"Eventually, its long reach may come for us all."
June 1, 2020 2:37 PM   Subscribe

The Thick Blue Line - Patrick Blanchfield reviews Stuart Schraders' book Badges Without Borders, which covers the intertwined histories of policing and counterinsurgency in the United States.
Better remembered today by his nickname, “Bull” Connor was an outspoken white supremacist who believed desegregation was a communist plot; just five years earlier, as commissioner of public safety in Birmingham, he had notoriously unleashed riot police, fire hoses, and attack dogs on nonviolent civil rights protesters. That such a man should have been on the receiving end of America’s first 911 call is fitting. As Stuart Schrader reveals in his new book, Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing, the United States’ 911 system was modeled on an earlier program pioneered by American-funded police forces fighting a Marxist insurgency in Caracas.
In the 1960s, the link between America’s wars abroad and its police at home was made by radical groups like the Black Panthers, the Third World Women’s Alliance, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Efforts to raise public awareness about the OPS were quickened by revelations of torture at an OPS-advised island prison off the coast of Vietnam and the killing of an American trainer in Uruguay. Media pressure and congressional inquiries mounted, and the OPS was dissolved in 1974. But, as Schrader notes, the US has hardly stopped training and arming police in other countries; today it annually disburses hundreds of millions of dollars in police aid to Latin America alone. As the Soviet Union collapsed, the rationale shifted from fighting communist “subversion” to fighting terrorism, but the security state has become so normal it is basically invisible—as dependable and ubiquitous as calling 911.
The Police Know Guerilla Warfare, Kyle Burke
This is a messy story, since those connections flowed in multiple directions simultaneously. Cops in US cities used technologies, such as the handheld radio and CS gas, that had first been deployed in war zones abroad. US soldiers in Vietnam and elsewhere drew upon techniques police had pioneered in New York, Kansas City, and Los Angeles to transform local constabularies into effective and efficient forces. US-based police training academies produced thousands of graduates who carried with them lessons American cops had learned at home. Meanwhile, in official circles, policymakers and academics tended to conflate — and often exaggerate — the supposed threat of mass crime and communism, while urging the same solutions for both.
The Imperial History of US Policing: An Interview with Stuart Schrader
Stuart Schrader: My framework complements the existing scholarship on the carceral state’s political development and policy history. I focus on the actors who implemented criminal-justice policy, rather than only the lawmakers who created the policy or the voters who support the lawmakers. Both are important, of course, but looking at the law-enforcement experts and leaders indicates that they composed an institutionally robust and long-lasting constituency. They have consistently advocated on their own behalf. Policing experts backed a “war on crime” and supported this martial vocabulary before lawmakers or voters did because police stood to benefit from it.

Historians of the carceral state have debated whether conservatives or liberals should bear responsibility. In fact, both do. The experts I investigate convinced both conservatives and liberals to build a powerful policing apparatus using the justifications that also convinced both to spend endlessly on the national security state: rampant threat inflation. This was no coincidence. The people I examine traversed — and bridged — the national security state and the carceral state. And they carried their finely crafted apocalyptic warnings with them across the globe. Conflating communism and crime paid dividends.
Small Wars Journal Book Review: The Chickens of Empire Come Home to Roost
During the Nixon years, the “reformist” elements of the police/counterinsurgency nexus would be largely dropped, as conservatives “disdained any sort of social intervention beyond crime prevention or attenuation”(p. 218) either at home or abroad. Overseas that meant pulling back from the “developmentalist” agenda of US foreign assistance. Domestically it meant the response to urban “insurrection” in the United States increasingly moved toward “avowedly coercive approaches [that] dispensed with economic development components.”(p. 236) The loss of faith in and patience for “development” in the Global South in the 1970s, and the turn to a repression-only approach to dealing with radicalism, thus mirrored the domestic turn toward “order-maintenance policing,” as well as the replacement of rehabilitative carcereal strategies with more purely punitive ones. In the end, Badges without Borders shows how the logic of policing and counterinsurgency, as developed in interlinked ways both and home and abroad, were and remain inseparable from racialized logics that see empowerment of non-whites as inherently subversive of the established order.
An Empire Of Patrolmen, an interview by Jonah Walters
It’s striking how the politics of this endeavor was so submerged. Police reformers even denied what they were doing was political at all! It’s almost like, for the professionalizers, police are like dentists — they use a discrete set of skills to do a clearly defined job, which is more or less the same in every society. For dentists, that job is filling teeth. For the police, that job is repression.

It’s important to keep in mind just how anti-democratic the idea of professionalization is, especially when you apply it to the police. To continue with the dentist analogy, if you and I went to a meeting of the American Dental Association and said, “Let us, the people, tell you how you should give somebody a crown,” they would laugh at us. They would remind us that they’re experts, that they have specialized training, and so they’re not actually answerable to us.

That’s the kind of relationship the police professionalizers of mid-century wanted to develop with the public. They don’t want to be accountable to an untrained public of voters, or even lawmakers. They want to only be answerable to themselves. They want the respect and protection that comes along with specific types of training. That is what professionalization means in a nutshell. An aid in developing this type of rhetoric was anti-communism: denounce anyone who insists on public oversight or review of police activity as a commie.
The Making of the American Gulag, Schrader - "During the Cold War, the “police apparatus” was held up as a prime example of Soviet repression. Yet in its efforts to fight subversives, the United States ended up with its own carceral state. "
Policing Empire, 2014, Schrader
Yet we should be skeptical of calls for police reform, particularly when accompanied by cries that this (militarization) should not happen here. A close look at the history of US policing reveals that the line between foreign and domestic has long been blurry. Shipping home tactics and technologies from overseas theaters of imperial engagement has been a typical mode of police reform in the United States. When policing on American streets comes into crisis, law-enforcement leaders look overseas for answers. What transpired in Ferguson is itself a manifestation of reform.
The Global Policeman Will Always Shoot People, Schrader - "Suleimani’s killing shows U.S. police and military power can’t be separated."

The Disturbing Parallels Between US Policing at Home and Military Tactics Abroad
Counterinsurgency and Community Policing: More Alike than Meets the Eye
How the US institutionalized surveillance
American Violence From Ferguson To Fallujah
The other side of the COIN: counterinsurgency and community policing [PDF]
The Empire Comes Home: Counterinsurgency, POlicing and the Militarization fo America's Cities
'Counterinsurgency' to Fight U.S. Crime? No, Thanks
posted by the man of twists and turns (19 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
Well, yeah. Good Counter-Insurgency and good policing look very similar. Unfortunately, there are very few examples of either being practiced by the United States.

In an ideal world, most police work would look like a combination of intelligence gathering and journalism. Living in the community, gaining trust, sharing useful information, and getting help to those who need it before they become a problem for society.
posted by Anoplura at 3:19 PM on June 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

@BeijingPalmer · Jun 1, 2020
one of the things that you learn looking at the history of torture is that techniques that start in colonial war zones return to the metropole. Take Chicago policing
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:24 PM on June 1, 2020 [14 favorites]

I lived in Chile in 1969 as a tot with my parents. My folks spoke Spanish, acquired in Peru earlier that decade, and have been enthusiastic globalists since they were in their twenties. When the coup happened in 1972, my dad was keenly aware of how disrupted his former colleagues’ lives were as academics in a neo-Fascist state, and hearing about who had been disappeared versus who became a bootlicker was a part of dinnertable conversation when I was a first and second grader, as Nixon fell.

As a result, I have lived my entire adult life convinced that the US GOP is oriented toward implementing Dirty War enforcement practices across the country. This moment, right now, is when those plans come to fruition. Good luck, and God help us all, even if like me, you do not believe. All things pass; take comfort in that no matter how our individual stories come to an end.
posted by mwhybark at 5:18 PM on June 1, 2020 [35 favorites]

Thank you so much for this. Changing the "general" perception of the police is so difficult, and so necessary, as one step toward a more just society.

Which is starting to sound like a fairy tale, but what else can one do?
posted by allthinky at 6:18 AM on June 2, 2020

When police officers are told they’re in a war, they act like it "“We are the action arm for a fucked-up national mindset”: A CIA officer turned cop speaks out."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:29 AM on June 2, 2020 [7 favorites]

Seems to me that the police are always going to end up acting like complete arseholes in any society with an expectation that every citizen is more likely than not to be armed with a deadly weapon.

No sane person would join a police force if it seemed that the most likely outcome of doing so would be that they were shot and killed; so you either end up with a police force full of insane people, or a police force that puts protection of itself and its members ahead of all other considerations including justice, or (as is manifestly the case in the US) both.

I cannot think of any foundational principle of any country that does more to perpetuate violence and injustice on every conceivable level than the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. Citizens should not, in general, be expected to be going about their daily business armed. Robert A. Heinlein has observed that an armed citizenry promotes courtesy, but that's bunk; what it actually promotes is a state of permanent, pervasive terror and a cultural mindset that treats living in fear as normal, inevitable and therefore acceptable.

The entire point of having a government is to contain, circumscribe, license and regulate deadly violence, and the extent to which what is allegedly the world's model democracy has always missed that point is something I have long been appalled by.
posted by flabdablet at 8:19 AM on June 2, 2020 [21 favorites]

The Second Amendment is not the problem. The political lobby that realized they could turned 'armed and dangerous' into a positive slogan is the problem. They warped how the Second Amendment is treated into its current completely pro-gun position.

The NRA was a completely different and very pro-control organization when Black Panthers were advocating gun ownership. The current pro-gun messaging is blindingly racist. It's really very blatant.
posted by Ahniya at 9:31 AM on June 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

The political lobby that realized they could turned 'armed and dangerous' into a positive slogan is the problem

I agree that that's a huge problem, but as in so many things it seems to me that identifying a huge problem and declaring that it is the huge problem is a barrier to understanding; the clear implication is that other huge problems can reasonably be ignored and I don't think they can.

I've seen much the same line of argument applied to racism, class, sexism, fascism, capitalism, the list goes on... there is no shortage of people willing to mount an impassioned case that any one of these is the problem, solving which would automatically deal with all the others. There seems to be a tendency to take up an allegiance to a particular Real Issue and defend its primacy vigorously against all comers, and I think that kind of thinking is over-simplistic and unhelpful.

I also think it's really very difficult for anybody who has grown up inside a culture to see that culture's norms as anything other than inevitable. I am not a US citizen and to me, a right to carry weapons that kill at a distance is something I would absolutely not have expected a sane society to enshrine ahead of a right not to starve in the street or a right not to be killed by the State. From where I sit, multiple negative aspects of present conditions in the US look like absolutely predictable consequences of that kind of constitutional priority inversion and it further seems to me that very few people not inculcated from birth in US norms would think otherwise.

The Second Amendment is an anachronism at odds with peaceful coexistence, and it remains high on the list of things that will need to change if Truth, Justice and the American Way are not to remain forever disjoint.
posted by flabdablet at 10:34 AM on June 2, 2020 [15 favorites]

Haven’t had a chance to read all of the articles, but I’m glad to see Blanchfield’s name. Have really enjoyed his work on guns in the US and was thinking of him today and wanting to hear his voice. I was thinking about how police in the UK aren’t armed and thought we should disarm the police in the US. I, of course, then realized that will never happen because the cops want guns to combat the gun-carrying citizenry, and now with martial law on our doorstep, what might actually be considered a well-armed militia. So it seems like an incredible opportunity to dismantle the second amendement, right? Or at least just melt all of the guns down.
posted by stillmoving at 2:18 PM on June 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Second Amendment is not the problem. ... The NRA was a completely different and very pro-control organization when Black Panthers were advocating gun ownership.

What if these two things, that are presented in oppostion, really exist at the same time?

Was Slavery A Factor In The Second Amendment?
How Slaveowners Dictated The Language Of The Second Amendment
Slavery root of the Second Amendment
How Fears of Abolition Shaped the Second Amendment
@michaelharriot Oct 26, 2019
Almost every person in America believes that the second amendment (the right to own guns) was about the right to protect the people from the government.

It is an absolute, unignorable FACT that the right to bear arms was about slavery and white people's fear of a slave revolt.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:00 AM on June 3, 2020 [12 favorites]

I am also an outsider to US culture, and the second amendment angle seems persuasive to me. However, one can see in all the colonial empire motherlands, that the techniques and apparatus used to control colonised countries get deployed at home sooner or later, even though there is no equivalent to the second amendment in the UK, or Portugal, or France. Surely it's ok to see the development of policing in the US as the result of several important factors and not a single cause.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:24 PM on June 3, 2020

Surely it's ok to see the development of policing in the US as the result of several important factors and not a single cause.

More than OK, to my way of thinking; vital.

Also important to pay attention to how each such factor affects institutions other than police forces.
posted by flabdablet at 8:16 PM on June 3, 2020

Fascism and what is coming, Michael Novick, 2003 - "In general, fascism can best be understood as bringing the methods of imperial rule in the colonies into the metropole."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:30 AM on June 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

How Tear Gas Became the White Supremacist’s Favorite Poison. A war weapon turned into tool of imperial control that was brought home by white supremacists.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:44 PM on June 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking about this more and more, the Twilight of the Cop Consensus
The relentlessly punitive, wholly indemnified, and luridly discriminatory police forces that currently prevail in the United States are, give or take the uniforms, fighting the same war that Cotton proposed in his opinion piece—the grinding, attritive, blunderingly vicious counterinsurgency campaign that the country has spent the first decades of this century losing abroad. It’s a war that the country doesn’t know how to win or quit—all tactics and no strategy—but it is one that Americans have almost reflexively learned to accept. As the state willfully forgot how to do anything but inflict and retroactively justify suffering, it became inevitable that our stupid, shameful, long-lost wars would eventually find their way home.
I've come to the conclusion that, while what Schrader outlines (and Yasha Levine touches on in Surveillance Valley), that modern American policing practices rely on tactics, techniques and procedures developed in the Cold War and the Long Wars to conduct counterinsurgency, much of these practices exist in an ebb and flow, as the techniques of domination and control were exported overseas from the United States, those techniques having been developed and refined here on subject populations, and were themselves imported "back home" from colonial possessions and the frontier. This project of Civilizing Torture reaches back, and back, and back, and rears its head when, for example, a "less lethal" weapon created to provide of officer's safety is deployed as a method of inflicting pain in order to gain control.

The best, most recent, pre-Cold War example is the American 'adventure' in the Philippines. The book Policing America's Empire shows how
security techniques bred in the tropical hothouse of colonial rule were not contained, McCoy shows, at this remote periphery of American power. Migrating homeward through both personnel and policies, these innovations helped shape a new federal security apparatus during World War I. Once established under the pressures of wartime mobilization, this distinctively American system of public- private surveillance persisted in various forms for the next fifty years, as an omnipresent, sub rosa matrix that honeycombed U.S. society with active informers, secretive civilian organizations, and government counterintelligence agencies.
The first source of what we now call 'waterboarding', then called The Water Cure shocked and appalled Americans, who were quickly assured it had been developed by the (hated, decadent, brutal) Spanish, even as it quickly made its way to the USA.

Of course, the military officers in charge of US forces came up killing Native Americans in the various massacres, ambushes, and slow starvations in the western United States. These provided their training ground and foundations, right here 'at home' for counterinsurgency and policing 'over there.'

Special Journey to Our Bottom Line, Elizabeth Schambelan, n + 1 delves into the history of fraternity and military hazing, sexual assault, and rape and its relationship to counterinsurgency.
These are not ideas and practices that were invented somewhere else and sadly, unfortunately, brought here.

They were here all along.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:55 PM on June 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Of course, the tactics, techniques, and procedures are not limited to the guns carried , the vehicles driven, or the tortures inflicted.
Trump’s Justice Department Is Targeting Black Lives Matter Demonstrators as Domestic Terrorists - "These cases represent an unusually harsh wave of federal prosecution for the kind of civil disturbances that career prosecutors say would normally be handled by more local jurisdictions. President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice has used tools developed to fight terrorists against those who stand accused of violence that has infrequently accompanied demonstrations against police brutality.

And these charges can come with lengthy prison terms."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:01 AM on July 1, 2020

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