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Which color will this be?

June 8, 2020

The current US protests against police brutality and racism are held in over 650 cities and towns across all 50 states, and even people outside the USA are joining the movement sparked by the killing of black man George Floyd in Mineapolis.

There is hope that these protests will force social change, and Glen Ford, BAR (Black Agenda Report) editor declared: “The decrepit racial capitalist order appears to be unraveling under the weight of coronavirus, economic depression, and a quantitative leap in people’s willingness to confront power through the politics of the street.”

Such expectations may be exaggerated and it is absolutely necessary to recall the sobering experiences of OWS (Occupy Wall Street), of Vietnam War protests, the peace movement in general, and the frequent race riots throughout US history including the latest in Cincinnati 2001 and Ferguson 2014. Some are also beginning to question whether this protest movement is just empty virtue signaling and not more than a trend, a fashion, a meme.

One should not get ahead of oneself. This is not pivotal, ground shaking, revolutionary, though it may be indeed another small but nevertheless significant step to the unraveling of the current US society, a society that already is more fragmented, more polarized, and less cohesive than in all other industrialized nations.

Most importantly: One should not be overly hopeful that this will shatter existing power structures, because the palaces and temples of power are heavily fortified. 

In spite of these precautionary words, the rage playing itself out on US streets is a stark display of social rebellion, a convulsive refusal to be targeted, humiliated, and murdered by killer cops who are invariably exonerated by racist District Attorneys. 

Derek Chauvin would not have been charged with the (second-degree) murder of George Floyd, would the USA not have seen unrest and even open revolt. He is the first white police officer in the state of Minnesota ever to be criminally charged over the death of a black man.

This time, the color is dark gray

This is a forceful protest movement but it is far off being a color revolution.

In December 2010, a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire and died after tax police confiscated his unlicensed stall. Within days, there were demonstrations. Within a month, the country’s president of 23 years was overthrown and exiled. Similar rebellions broke out in Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, and Syria. This was dubbed the “Arab Spring.”

In November 2013, thousands of demonstrators gathered on Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) in Kiev, Ukraine, protesting the government’s decision to reject a trade deal with the European Union. Attempts by police to clear them out resulted in clashes with armed protesters, and eventually a firefight, where snipers opened fire both on protesters and police. Finally, in January 2014, violent protesters stormed the government offices and declared themselves in charge.

The 2014 “Euromaidan” — fully endorsed by the USA with 5 billion US$, according to Victoria Nuland — was a far more violent iteration of the “Orange Revolution” from ten years earlier, when sympathizers of an opposition coalition refused to accept the results of an election and forced the government to hold another one.

US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev,” proclaimed a headline from November 26, 2004. “The operation — engineering democracy through the ballot box and civil disobedience — is now so slick that the methods have matured into a template for winning other people’s elections,” the article beneath it said, adding it was “first used in Europe in Belgrade in 2000.”

While the Western media then painted the events in Serbia as a spontaneous revolt against a hated dictator, they also revealed that the protesters were funded by “suitcases of cash” smuggled across the border by US diplomats and NGOs, and that the entire thing was led by a handful of activists (Otpor under Srdja Popovic), trained by the NED (National Endowment for Democracy) in neighboring Hungary, using a manual written by Gene Sharp, a US scholar.

Claiming the government had stolen an election, the “revolutionaries” first seized the national TV station, then set the parliament on fire —  conveniently destroying any evidence that could disprove their claim they had won the election — and appealed to police and the military to join them. With security forces unwilling to engage in bloodshed, President Slobodan Milosevic had to step down.

The whole operation was accompanied by a slick marketing campaign, featuring graffiti, t-shirts, posters, and banners, all emblazoned with a stenciled fist. The fist would become an all-too familiar sight over the next two decades, and the formula packaged as “color revolution” replicated several times in countries around the world by US-trained activists.

Most recently, the scenario played itself out in Bolivia, Venezuela, and Hong Kong, where “pro-democracy” protests against an extradition bill lasted long after it was withdrawn.

Color revolutions follow a narrow script: Find a legitimate grievance and piggyback onto it. Ask  police and the military to join the protests. If they don’t, escalate into riots to provoke a forceful response to create martyrs. Optics are key; everything useful to the cause has to be captured on camera, and anything inconvenient memory-holed. Media are the most important ally. The endgame is not reform, or fairness, or justice, but regime change and physical removal of the “tyrannical dictator violating human rights” from office.

A color revolution can’t happen in America, because there’s no US embassy and no USAID there,” was the grim joke in Serbia after disappointment with the astroturf revolt of October 5, 2000 set in. One could not say it more pointedly.

The establishment takes no chances

To quell the unrest, an unprecedented 75,000 paramilitary forces (the National Guard) were deployed across 31 US states in the US. Military personal and police have expanded the perimeter around the White House, erecting tall metal fencing and putting in concrete barricades. The areas around the White House, including nearby Lafayette Square, will remain closed until June 10 and maybe longer. The White House is now so heavily fortified that it rather resembles compounds of authoritarian rulers or viceroys.

Comments of US politicians are focusing on looting, vandalism, and other criminal activities to delegitimize the movement, using words such as “organized” and “organizers” to describe the protests.

Federal law enforcement officials are probing whether “criminal actors” are coordinating violent activities during protests. The NYPD (New York Police Department) reported, that “caches of bricks and rocks” were strategically placed all over the city during protests.

There is no doubt, that criminal gangs have used the protests for their own sinister agendas, conducting highly organized looting. And for sure destitute people have stolen things, desperately needed necessities of life, which they simply couldn’t afford to buy. 

There is also proven infiltration of protests by agent provocateurs. A video on the internet shows a white man smashing the windows of a Minneapolis shop with a hammer during protests. People are intervening to stop him and one asks: “Are you a fucking cop?

Journalist Max Blumenthal has encountered an obvious police officer dressed like a protester getting out of an unmarked car. Two other persons were sitting in the car and when he asked them, they denied to be policemen.

Local outlet KHOU 11 News was told by the Houston police department that protests over George Floyd’s murder would be attended by both “uniformed officers and plain-clothed officers“.

The allegation, that outside agitators instigate the protest, remains unconfirmed. According to the Hennepin County sheriff, from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon, 41 of the 52 people cited with protest-related arrests had Minnesota driver’s licenses. 86 percent of the people arrested in Washington were from Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

Many of the police officers dealing with the protests look far readier for confrontation than contrition. The violent attacks by police on protesters, including driving vehicles into groups of protesters, suggest that it is Chauvin’s murder charge and not the murder of Floyd that has incensed fellow officers.

The 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 harbored by police officers when their culture of violence is exposed for all the world to see.

The body cameras of policemen involved in the Floyd murder had been turned off. They are always turned off when violence happens and one wonders why these cameras have even been supplied.

So, undeterred and unhindered, officers dressed in full body armor and carrying shields pour out from vehicles that look more like APCs (armored personal carriers) or tanks, and policemen across the country are beating and attacking demonstrators, members of the media, medics, and bystanders with batons, tasers, stun guns, pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, stun grenades, and beanbag rounds.

Until now, more than 10,000 people have been arrested in the USA during the protests. One quarter of the arrests have been made in Los Angeles, followed by New York City, which has 2,000 arrests, Dallas, and Philadelphia. The majority of arrests are for low-level offenses such as curfew violations and failure to disperse, though there are also some for burglary, looting, vandalism, and resistance against police officers. 

The actual number of those detained by law enforcement is unknown. “The protesters are often placed in zip-ties and hauled away from the scene in buses,” a crucial issue, one report said, “at a time when many of the nation’s jails are dealing with coronavirus outbreaks” (jails and prisons have experienced some of the worst virus outbreaks).

Mass arrests of protesters across the country — with people held for hours packed together in vans, cells and other enclosed spaces — are heightening the risk of coronavirus spread. Protective masks are routinely confiscated and the police officers themselves rarely were masks.

The use of tear gas and pepper spray, which provoke coughing, adds to the health risk, as do police crowd control techniques like “kettling” — pushing demonstrators into smaller, contained and tightly packed spaces. People arrested in New York City were detained up to 50 hours with little access to water, soap, or sanitizers, and no ability to socially distance. Rejecting a legal complain, a state judge ruled that police could detain people for more than 24 hours without court proceedings, because the coronavirus pandemic made delays unavoidable.

In an effort to help protect protesters from Covid-19 and prevent the spread of the virus, an advocacy organization sent thousands of cloth masks that read “Defund Police” and “Stop Killing Black People” to major cities across the US as demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd continued to grow nationwide. But law enforcement officials seized shipments of the masks that were destined for New York City, Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Washington without providing any explanation.

Police militarization

The so called “Excess Property 1033 Program” authorizes the Defense Department to send surplus or obsolete military equipment and weapons to local police departments. Congress created the program in 1990 during the height of the war on drugs for federal and state law enforcement agencies, and it was expanded seven years later to include all law enforcement departments.

Since the program’s inception more than 7.4 billion US$ in equipment, including drones, helicopters, battering rams, robots, armored vehicles, and riot gear has flowed to police and today’s police departments resemble military units.

The program provides these weapons, at times without cost, to roughly 8,000 police departments across the USA. In recent years for instance, Granite City, Illinois, with a population of roughly 30,000 people, received 25 M16 and M14 rifles, an armored truck and a robot for “explosive ordinance disposal.” Leesburg, Florida, with roughly 22,000 residents, received a mine-resistant armored vehicle.

Inherently brutal

Israel’s national police, military and intelligence services have provided training on crowd control, use of force, and surveillance to thousands of members of US law enforcement over the years. This training has occurred in the US, Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Police academies spend on average 110 training hours on firearms and self-defense, yet only eight hours on conflict management. This means, generally speaking, police spend 12 times as many hours learning how to shoot and kill people as learning how NOT to shoot and kill people.

Polk County Sheriff Judd Grady for example said, that his department “had received information on social media that some folks were threatening to take their criminal conduct into the neighborhoods.”

I would tell them, if you value your life, they probably shouldn’t do that in Polk County,” […] “Because the people of Polk County like guns, they have guns, I encourage them to own guns, and they’re going to be in their homes tonight with their guns loaded, and if you try to break into their homes to steal, to set fires, I’m highly recommending they blow you back out of the house with their guns. So, leave the community alone.”

After during a protest a 75-year-old man was pushed to the ground and severely injured outside City Hall by members of the Buffalo Police Emergency Response Team, a video of the incident drew widespread condemnation and two officers were suspended. Their colleagues didn’t like this and all 57 members of the team resigned from the unit. The police union also stands firmly behind the suspended officers and said all legal costs of them would be paid.

It is common recruitment practice that police departments don’t hire officers who are empathetic and the pro-police website Officer.com has published articles saying empathy could be dangerous for policing.

One must hold in mind that the US police system originated from slave patrols, which turned the streets of towns into patrol routes for what was a quasi-military force. From its earliest days the US model was a racist tactic to protect the higher class people from the downtrodden and oppressed. The system has not largely changed since those early days.

Police kill roughly 1,000 Americans per year. In 2016 The Guardian found that American police murdered 1,093. Just for comparison: In the UK the average per year is three murders by police. In 2018 Denmark’s, Switzerland’s, and Austria’s police killed no one.

The vast majority of those killed US-inhabitants are not hardened criminals (whatever that means). The Treatment Advocacy Center found that one out of every four people killed by US police was severely mentally ill. Probably well over half of the time police murder someone, the victim is not of a stable and sound mind.

NBC news reported that since 2005, only 35 officers had been convicted of any crime after having taken someone’s life. Assuming that only one officer was involved in each killing, cops are convicted 0.28 percent of the time after killing someone. NBC reported further: “Only three officers have been convicted of murder during this period (2005 to 2019) and seen their convictions stand.” That is a rate of conviction of 0.024 percent. This means that police officers indeed can murder with impunity.

It is not only the killing, there exists widespread misconduct in many other respects and one could rightly claim, that police officers commit more crimes than the average citizens. Police not only kill and injure but also seize more property from citizens via civil asset forfeiture than the amount of property stolen by street criminals in burglaries and looting.

A study in New York City found that over half of those who cycle regularly through the prison system were homeless. Does anyone honestly believe that endlessly grabbing homeless people and charging them for petty crimes or just misdemeanors does anything to help society or the people involved?

Over and over again police officers are accosting civilians for saying impolite words to them or making rude gestures, or not demonstrating an adequate level of subservience. These are public servants. Imagine if teachers, mail carriers, or tax collectors were routinely assaulting anyone who spoke impolitely to them.

The attitude of public servants that they are entitled to respect and deference from complete strangers should have been trained out of them from day one and been a strict taboo throughout the entire law-enforcement culture.

Most of the jobs done by police today could be done much better by social workers, and most of the remaining jobs are completely unnecessary and could be dispensed with entirely. On the rare occasion that things spiral out of control specially trained and equipped riot units could still be called in. 

Ending the drug war, eliminating unhelpful laws, and replacing military style patrols in quasi “occupied territory” with social workers would calm tensions and begin a movement toward a more peaceful and compassionate society.

But it may be already too late for such a healing.

In the USA 393 million privately owned firearms are in circulation, which amounts to 120.5 firearms for every 100 residents.

Phones have been ringing constantly and the waiting line has been wrapped around the building at Coliseum Gun Traders in Uniondale, Nassau County, ever since the coronavirus pandemic began. And now with protests and rioting after the killing of George Floyd, the store has seen another enormous spike in sales. Keeping the shelves stocked has been hard, store owner Andy Chernoff said. “We started out this week with a fair amount of merchandise. We’re running out. Literally running out,” Chernoff said. “Never thought I’d say that.”

This is the reality of the US empire. It’s a brutal, violent, and unforgiving society, and to keep people in check one needs a brutal, violent, and unforgiving police force.

So please be very careful out there, because this society may start to fall apart right in front of your eyes. But don’t give up, please keep the flame burning for the sake of humanity.

For every sparsely attended reopen protest at a state capital by armed members of Donald Trump’s base, hundreds of new mutual-aid networks, ad-hoc tenant associations, and wildcat strike funds have been organized for those at the base of this society. 

Entire communities that are out of work and losing income are taking life-saving action that is also at times, and by necessity, in contradiction to the law (squatting). Despite media images of vandalism, today’s protest movement features countless acts that add up to projects for survival.

There are also crack in the power structure and genuine attempts for a new start. A majority of Minneapolis’ City Council (9 from 13) has pledged to dismantle the local police department and stated that a “new model of public safety” would be created in their city to end the systemic racism of law enforcement. Councillor Alondra Cano tweeted that a veto-proof majority in the council had agreed that the city police department was “not reformable and that we’re going to end the current policing system.

The outlook is grim but not hopeless and there is no excuse to stand on the sideline watching things sort out themselves. 

Revolution is the sound of your heart still beating. And as long as it is, you have work to do. Do it. Without apology. Do it. Bravely and nobly. Do it. Exist, insist, and by all means, resist.”
Dominique Christina

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