[News] From Policing to SWAT Teams - Challenging a Militarized Police State in the US

Anti-Imperialist News 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


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 
mentally ill.

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 
Richard Berry.

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 
Border Protection.

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 
departments' arsenals.

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 
school-to-prison pipeline.

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 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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