Ferguson: Who is responsible?

mai abdul rahman                           August 20, 2014

People hold signs as they attend a vigil to honor Michael Brown

At a vigil to honor Michael Brown two young women held signs that read: “who do you protect? Who do you serve?” and “We want Justice for this, we seek no more.”

Ferguson is located in the northern part of the St Louis County, MO. The Ferguson police department of 53 officers serves a population of just 21,000. Ferguson’s police citizen ratio is four times the national average (1 police officer for every 396.2 citizens vs.1 officer for 1000 citizens). 

On August 9th, Michael Brown a recent high school graduate, who was days away from attending his college of choice was shot six times (twice in the head) by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Brown was unarmed, and until that fateful day he did not have a police record. 

Brown’s death sparked protests and a military style response that surprised and outraged Americans. The Ferguson police deployed armored vehicles, 400 wooden baton rounds, and helicopters. They declared a no-fly zone over Ferguson, besieged the protesters; and used rubber bullets, stun grenades, and tear gas. In addition, the police targeted and arrested journalists, and blockaded and harassed citizens who took part in a candle lit memorial rally. The Ferguson police department also released a video that identified Brown being involved in petty theft, as if to justify Brown’s killing for simply stealing two packs of cigarillos.

The Ferguson protesters took to their mobile devices and compared their police department’s reaction to their peaceful protest to Israel’s military occupation practices in Palestine. Palestinians also noted the similarities between Israel’s military response to Palestinian non-violent protesters and the Ferguson police response. 

In addition, the similar strategies used by the IDF and the Ferguson Police did not escape a former Israeli soldier Eran Efrati who warned: “If you don’t care about Palestinians… You guys should know: you are next in line. The next one who will die from a tear gas canister into his chest will be in Zucotti Park, will be in Denver, will be in Oakland, in San Francisco. It is happening here already. It is happening to different people, to people of color, to immigrants in this country, it is already happening. You guys are next in line. The next one will die out of brutality of the police will be one of your sons or your daughters–in a protest. Because they [U.S. police] are training together. Your police–training with our army. Our army is training them how to take care of the enemy. . . . But when they come back, you are their enemy.”

In fact, all were right to make the comparable connections. The Ferguson police department like many other police departments in the US are using and employing Israel’s police tactics. But how did this fundamental shift in US police practices come about? 

What caused this remarkable shift in US police practices?

“If you don’t know where you are going, look back to where you’ve come from” (Arabic proverb). Americans need to understand what caused this radical transformation in US police practices; and who played a role in institutionalizing, and spreading this fundamental shift iin the US.

US legislators wishing to establish closer and tighter relationships with Israel actively promoted and funded collaborative and cooperative working relations between US agencies, and Israeli agencies in every sphere. As a result US federal and state agencies were encouraged to train with Israel’s security agencies, and import Israel’s military police, and border patrol practices. Here are few examples that illustrate the early warning signs of the broad use of Israel’s tactical strategies on US citizens:

  • In 2009, the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police employed checkpoints and roadblocks in the Trinidad neighborhood. This novel practice was imported from Israel. In fact the road blocks were employed soon after DC’s former Chief of Police Charles Ramsey and several of his top deputies, along with US Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer had returned from Israel. While in Israel they studied, observed, and learned Israel’s policing practices. The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JNIS), a D.C.-based nonprofit organization, sponsored their trip. Since 2001, JNIS has targeted state, city, and federal security executives to meet the “security requirements of the United States.” Employing Israeli police practices did not fare well for city residents or their police. Unlike the US, Israel has operated since 1948 without a written constitution that has been indefinitely suspended. This allows the Israeli military and police greater authority and autonomy, including the ability to ignore and effectively nullify Israel’s High Court’s decisions. Meanwhile, US police powers are limited by our Constitution, as was demonstrated by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which on July 10, 2009, appropriately overturned a lower court ruling regarding the constitutionality of the use of police checkpoints and roadblocks.
  • In 2009, Pittsburgh was the site of the G 20 Summit. Before the beginning of the Summit, or the arrival of international leaders and their delegates, four thousand police officers were assembled from surrounding counties and states to deal with the anticipated 5-8 thousand protesters. The police fired pepper spray sound cannons, rubber bullets, and OC gas (similar to tear gas) at the protesters. They also arrested eighty University of Pittsburgh students, some of whom were forced to terminate their college enrollment. Legal observers at the University of Pittsburgh and the National Lawyers Guild reported that the police surrounded, chased and arrested students who weren’t involved in the protest. 
  • In 2012, Boston’s Logan International Airport began testing a new interrogation techniques based on “Israel’s enhanced screening methods,” which the TSA described as ‘exemplary’ and ‘casually intrusive’. Logan screeners were trained by Israelis on how to identify “suspicious behaving” passengers including those who “avoid eye contact” when being questioned. TSA officials said employing Israel’s interrogation protocol improved Logan’s Airport security measures. American Palestinians traveling to visit family in Palestine know well Israel’s interrogation methods; they are intrusive and highly objectionable.  
  • In 2012, several Border States contracted Elbit Systems to build a Separation Wall along our Mexican border. Elbit Systems is the same Israeli company that built Israel’s Separation Wall that was decreed illegal by the International Court of Justice. When completed the US Separation Wall will disrupt the lives and connection of more than 25 Native Indian tribes whose families live across the Wall much like the Illegal Israeli Separation Wall that cuts off countless of Palestinian families, villages and cities from their loved ones, lands, schools and houses of worship. Notwithstanding, on February 2014, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security again awarded Elbit Systems $145 million to secure the U.S. border. 
  • In 2013, Mariam Carey who was with a year-old child was shot dead by the DC Capitol police. Carey had a history of mental health issues and suffered from post-partum depression. According to the New York Times, Carey was “shot by several officers.” She “was not armed” and did not “present an immediate danger.”

Who are the agents that market Israel’s police practices in the US?

Israel has effectively targeted the US Congress to market and expand its security expertise in the US. Israel also employs its local affiliates to package its security exports, and influence US funding. Since 2001, the US national security sector under the banner of homeland security remains one of the most lucrative federal funding streams that continue to grow. These funds are responsible for employing many, and supporting a thriving industry here at home and in Israel.

Recently disclosed federal budget allocations offers valuable insight. In 2014, Congress allocated more than $60 billion to the Department of Homeland Security. The Department of Homeland Security offers grants, and subsidies to police departments operating in large urban cities, the suburbs, and rural counties across the US, These subsidies and grants also draw the interest of the private sector, colleges, and NGOs. As a consequence these funds have built profitable national and international collaborations that support these respective entities, and advance Israel’s interests. On the ground this means that these federal allocations employ too many people whose livelihood and high earning jobs depend on spreading Israel’s security practices.

Since 2001, American academicians, police officers, federal and private prison administrators, and government officials have been encouraged to travel to Israel and learn Israel’s “state of the arts policing and security practices”. Once credentialed with the appropriate official commendations and certificates they advance in rank, and actively advocate Israel’s security practices to other police officials.

The US is importing security measures, which are devised by an occupying force, and designed by members or former member of Israel’s military, police or security apparatus. Israel tests and markets their state of the arts security tools and protocols on the Palestinians, who have no political power or legal protections. Perhaps US legislators chose these security collaborations to offer constituents concrete evidence of their commitment to US national security, and their deference and allegiance to the state of Israel. Meanwhile, they are disseminating and institutionalizing Israel’s military style police practice across the country. US legislators have yet to properly assess the impact of these imported security protocols on average Americans, or whether or not this form of military style policing is compatible with our national character and values.

Where do we go from here?

Misfortunes are not without some good consequences (Another Arab proverb). The Ferguson Police military style actions highlight the dangers of importing Israel’s military style policing on peaceful American demonstrators. Notwithstanding, Ferguson’s complicated situation including the thorny racial and poverty factors that deserve serious attention; Ferguson offers the public an opportunity to explore the merits and consequences of adopting and employing militarized police strategies in the US.

Our state and local legislators are certainly responsible for the means and strategy used by the Ferguson police department. The Military style approach to the Ferguson peaceful protesters is unjust to the protesters, unjust to Michael Brown, his family and memory, and is also unjust to the police who were encouraged to enforce these militarized police strategies. The American people also bear some responsibility for following their legislators’ lead without input or scrutiny. But not all is lost. We still can make a difference.

As citizens of a democracy we have to use our influence to hold responsible those who have willfully implemented this drastic change in our policing practices. The Ferguson police, like many other police departments across the country have succumb to state legislatures that encouraged and pressured them to use Israel’s security practices. They simply responded to the many incentives bestowed on US police officials who train and learn Israel’s security and message control practices.

Local and state police departments and security agencies need to re affirm, not in empty words and void mission statements, but in deliberate action, that their role remains to protect US citizens and their civil rights. In addition, before initiating or funding security imports, police departments need to properly evaluate the relevance, and compatibility of these practices with our national values.

So, when the dust settles it is important to hold those who were responsible for funding, pushing, supporting and marketing Israel’s military style tools and techniques to American police departments and security firms. Blaming the police departments will not solve the problem. Most importantly let’s not let the unjust spilling of Michael Brown’s blood to have been in vain.

In the spirit of full disclosure I need to state the following: My family is both Palestinian and African American, so from our vantage point the Palestinian- Ferguson connection is poignant. Also in 2009 my daughter was attending the University of Pittsburg, and she and the university kept us abreast of the G20 Summit protests. In addition, the examples I outlined above are lifted from several articles I had written and published between 2009-2013. You can find them on these links: http://mideastposts.com/author/mai-abdul-rahman/ and http://www.dcwatch.com/themail/2009/09-11-29.htm

2 thoughts on “Ferguson: Who is responsible?

  1. Pingback: Arab American Women and the US Gender Discourse | Peace for friend and foe

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