special correspondent on reversing the colonial gaze traces the regime’s history of militarised violence against its own citizens, and how the rest of the world can respond to protect human rights in this fragile democracy.

    Ruchir Sharma continues in the spirit of Josh Keating’s satirical “If it happened there” series, with a wink to a certain ‘Washington Post’ correspondent’s recent take on India.

The History of Militarisation and Mobilisation of the State against Citizens

The history of the militarisation of police forces across the U.S. arose from the country’s colonial experience occupying the Philippines in the early 20th century, where counter-insurgency tactics were adopted to crush local resistance with extreme violence.

This led to adopting similar tactics and weapons among domestic police forces, particularly with the sensitive race relations at the time owing to state-enforced segregation between the white majority and the ‘coloureds’ minority.

This came to a boil in 1965 when a case of police brutality against an African-American man in Los Angeles, California, led to the Watts Rebellion — six days of protests within the city.

The Chief of Police, William H. Parker, compared the protesters to the Viet Cong guerrillas the US was fighting in Vietnam, and demanded a paramilitary response.

This led to 4,000 troops of the California Army National Guard being deployed to quell the protests, killing 34 and injuring over 1,000 protesters.

This Cold War mentality of seeing citizens protesting for civil rights as equivalents or surrogates of communist enemies abroad was a major reason for the adoption of counter-insurgency tactics across the country in the years that followed.

This deranged mentality exists even today, as the country’s politicians and the corporate media claimed that Russia sowed the seeds for activism such as the Black Lives Matter movement, in order to destabilise the 2016 elections.

This militarised approach to policing came to a boil again in the 1967 Detroit riots, wherein a police raid on a bar, led to five days of street violence between protesters and regime authorities. In the end, two Airborne Divisions of the U.S. Army, the Michigan Army National Guard, Michigan State Police and Detroit Police Department were deployed to quell the riots, leading to 40 deaths and over 1,000 injured, mostly African-Americans.

In 1985, the militarisation of police reached new heights, quite literally, as aerial attacks were authorised for the first time. The Philadelphia Police Department in Pennsylvania attacked the headquarters of the black liberation and animal rights organisation MOVE.

In scenes that would not look out of place in the Syrian Civil War, the police bombed the homes of its own citizens from a helicopter and shot those who tried to escape the carnage.

This led to 11 deaths, including five children, as well as the incineration of a minority neighbourhood, home to 65 households. The police even prevented firefighters from accessing the site, leaving 240 people homeless.

The Democratic Mayor of Philadelphia claimed the victims were a ‘terrorist group’, and went on to win a second term at the helm of what came to be known as ‘the city that bombed itself’.

The 1992 Los Angeles riots, sparked by police brutality against a working-class African-American resident of the city named Rodney King, saw the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division deployed, including with armoured vehicles such as Humvees, adopted from the military’s experience in the invasion of Panama in 1989 and the Gulf War in 1990-91.

The five days of these riots resulted in 63 deaths and over 2,000 injured, sparking a conversation on race in a country celebrating the ‘end of history’ after winning the Cold War.

Policymakers in the U.S. may act as if militarisation is in response to new policing needs against ‘internal threats’, but they miss the symptom for the disease.

Riots and protests in the country remain the rare exception, and often flare up not as part of a planned conspiracy of foreign intelligence or home-grown subversives, but spontaneously in response to police brutality.

This brutality arises from a power imbalance which has existed since the foundation of the state, and has simply been rendered more effective through equipping police with automatic weapons, armoured vehicles, and counter-insurgency tactics against civilian populations.

What has changed now, owing to social media and the penetration of camera phones, is that more and more cases of police brutality upon individual citizens are being documented and revealed to the public.

In the 21st century, there are numerous examples of what some commentators have called the U.S.A.’s own ‘one country, two systems’ model in terms of the difference in treatment that unarmed black civilians receive from American police compared to white mass shooters.

On one hand, George Floyd was pinned down by multiple officers and choked to death while gasping, “I can’t breathe” for allegedly using fake currency.

On the other hand, the white mass shooter at a Charleston church, Dylann Roof, was apprehended alive and unharmed after killing nine black worshippers with a handgun, and after his arrest, the police dispatched an officer to Burger King to fetch him a burger, since he claimed to have not eaten in days.

Readers in India may have heard of the 2015 incident of police brutality against Sureshbhai Patel, a senior citizen from India visiting his son’s family in Madison, Alabama, upon the birth of his grandson. While exploring his son’s neighbourhood, white neighbours called the police on Patel, claiming a suspicious ‘skinny black man’ was lurking around houses and looking at garages.

Police officer Eric Parker arrived on the scene, where Patel informed him that he was from India and did not speak English. Parker responded by slamming the elderly Patel face-first into the ground, rendering him paralysed.

To add insult to injury, local white residents created a fundraiser for Parker as the victim, seeking to raise $10,000 to help him fight his legal bills and suspension, and wrote messages of support describing him as ‘one of the good guys.’

In the end, not only was Parker acquitted of any violations by the police, three attempts to charge him in court led to two mistrials and a dismissal of the charges.

A parallel may be seen with General Reginald Dyer, the butcher of Jallianwalla Bagh, who was seen by white supremacists in India and the UK as the true victim of the tragedy he engineered, with Rudyard Kipling naming him ‘the man who saved India’, while the conservative Morning Post newspaper (later merged into The Daily Telegraph) ran a campaign which collected £26,000 (the equivalent of £1,052,047 today) for his benefit fund.

How should the global community respond, based on what the U.S. prescribes for other countries?

The philosopher-activist Srećko Horvat recently summarised the socio-economic system faced by the world today in most elegant terms — “the current system is more violent than any revolution”.

This is true of austerity snatching hopes, dreams, dignity, and lives of people in the European Union, of neo-imperialism and neo-colonialism robbing countries in the Global South of a chance to lift themselves out of poverty and revive cultural self-respect, and as we can see today, of an authoritarian police state in the Global North denying rights to the victims of its own violence and injustice.

Hence, any mere words of condolence or condemnation from U.S. politicians are nothing but a band-aid on a festering, gangrenous wound. We have seen for ourselves how precious little these words mean in the aftermath of every race riot and mass shooting in the country, and it is time to address this disease at its root.

Luckily, the political and media elite of the U.S. are experts in prescribing what other countries should do when faced with mass protests.

What is good for the patient must also be good for the doctor, so let us look into the various models and see which ones can be applied best.

Based on the U.S. response to China’s handling of the Hong Kong protests, first of all, other countries should consider issuing travel warnings to the U.S. Not that this would have much impact as things stand, since the regime’s egregious handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has already resulted in foreign travellers avoiding the country.

Another idea would be for countries to pass a United States Human Rights and Democracy Act, a law that requires their governments to impose sanctions against U.S. federal and state regime functionaries considered responsible for human rights abuses in the country, and requires their security and intelligence agencies to conduct an annual review to determine whether changes in civil rights within the U.S. justify changing trade policies with the country.

Norway can also consider nominating the leaders of the Minnesota protests for the Nobel Peace Price, as they did with the Hong Kong protesters, saying the movement deserved recognition ‘for its brave efforts’.

The U.K. recently unveiled a plan to offer a ‘path to citizenship’ for up to 3 million Hong Kongers if China continued with a new security law for the territory. Perhaps, they could consider a similar scheme for U.S. citizens escaping state persecution abroad.

Although seeing that the U.K.’s position on refugees fleeing state violence in Libya and Syria was to let them drown as an effective deterrent to migration, U.S. citizens may wish to wait before boarding a boat across the Atlantic.

What about the Iranian model?

On 12 January 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted,

To the leaders of Iran – DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free! Stop the killing of your great Iranian people!

The Iranian state, inspired by this masterful display of statesmanship and diplomacy, recently did respond to the riots in the U.S. in the same vein. In fact, Dr. Hesameddin Ashena, an advisor to President Rouhani, was stripped of his Twitter account for tweeting,

The brave American people have the right to protest against the ongoing terror inflicted on minorities, the poor, and the disenfranchised. You must bring an end to the racist and classist structures of governance in the U.S. We are watching closely!

As the European Parliament did in the case of the Iranian protests in 2019, countries can consider condemning the U.S. federal and state governments for their extensive use of force against peaceful protesters, call for an independent investigation into atrocities such as shooting at demonstrators, and condemn the police harassment of lawyers and journalists.

Angela Merkel’s spokesperson need only change one word in Germany’s statement on the protests in Iran to create the ideal statement of the hour, “It is legitimate and deserving of our respect when people courageously air their economic and political grievances, as is currently happening in the U.S.”

Perhaps, foreign powers should also fund media houses in the U.S. that ‘speak truth to power’ that employ leaders of the riots, channel money to militant groups, and declare all protesters, violent and non-violent as the ‘moderate opposition’ to the regime, deserving of treatment at an equal footing to the Trump administration in Washington D.C., and are invited to peace talks in Doha, Geneva, or Singapore.

The remedies prescribed for violent rioting in India is also quite educational for a fledgling state such as the U.S.A., without a long history of ethnic and religious harmony.

The country saw some very bold recommendations from abroad during the Delhi riots, with the wide neo-colonial powers and their regime change mafia suggesting the state cravenly surrender to all protester demands at the first sign of violence.

Surely, a tactic that would be well-received by the Islamist secessionists, funded by two rogue Middle Eastern states, who had occupied streets in the national capital, demanding a second partition of the country, a ‘Jinnah-style independence’, and the withdrawal of India’s most expansive and humanitarian refugee law that offers fast-track citizenship to religious minorities escaping persecution in neighbouring countries, similar to the U.S.A.’s Lautenberg Amendment for religious minorities in Iran.

Didn’t these pagan savages in power learn from Direct Action Day in 1946, that the best way to deal with violence is to submit and turn the other cheek?

They didn’t, well, the NYT and BBC is always around to whitesplain their ‘Ghandi’ to them.

Despite the Indian police forces showing remarkable restraint in dealing with these protests, in line with the colonial-era and Nehruvian policing standard that treats certain communities as endemically prone to violence and thus avoids serving warrants in ‘sensitive’ minority-dominated neighbourhoods for fear of ‘disturbing communal harmony’, the Western media portrayed the riots as a state-sponsored ‘pogrom’.

A range of foreign funded media portals and foreign intelligence assets rose to the defence of the violent rioters even as a young police officer named Ankit Sharma was abducted, stabbed, and lynched by the leaders of their Islamist movement.

The end goal was to portray a violent religious fundamentalist insurrection against a secular state that safeguards and uplifts minority rights at home and across the Indian subcontinent as legitimate struggle against a refugee law that would ‘strip millions of minorities of their citizenship’ and send them to ‘detention camps’.

Intriguingly, Minnesota is home to the city of St Paul, which has found itself in the news last month not just for the protests following George Floyd’s killing, but for a bizarre symbolic resolution passed by its city council.

In an act of supreme American exceptionalism and neo-colonial arrogance, a local government body of a town of less than 3,00,000 people passed a resolution attacking India’s sovereignty and the right of 1.3 billion people to manage their own internal affairs, as well as smearing a party based on the revival of indigenous knowledge systems and ways of life as ‘Islamophobic’.

Perhaps, these pagan savages did not get the memo that playing the saviour of refugees is a privilege only for Western countries.

Seeing as this precedent has now been set, perhaps, the Municipal Corporation of a similarly sized Indian city of Ratlam would like to pass a resolution on these lines,

Reaffirming Ratlam as a welcoming city, we express solidarity with the African-American community regardless of religion and social class by rejecting the Democratic Party in Minnesota’s racist and white supremacist ideology and policing norms, and opposing the U.S.A’s Patriot Act and Lautenberg Amendment.

Minnesota politician Ilhan Omar was at the forefront of this propaganda campaign. Perhaps, a similarly fringe figure from Indian politics, such as the local dada of Behrampada would like to paraphrase her statement, to say, “What’s happening right now in the U.S. is tragic, particularly for the country’s roughly 42 million African-Americans. But it’s also tragic for the U.S.A.’s future — both as a functioning and inclusive democracy”.

If Minnesotans are so keen on the tactic of giving up to protesters at the first sign of belligerence, there is a leader who would have great advice for them.

The last time a group of protesters was allowed by the state to carry out their demands in 1992, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Kaylan Singh, famously said of the aftermath, “No regret. No repentance. No sorrow. No grief.”

So the next time protesters burn down a police station or Gandhi Mahal restaurant in her home state, Ms. Omar now knows just the right words to say.

Finally, there exists one last option, often reserved as a parting gift for former British colonies or particularly recalcitrant non-aligned countries.

Great powers have often acted like their sovereignty and territorial integrity is sacrosanct, whereas the sovereign territory of the victims of superpower hegemony can be signed away with the stroke of the pen.

In order to avoid a civil war, they are told to accept partition — the occupation of their territory by whoever can successfully mobilise violence against the state.

Such was the fate of Cyprus, India, Ireland, Palestine, and Serbia, after all.

And they were then told that in order to be accepted into the civilised world, the onus was on them to make peace with these violent foreign client states on their territory.

Perhaps, if after 250 years of the U.S.A., the country has been unable to solve its inter-ethnic strife, the British could be called in to do what they do best in such a situation, run a thick red pen over an out-of-date map, and hope for the best.

As summarised best by the BBC series “Yes, Prime Minister”, “It has been argued by some people that the policy of partition always led to civil war. It certainly did in India and Cyprus and Palestine and Ireland. This was not a bad thing for Britain. It kept them busy and instead of fighting us they fought each other. This meant that it was no longer necessary to have a policy about them”.

Ruchir Sharma is an international public policy professional in the fields of police reform, counter-terrorism, and climate change. 

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