Category Archives: violence

Parallels between Minneapolis and Jerusalem are More than Skin Deep

It is hard to ignore the striking parallels between the recent scenes of police brutality in cities across the United States and decades of violence from Israel’s security forces against Palestinians.

A video that went viral late last month of a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, killing a black man, George Floyd, by pressing a knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes has triggered a fortnight of mass protests across the US – and beyond.

The footage was the latest disturbing visual evidence of a US police culture that appears to treat Black Americans as an enemy – and a reminder that rogue police officers are all too rarely punished.

Floyd’s lynching by Chauvin as three other officers either looked on, or participated, has echoes of troubling scenes familiar from the occupied territories. Videos of Israeli soldiers, police and armed settlers beating, shooting and abusing Palestinian men, women and children have long been a staple of social media.

The dehumanisation that enabled Floyd’s murder has been regularly on view in the occupied Palestinian territories. In early 2018 Israeli snipers began using Palestinians, including children, nurses, journalists and the disabled, as little more than target practice during weekly protests at a perimeter fence around Gaza imprisoning them.

Widespread impunity

And just as in the US, the use of violence by Israeli police and soldiers against Palestinians rarely leads to prosecutions, let alone convictions.

A few days after Floyd’s killing, an autistic Palestinian man, Iyad Hallaq – who had a mental age of six, according to his family – was shot seven times by police in Jerusalem. None of the officers has been arrested.

Faced with embarrassing international attention in the wake of Floyd’s murder, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a rare statement on the killing of a Palestinian by the security services. He called Hallaq’s murder “a tragedy” and promised an investigation.

The two killings, days apart, have underscored why the slogans “Black Lives Matter” and “Palestinian Lives Matter” sit naturally alongside each other, whether at protests or in social media posts.

There are differences between the two cases, of course. Nowadays Black Americans have citizenship, most can vote (if they can reach a polling station), laws are no longer explicitly racist, and they have access to the same courts – if not always the same justice – as the white population.

That is not the situation for most Palestinians under Israeli rule. They live under occupation by a foreign army, arbitrary military orders govern their lives, and they have very limited access to any kind of meaningful legal redress.

And there is another obvious difference. Floyd’s murder has shocked many white Americans into joining the protests. Hallaq’s murder, by contrast, has been ignored by the vast majority of Israelis, apparently accepted once again as the price of maintaining the occupation.

Treated like an enemy

Nonetheless, comparisons between the two racist policing cultures are worth highlighting. Both spring from a worldview shaped by settler-colonial societies founded on dispossession, segregation and exploitation.

Israel still largely views Palestinians as an enemy that needs to be either expelled or made to submit. Black Americans, meanwhile, live with the legacy of a racist white culture that until not so long ago justified slavery and apartheid.

Palestinians and Black Americans have long had their dignity looted; their lives too often are considered cheap.

Sadly, most Israeli Jews are in deep denial about the racist ideology that underpins their major institutions, including the security services. Tiny numbers protest in solidarity with Palestinians, and those that do are widely seen by the rest of the Israeli public as traitors.

Many white Americans, on the other hand, have been shocked to see how quickly US police forces – faced with widespread protests – have resorted to aggressive crowd-control methods of the kind only too familiar to Palestinians.

Those methods include the declaration of curfews and closed areas in major cities; the deployment of sniper squads against civilians; the use of riot teams wearing unmarked uniforms or balaclavas; arrests of, and physical assaults on, journalists who are clearly identifiable; and the indiscriminate use of tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets to wound protesters and terrify them off the streets.

It does not end there.

President Donald Trump has described demonstrators as “terrorists”, echoing Israel’s characterisation of all Palestinian protest, and threatened to send in the US army, which would replicate even more precisely the situation faced by Palestinians.

Like Palestinians, the US black community – and now the protesters – have been recording examples of their abuse on their phones and posting the videos on social media to highlight the deceptions of police statements and media reporting of what has been taking place.

Tested on Palestinians

None of these parallels should surprise us. For years US police forces, along with many others around the world, have been queueing at Israel’s door to learn from its decades of experience in crushing Palestinian resistance.

Israel has capitalised on the need among western states, in a world of depleting resources and the long-term contraction of the global economy, to prepare for future internal uprisings by a growing underclass.

With readymade laboratories in the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel has long been able to develop and field-test on captive Palestinians new methods of surveillance and subordination. As the largest underclass in the US, urban black communities were always likely to find themselves on the front line as US police forces adopted a more militarised approach to policing.

These changes finally struck home during the protests that erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 after a black man, Michael Brown, was killed by police. Dressed in military-style fatigues and body armour, and backed by armoured personnel carriers, local police looked more like they were entering a war zone than there to “serve and protect”.

Trained in Israel

It was then that human rights groups and others started to highlight the extent to which US police forces were being influenced by Israel’s methods of subjugating Palestinians. Many forces had been trained in Israel or involved in exchange programmes.

Israel’s notorious paramilitary Border Police, in particular, has become a model for other countries. It was the Border Police that shot dead Hallaq in Jerusalem shortly after Floyd was killed in Minneapolis.

The Border Police carry out the hybrid functions of a police force and an army, operating against Palestinians in the occupied territories and inside Israel, where a large Palestinian minority live with a very degraded citizenship.

The institutional premise of the Border Police is that all Palestinians, including those who are formally Israeli citizens, should be dealt with as an enemy. It is at the heart of a racist Israeli policing culture identified 17 years ago by the Or Report, the country’s only serious review of its police forces.

The Border Police increasingly look like the model US police forces are emulating in cities with large black populations.

Many dozens of Minneapolis police officers were trained by Israeli experts in “counter-terrorism” and “restraint” techniques at a conference in Chicago in 2012.

Derek Chauvin’s chokehold, using his knee to press down on Floyd’s neck, is an “immobilisation” procedure familiar to Palestinians. Troublingly, Chauvin was training two rookie officers at the time he killed Floyd, passing on the department’s institutional knowledge to the next generation of officers.

Monopoly of violence

These similarities should be expected. States inevitably borrow and learn from each other on matters most important to them, such as repressing internal dissent. The job of a state is to ensure it maintains a monopoly of violence inside its territory.

It is the reason why the Israeli scholar Jeff Halper warned several years ago in his book War Against the People that Israel had been pivotal in developing what he called a “global pacification” industry. The hard walls between the military and the police have crumbled, creating what he termed “warrior cops”.

The danger, according to Halper, is that in the long run, as the police become more militarised, we are all likely to find ourselves being treated like Palestinians. Which is why a further comparison between the US strategy towards the black community and Israel’s towards Palestinians needs highlighting.

The two countries are not just sharing tactics and policing methods against protests once they break out. They have also jointly developed longer-term strategies in the hope of dismantling the ability of the black and Palestinian communities they oppress to organise effectively and forge solidarity with other groups.

Loss of historic direction

If one lesson is clear, it is that oppression can best be challenged through organised resistance by a mass movement with clear demands and a coherent vision of a better future.

In the past that depended on charismatic leaders with a fully developed and well-articulated ideology capable of inspiring and mobilising followers. It also relied on networks of solidarity between oppressed groups around the world sharing their wisdom and experience.

The Palestinians were once led by figures who commanded national support and respect, from Yasser Arafat to George Habash and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. The struggle they led was capable of galvanising supporters around the world.

These leaders were not necessarily united. There were debates over whether Israeli settler colonialism would best be undermined through secular struggle or religious fortitude, through finding allies among the oppressor nation or defeating it using its own violent methods.

These debates and disagreements educated the wider Palestinian public, clarified the stakes for them, and provided a sense of a historic direction and purpose. And these leaders became figureheads for international solidarity and revolutionary fervour.

That has all long since disappeared. Israel pursued a relentless policy of jailing and assassinating Palestinian leaders. In Arafat’s case, he was confined by Israeli tanks to a compound in Ramallah before he was poisoned to death in highly suspicious circumstances. Ever since, Palestinian society has found itself orphaned, adrift, divided and disorganised.

International solidarity has been largely sidelined too. The publics of Arab states, already preoccupied with their own struggles, appear increasingly tired of the divided and seemingly hopeless Palestinian cause. And in a sign of our times, western solidarity today is invested chiefly in a boycott movement, which has had to wage its fight on the enemy’s battlefield of consumption and finance.

From confrontation to solace

The black community in the US has undergone parallel processes, even if it is harder to indict quite so directly the US security services for the loss decades ago of a black national leadership. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and the Black Panther movement were hounded by the US security services. They were jailed or felled by assassins, despite their very different approaches to the civil rights struggle.

Today, none are around to make inspiring speeches and mobilise the wider public – either black or white Americans – to take action on the national stage.

Denied a vigorous national leadership, the organised black community at times appeared to have retreated into the safer but more confining space of the churches – at least until the latest protests. A politics of solace appeared to have replaced the politics of confrontation.

A focus on identity

These changes cannot be attributed solely to the loss of national leaders. In recent decades the global political context has been transformed too. After the fall of the Soviet Union 30 years ago, the US not only became the world’s sole superpower but it crushed the physical and ideological space in which political opposition could flourish.

Class analysis and revolutionary ideologies – a politics of justice – were shunted off the streets and increasingly into the margins of academia.

Instead, western political activists were encouraged to dedicate their energies not to anti-imperialism and class struggle but to a much narrower identity politics. Political activism became a competition between social groups for attention and privilege.

As with Palestinian solidarity activism, identity politics in the US has waged its battles on the terrain of a consumption-obsessed society. Hashtags and virtue-signalling on social media have often appeared to serve as a stand-in for social protest and activism.

A moment of transition

The question posed by the current US protests is whether this timid, individualised, acquisitive kind of politics is starting to seem inadequate. The US protesters are still largely leaderless, their struggle in danger of being atomised, their demands implicit and largely shapeless – it is clearer what the protesters don’t want than what they do.

That reflects a current mood in which the challenges facing us all – from permanent economic crisis and the new threat of pandemics to impending climate catastrophe – appear too big, too momentous to make sense of. We are caught in a moment of transition, it seems, destined for a new era – good or bad – we cannot discern clearly yet.

In August, millions are expected to head to Washington in a march to echo the one led by Martin Luther King in 1963. The heavy burden of this historic moment is expected to be carried on the ageing shoulders of the Rev Al Sharpton.

That symbolism may be fitting. It is more than 50 years since western states were last gripped with revolutionary fervour. But the hunger for change that reached its climax in 1968 – for an end to imperialism, endless war and rampant inequality – was never sated.

Oppressed communities around the globe are still hungry for a fairer world. In Palestine and elsewhere, those who suffer brutality, misery, exploitation and indignity still need a champion. They look to Minneapolis and the struggle it launched for a seed of hope.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Palestine Bleeds: Execution of Autistic Man is Not an Exception but the Norm

A 32-year-old man with the mental age of an 8-year-old child was executed by Israeli soldiers on May 30, while crouching behind his teacher near his special needs school in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The cold-blooded murder of Iyad al-Hallaq might not have received much attention if it were not for the fact that it took place five days following the similarly heartbreaking murder of a 46-year-old black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, at the hands of American police.

The two crimes converge, not only in their repugnancy and the moral decadence of their perpetrators, but also because countless American police officers have been trained in Israel, by the very Israeli ‘security forces’ that killed al-Hallaq. The practice of killing civilians, with efficiency and callousness, is now a burgeoning market. Israel is the biggest contributor to this market; the US is the world’s largest client.

When thousands of people rushed to the streets in Palestine, including hundreds of Palestinian and Israeli Jewish activists in Jerusalem, chanting “Justice for Iyad, justice for George”, their cry for justice was a spontaneous and heartfelt reaction to injustice so great, so blatant.

Al-Hallaq’s story might appear particularly unique, as the ‘suspected terrorist’ was killed while merely walking in King Faisal Street in Jerusalem, on his way to take out the trash. He was afraid of soldiers and terrified of blood.

“He was also afraid of the armed police officers who stood along the route to the special needs center he went to, where he participated in a vocational training program,” the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, reported.

Al-Hallaq’s many fears, which may have appeared exaggerated by his family, turned out to be true. Even an autistic person in Palestine is not safe from the vengeance of soldiers.

But Iyad al-Hallaq did not need to die for Israel to maintain its pathological sense of ‘security’. The fact that he was already shot and wounded, and found bleeding in a roofless garbage room in Jerusalem’s Old City, was not enough to spare him that horrific fate. The fact that the man screamed in agony while hiding behind his caregiver, who pleaded with the soldiers, begging them to stop puncturing his already bleeding body with more bullets, was also not enough.

Still, the soldiers stepped forward, and from a very close range, fired three bullets into al-Hallaq’s midsection as he lay wounded on his back. Instantly, the young man, the ‘apple of the eyes of his parents’, ceased breathing.

“He was our mother’s love, her entire life,” Iyad’s sister, Diana said in an interview with +972 magazine. “She would hold his hand like he was a baby, and he would walk with her to the market, or the mosque or the clothing store. He was like her shadow. She worried about him and whether other kids would bother or hurt him.”

Caught off guard by the grisly nature of the murder and the mental state of the victim, Israel’s spin doctors moved quickly to contain the damage, initially spreading lies that al-Hallaq was carrying a toy gun at the time of the shooting, then backing off, promising an investigation.

But what is there to investigate? In recent years, the Israeli army has upgraded its code of conduct, adopting a shoot-to-kill policy of any Palestinian they suspect of attempting to harm Israeli occupation soldiers, even when the alleged Palestinian ‘attacker’ is no longer posing a threat.

In the case of Gaza, where protesters are separated from Israeli snipers by barbed wire and nearly a mile-long empty space, the Israeli military issued orders, as of June 2019, to shoot and kill ‘key instigators’ of the mass protests even while ‘at rest’. Hundreds of people have been killed in Gaza’s Great March of Return in this way, and the ‘key instigators’ included medics, journalists, young boys and girls.

Indeed, the killing of Palestinian civilians is a regular occurrence. It is the devastating routine with which Palestinians have been forced to co-exist for many years and for which Israel was never ever held accountable.

Only one day before al-Hallaq was murdered, Fadi Samara Qaad, 37, was killed by Israeli occupation soldiers while driving his car near the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, west of Ramallah.

The Israeli military immediately claimed that Qaad “tried to ram his car into a group of soldiers” before they opened fire, killing him on the spot.

This is the go-to Israeli military pretense that is often offered when a Palestinian driver is shot and killed by Israeli soldiers. Otherwise, the Palestinian victim, whether a man, a woman, or a child, is often accused of carrying a ‘sharp object’.

Al-Hallaq’s mental disability might have spared him, in the eyes of some, from being that archetypical ‘terrorist’, although the Israeli army immediately raided his house, looking for ‘evidence’ that would implicate him and be useful in their sinister propaganda.

In the case of Qaad, a Palestinian worker, on his way to join his wife in a nearby town to celebrate the Muslim Eid holiday, the Israeli army statement suffices, no questions asked.

This is the same stifling logic that has prevailed in Palestine for so many years, and counting. Children are killed for throwing stones at men with guns, who have invaded their homes and villages; pregnant women are gunned down at Israeli army checkpoints; men with amputated legs in wheelchairs shot by snipers while protesting and demanding their freedom.

All of this is taking place in the complete absence of any promising political horizon. Even the protracted and ultimately useless ‘peace process’ has been halted in favor of greater American backing of Israel and of the Israeli government’s mad rush to expand illegal Jewish settlements.

To secure his colonial accomplishments — read: land theft — Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is about to reveal the crown jewel of his legacy, as he prepares for the expansion of Israel’s borders through the annexation of yet more Palestinian land.

Inspired by the common struggle that ties them with their African-American brethren, Palestinians are now left only with their cries for justice: Palestinian lives matter, hoping, for once, the world may hear and echo their screams and, perhaps, do something.

A Mass Uprising Is Here: Protect It From The Ruling Class

Demonstrators on Wednesday, June 3, 2020 in downtown Los Angeles (AP Photo:  Ringo H.W. Chiu)

The breadth of the uprising is astounding with antiracism protests in all 50 states and more than 500 cities plus more than 13,500 arrests in 43 cities. This weekend there were larger numbers of protesters in the streets including cities and towns of all sizes. In Washington, DC, where we were, the crowds were multi-racial and crossed all ages but were dominated by black youth. People were united in their opposition to racism and police abuse and their calls for systemic change.

While the crowds were notable in the nation’s capital, across the country, and around the world, what stood out this week is the palpable fear emanating from the White House. President Trump, who has blown racist dog whistles from his first-day campaigning in 2016, is afraid. His fear is demonstrated by ten-foot-tall black metal fences, fortified by concrete Jersey blocks surrounding not just the White House but all of Lafayette Park to the bottom of the Ellipse, and from 15th Street to 17th Street. Inside this fence are rows of smaller fences, mobile searchlights, and scores of police and military. Dump trucks block every entrance. The White House fence, which was built higher during the Trump-era, is covered in a white shroud to hide what is behind it. Comedian Sarah Cooper mocked Trump’s comments describing his visits to the secure bunker under the White House when the protests were at an angry peak. The failures of the US government to fulfill basic tasks of protecting and empowering people have reached a tipping point.

White House in the distance. Taken from Constitution Ave.  (Margaret Flowers)

This is a Take Off Moment for Ending Structural Racism

Racism in the United States did not start with Trump and it won’t end if he is defeated in November. The people at protests understand Trump is a symptom of deeper problems. While there were some anti-Trump signs outside the White House, the crowd was more focused on broader changes that are needed. The United States suffers from deep structural racism that creates economic inequality and an unfair criminal injustice system.

A national consensus is developing in favor of the protests. Polls indicate the public supports the uprising, sees the anger as justified, and even supported burning down the police precinct in Minneapolis. Three out of four say racial and ethnic discrimination are big problems with 87% of black people believing they are more likely than whites to experience excessive force. Multiple polls show sympathy for the protests and support for their goals. There has been a shift in views on racism with the biggest change in acknowledging racism coming in the managerial class where many used to believe the US had evolved into a ‘post-racial society’.

The persistent protest movement — which has been strengthening since there was a take-off after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO six years ago and with the thousands of murders since then — has built national consensus for change. Now, there are opportunities for change but also challenges for the movement. Ajamu Baraka, of the Black Alliance for Peace, describes some of them in Black Agenda Report:

The enemy knows how to quickly adapt in the ideological struggle: 1) undermine the emerging unity with white agitator propaganda, 2) follow up with declaration against something called Antifa as a terrorist group, 3) instruct the police to join demos and express solidarity, 4) release statements from police chiefs and others pushing the bad apples theme, and most important, 5) keep the focus on the individual and call for ‘justice’ for that individual to avoid attention on the systemic and enduring elements of Black and Brown colonized oppression.

March in Washington, DC on June 6 2020 (By Patricio Zamorano)

The Movement can Overcome the Challenges We Face and Win

Here are some of the ways we can overcome the challenges the power structure is putting in our way.

Divide and Rule – Unite and Build Power:  When the power structure sees white and black people uniting to work for common goals, it gets worried. It will do all it can overtly and covertly to divide the movement. For example, despite the FBI saying there is no evidence, the Trump administration accused Antifa (short for Anti-Fascist) of being an organization (it isn’t) committing violence at protests. In fact, a report found that a far-right group masquerading as Antifa was promoting violence. There is evidence that provocateurs, including officers in uniform, have been destroying property, and police have brutalized thousands of protesters over the past two weeks. Any attempts to denigrate one group or sow division, such as the ‘good protester/bad protester’ myth, must be met with skepticism.

We must strive for greater unity in the movement by linking our struggles and promoting a common vision of the society we wish to create. Just prior to the police murdering George Floyd, a movement was building for a general strike. That campaign is ongoing and is being manifested in various ways. Payday report cites more than 220 wildcat strikes, many involving working-class people of color, that have occurred in the United States since early March. Rent strikes are taking place and millions more are ready to rent strike. Black Lives Matter is calling for a statewide general strike in Washington state on June 12. The general strike campaign calls for nationwide actions on the first of each month.

The National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression is calling for a national day of action on Saturday, June 13 calling for the transformational change of democratic community control of the police.

Offer Weak Reforms – Demand Systemic Changes: People exercising their First Amendment rights are calling for transformational changes such as abolishing the institution of police, ending the militarization of our communities, and investing in black and brown communities. Already, a few groups are working to shift the demands to a weaker platform such as spending less money on police and banning the knee-on-neck technique that officer Chauvin used to kill George Floyd. Banning techniques such as chokeholds have failed. Police still use them and they get away with it. While there must be justice for George Floyd and others killed by police, this is not only about convicting police who terrorize communities, but about stopping police terror and the entire racist system in the United States that is repressing people at home and abroad. Police serve as enforcers of the racism that pervades education, healthcare, housing, employment, the legal system, and foreign policy. The movement may celebrate minor victories along the way, but we must build power to win systemic changes that end the institutions and policies that perpetuate structural racism and inequality.

Diversion to Elections – Escalate Street Heat: There are already efforts to distract the movement to focus on President Trump and divert people’s attention to the upcoming presidential election. The Democratic mayor of Washington DC took performative action when she had “Black Lives Matter” painted on 16th Street in front of the White House, but DC residents weren’t having it and called her out for increasing the police budget while cutting social programs. In a recent essay, Obama urged reforms enacted through elections as have other black misleaders, as Margaret Kimberley describes.  The always-opportunist Rev. Al Sharpton, a longtime Democratic operative, has called for a March on Washington on August 28. This will likely be a Democratic Party anti-Trump rally to kick off the final months of “get out the vote” for the presidential election. People know the record of Joe Biden – opposing integration of schools, escalating the war on drugs, being an architect of mass incarceration, and supporting the interests of his corporate donors over the necessities of the people. We will not elect our way out of these crises. We must continue to build our capacity to stay in the streets, even if it is once a week, and our pressure through tactics like strikes and other forms of non-cooperation to build enough power to overcome the ruling class.

Unleash the Counter-Revolution – Defy It:  If the movement is not defeated by these tactics, but instead grows larger by unifying fronts of struggle and escalating our demands, there will be more efforts to suppress us. In Occupy, the Obama administration, through the FBI and Homeland Security working with local police, escalated their tactics, sending infiltrators into the movement to create divisions and throw the movement off course. It entrapped participants in crimes with serious consequences and used the media to create opposition. We know this is coming, so we can be prepared. Our goal must be solidarity, protecting each other, and remaining persistent with unwavering demands. When the power structure escalates their tactics, it is a sign we are winning. It is a show of weakness, not strength on their part and that means it’s time for protests to escalate.

These are all some of the common tactics used against popular movements. In our web-based free school “How Social Transformation Occurs“, we review these and other strategies used by the power structure and how movements can respond. People involved in the vibrant movements of our times need to be well informed so we are a movement of leaders who are prepared to win.

Marchers in Washington, DC on June 6, 2020 (Patricio Zamorano)

The Movement Is Already Defeating The Ruling Class’ Tactics

The media described the uprising as a “riot” involved in violence and property destruction but the movement responded by using videos to show black organizers trying to stop people, some of whom seemed to be undercover police or white supremacists. When mayors put in place curfews, people came out in larger numbers to ignore the curfew. When police assaulted people with batons, rubber bullets, and chemical weapons, they were caught on camera and shown to be the instigators of violence. In response to thousands of complaints about police actions, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best announced a 30-day ban on the use of tear gas and a review of police actions with an emphasis on de-escalation.

As the result of a class-action suit in Colorado, federal Judge R. Brooke Jackson ordered the police to stop using tear gas, rubber bullets, and other “less-than-lethal” forces like flash grenades and ordered body cameras to be used at all times. The judge noted videos of police injuring people, including journalists, without giving any warnings.

When President Trump threatened to use the military against people, there was a rapid response opposing him. Some GI’s and National Guard troops have refused to follow orders against the people. Courage to Resist has set up a fund to defend them. And, a lawsuit was filed against the police’s actions.

The movement for change in the United States has grown and matured in recent decades. We must continue to protest, be non-compliant with the power structure, defy the opposition’s tactics, support each other’s needs, and build alternative structures. This is how we will transform our society in a way that respects human rights and protects the planet. The time is now. Let’s keep doing the work.

As US Protests Show, the Challenge is How to Rise Above the Violence Inherent in State Power

Here is one thing I can write with an unusual degree of certainty and confidence: Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin would not have been charged with the (third-degree) murder of George Floyd had the United States not been teetering on a knife edge of open revolt.

Had demonstrators not turned out in massive numbers on the streets and refused to be corralled back home by the threat of police violence, the US legal system would have simply turned a blind eye to Chauvin’s act of extreme brutality, as it has done before over countless similar acts.

Without the mass protests, it would have made no difference that Floyd’s murder was caught on camera, that it was predicted by Floyd himself in his cries of “I can’t breathe” as Chauvin spent nearly nine minutes pressing his knee to Floyd’s neck, or that the outcome was obvious to spectators who expressed their growing alarm as Floyd lost consciousness. At most, Chauvin would have had to face, as he had many times before, an ineffectual disciplinary investigation over “misconduct”.

Without the current ferocious mood of anger directed at the police and sweeping much of the nation, Chauvin would have found himself as immune from accountability and prosecution as so many police officers before him who gunned down or lynched black citizens.

Instead he is the first white police officer in the state of Minnesota ever to be criminally charged over the death of a black man. After initially arguing that there were mitigating factors to be considered, prosecutors hurriedly changed course to declare Chauvin’s indictment the fastest they had ever initiated. Yesterday Minneapolis’s police chief was forced to call the other three officers who stood by as Floyd was murdered in front of them “complicit”.

Confrontation, not contrition

If the authorities’ placatory indictment of Chauvin – on the least serious charge they could impose, based on incontrovertible evidence they could not afford to deny – amounts to success, then it is only a little less depressing than failure.

Worse still, though most protesters are trying to keep their demonstrations non-violent, many of the police officers dealing with the protests look far readier for confrontation than contrition. The violent attacks by police on protesters, including the use of vehicles for rammings, suggest that it is Chauvin’s murder charge – not the slow, barbaric murder of Floyd by one of their number – that has incensed fellow officers. They expect continuing impunity for their violence.

Similarly, the flagrant mistreatment by police of corporate media outlets simply for reporting developments, from the arrest of a CNN crew to physical assaults on BBC staff, underlines the sense of grievance harboured by many police officers when their culture of violence is exposed for all the world to see. They are not reeling it in, they are widening the circle of “enemies”.

Nonetheless, it is entirely wrong to suggest, as a New York Times editorial did yesterday, that police impunity can be largely ascribed to “powerful unions” shielding officers from investigation and punishment. The editorial board needs to go back to school. The issues currently being exposed to the harsh glare of daylight get to the heart of what modern states are there to do – matters rarely discussed outside of political theory classes.

Right to bear arms

The success of the modern state, like the monarchies of old, rests on the public’s consent, explicit or otherwise, to its monopoly of violence. As citizens, we give up what was once deemed an inherent or “natural” right to commit violence ourselves and replace it with a social contract in which our representatives legislate supposedly neutral, just laws on our behalf. The state invests the power to enforce those laws in a supposedly disciplined, benevolent police force – there to “protect and serve” – while a dispassionate court system judges suspected violators of those laws.

That is the theory, anyway.

In the case of the United States, the state’s monopoly on violence has been muddied by a constitutional “right to bear arms”, although, of course, the historic purpose of that right was to ensure that the owners of land and slaves could protect their “property”. Only white men were supposed to have the right to bear arms.

Today, little has changed substantively, as should be obvious the moment we consider what would have happened had it been black militia men that recently protested the Covid-19 lockdown by storming the Michigan state capitol, venting their indignation in the faces of white policemen.

(In fact, the US authorities’ reaction to the Black Panthers movement through the late 1960s and 1970s is salutary enough for anyone who wishes to understand how dangerous it is for a black man to bear arms in his own defence against the violence of white men.)

Brutish violence

The monopoly of violence by the state is justified because most of us have supposedly consented to it in an attempt to avoid a Hobbesian world of brutish violence where individuals, families and tribes enforce their own, less disinterested versions of justice.

But, of course, the state system is not as neutral or dispassionate as it professes, or as most of us assume. Until the struggle for universal suffrage succeeded – a practice that in all western states can be measured in decades, not centuries – the state was explicitly there to uphold the interests of a wealthy elite, a class of landed gentry and newly emerging industrialists, as well as a professional class that made society run smoothly for the benefit of that elite.

What was conceded to the working class was the bare minimum to prevent them from rising up against the privileges enjoyed by the rest of society.

That was why, for example, Britain did not have universal health care – the National Health Service – until after the Second World War, 30 years after men received the vote and 20 years after women won the same right. Only after the war did the British establishment start to fear that a newly empowered working class – of returning soldiers who knew how to bear arms, backed by women who had been released from the home to work on the land or in munitions factories to replace the departed men – might no longer be willing to accept a lack of basic health care for themselves and their loved ones.

It was in this atmosphere of an increasingly organised and empowered labour movement – reinforced by the need to engineer more consumerist societies to benefit newly emerging corporations – that European social democracy was born. (Paradoxically, the post-war US Marshall Plan helped subsidise the emergence of Europe’s major social democracies, including their public health care systems, even as similar benefits were denied domestically to Americans.)

Creative legal interpretations

To maintain legitimacy for the state’s monopoly on violence, the legal establishment has had to follow the same minimalist balancing act as the political establishment.

The courts cannot simply rationalise and justify the implicit and sometimes explicit use of violence in law enforcement without regard to public sentiment. Laws are amended, but equally significantly they are creatively interpreted by judges so that they fit the ideological and moral fashions and prejudices of the day, to ensure the public feels justice is being done.

In the main, however, we the public have a very conservative understanding of right and wrong, of justice and injustice, which has been shaped for us by a corporate media that both creates and responds to those fashions and trends to ensure that the current system continues undisturbed, allowing for the ever-greater accumulation of wealth by an elite.

That is why so many of us are viscerally appalled by looting on the streets by poor people, but reluctantly accept as a fact of life the much larger intermittent looting of our taxes, of our banks, of our homes by the state to bail out a corporate elite that cannot manage the economy it created.

Again, the public’s deference to the system is nurtured to ensure it does not rise up.

Muscle on the street

But the legal system doesn’t just have a mind; it has muscle too. Its front-line enforcers, out on the street, get to decide who is a criminal suspect, who is dangerous or subversive, who needs to be deprived of their liberty, and who is going to have violence inflicted upon them. It is the police that initially determine who spends time in a jail cell and who comes before a court. And in some cases, as in George Floyd’s, it is the police that decide who is going to be summarily executed without a trial or a jury.

The state would prefer, of course, that police officers don’t kill unarmed citizens in the street – and even more so that they don’t carry out such acts in full view of witnesses and on camera, as Chauvin did. The state’s objections are not primarily ethical. State bureaucracies are not overly invested in matters beyond the need to maintain external and internal security: defending the borders from outside threats, and ensuring internal legitimacy through the cultivation of citizens’ consent.

But the issue of for whom and for what the state keeps its territory safe has become harder to conceal over time. Nowadays, the state’s political processes and its structures have been almost completely captured by corporations. As a result, the maintenance of internal and external security is less about ensuring an orderly and safe existence for citizens than about creating a stable territorial platform for globalised businesses to plunder local resources, exploit local labour forces and generate greater profits by transforming workers into consumers.

Increasingly, the state has become a hollowed-out vessel through which corporations order their business agendas. States function primarily now to compete with each other in a battle to minimise the obstacles facing global corporations as they seek to maximise their wealth and profits in each state’s territory. The state’s role is to avoid getting in the way of corporations as they extract resources (deregulation), or, when this capitalist model regularly collapses, come to the aid of the corporations with more generous bailouts than rival states.

Murder could prove a spark

This is the political context for understanding why Chauvin is that very rare example of a white policeman facing a murder charge for killing a black man.

Chauvin’s gratuitous and incendiary murder of Floyd – watched by any American with a screen, and with echoes of so many other recent cases of unjustifiable police brutality against black men, women and children – is the latest spark that risks lighting a conflagration.

In the heartless, amoral calculations of the state, the timing of Chauvin’s very public act of barbarity could not have been worse. There were already rumblings of discontent over federal and state authorities’ handling of the new virus; fears over the catastrophic consequences for the US economy; outrage at the inequity – yet again – of massive bailouts for the biggest corporations but paltry help for ordinary workers; and the social and personal frustrations caused by lockdown.

There is also a growing sense that the political class, Republican and Democrat alike, has grown sclerotic and unresponsive to the plight of ordinary Americans – an impression only underscored by the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

For all these reasons, and many others, people were ready to take to the streets. Floyd’s murder gave them the push.

The need for loyal police

In these circumstances, Chauvin had to be charged, even if only in the hope of assuaging that anger, of providing a safety valve releasing some of the discontent.

But charging Chauvin is no simple matter either. To ensure its survival, the state needs to monopolise violence and internal security, to maintain its exclusive definition of what constitutes order, and to keep the state as a safe territorial platform for business. The alternative is the erosion of the nation-state’s authority, and the possibility of its demise.

This was the rationale behind Donald Trump’s notorious tweet last week – censored by Twitter for “glorifying violence” – that warned: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Not surprisingly, he invoked the words of a racist Miami police chief, Walter Headley, who threatened violence against the African-American community in the late 1960s. At the time Headley additionally stated: “There’s no communication with them except force.”

Trump may be harking back to an ugly era of what was once called “race relations”, but the sentiment lies at the heart of the state’s mission.

The state needs its police forces loyal and ready to use violence. It cannot afford discontent in the ranks, or that sections of the police corps no longer identify their own interests with the state’s. The state dares not alienate police officers for fear that, when they are needed most, during times of extreme dissent like now, they will not be there – or worse still, that they will have joined the dissenters.

As noted, elements in the police are already demonstrating their disenchantment over Chauvin’s indictment as well as their sense of grievance against the media – bolstered by Donald Trump’s regular verbal assaults on journalists. That sentiment helps to explain the unprecedented attacks by the police on reliably compliant major media outlets covering the protests.

Ideological twins

The need to keep the security forces loyal is why the state fosters a sense of separateness between the police and those sections of the populace that it defines as potentially threatening order, thereby uniting more privileged segments of society in fear and hostility.

The state cultivates in the police and sections of the public a sense that police violence is legitimate by definition when it targets individuals or groups it portrays as threatening or subversive. It also encourages the view that the police enjoy impunity a priori in such cases because they alone can decide what constitutes a menace to society (shaped, of course, by popular discourses promoted by the state and the corporate media).

“Threat” is defined as any dissent against the existing order, whether it is a black man answering back and demonstrating “attitude”, or mass protests against the system, including against police violence. In this way, the police and the state are ideological twins. The state approves whatever the police do; while the police repress whatever the state defines as a threat. If it is working effectively, state-police violence becomes a circular, self-rationalising system.

Throwing the protests a bone

Charging Chauvin risks disrupting that system, creating a fault line between the state and the police, one of the state’s most essential agencies. Which is why the charging of a police officer in these circumstances is such an exceptional event, and has been dictated by the current exceptional outpouring of anger.

Prosecutors are trying to find a delicate compromise between two conflicting demands: between the need to reassure the police that their violence is always legitimate (carried out “in the line of duty”) and the need to stop the popular wave of anger escalating to a point where the existing order might break down. In these circumstances, Chauvin needs to be charged but with the least serious indictment possible – given the irrefutable evidence presented in the video – in the hope that, once the current wave of anger has subsided, he can be found not guilty; or if found guilty, given a lenient sentence; or if sentenced more harshly, pardoned.

Chauvin’s indictment is like throwing a chewed-dry bone to a hungry dog, from the point of view of the state authorities. It is an act of parsimonious appeasement, designed to curb non-state violence or the threat of such violence.

The indictment is not meant to change a police culture – or an establishment one – that presents black men as an inherent threat to order. It will not disrupt regulatory and legal systems that are wedded to the view that (white, conservative) police officers are on the front line defending civilisational values from (black or leftwing) “lawbreakers”. And it will not curtail the state’s commitment to ensuring that the police enjoy impunity over their use of violence.

Change is inevitable

A healthy state – committed to the social contract – would be capable of finding ways to accommodate discontent before it reaches the level of popular violence and revolt. The scenes playing out across the US are evidence that state institutions, captured by corporate money, are increasingly incapable of responding to demands for change. The hollowed-out state represents not its citizens, who are capable of compromise, but the interests of global forces of capital that care little what takes place on the streets of Minneapolis or New York so long as the corporations can continue to accumulate wealth and power.

Why would we expect these global forces to be sensitive to popular unrest in the US when they have proved entirely insensitive to the growing signals of distress from the planet, as its life-support systems recalibrate for our pillage and plunder in ways we will struggle to survive as a species?

Why would the state not block the path to peaceful change, knowing it excels in the use of violence, when it blocks the path to reform that might curb the corporate assault on the environment?

These captured politicians and officials – on the “left” and right – will continue fanning the flames, stoking the fires, as Barack Obama’s former national security adviser Susan Rice did this week. She denied the evidence of police violence shown on Youtube and the very real distress of an underclass abandoned by the political class when she suggested that the protests were being directed from the Kremlin.

This kind of bipartisan denial of reality only underscores how quickly we are entering a period of crisis and revolt. From the G8 protests, to the Occupy movement, to Extinction Rebellion, to the schools’ protests, to the Yellow Vests, to the current fury on US streets, there is evidence all around that the centre is struggling to maintain its hold. The US imperial project is overstretched, the global corporate elite is over-extended, living on credit, resources are depleting, the planet is recalibrating. Something will have to give.

The challenge to the protesters – either those on the streets now or those who follow in their wake – is how to surmount the state’s violence and how to offer a vision of a different, more hopeful future that restores the social contract.

Lessons will be learnt through protest, defiance and disobedience, not in a courtroom where a police officer stands trial as an entire political and economic system is allowed to carry on with its crimes.

The Minneapolis Putsch

Well, it looks like the Resistance’s long-anticipated “Second Civil War” has finally begun … more or less exactly on cue. Rioting has broken out across the nation. People are looting and burning stores and attacking each other in the streets. Robocops are beating, tear-gassing, and shooting people with non-lethal projectiles. State National Guards have been deployed, curfews imposed, “emergencies” declared. Secret Servicemen are fighting back angry hordes attempting to storm the White House. Trump is tweeting from an “underground bunker.” Opportunist social media pundits on both sides of the political spectrum are whipping people up into white-eyed frenzies. Americans are at each other’s throats, divided by identity politics, consumed by rage, hatred, and fear.

Things couldn’t be going better for the Resistance if they had scripted it themselves.

Actually, they did kind of script it themselves. Not the murder of poor George Floyd, of course. Racist police have been murdering Black people for as long as there have been racist police. No, the Resistance didn’t manufacture racism. They just spent the majority of the last four years creating and promoting an official narrative which casts most Americans as “white supremacists” who literally elected Hitler president, and who want to turn the country into a racist dictatorship.

According to this official narrative, which has been relentlessly disseminated by the corporate media, the neoliberal intelligentsia, the culture industry, and countless hysterical, Trump-hating loonies, the Russians put Donald Trump in office with those DNC emails they never hacked and some division-sowing Facebook ads that supposedly hypnotized Black Americans into refusing to come out and vote for Clinton. Putin purportedly ordered this personally, as part of his plot to “destroy democracy.” The plan was always for President Hitler to embolden his white-supremacist followers into launching the “RaHoWa,” or the “Boogaloo,” after which Trump would declare martial law, dissolve the legislature, and pronounce himself Führer. Then they would start rounding up and murdering the Jews, and the Blacks, and Mexicans, and other minorities, according to this twisted liberal fantasy.

I’ve been covering the roll-out and dissemination of this official narrative since 2016, and have documented much of it in my essays, so I won’t reiterate all that here. Let’s just say, I’m not exaggerating, much. After four years of more or less constant conditioning, millions of Americans believe this fairy tale, despite the fact that there is absolutely zero evidence whatsoever to support it. Which is not exactly a mystery or anything. It would be rather surprising if they didn’t believe it. We’re talking about the most formidable official propaganda machine in the history of official propaganda machines.

And now the propaganda is paying off. The protesting and rioting that typically follows the murder of an unarmed Black person by the cops has mushroomed into “an international uprising” cheered on by the corporate media, corporations, and the liberal establishment, who don’t normally tend to support such uprisings, but they’ve all had a sudden change of heart, or spiritual or political awakening, and are down for some serious property damage, and looting, and preventative self-defense, if that’s what it takes to bring about justice, and to restore America to the peaceful, prosperous, non-white-supremacist paradise it was until the Russians put Donald Trump in office.

In any event, the Resistance media have now dropped their breathless coverage of the non-existent Corona-Holocaust to breathlessly cover the “revolution.” The American police, who just last week were national heroes for risking their lives to beat up, arrest, and generally intimidate mask-less “lockdown violators” are now the fascist foot soldiers of the Trumpian Reich. The Nike corporation produced a commercial urging people to smash the windows of their Nike stores and steal their sneakers. Liberal journalists took to Twitter, calling on rioters to “burn that shit down!” … until the rioters reached their gated community and started burning down their local Starbucks. Hollywood celebrities are masking up and going full-black bloc, and doing legal support. Chelsea Clinton is teaching children about David and the Racist Goliath. John Cusack’s bicycle was attacked by the pigs. I haven’t checked on Rob Reiner yet, but I assume he is assembling Molotov cocktails in the basement of a Resistance safe house somewhere in Hollywood Hills.

Look, I’m not saying the neoliberal Resistance orchestrated or staged these riots, or “denying the agency” of the folks in the streets. Whatever else is happening out there, a lot of very angry Black people are taking their frustration out on the cops, and on anyone and anything else that represents racism and injustice to them.

This happens in America from time to time. America is still a racist society. Most African-Americans are descended from slaves. Legal racial discrimination was not abolished until the 1960s, which isn’t that long ago in historical terms. I was born in the segregated American South, with the segregated schools, and all the rest of it. I don’t remember it — I was born in 1961 — but I do remember the years right after it. The South didn’t magically change overnight in July of 1964. Nor did the North’s variety of racism, which, yes, is subtler, but no less racist.

So I have no illusions about racism in America. But I’m not really talking about racism in America. I’m talking about how racism in America has been cynically instrumentalized, not by the Russians, but by the so-called Resistance, in order to delegitimize Trump and, more importantly, everyone who voted for him, as a bunch of white supremacists and racists.

Fomenting racial division has been the Resistance’s strategy from the beginning. A quote attributed to Joseph Goebbels, “accuse the other side of that which you are guilty,” is particularly apropos in this case. From the moment Trump won the Republican nomination, the corporate media and the rest of the Resistance have been telling us the man is literally Hitler, and that his plan is to foment racial hatred among his “white supremacist base,” and eventually stage some “Reichstag” event, declare martial law and pronounce himself dictator. They’ve been telling us this story over and over, on television, in the liberal press, on social media, in books, movies, and everywhere else they could possibly tell it.

So, before you go out and join the “uprising,” take a look at the headlines today, turn on CNN or MSNBC, and think about that for just a minute. I don’t mean to spoil the party, but they’ve preparing you for this for the last four years.

Not you, Black folks. I’m not talking to you. I wouldn’t presume to tell you what to do. I’m talking to white folks like myself, who are cheering on the rioting and looting, and are coming out to “help” you with it, but who will be back home in their gated communities when the ashes have cooled, and the corporate media are gone, and the cops return to “police” your neighborhoods.

OK, and this is where I have to restate (for the benefit of my partisan readers) that I’m not a fan of Donald Trump, and that I think he’s a narcissistic ass clown, and a glorified con man, and … blah blah blah, because so many people have been so polarized by insane propaganda and mass hysteria that they can’t even read or think anymore, and so just scan whatever articles they encounter to see whose “side” the author is on and then mindlessly celebrate or excoriate it.

If you’re doing that, let me help you out … whichever side you’re on, I’m not on it.

I realize that’s extremely difficult for a lot of folks to comprehend these days, which is part of the point I’ve been trying to make. I’ll try again, as plainly as I can.

America is still a racist country, but America is no more racist today than it was when Barack Obama was president. A lot of American police are brutal, but no more brutal than when Obama was president. America didn’t radically change the day Donald Trump was sworn into office. All that has changed is the official narrative. And it will change back as soon as Trump is gone and the ruling classes have no further use for it.

And that will be the end of the War on Populism, and we will switch back to the War on Terror, or maybe the Brave New Pathologized Normal … or whatever Orwellian official narrative the folks at GloboCap have in store for us.

Let’s Burn the Whole Thing Down: Death, Protest and George Floyd

Mobs are unruly, headless things.  The message is the action.  The platform is often violence.  But what is happening across the United States cannot simply be labelled as a looting-leads-to-shooting episode.  It ranks as another chapter of enraged despair and untidy opportunism.

It all began with a savage act in South Minneapolis, a killing grotesque for its indifference.  The hunter in this gruesome Monday spectacle of cruelty proved to be a policeman from the 3rd Police Precinct, Derek Chauvin; the quarry, a black man by the name of George Floyd.  As Floyd was held down by the knee for almost nine minutes, suffocating to death as he pleaded for his life, the Chauvin impassively went about his deadly task.  The pulse ceased.

A country began to spasm, though it first began with a peaceful march of sorrow at the corner store next to the site of Floyd’s arrest.  With the United States topping the global chart in coronavirus deaths, with numerous parts of the country easing lockdown restrictions as unemployment has surged, the release over the week became atavistic, vengeful.  Mixed in were also protests of desperate sadness and anger, with sentiment very much against violence as a weapon of choice.  Police were attacked but in other cases, notably that of Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson in Flint, Michigan, they joined protests and expressed a wounded solidarity.

Buildings were left burning; stores destroyed and looted. Curfews were imposed.  The National Guard was called out – in Minneapolis, for the first time since the Second World War.  Tear gas and rubber bullets have been used liberally.  Vehicles have been driven into protesters in Minneapolis and New York City. In the chaos, even a crew from CNN was arrested.  A fog of militarisation has descended heavily.

The panoramic violence provided sustenance for every interpretation on cause and inspiration. There was the civic-society hating hooligan said to be in the ascendancy; the daring, incendiary white supremacist having a go; the antagonised Black American furious and redressing grievances; the foreign agitator keen to exploit divisions.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’s own assessment put the blame on agitators from out of state who cared not one jot for the demise of Floyd.  Justice for him, and any endeavours to achieve it for the slain resident, did not “matter to any of these people who are here firing upon the National Guard, burning” businesses and “disrupting civil life”.  In agreement, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey dismissed any idea that this was a local poison, making its way through the body of the city.  “The people that are doing this are not Minneapolis residents.  They are coming in largely from outside of the city, from outside of the region to prey on everything that we have built over the last several decades”.

Such diagnoses ignore the scarring caused by killings inflicted since 2016.  Floyd’s death was the fifth caused by police forces since 2018.  The norm, generally speaking, has seen those involved spared charges.  As Hugh Eakin observes on such prevalent impunity, “Behind such a dismal record of failed accountability, there is now a widespread sense that structural racism in the city’s administration and law enforcement runs deep.” Charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter have been filed, but will they stick?  Hennepin County Prosecutor Mike Freeman was pleased to note that this was “by far the fastest that we’ve ever charged a police officer.”

Then there was the Trump administration’s own stretched interpretation, presenting it with a chance to settle a long standing score.  In a divided country, you take to barricades rather than remove them.  “The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization,” came the aggressive tweet from President Donald Trump.  A flavour of what is to come was also given by Trump’s ever loyal US Attorney General William Barr on Sunday.  “The violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly.”  Such measures are likely to fall foul of the Constitution, but that is a procedural irrelevance in the game of electioneering rhetoric.  Trump’s point is to show that the US is broken, and that he is the best manager of a ruined MAGA Republic.

The brutality and poignancy of this Minnesota decline into pyromanic purgatory and tear-stained sorrow was captured by the words of rapper Killer Mike, a man who professes to having “a lot of love and respect for police officers”, being the son of one.  “I watched a white police officer assassinate a black man.  And I know it tore your heart out.”

At a press conference with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, he felt “duty-bound to be here to simply say that it is your duty not to burn down your house for anger with an enemy.”  Fortify it, he suggested with biblical intonation, “so that you way be a house of refuge in times of organization.”  But it was the words that followed that bring the matter into crystalline focus. Unalloyed anger; a desire to build from the ashes, was vital.  To have purpose and worth, you needed to burn the whole thing down.  Killer Mike’s suggestion, as you preserve your own home, is to take the matches to the system itself, one “that sets up for systemic racism”.  Prosecute the offenders; get convictions.  Unfortunately for him, that distinction may prove too fine in the groans and recoil that follows.  Justice for Floyd, even before it starts in earnest, has already been eclipsed.

When Homeless Means Homelandless: Guatemalans in Lincoln County

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

It doesn’t take a lockdown to pull from some of us humanists the universality of how deep the emotional, cultural, societal, economic and spiritual divide is between the have’s and have’s not.

As we move from “top” to “bottom” in the daily stories of how these forced social distancing measures, draconian business closures, far-reaching travel bans and the like are affecting lives, we need to have more humanistic ways of parsing out the realities of the homeless, or in the case of people from Guatemala, the homelandless.

There are many reasons Guatemalans have come to this county, crossing that borderline without the proper Gestapo paperwork and billets for the own lives.

After tragedy, Oregon Christmas tree industry buoyed by bill | KOMO

The stem of the immigration tide to an area usually starts with one family or one group of cohorts ending up in a place like Newport and loving it as a new promise, a new start, maybe a new homeland. For a time, there were seasonal jobs in the fishing, hospitality and salal harvesting arenas.

Most Guatemalans get here with very little. Some have children in schools. Many do not speak Spanish, let alone English.

In many ways, coming from Huehuetenango and other places where violence is prolific,  Guatemalans thought they’d be happy with the chance “to make it” in the USA since back in their native land the per capita annual income for lower economic groups is  $1,619. Add to this challenge of more than two dozen Mayan languages spoken in that part of Mesoamerica and none spoken here.

A Tales of Two Cities, Many Cultures, Infinite Mentalities

For many, watching daily TV-YouTube-Facebook antics of Trump and Company, Hollywood perversions, other rich and famous, and  even run of the mill policy makers “deal” with their seclusion and isolation makes the blood boil. Lovely gardens, three triple-wide fridge/freezer combos full of Whole Foods delectables; manicured lawns for croquet surrounding terra cotta pools; superfood smoothies laced with plethora of vitamins and herbs; soaking in Clorox-laced bathtubs and tips on how to dose one’s body with ultraviolet showers.

As we go further and further down the food chain and feeding trough, one more week of lock-down can parlay into more than ennui and cabin fever: for millions, one more week is less food, more anxiety, fear of the unknown, downright depression and suicidal tendencies.

Being homeless in a Time of Covid highlights how unhealthy, psychologically-stressing, and legally-precarious these days are. There is no social distancing when six or seven people share a campfire, a can of beans and smokes.

Now imagine that homelessness is coupled with the state of being homelandness.

Lighting Up Latin America – Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Assn

There should not be a question of legal or illegal immigration. People came and immigrated to this country from the time of the Indians. No one’s illegal. They should just be able to come.

— Linda Ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt has come a long way from home | Music | tucson.com

Guatemalans might be staying four-families-to-a-beat-up-RV on the Oregon Coast, but not speaking English, appearing like “the other” and having not only no cash reserves but also zero confidence in accessing local (and governmental) food and financial aid add up to be literal hunger.

Social Justice Starts with Who You Associate With!

Ironically, I use singer Linda Ronstadt’s quote “declaring there are no illegal aliens” because after my family moved to the US from stints in the Azores, Germany, France and UK, we ended up in Tucson, Arizona of all places.

I learned how to make tamales and mole from aunts and cousins of Linda’s. She even swept into one of these kitchen forays and planted a kiss on my forehead. Que lindo. Un chico hippie blanco haciendo tamales con mis tías (How cute. A white hippy boy making tamales with my aunties.)

Her brother Peter was Tucson’s Police Chief when I was a reporter there and in southern Arizona. His policies were virtually hands-off on immigrants, with or without papers.

I’ve been on this battle line for social justice in Latin America since age 19, when I was active as a student journalist and activist against US military aid to El Salvador and Guatemala. Then, a few years later, I was working in Southern Arizona as a reporter for a small newspaper group owned by a family. The two dailies — Bisbee Review &  Sierra Vista Dispatch — and a few other weeklies were run by two quirky brothers. My stories often times were front page doozies.

Tombstone Epitaph Newspaper Building, 1927 | Special Collections

It was a crazy time for a young newspaper journalist:  In the morning covering the Bisbee rose club, and then five hours later, on the scene covering the drug tunnel found connecting Agua Prieta with Douglas. Funky stories about fence-jumping turquoise pirates getting into abandoned mine shafts at the Copper Queen open pit, to covering one of the deepest exploratory oil wells our near Tombstone. Drug-running, gunrunning, and nuts and bolts county planning and zoning. I interviewed Jesse Jackson when he came out to our neck of the desert to help settle down the Cochise County Sheriff Department going after a group of African Americans they were serving papers on.

Google: The Miracle Valley shootout and a confrontation between members of the Christ Miracle Healing Center and Church (CMHCC) and Cochise County law enforcement and Miracle Valley, Arizona.

Kick-ass stuff for a reporter, having just gotten back from a year in Scotland and Europe, part of a trip to be a writer after spending four years at the University of Arizona, the college daily, and the school’s lab newspaper in Tombstone (The Epitaph).

Just a few months after Europe, I was part of the news-gathering brethren penning these sorts of headlines: “Salvadorans Fight Over Urine . . .  14 Border Crossers Die in Arizona Desert, Organ Pipe National Monument.”

That was July 5, 1980. I was 23 years old.

Crossing Borders, Crossing Philosophical Lines

I was in the thick of things journalistically, working with literally homeless-homelandless people, some individuals spending thousands of dollars to coyotes to get them across that bullshit borderline. Earlier, in my senior year of high school, I had met Chileans living in Tucson who were here through the good graces of activist miniseries. Because of these adults’ leftist college activities, union membership and outspoken positions against right-wing despotism and violence — the Pinochet years – many were imprisoned, and some lost loved ones and comrades to the general’s death squads.

Eventually, I ended up in the Highlands of Guatemala, and along the US-Guatemala border. More than 200,000 Guatemalans were murdered in the dirty wars, a system of genocide fed by the USA and its “foreign” policies and School of the Americas at Fort Benning.

Then, in El Paso two years later, I was a graduate student at the University, I worked with refugees at Ruben Garcia’s Annunciation House and wrote some stories for both the El Paso Times and the now defunct El Paso Herald-Post on the good work at Ruben’s sanctuary.

Guatemala - Why Are So Many Guatemalans Migrating to the U.S. ...

I taught college classes in prisons and also part of a college program for children of migrant workers.

Ruben Garcia Opens The Door To Humanity | The City Magazine

My tutelage in covering varying levels of homeless and homelandless was fast and furious!

Fast-forward, and I skim through many years in activism — revolutionary social work, education, environmental journalism, more. I worked with adults living with developmental disabilities for United Cerebral Palsy of Southern Washington and Oregon, with Foster Youth teens as case manager for Life Works NW, and with homeless veterans and their families for the Salvation Army.

Oh yeah, I was with Portland’s Big Kahuna of homeless and addiction services —  Central City Concern — as an employment counselor.

I was working with people I consider to be brothers/sisters/comrades – “detritus” the rich, the beautiful people, mainstream and even social services folk might call them. Or I’ve heard “the dregs of society,” “bottom of the barrel,” and from those a bit more evolved on the human scale, “those disenfranchised humans.”

In every case over the decades, I worked with people who either had no home (prison, transitional housing, foster homes are not homes) or who were looking for a better home than their dangerous and precarious situations beheld.

Many moons have passed, and, lo and behold, I have been on the Oregon Coast with my spouse since December 2018, after going toe-to-toe with the “Starvation Army” in Beaverton on some really corrupt leadership decisions and dangerous situations in which these poverty pimps put both the clients and staff.

One thing led to another. I was quickly working as a substitute K12 teacher in Lincoln County; I created my own column in the arts and entertainment rag, Oregon Coast Today; wrote for the Newport News Times (now it’s pro bono because of dropped ad revenues); and, now, going on one year, manage for both Lincoln and Jefferson counties an anti-poverty program for Family Independence Initiative.

I am working with low income households in a state-supported social capital research project. Families or individuals living in Lincoln and Jefferson counties receive $840 each for a year to do monthly 10-minute “journaling.”

Guatemala - Why Are So Many Guatemalans Migrating to the U.S. ...

Love and Death in a Time of Panic-Demic!

Things have changed since the SARS-CV-2, as the non-profit I work for as a 1099 contractor is now distributing (and helping other non-profits distribute) $32 million in places like Chicago, Boston, Seattle and Detroit. These are cash assistance lump sums: so-called unconditional cash transfers. Starbucks a la Schulz has thrown in with a $500-per-person Covid fund ($6 million total) for King County; and other cities like Boston, Chicago and Detroit are having FII move millions of bucks for each household to receive a $2,400 cash transfer.

My months working with families, face to face, at various places like the housing authority’s Ocean Spray Family Center in Newport, and the libraries throughout the county, as well as Homeless Education Literacy Project, have put me front and center close to my roots in Mexico and Central America.

I have talked to many immigrants who have come from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

There is an underground labor network, shadow economy, cash under the table mode of work. There are people who are supporting Guatemalans with translators and help navigating the school systems for their children.

Chapina Express - Los Angeles Food Trucks - Roaming Hunger

Earth Day 2020 Zoomed

I am also involved in the American Cetacean Society and other movements in the county tied to Surfrider beach clean-ups and the legal process of banning aerial spraying of agent orange-like herbicides onto clear-cuts. I was asked to be a speaker on the Zoom Earth Day 2020, and in that planning, it was obvious to me I was back with what I term Greenie Weenies/Meanies.

I was told that “putting a downer” on the Zoom Earth Day event would be a no-no. This is the sort of group-think silliness and reckless false hope I have been dealing with since, err, I was 13 living in Paris with my mom and sister while my US Army old man was in Vietnam shooting brown people.

Then, a day after that April 22 event, I end up talking to Ginger Gouveia, who is working with Guatemalans, who are homeless and precarious, AND starving in Lincoln County. Thanks to the deadly combination of Obama-Trump-ICE-Racism-Lockdown.

This is really what ecological social justice is about. Nothing in the current mainstream and big green environmental movement in the USA gets the class divide, the power of poverty to tear at the soul of a country, the globe.

And to cut into our Guatemalan neighbors.

Trump threatens Guatemala after its court blocks asylum deal with ...

Here’s Ginger’s letter to me:

I am writing to you as a member the group, Acompañar Relief Fund.  We are concerned citizens who are seeking donations on behalf of immigrants who have lost their jobs and do not qualify for any assistance.  All of whom have been hard working asylum seekers with families.  Our focus is on providing as many families as we can with some food assistance.

Since starting this fundraiser, we have been grateful for the generosity of our community, friends and families. The need is GREAT and our goal is to be able to include as many families as possible.  This population will not recover for many months and will not receive any financial assistance, no stimulus check and no unemployment. We are looking for ways to continue providing some support for as long as this financial disaster continues.

This week we were able to give $60, or gift cards, as well as rice and beans and some Masa to 20 families.  The families with the greatest need are being referred by agencies working with them.

Sincerely, Ginger Gouveia, Acompañar Coordinator

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” – Karl Marx

Marx’s quote is taken out of context. He did see religion like opium which, of course, benefits for the sick and ailing —  it reduces people’s immediate suffering and provides them with pleasant illusions giving them the strength to carry on.

Almost all Guatemalans coming to USA, Oregon and Lincoln county place religion as both panacea and strength, community and spiritual sustenance.  In the past few years many unaccompanied minors and women with children from Central America have been crossing the border (at a rate of 180,000 per year). These are Mayans. Not the gringo Latin Americans. These are the Native Americans.

University of Oregon Professor Lynn Stephen has documented threats of violence, extortion, and torture against children and indigenous Guatemalan women whose husbands leave to go north:

“They’re leaving them in vulnerable, unprotected positions in communities. If you don’t have a male protector, women and children may become marks.”  Hundreds have ended up in Lane County and many others are in the Portland area.

“This is when it’s most amazing when it’s young people who are 15, 16, 14, deciding on their own to leave. My youngest son is 16. I can’t imagine what it would be like for him to make the journey,” Stephen said.

Rising hate drives Latinos and immigrants into silence | Cronkite News

These are cautious people, and the people working with refugees do not want to be named or identified in this anti-immigrant climate.

Gangs in Guatemala keep tabs on the new arrivals: harassment and extortion are common for the families back home when the gangs find out money is being sent to Guatemala by those working and living in the US.

Living close by, worshiping together, and being part of the shadow economy is how Guatemalans in Oregon survive, and thrive. Forming their own churches and then creating that kind of community is commonplace.

Right now, in Lincoln County, there isn’t enough support coming in to support Guatemalans. Churches are asking for help, per Ginger’s plea for donations.

No proporciona ningun beneficio en EUA….

That was the public service announcement mantra under the Obama Administration – USA does not provide any benefits.

U.S. pressure on Mexico to interdict refugees was pulled back for a few years and so many refugee workers have seen a new wave of Central Americans coming to Oregon. Many of those that got political asylum are still in Oregon.

They set down roots, enroll kids in schools, become part of the fabric of our towns and cities. With the lockdown and pandemic hitting the world and here in Lincoln County, our Central American homelandless brothers and sisters are struggling. These are valuable humans on their own accord, but invaluable as part of our community.

A while back, I read a letter to the editor of the Newport News Times railing against Oregon Coast Community College nominating an undocumented as Student of the Year. He was Guatemalan. He spoke eloquently at the podium why he came here and how he wanted to better his life.

The letter writer bashed this young person’s character. He brought up the old canard of having no papers is breaking the law. He called it a slap in the face to all the students who go to the college who were here “legally.” He felt the Guatemalan college graduate should not have been recognized!

In the end, we all are so-called illegal aliens – those with no Native American roots. That includes all the slaves forcefully brought to these shores. All those Spanish, French, Portuguese, and English armies and any number of people who immigrated here, either with paperwork or without.

All uninvited guests with no preapproval and passports given to them by the great First Nations tribes.

No one asked the Confederated Tribes of Siletz if the pioneers could come rushing into Oregon to steal their ancestral land.

It is 2020, a year that beguiles us all. Certainly, many of us five decades ago had 2020 vision about what would happen under predatory-parasitic-casino-disaster-neoliberal-neocon capitalism.  Yet now, in this 21st Century, there is obvious myopia and, worse, enabled blindness when it comes to really deal with this pandemic fairly, justly: it takes a village, state and country to raise a community, and the same to deal with pandemics.

I learn everyday from Guatemalans, including one of the country’s poets.

  • First, here are some Guatemala proverbs that say it all in a few words each –
  • Better to eat beans in peace than to eat meat in distress.
  • Do not bear ill will toward those who tell you the truth.
  • Everyone is the age of their heart.
  • It’s not the fault of the parrot, but of the one who teaches him to talk.
  • There’s no ill that doesn’t turn out for the better.
  • Your true enemy lives in your own house.

Better yet, a poem by Guatemala’s most famous poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1967: Miguel Angel Asturias. According to The Review of Contemporary Fiction, “Asturia was a man who believed deeply in maintaining Native American culture in Guatemala, and who championed those who were persecuted. His literature was critically acclaimed, but perhaps not always appreciated. As an artist, his complexity is such that readers and critics often shy away from his elegant beauty.

Caudal (The Fortune)

To give is to love,
To give prodigiously:
For every drop of water
To return a torrent.

We were made that way,
Made to scatter
Seeds in the furrow
And stars in the ocean.

Woe to him, Lord,
who doesn’t exhaust his supply,
And, on returning, tells you:
“Like an empty satchel

Is my heart.”

Miguel Ángel Asturias - Pueblo e Historia de Guatemala

BJP and Israel: Hindu Nationalism is Ravaging India’s Democracy

It was only a matter of time before the anti-Muslim sentiment in India turned violent.

A country that has historically prided itself on  its diversity and tolerance, and for being ‘the largest democracy in the world’ has, in recent years, exhibited the exact opposite qualities – chauvinism, racism, religious intolerance, and, at times, extreme violence.

The latest round of  violence ensued on February 23, one day before US President Donald Trump arrived in Delhi on his first official visit to India.

Trump is a beloved figure among Hindu nationalists, especially supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled India since 2014.

BJP, under the leadership of Narendra Modi, has wreaked havoc on Indian politics and foreign policy. However, the damage that this ultra-nationalist movement has caused to Indian society is unmatched since the country’s independence in 1947.

Under BJP rule, the hatred for Muslims, a sizable minority of over 200 millions, among other minority groups, has grown over the years to represent the core discourse of a movement that is ideologically and morally bankrupt.

Jumping on the Islamophobia band wagon, which has grown exponentially since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Hindu nationalists disguised their racist and chauvinistic ideology as part of a global ‘war on terror’.

It was no surprise, then, to see Modi reaching out to like-minded islamophobes, the likes of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The seemingly unbreakable Modi-Netanyahu ‘friendship’ underlies a growing pro-Israel movement among Hindu nationalists.

Hindu nationalist ideologues and pro-Israel Zionists have long discovered a common cause, one that is predicated on a collective sense of racial supremacy and intolerance for Islam and Muslims.

In fact, Israel has, in recent years, emerged as the common denominator between various such ultra-nationalist and far-right groups in India and across the globe. Strangely, but tellingly, some of these groups are known for hostility towards Jews and outright antisemitism. However, for these groups, the anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and anti-Muslim sentiments were far more pressing priorities than all else.

While Europe and North America have received a greater share of political analysis regarding the rise of Islamophobia around the world, countries like India, Burma, and China have largely been excluded from the discussion.

It is true that the discrimination and violence against China’s Muslim minority, the Uyghurs, Burma’s Rohingya population and India’s Muslims, have all received a relatively fair share of media attention and analysis. However, the targeting of Muslims in these polities is largely perceived as provisional ‘conflicts’ that are unique to these areas, with little or no connection to global anti-Muslim phenomena.

But nothing could be further from the truth. For example, the fact that BJP politicians often refer to Muslim migrants in India as ‘infiltrators and termites’ mirrors the same dehumanizing lexicon used by Buddhist nationalists in Burma and Israeli Zionists in Palestine.

The likes of the Hindu Samhati movement, known for its anti-Muslim bigotry, has, therefore, become essential to this new global anti-Muslim brand. And, according to the same disturbing logic, hating Muslims then becomes synonymous with loving apartheid Israel.

Hence, it was not a complete surprise to see tens of thousands of Hindu nationalists rallying in Calcutta in February 2018 in what was described by organizers as “the largest pro-Israel rally” in history.

But what took place in New Delhi in February was more ominous than any other previous display of violence. Dozens of Indian Muslims were beaten to death and hundreds more were severely injured by angry Hindu nationalists.

While India is no stranger to mob violence, the recent bouts of bloodshed in that country are most alarming considering it is a rational outcome of a racist trajectory that has been championed by the BJP and their supporters.

Particularly alarming were the scenes of Indian security forces either watching the brutality against Indian Muslims unfold without intervening or objecting in any way or worse, participating in the violence themselves.

While it is rightly argued that the anti-Muslim campaign in India was triggered by Modi’s Citizenship Amendment Act which ultimately aims at rendering millions of Muslims in India stateless, the ailment lies in the BJP itself – a purely xenophobic movement that exploits the grievances of the poor and marginalized in India to maintain political power.

It goes without saying that India’s Modi is a far cry from the India that was envisaged by Mahatma Gandhi or the country’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Unfortunately, with Modi and the BJP in power, India will experience yet more tragic days ahead. Flanked by equally racist and violent allies in Tel Aviv and Washington, Modi feels empowered to carry out more such sinister and discriminatory measures against the country’s vulnerable minorities, especially Muslims.

It is essential that we educate ourselves further about the situation in India, and that we understand the anti-Muslim politics and violence in that country within the larger global context. India’s Muslims need our solidarity more than ever before, especially as the emboldened BJP and their chauvinistic leader seem to have no moral boundaries whatsoever.

Why “Go Home Yanqui” Country is that Shit-Hole USA it Has Always Been

Los Dias de los Muertos are highly stylized rituals grounded in Aztec mythology when those who had passed on during the year migrate to the darkness of Mictlan in the north – the 1st is reserved for the innocents, the children, and the 2nd for the rest of us poor sinners. Traditional altars, garnished with cempaxeutl (a kind of marigold), photographs of the “difuntos” (deceased ones), jugs of tequila and mezcal, the favorite cigarettes of the dead, steaming bowls of turkey mole, and spun sugar “cranios” (skulls) blanket the land from border to border. Thanks to Calderon and the drug war that he launched to please his handlers in Washington which has triggered the cartels’ murder spree, the newly dead are dying faster than such altars can even be assembled.

Unlike the persona of Santa Muerte, the macabre cult around which the drug cartels have consolidated and who purportedly protects the true believers from the Grim Reaper, los Dias de los Muertos are designed to accept and mock Death, rendering it less terrifying for those of us who teeter on the brink. This year, I will wander the allies of our make-believe Mictlan disguised as my own cancer-ridden liver. We shall soon see who gets to laugh last.

“A Ding-Dong Year for Death in Mexico,” John Ross

**Part I of a Thousand**

They say in America that everyone wants to be American. Everyone wants to come to the United States of America. The world – especially third world or partially-developed peoples – envies this Anglo colony of mutt-infested Englanders.

But the lot of them – in academia, media, politics, business, the average Joe and Jan, as well as the governmental trolls – thinks Mexicans, Indians, et al have not only a hankering to leave behind their homelands and families and cultures. But to assimilate, and strip all history and the fingerprints of their terra, or land, from their very being.

They are wrong.

I’m in Cuernavaca now, after being with a young woman – 52 – and her 30-something sister and my spouse. This is the place of the rich, the tourists, the indulgent, the traffic, even the Walmart’s and Costco’s and IHOP’s.

Writing about Mexico has been an avocation for me over the years having lived and worked here, and having lived and worked on the border, in El Paso, the world’s largest border city in the world adjoining Juarez.

Over the years — from the first overlay of my being age 16 going to the Sea of Cortez as a recreational diver, to my work as a faculty member in El Paso’s University of Texas campus, to my own back and forth relationship with Mexico and Central America — I have had to confront the racists of the world spewing their hate against everything Mexico, anyone from down south of the border.

In this country I call my birthplace but not my aligned place, USA, I have confronted the most vile, ignorant and hateful “people” surrounding what they consider their legitimate prejudice and judgment against Mexico. But this legacy of Trump-brand racism was there under the Carters, Nixons, Reagans, Bushes, Clintons, Obamas. Way before, even.

Some facts:

In 1925, Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote that “Japanese immigrants are not capable of assimilation into the American population…Anyone who has traveled in the Far East knows that the mingling of Asiatic blood with European and American blood produces, in nine cases out of ten, the most unfortunate results.”

Woodrow Wilson, a southerner, opposed postwar Reconstruction because “the dominance of an ignorant and inferior race was justly dreaded.” He opposed giving blacks the right to vote, claiming “it was a menace to society,” and as president he oversaw the re-segregation of the federal government. He lived in the White House a century ago.

Calvin Coolidge signed an immigration bill aimed at keeping out “the yellow peril” — i.e. Asians, along with Africans and Arabs. “America must be kept American,” he said in 1923.

Donald Trump said once Nigerians have seen the United States, they would never “go back to their huts.

“Laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control,” Trump said in a 1997 Playboy interview.

Over and over and over, I have had to confront family, friends, students, strangers with their idiocy and racism, both soft and hard, prejudice and bigotry, over and over and over. Ruben Navarrette Jr. of USA Today wrote after the El Paso murders:

Only in the past decade has there been a surge in books that expose this hidden history, including “Forgotten Dead: Mob Violence against Mexicans in the United States, 1848-1928” by William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb. In the 19th century, Mexican Americans were beaten and run off their property; in Texas and elsewhere, thousands were lynched. The World War II generation put up with segregated schools and being barred from public swimming pools, restaurants, barber shops and other establishments.

And within the country’s color scheme, Mexican Americans are in between black and white. In the 1960s, the saying was: If you’re white, you’re all right. If you’re black, stay back. And if you’re brown, stick around. The idea was that the country would accept Latinos as full participants in society, if we would just wait for our moment.

Well, we never got our moment. What we got instead, at a Walmart in West Texas, was mayhem and bloodshed and heartache.

Mexican Americans have been defined by ambivalence. But after what happened in El Paso, that is a luxury we can’t afford.

It is both a strange time and a point in this country’s disgusting history that is easily understood by and through history:

El Paso shooting: ‘Open season’ on Hispanics in America thanks to ‘racist in chief’ Trump/Trump has utterly failed in the president’s traditional role of uniting the country. His legacy will be stained by his deadly xenophobia and racism.

Two weeks in Mexico is never enough, but part of the purpose of my trip was to assimilate my partner (with Mexican family roots but no deep  Mexico experience) to Mexico. She went back in her life to visit a friend who she worked with (together 11 years ago), or in some sense, who she managed as an employee in Oregon.

In either case, we introduced ourselves to Claudia’s 30th high school reunion in a town called Axochiapan (look at this story on the brain-drain/people/labor/ cultural-drain of this small place surrounded by cane (sugar), cattle, corn, and hard working people stripped of agency by USA NAFTA, corrupt banks, corrupt presidents, all on the line of the financial theft of a developing country going back way before the United Fruit Company, Exxon, and the other Fortune 1000 corrupting felonious corporations making a dime on the gallons of blood and sweat of the people they deem as disposable, purposeless (push them off the land where the gems and metals are) and below that white DNA mutating set of genes that has for centuries put the world on fire.

Way North of the Border by Eduardo Porter and Elisabeth Malkin

Mexican mecca in Twin Cities by Eduardo Porter and Elisabeth Malkin. This was written 15 years ago, 2005:

They call Minneapolis the new Axochiapan, said Ramiro Hernandez, a successful businessman who arrived in the United States illegally 20 years ago from Axochiapan, a small town in the central Mexican state of Morelos.”Ninety percent of the population there has people over here. Kids come here as soon as they come of age.

There are so many men from Axochiapan in the area that the village priest came to visit.

“Father Miguel came to look for the husbands and take them back, but he didn’t manage to get any,” Enrmquez Navarro said.

Migration is leaving a deep mark on Axochiapan, a county seat at the center of a cluster of villages with a population of some 30,000.

In Quebrantadero, one of the villages, people talk of closing the primary school because there are so few young children left.

Municipal officials in Axochiapan estimate that at least a third of the population has moved.

The places we went to (some) were not on the gringo trail, in the expat’s travel log, or mapped on the tourist trap itinerary. We stayed in homes where the water is iffy, where the toilets have to be swamped with buckets of water to flush, where the chickens and cocks and dogs all hang out while we eat peanuts and drink mescal under the brilliant stars and swooping bats and sounds of a small dying town still spasming to life at night.

It just so happened we were in Mexico during the days of saints, the days leading up to Christmas. Young and old people making the pilgrimage to genuflect to the Virgin of Guadalupe, which were long hikes along roads and highways. Days of walking to show tribute to the religion of the conquerors, the religion of biting repression, misogyny, and endless Byzantine corruption all the way from Rome to a two-bit Mexican village of peasants.

In the true character of a writer, artist, photographer, teacher, radical, and systems thinker, I didn’t view this as contradictory or destabilizing for me since I have grown up in the Azores, lived overseas in poor towns in the UK, France, and then many of backpacking venture to Mexico, Central America, Vietnam, elsewhere.

The closer I got to Claudia’s 87-year-old father, who rides his horse, Muneca (doll) through the town into the milpas to tend to watering his 25 cows, the more I went into the cellular level of wanting nothing more than the entire western project, ramshackle as it is, razed, burned and vanished.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_5665.jpg

MAGA freaks I have met daily and who troll me on my websites, on my Linked In, in my life, well, they are the mutants I dream about — German, English, French, Slavic, et al. The pathogens who send their criminals (like Canadian mining outfits) into the high sierra or forested mountains or hardscrabble deserts of this land I call a second home.

The compassion, loyalty, love of life, connection to family, no matter how disheveled or fractured it may be, in these people’s pinkies is a thousand times more than the attempts at solidarity or cohesion I have experienced in many many a time with countless families in this country — United Snakes of America.

People daily ask me why I am still here, in the US of Israel. Why I am so discontented and so critical of this land of loafers, charlatans, cheats, racists, delusionals, arrogant fools AND still I live here? I get Stockholm syndrome and battered spouse syndrome and unnecessary attachment phobia.

As Andre Vltchek says sometimes — I believe it too — that Westerners going to live as expats Haiti, Vietnam, Mexico, all those South American countries, what the hell do they bring, give, contribute to? Here, a great piece I reference a lot of the time — “What Cannot Be Written in the USA” June 19, 2015, DV.

I was shocked by the state in which I found the United States.

I left many years ago. I left New York, which was, for more than a decade, my home. I never returned, except to launch my books and films, and to see my friends. I never stayed for long time. Two weeks, this time, was the longest in years.

This visit broke me. It exhausted me. It thoroughly depressed me.

I saw clearly how grotesque pseudo-morality, disgusting religious concepts and hypocrisy influenced and ruined entire nations, client states, worldwide, especially in Asia and Africa.

Yes, I believe in collective guilt. Holding US citizenship, I share the guilt. And therefore, I work non-stop, not to wash my hands, but to stop the madness.

I am convinced that the West, the white race and its lackeys abroad, have no right to rule over this Planet. I saw enough to back my conviction.

The West is finished, its culture dead. What is left is unattractive, even horrifying. There is no heart, no compassion, and no creativity. And those billions of people beyond the Western realm should not be dying, while forced to support the aggressive individualism of the post-Christian, post-Crusade colonialism and fascism of Europe and the United States.

He gives us more of the context of his despair, again, at DV:

The citizens of the Empire were eager to describe themselves as “victims”. Did the same spectacle appear in Nazi Germany in the 1930’s? Most likely yes! “Defeated Germany was hit by hyper-inflation, reparations, therefore it was a victim!” It felt it became a victim of the Bolsheviks and the Jews and the French, and the Roma… The United States was not defeated externally, only internally. The two settings are different. Yet there are many similarities, especially in how two empires have treated “un-people”.

“Do you believe in collective guilt, in collective responsibility?” Someone challenged me from the public.

“Definitely!” I shouted back. “The responsibility and the guilt of the West, of the white race, of Christianity, of the Empire! Collective responsibility and guilt for hundreds of millions of victims defined as un-people. Victims gassed, bomber, starved, mutilated… Collective guilt and responsibility for raping the free will of billions in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Oceania. Collective guilt and responsibility for the ongoing global apartheid!”

I can leave anytime, and I have on many occasions, but I am needed here, for a bit more time. I teach, I write, I work on an anti-poverty program, I live, I suffer, I engage. Now on the Oregon Coast. But, of course, there is more to this world than tap water, dish washers, lighted streets, order, lawless law, hegemony, reckless capitalism, penury, the lies of the empire, the rot of the professional class, the lies of the academic class, the tricks of the financial barons, the putrid propaganda of Hollywood-DoD-CIA.

Definitely, suffering and supplication and oppression are in the eye of the beholder. What more can life be than the relationships we hold dear, the simplicity of breathing in and out, the reality of one chopped-up coconut and one finely browned tortilla and endless laughter and guacamole and bits of cheese and papayas and mescal?

I didn’t have Trump or Sanders or Warren or FOX News or Holly-dirt or NYT or Bezos or Forbes or Economist or Military Industrial Complex on my mind while hoofing it to the field where 87-year-old Rodolfo went daily to water his cattle.

Horse and old man and two unmarried daughters taking care of the father whose wife died of cancer years ago.  Adrian, his brother, laughed at my horsemanship, and in the end I didn’t give a shit about macho-macho man (I know horses fairly well). He laughed and cajoled and razzed me, and it was all in good fun.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_5336.jpg

That night, after taking shots (photos) of the church and the band and the youth doing the toritos (paper mache bulls rigged with Roman candles and crazy fireworks) thing, Adrian was on his motorcycle, in his cups beyond anything an American might approve of, and he held me in his grip and just went on and on about being brothers with this crazy American with the Einstein hair. He laughed, we chugged tequila, and he drove off with the cycle’s light turned off.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_5380.jpg

So this friend (now family) in Mexico who wanted so much to impress my partner with the value of her own friendship with a gringa but also to show us a good side of her country. Claudia knew I was already deep into Mexico from an early age. What Claudia wanted was for my partner to enjoy the deep sense of her gratitude as her former boss in the USA and a sense of renewed and energized friendship.

What Claudia and her sister Alejandra and her father Rodolfo and the entire clan did was they introduced us to people of their clan, their tribe, and they wanted to impress upon us a sense of belonging in their country.

Hands down, the country is saddened about and steeled against the Donald Trump School of Racism spewed out against their country. Saddened still by the huge number of MAGA followers who despise Mexico and Mexicans and Mexican-Americans and anything Chicano or Latino.

Mexico’s at crossroads, too, again and again. Many in the state department and parasites of the bumbling media tell/report to people not to come to Mexico, or warn of wandering at night as a ticket to the grave Ross talks about in the epigraph above.

You can’t count the times in one or two blocks of driving here where neoliberalism and consumerism haven’t taken over the people. If you think the chains and Home Depots have colonized every pathetic place in the USA, we are seeing it at every turn in Mexico.

Yet this land of eagle and snake, blood and fire, church and conquistador, virgin mother and narco-trafficker, child and historian, baby and hunched over old man, pyramids and basilicas, pottery and plastic has something deep ingrained in most of the gente, the people of the land, pueblos, cities and villages.

In a span of a few days, I have returned to my other mother country, to the place where I learned how to think and write and feel and love and dispel all the chains of my mother and father countries.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_5851.jpg

The Whole Damn System Is Guilty As Hell: Taking Control Of Police

Stop killings by police protest (Credit: William Widmer of the NY Times)

The entire system of policing in the United States is in crisis. Police murdering civilians has become a too common nightmare across the United States. The police murders of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Eric Garner in New York City, Walter Scott in Charleston, SC, Tamar Rice in Cleveland OH, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, MD, Laquan McDonald in Chicago, IL and so many more have spurred a movement to transform policing.

The power relationship between police and the community is out of balance. Militarized policing of black and brown communities resembles an occupying force. While many police departments use the slogan “protect and serve,” in too many communities, people do not feel protected or served. They feel threatened, harassed and abused by police.

The relationship between police and the people needs to change. While there have been some positive reforms like police body cameras, special units to investigate police and increased prosecutions of police, these are insufficient. The most promising transformational change is to put in place community control of police through a democratically-elected police accountability board.

Screenshots showing the police conflict and killing of Eric Garner

The Crisis

The constant police killings and shootings often caught on video and shared on social media have created a movement to transform policing. Associated Press described it, writing: “The videos — and the outrage that followed — helped ignite the most powerful civil rights movement since the 1960s.” The widespread police violence has become a national racial justice issue.

Police violence protest sign carried in the 1963 March on Washington, from Smithsonian Institution

Police violence has been a reality in the United States from the start. The poster above could be carried today, but it is more than 50 years old. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said in the I Have A Dream Speech, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” Police violence has been part of centuries of oppression of Black people in the United States since they were first brought to the continent as slaves.

Slavery and racism are intertwined with policing, as Gary Potter, Ph.D., wrote in The History of Policing in the United States:

The genesis of the modern police organization in the South is the “Slave Patrol” (Platt 1982). The first formal slave patrol was created in the Carolina colonies in 1704 (Reichel 1992). Slave patrols had three primary functions: (1) to chase down, apprehend, and return to their owners, runaway slaves; (2) to provide a form of organized terror to deter slave revolts; and, (3) to maintain a form of discipline for slave-workers who were subject to summary justice, outside of the law, if they violated any plantation rules. Following the Civil War, these vigilante-style organizations evolved in modern Southern police departments primarily as a means of controlling freed slaves who were now laborers working in an agricultural caste system, and enforcing “Jim Crow” segregation laws, designed to deny freed slaves equal rights and access to the political system.

The 1929 Illinois Crime Survey found that although blacks made up just five percent of the population, they constituted 30 percent of the victims of police killings. Police violence has been the spark for uprisings in black communities. Newark had one of the deadliest riots when in 1967 police officers beat a black cab driver leading to an insurrection where 26 people died over four days of unrest. The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders investigated the causes of major uprisings concluding: “police actions were ‘final’ incidents before the outbreak of violence in 12 of the 24 surveyed disorders.”

The 1991 video of the bloody beating of cab driver Rodney King showed police brutality on television. Police hit King more than 50 times with their batons. When they were acquitted, the verdict led to an uprising that lasted six days, killing 63 people and injuring 2,373. The National Guard, US Army, and Marines were deployed in the community.

Today, the widespread acts of violence cannot be claimed to be isolated incidents of one bad apple. This violence is documented by the media like The Guardian and non-profit organizations like The Marshall ProjectMore than 1,100 people per year are killed by the police — more than four times the number of people lynched or executed by capital punishment in the worst of years — about one person every eight hours.

Police departments have become a violent occupying force in communities of color and against people exercising their political rights at protests. Police departments with military-grade equipment have become the norm in US cities. Images of police officers in helmets and body armor riding through neighborhoods in tanks accompany stories of protests, including when people protest against police violence.

Community Control of Police, thousands in Chicago protest against police crimes (Photo by Monique in Fight Back News)

Putting People in Control of the Police

In 2012, about 100 people met in Chicago to develop a plan for community control of the police. Now, 60,000 people have signed petitions and there are 19 members of the Chicago City Council, 40 percent of the council, who support it. This weekend, 1,000 people attended the re-founding of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression where the centerpiece of discussion was democratic control of the police.

We interviewed Frank Chapman, who has been involved in the work in Chicago to create a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) from the beginning, on our radio show.  Chapman puts the issue into context describing how, for a brief period after the Civil War, communities controlled their police. But the reversal of Reconstruction ended that. He says that communities getting control of police should be recognized as central to black liberation.

Chapman explains how they have organized to build support for the issue with grassroots activism, holding community meetings, going door-to-door and tabling, gathering signatures and electing people to the city council.

The centerpiece of the Chicago bill is democratic community control. The bill for a Civilian Police Accountability Council gives broad powers to the elected council. These powers include complete control of the police:

  1. Appoint a Superintendent of Police;
  2. Adopt rules and regulations for the governance of the Department of Police of the city;
  3. Serve as a board to hear disciplinary actions for which a suspension for more than the 30 days expressly reserved to the Superintendent is recommended, or for removal or discharge involving officers and employees of the Police Department in the classified civil service of the city;
  4. Promulgate rules, regulations, and procedures for the conduct of the CPAC’s investigations consistent with the requirements of collective bargaining agreements, due process of law and equal protection under the law;
  5. In those instances where CPAC’s investigation indicates that a member of the Department of Police has committed a crime, petition the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to convene a Grand Jury if one is not already convened, and present CPAC’s findings of criminal activity to the Grand Jury to get an indictment for Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law pursuant to 18 U.S. Code § 242;
  6. Review, approve and submit to the City of Chicago the annual budget of the Department of Police;
  7. Provide required educational opportunities for CPAC members to become familiar with citizens’ United States and Illinois constitutional rights, learn law enforcement oversight techniques, and undergo victims’ assistance, sexual assault and domestic violence certification training;
  8. Establish officers, committees, and subcommittees for the effective conduct of CPAC business;
  9. Protect the rights guaranteed to the citizens of Chicago by the United States and Illinois Constitutions;
  10. Review and sign off on all complaint investigations;
  11. Review and sign off on all new Department of Police policies and special orders;
  12. Disallow the use of the Department of Police by outside law enforcement agencies to commit crimes;
  13. Negotiate and approve contracts with the police unions; and,.
  14. Remap the City of Chicago police districts as needed as determined by the CPAC.

When asked what the difference is between the elected council and the increasingly common Civilian Police Review Boards, Chapman responds: “Accountability.” By being democratically elected, the Chicago model holds the council and the police accountable. Review boards chosen by the government too often include people who are friends or allies of the police.

Democratic control is essential

This November 4, the city of Rochester, NY passed a referendum creating a Police Accountability Board with 75 percent of voters supporting it. Between 2001 and 2016, citizens filed 923 allegations of excessive force. The Chief of Police sustained 16 of these allegations, only 13 led to discipline.

The board will be able to independently investigate civilian complaints, subpoena information for its investigations, and determine whether individual officers have committed misconduct. It will also create disciplinary guidelines, with an opportunity for input from the Chief of Police and the police union. If the board finds, after a hearing, that an officer has committed misconduct, the Chief of Police is required to impose discipline consistent with disciplinary guidelines. The board will also recommend changes to the Police Department’s policies, practices, and training. The police union is expected to file suit to stop this board from taking effect.

The board will be composed of nine unpaid Rochester residents: one appointed by the Mayor and eight appointed by the City Council; four of the Council’s appointees will be nominated by a coalition of community organizations, the Police Accountability Board Alliance. The potential Achilles Heel of this new law is the lack of democratic control by the people.

As a result of a November 2001 referendum supported by over 76 percent of the electorate, Miami created the Civilian Investigative Panel (“CIP”). Voters sought oversight because of a series of suspicious police shootings, throwdown guns and officers lying to grand juries. The CIP only makes recommendations to the police and has weak powers granted to its 13 members. They have lost their fight to be able to subpoena police officers due to the state’s Law Enforcement Bill of Rights. This approach has been judged as a failure. Sixteen states have a Law Enforcement Bill of Rights, which gives extra protection to police under investigation and makes it impossible for police to be judged by anyone but other police officers.

Lessons from the experience with police oversight include the importance of the democratic selection of oversight boards, not boards appointed by elected officials, clear powers that are not merely advisory for the board and, in states where relevant, confronting the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights.

Cities are spending large shares of their budgets on police at the expense of social services, health care, infrastructure, and other needs. Oakland spent 41 percent of the city’s general fund on policing in 2017. Chicago spent nearly 39 percent, Minneapolis, almost 36 percent, and Houston 35 percent. A recent study documents how a living wage, access to holistic health services and treatment, educational opportunity, and stable housing are far more successful in reducing crime than police or prisons.

Democratic community control of the police transforms the power dynamic between police and citizens. Black communities policing the police in their neighborhoods to confront the long term racist roots of policing in the United States. Community control of police needs to become the unified goal of movements seeking to end police violence, create police who serve the community and liberate black communities.