By Dhoruba Bin-Wahad
We have discussed this for years haven’t we? The militarization of American law enforcement has accompanied the racist and corporate right-wing consolidation of power in America that has taken place over the past 35 years.
It started with Vietnam-era government response in the 1960s to widespread urban rebellions and civil disobedience much like the rebellion presently occurring in Ferguson, Mo., that seemed to occur every summer.
In 1968, the government established the LEAA (Law Enforcement Assistance Association) to train local police in counterinsurgency and SWAT, while supplying them with military-grade equipment. This was the precursor to today’s government programs that turn over large quantities of surplus military equipment to wannabe special-ops soldiers that permeate today’s law enforcement establishment.
There was then, as now, a “carrot and stick” approach to our struggle against institutional White supremacy. What many people don’t fully appreciate is that this “historical” increased police militarization was accompanied by special laws such as the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act on the “stick” side and War on Poverty on the “carrot” side. The latter produced many of the anti-poverty pimps who would morph into local political leaders and politicians and Black entrepreneurs.
The Black comprador class back then was created to stem the rejection of “nonviolence” by Black youth and to misdirect the militant thrust of “Black Power” that gained traction with every Black youth murdered by police, or White-owned business burned out of the Black community. It was these Black opportunists who called for more intensified “policing” in the Black community (to fight crime) and who justified the foundation for the mass incarceration we face today.
The sad lesson that seems to emerge from Ferguson is that Black people have been cut off from this history and are therefore susceptible to machinations of the governor who appointed a Black cop to calm the people of Ferguson. The governor’s rationale? The Black cop grew up in Ferguson! People do not see this move as a sly deception.
For more than three decades, the call for community control and decentralization of police was opposed by police unions, Black politicians afraid of police unions helped mislead Black people into meaningless reforms such as toothless community complaint review boards, police sensitivity training and increasing minority presence on local police departments. All of which are patently meaningless reforms.
Today, despite all the Black cops on police forces around the country the institution of policing is more vicious, racist and reactionary than ever. It’s like the slaves are running the plantation system! Of course, the White media’s coverage of Police-Black community relations helped by defining the issues as questions of reform rather than institutional change.
Whenever we (old BPP/BLA, Black radicals and supporters of Black political prisoners) called for referendums to decentralize police and to establish residency provisions for cops patrolling our community, we were completely ignored—especially by so-called community activists and groups with their own self-serving agendas who didn’t want to do the work necessary to build broad coalitions dedicated to the abolition of institutional policing rather than reform of existing police departments.
On Black campuses, Black students prefer to mobilize reformist events based on revisionist analysis that proclaim “the New Jim Crow” as today’s plantation system and pay Black intellectuals honorariums to pontificate on their own political cowardice.
To this day, nowhere in America is there an organized Black mass movement to decentralize police and public safety, take over their local command and control structure, and to politically confront the power of the police unions, which politically protect and defend murderous cops and underscore racist institutional policing. Nowhere.
Yet many activists, Black leaders and all sorts of reactionary celebrities flock to Ferguson to be on the “front lines,” holding their press conferences, when in fact the front line between the people and militarized policing runs right through their own living rooms. We are bombarded with images of “looting” as if that’s significant.
Since when has stealing hair extensions and TVs expressed anything other than the opportunism of poverty born of material consumerism and ignorance? In comparison, the opportunism of many of those who came to Ferguson to project themselves as “Black leaders” is far more pernicious.
Dhoruba Bin-Wahad is a former political prisoner and Black Panther. This piece originally appeared on Aug. 17, 2014, on the blog site Hip Hop and Politics (www.hiphopandpolitics.com). Used with permission by Davey D, well-known journalist and hip hop activist. For more information, visit the blog site and/or contact Davey D at firstname.lastname@example.org.