[News] From Policing to SWAT Teams - Challenging a Militarized Police State in the US
news at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 22 12:32:03 EDT 2014
May 22, 2014
*From Policing to SWAT Teams*
Challenging a Militarized Police State in the US
by KENT PATERSON
When the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and other law enforcement
agencies cracked down on protestors March 30, 2014, the city's finest
rolled out a military-style force.
Chanting "No Justice, No Peace," the revved-up marchers were protesting
the March 16 shooting death of homeless camper James Boyd, a man with
mental health problems, and more than a dozen other men since 2010, many
of whom also reportedly suffered from mental illness.
As the evening progressed, the police reacted in front of the University
of New Mexico (UNM). Equipped with gas masks, body armor, batons and
automatic rifles, they deployed officers on horseback, a SWAT Team and a
pair of armored vehicles. After confronting shouting protestors, the APD
released tear gas, which seeped into campus dormitories.
March 30 wasn't the first time that local cops forcibly broke up a
militant if largely peaceful demonstration. In October 2011, police
dismantled the local manifestation of Occupy Wall Street, while in March
2003, APD cops mounted on horseback charged at anti-Iraq war protestors
and fired tear gas that drifted across a UNM-area neighborhood and into
While such police actions in New Mexico and the United States are
nothing new, the country's law enforcement apparatus keeps sharpening
its technological edge and finessing force deployment capabilities.
*War at Home*
In the big picture, domestic policing has evolved hand-in-hand with
foreign military interventions over the decades, further shaped by elite
policies of social and racial control, corporate expansion and the
suppression of challenges to the power structure.
Growing up in 1960s' Albuquerque, Southwest Organizing Project organizer
Joaquin Lujan recalls rough cops, some of whom were recruited from the
state of Oklahoma and assigned to police an unfamiliar, Spanish-speaking
"The people that were being beat up were people of my culture,
indigenous people, Chicanos," Lujan says. "We were faced with a whole
lot of police brutality throughout Albuquerque and throughout the barrios."
Decades later, Lujan says complaints of police brutality and deadly
force have moved out of the barrio and across the entire city, touching
different social strata and marginalized groups like the homeless and
Paul Eichorn, who runs an Albuquerque food assistance program for needy
persons including Vietnam and Gulf war veterans, was struck by a police
video that showed the killing of James Boyd by officers who were
"barking commands" at the troubled man like they were in a war scenario.
"Our APD cops are too violent, and I think it goes back to probably
their training as soldiers," Eichorn ventured.
While the full histories of the officers involved in the Boyd shooting
have yet to be disclosed, in other recent Albuquerque cases either the
police shooters or the victims were suffering from PTSD acquired from
military service. Toss in substance abuse and domestic violence and a
volatile social cocktail is brewing on the streets.
An April 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) concluded
that a majority of 20 fatal APD shootings between 2009 and 2012 violated
constitutional and civil rights.
"This level of unjustified, deadly force by the police poses
unacceptable risks to the Albuquerque community," the DOJ wrote to Mayor
The report also cited violations in 200 cases of less deadly force
randomly examined by the DOJ in the same period, especially regarding
the use of Tasers.
On May 5, Cinco de Mayo, Albuquerque activists staged a historic
takeover of the city council meeting to protest inaction on police
shootings. The residents then formed the People's Assembly
of Albuquerque, which passed three resolutions in the
council chambers that called for the sacking of the city's police chief,
expressed no confidence in the mayor and chief administrative
officer and demanded an independent police oversight commission.
*A Nationwide Problem*
In good measure, the Albuquerque violence might be considered the
domestic fallout from imperial wars and forays. New Mexico's largest
city is far from alone on this score.
In Memphis, Tennessee, for instance, 23 people were killed by local
police in 2012 and 2014, according the Memphis Black Autonomy Federation
(MBAF). For any U.S. city, the death toll represented "the largest
number of people killed by police in this time period," the group states
in a recent report.
A MBAF summary documents the deaths of 20-year-old Jeremy McGraven,
shot in the back by the police while allegedly driving a stolen
vehicle; 54-year-old Delois Epps and her 13-year-old daughter, Makayla
Ross, killed in a car crash blamed on a Memphis police officer who was
speeding through the streets without a siren or activated flashers ; and
Andrew Dumas, 32, incinerated after officers tossed chemical tear gas
into a home in which he was hiding, causing a fire that also damaged
several neighboring homes.
Strikingly, several incidents in Albuquerque resemble episodes in
Memphis in the way people were killed by police officers.
Allegations or proven instances of officer-committed sexual violence are
other common threads in New Mexico and Tennessee. Last month, Las
Cruces, New Mexico police detective Michael Garcia, who investigated sex
crimes, reached a plea deal in a federal prosecution stemming from the
rape of a 17-year-old department intern.
U.S. police violence has grabbed the attention of the United Nations. At
a March 2014 meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, the UN Human Rights
Committee (UNHRC) determined that the United States had incurred in 25
violations of the International Convention on Civil and Political
Rights, including racial profiling, police violence and criminalization
of the homeless.
Bay Area journalist Adam Hudson wrote that the UNHRC's review elevated
"the suffering inflicted by U.S. domestic and foreign policies to the
realm of international human rights." Washington, Hudson continued,
regularly chastises foreign nations for human rights abuses but "has yet
to clean its own house."
The UNHRC's report examined militarization and the surveillance state,
noting for example, the pervasive NSA eavesdropping on citizen
communications, and the use of lethal force by the U.S. Custom and
The New Mexico-based ACLU Regional Center for Border Rights pinpoints
U.S. border zones as other hotspots of law enforcement violence.
According to the civil liberties advocates, at least 27 individuals were
killed along the southern and northern borders of CBP agents from
January 2010 to early 2014, while a 28^th person in CPB custody died
due to inadequate medical attention.
Among the victims, the Regional Center identifies seven minors as well
as a U.S. citizen mother of five who was gunned down by an agent during
an altercation. Six of the victims were killed while on Mexican
territory, including three teenagers ranging in ages from 15 to 17.
*From Policing to SWAT Teams*
According to Hudson, police militarization has been on the upswing ever
since the Nixon administration, a time when SWAT teams emerged as a
response to civil conflict.
In 1981 Military Cooperation and Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies Act
was passed during a period when Washington was renewing support for
Latin American death squads and hatching CIA plots to overthrow leftist
governments in Nicaragua, Angola and other nations deemed contrary to
U.S. interests by the Reagan administration.
Akin to the FBI's infamous COINTELPRO program aimed at disrupting and
neutralizing the anti-war and social movements of the 1960s and 1970s,
government spying and other forms of harassment were directed against
Central America solidarity activists. Later, police targeting of Occupy
Wall Street and other activists was also exposed. Most recently, some
Albuquerque anti-police violence activists report being watched, trailed
or stopped by cops.
After the collapse of the socialist bloc, the militarization of policing
continued in the War on Terror, the War on Immigrants and the War on
Drugs. Perhaps not coincidentally, the modern stages of U.S. foreign
policy always saw new pipelines opening up for the importation of
illegal drugs into the U.S , along with the redefinition of law
enforcement and the expansion of SWAT teams across the land.
To suit the times, police training and grooming acquired a militaristic
edge and belligerent philosophy.
New Mexico resident Lucille Cordova has seen many sides of the coin. A
former organizer of prisoners' families, Cordova recalls a brother who
was thinking of switching from the military to civilian law enforcement
but opted to remain with Uncle Sam after an exposure to an 18-week
training, or "indoctrination," with a Texas sheriff's department that
taught new recruits to consider themselves "the elite of the elite" in
an "us vs. them" struggle against the population.
Broadening the debate on policing, recent front-page articles in the
/Albuquerque Journal/ documented how the national security gravy train
delivers billions of dollars of Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
grants to local law enforcement agencies for equipment acquisitions and
other purposes. The Department of Defense is part of the game, handing
over "surplus" military hardware like armored personnel carriers to
local police forces virtually for free.
Even the small and medium sized New Mexican communities of Los Alamos,
Farmington and Deming have recently added mine-resistant ambush
protected vehicles or armored personnel carriers to their police
In neighboring El Paso, Texas, which has consistently ranked as among
the safest three U.S. cities during the last several years, $773,000 in
federal grant money allowed the local police department to purchase
1,145 M-4 assault rifles in 2010, the/El Paso Times/ reported.
*DHS Mission Creep?*
Critics say the DHS represents a classic case of mission creep,
expanding its mission into multiple facets of civilian law enforcement,
with its overall budget soaring from $29 billion in 2002 to $61 billion
in 2014, according to the Journal.
Even former Bush administration Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge
was taken aback by the DHS' evolution.
"They've kind of lost their way..," Ridge was quoted by the
/Journal./ "I'm trying to figure out why these local communities need
Humvees...they could probably use a couple of more patrolman rather than
another military vehicle."
Yet, like the DOD-defense contractor revolving door, money is to be made
in the business of policing.
Dubbed Tasergate by some pundits, Albuquerque is now engrossed by the
news that former Police Chief Ray Schultz negotiated a deal with Taser
International to supply his department with nearly $2 million in
equipment prior to the chief's departure from office last year.
Shortly thereafter, Schultz emerged as a paid consultant to the company,
according to local media accounts.
*Wave of Activism Against Police Brutality*
In Albuquerque, police violence has triggered the biggest wave of
activism in the New Mexico city since the early 1970s.
Since the shooting of James Boyd, activists have marched in the streets,
packed City Council and DOJ meetings, conducted vigils, organized
community forums, and prepared petitions to remove the mayor and convene
grand juries that will indict officers. Citizens are participating in
the DOJ's current goal of writing a consent decree that will impose new
recruitment standards, training, oversight policies, and standard
operating procedures on the APD.
Street protests have drawn hundreds of young people who are cutting
their teeth in activism and civil disobedience.
At an April forum held at the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice,
activists formulated nearly 40 short-term and long-term demands.
Significantly, the proposals call for the demilitarization of the
policing, zero tolerance for racial profiling and citizen oversight of
the police department.
Only a few hours away on the U.S.-Mexico border, groups like the ACLU's
Regional Center for Border Rights likewise call for independent
oversight of the Border Patrol.
The UNHRC's report on the state of human rights in the U.S., affords the
CBP "an opportunity for comprehensive reform if they're serious about
preventing unnecessary deaths and injuries," says Regional Center
Director Vicki B. Gaubeca.
In the wider context, last month's Albuquerque meeting highlighted
structural changes urgently needed: adequate services for returning
veterans and other people with mental health issues; increased funding
for social services like substance abuse prevention and treatment; the
right to housing; the full funding of schools; and an end to the
Two weeks later, speaking at the site where her former student,
19-year-old Mary Hawkes, was shot to death by the APD on April 21,
Albuquerque educator Carolina Acuna-Olvera summed up the sentiment of
many in the movement:
"We're already spending billions of dollars going to war around the
world, but can't feed kids."
The events in Albuquerque bring into sharp focus many fundamental issues
as part and parcel of an inseparable package. Whether activists will be
successful in winning changes is still far from certain, given the
historic impunity connected to police shootings and instances of brutality.
While the City of Albuquerque has paid out nearly $30 million in
wrongful death and excessive force lawsuits during the past few years,
no police officer has gone to jail for a shooting. And in the seven
weeks following James Boyd's shooting, the same number of additional
officer-involved shootings-three of them fatal-have shaken Albuquerque
and nearby Los Lunas.
Besides APD officers, New Mexico state policemen and U.S. marshals have
been behind the triggers in the latest shootings.
Still, many residents say the city has a historic opportunity to change
the course of police-community relations, reassert democratic controls
over law enforcement and respond to a deluge of worsening social
problems that threaten to tear society apart.
"This is widespread," said Nora Tachias-Anaya of the October 22
Coalition, one of the groups participating in the Albuquerque movement.
"This is national, and we know it, but I strongly believe New Mexico is
going to make the difference."
/*Kent Paterson* writes for Frontera NorteSur <http://fnsnews.nmsu.edu/>.
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the News