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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 12/21/11

I've Had It with These Masked Thugs

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In the US, it is a long-accepted practice that domestic military exercises are opened to the participation of troops from a small number of select allied nations. The same pattern now appears to have been extended to domestic police exercises as well. Blumenthal reports that the "mutual aid" exercise held on the Berkeley campus included a contingent of military police from Bahrain, "which had just crushed a largely non-violent democratic uprising by opening fire on protest camps," and a delegation of Israeli Border Police called the Yamam. According to Blumenthal's report, the Yamam is "known for its extra-judicial assassinations of Palestinian militant leaders." 

What Was the Cops-per-Vandals Arrest Ratio?

While a great deal of justified criticism was directed at the damage wrought in downtown Oakland by the "black bloc" vandals who broke windows and sprayed slogans on the walls of banks, a significant question remains unanswered: How many of the 80 citizens arrested by the police during the night and early morning hours of November 2-3 were vandals? 

It is difficult to know. The Oakland Police Department's Weekly Crime Report (WCR) for October 31-November 6 does not list any arrests for vandalism -- although it does list one arrest for arson and two arrests for "Assault on Officer -- Other." (In fairness, the WCR notes helpfully that: "both reporting of crimes and data entry can be a month or more behind.") 

In 2003, Oakland's newest Police Chief Howard Jordan was caught on tape reflecting upon the ease with which police could infiltrate public demonstrations. "It's not that hard," Jordan said. "San Francisco does it. Seattle"." In addition to using infiltrators embedded inside crowds to gather "intelligence," Jordan also boasted these infiltrators could even "make them [the protestors] do what we want them to do!" (Local video-journalists have posted clips showing OPD officers caught participating in the demonstrations out-of-uniform.) 

This, of course, raises the possibility that the police (who, remember, have a "conflict of interest in conflict") could easily place "provocateurs" in the streets to encourage -- or even instigate -- acts of vandalism that could justify police violence. The release of the arrest figures for the OPD's generalized strike against people in the streets of Oakland might help remove some of these fears. A good number of solid arrests for vandalism, upheld by court hearings, would suggest that the police are "doing their job." On the other hand, a paucity of busts for significant crimes might suggest the police were mainly out to bust heads, not to bust criminals. 

The Planet has made repeated calls to the OPD's media department in an attempt to glean how many of the 80 arrests that followed the peaceful day-long General Strike were for crimes of violence, arson or vandalism. As of press time, the OPD had not responded to any of these calls.  

Are the Police Doing Their Job?

Another case that questions the role of civic accountability occurred after an argument near the Occupy camp at Frank Ogawa Plaza erupted in gunfire that left one man dead. Mayor Quan responded by demanding that Occupy Oakland had a choice: it either had to take responsibility for controlling violence in the area or, if it failed to do so, Quan would be forced to remove the tents from the Plaza. 

It was an odd bargain. Put in a different context, it would be comparable to the mayor demanding that the residents of East Oakland accept responsibility for ridding the neighborhood of violent crime. And, if they failed to do so, the mayor would see to it that they would be driven from their homes.  

Quan seemed to have forgotten that it is the role of police to deal with violent crime. Instead, the onus was shifted to the civilian community while the cops were left free to "police" public protests. An essential point about the proper role of the police in a democratic society is now being reinforced by a new crowd-chant: "Who do you protect? Who do you serve?" 

The role of the police has mutated towards what Dick Cheney famously called "the dark side" with up-armored cops becoming increasingly indistinguishable from combat troops. One of the key reasons the US was forced to pull its troops out of Iraq by the end of this year was not Barack Obama's campaign vow to "bring the troops home." Rather, it was the Iraqi government's absolute refusal to guarantee "immunity from prosecution" for US troops who committed crimes inside the country.  

In this regard, the Iraqi government showed the kind of moral courage that seems to be absent in the United States where the police are rarely called before the courts to answer for crimes committed against the civilian populations they are supposed to be safeguarding.  

Recent events in Manhattan, Oakland, Portland, and other "Occupied" cities, have further underscored the fact that, in the UPSA, police are still largely "above the law." Think about it: in what other profession can you kill someone knowing in advance that your only sanction will be a paid vacation? (In police parlance, this is known as "paid administrative leave.")

In a world where trigger-happy responses are not reined in (or worse, are actually encouraged), we are all existential prisoners of a police state and all its potential victims. This troubling state of affairs needs to be faced, addressed and corrected. Until the police are retrained, restrained and disarmed, many struggling Americans will have a hard time accepting them as part of the "99 percent." 

The sad fact is that, under these prevailing standards of indecency, any pistol-packing beat cop who feels stressed-out by the demands of the job -- and feels like indulging in some fully paid R&R -- might be tempted to gun down a random unarmed protester just to claim some of that precious "paid administrative leave."  

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Gar Smith is a Project Censored Award-winning reporter and is co-founder and editor of Environmentalists Against War and the author of Nuclear Roulette.
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