Ferguson protests: ‘The militarized policing takes many forms’
RT:National Guard troops have been deployed in Ferguson. The police forces as we have found out recently have the same equipment as the Guards, so why bring them in? What's the difference?
Arun Gupta: What we are seeing in Ferguson is shocking many Americans. On another level it is also depressingly familiar. This type of hyper-militarized police: the body armor, the less lethal weapons like rubber bullets and tear gas, surplus military equipment like armored personnel carriers - were all deployed across the country against the Occupy Wall Street protests. In Oakland in the fall of 2011 one young protestor Scott Olsen, who was also an Iraq war veteran, was nearly killed by the Oakland police who basically engaged riot police against the protest there. In New York we saw a massive display of force against the protests there. I traveled to many other cities and saw examples of this hyper-policing. In Portland the police would come out fully in body armor traveling on military vehicles, ready to attack kids, children, people who have been shut out of the future of the American system - no jobs, no possibility of getting a house, burdened by a student debt, who had found a voice, but who has been violently repressed by the state. There is clear parallel with what is going on in Ferguson and the Occupy Wall Street protest. This direct trajectory has been going on for 15 years.
RT:What should we expect now? Is there any chance of a peaceful resolution to these protests?
AG: I think people's reaction is highly misguided. They get all teary about a store or two being looted or burned or some windows being smashed. The history of the US is that they have looted four continents. This country was built on violence, looting and pillaging of people. While I am not going to sit here and say that it is a great thing that stores are being burned, I also know what the real issue is here - it is state violence, it is a violent system that consigns many, especially African-Americans, to a life of violence and poverty, and when they dare to poke their heads up it gets smashed down by this militarized police.
RT:Can we expect any political reform to reign in the police - as protesters are calling for?
AG: I think there is a sense that the police cannot be trusted anymore. We have a history of racial oppression. In America going back to the 16-1700s there were white state-sponsored militias, even during the Colonial times, and theirs was to suppress slave uprisings. That pattern has never really ended. The Los Angeles Police Department, that is where the Rodney King riots took place in 1992, was known as the red-neck army of occupation. There were these white southerners that were recruited. Missouri has a terrible racial history. You have a police force in St. Louis, in Ferguson, that are heavily white, many officers have racist attitudes, and have impunity to act upon those racist attitudes. I think certainly it is a minor positive step that the National Guard has been brought in, but it should not distract us from the much larger issues. One of these issues is that this is not about military equipment, that the militarized policing takes many forms. The police are there to suppress this population, the public that legitimizes it implicitly by focusing on a little bit of looting and then saying that they deserve whatever happens to them.
RT:What do you think about how these protests are being handled? Is the force being used necessary do you think?
AG: This is all relative. What do we mean by peace? Do we mean peace is just a return to a status quo? This is kind of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where what is called peace is when it is only the Palestinians who are dying. So it is peace just when the black men continue to be racially profiled and locked up, but they are not rioting or protesting in the streets or is peace actually addressing economic violence - the lack of opportunities, of jobs, of education. For me it is the latter, we need to address the systemic racial and class violence that is pervasive in America.
This requires building a mass movement. There are hopeful signs; a lot of people have been shocked. Part of this is what again happened in Israel, in Gaza, that you saw a defenseless population being pummeled by the Israeli state and then a week or two later you see another poor brown skin population being pummeled by the US. This really depends on whether people organize a type of movement to force a change. What we have seen from Obama is a lot of equivocation and trying to lump a few people who are looting in with the violent state response, these are not equals. So we cannot rely on the political system alone to address this kind of problem. It has to come from the people who organize to force a change.
RT:Amnesty International has sent a delegation to Ferguson. Do you think they are likely to find evidence of human rights abuses?
AG: Yes, I think that is certainly clear. The pattern of racist policing is institutionalized in this country. There have been reports for decades in New York City, in Chicago, in LA, St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit showing systematic racial policing. As some viewers may know, New York has been embroiled in a controversy going on well over a decade when the NYPD has been engaging in racial profiling against young African-American and Latino males, completely disproportionate to the population, to the likelihood that they have committed a crime, to the likelihood that they have any contraband or pose any threat. We have under a court mandate over 10 years of data to go on, and it is systematic. And this is not just about racial profiling. What happens when the profile is that these men get dragged into the criminal justice system and their lives are essentially ruined, they can't get a job, or a house, and education becomes almost impossible? Until these issues are addressed, and until America is willing to look at these issues of the history of racism and the racism that continues today, that is not going to change.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.