Militarization of police targets dissent, freedom of assembly

Government deploys army brigade in United States

The author is an Iraq war veteran and the Party for Socialism and Liberation candidate for congress in the 22nd District in Florida. Click here to read more about his campaign. Click here to find out more about PSL candidates running in local and national elections.

Michael Prysner
Michael Prysner demonstrates
against the war with other
Iraq veterans, Washington, D.C.,
Sept. 15, 2007.

For those who participated in or followed the demonstrations at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, one fact stood out—the police were highly militarized. Their role at the conventions was an historic example of state repression of the people’s right to demonstrate against the crimes of their government.

Tens of millions of dollars were poured into law enforcement. The money paid for a massive lethal and "non-lethal" weapons arsenal, state of the art surveillance equipment, and intelligence operations, all of which were employed in preemptive arrests against dozens of protest organizers. The spying and raids conducted on homes of political activists, the use of tear gas and concussion grenades on peaceful demonstrators, and mass arrests of journalists trying to document the police riots were not only a show of force to intimidate, but a true battleground on which the ruling class tried to assert its control over the public streets.

While the draconian tactics and conduct of law enforcement at the conventions will be studied and fought against in court for years to come, one lesson is abundantly clear: The people’s struggle for peace, justice and equality will be met with all-out violence by the ruling class and their special bodies of armed men and women.

The militarization of the police and the showcasing of newly developed tactics and weaponry coincide with the changing political climate in the United States. As more workers feel the weight of the crumbling capitalist economic system and its criminal wars for profit, working-class consciousness will inevitably rise. It is in times of crisis that the inhumanity and absurdity of the capitalist system is exposed as a system of, by and for the rich at the expense of working people.

The ruling class struggles to hide behind their empty rhetoric of freedom and democracy when workers are being kicked out of their homes, being laid off from their jobs, being deprived of quality health care and education and being sent to die in Iraq and Afghanistan. The capitalists must then resort to their chief instruments of state power—the police force and standing army.

The police and military have historically been used in the United States to attack and attempt to crush progressive movements. But in the past seven years, the police and military apparatus have transformed beyond anything we’ve ever seen before.

The Patriot Act has served to significantly stretch the limits of their power. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement has conducted the most massive anti-immigrant raids in U.S. history. Private mercenary armies owned by some of the most reactionary elements in society have sprung up out of nowhere, fed by billions of dollars in government contracts.

Unprecedented military spending has armed the police and the military to the teeth with a new generation of hi-tech weapons, riot gear and surveillance equipment. This expansion of power and might is carried out by the ruling class with the knowledge that, once the smokescreen of "freedom and opportunity for all" dissipates, armed force is ultimately the only thing standing between the privileged few and the toiling masses.

Army prepares to act against U.S. civilian population

Oct. 1 marks yet another landmark strategic move by the ruling class. For the first time in U.S. history, an active army brigade will deploy and operate within the United States. The 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team—which has spent 35 of the last 60 months occupying Iraq—will be the first unit to fall under the command of NorthCom. Founded in 2002, NorthCom’s mission is to "provide command and control for federal homeland defense efforts and coordinate defense support of civil authorities."

The combat brigade is based at Fort Stewart, Ga., but will deploy at a moments notice anywhere in the country for whatever reason the president deems necessary. This would not have been legal before the Bush administration took advantage of Hurricane Katrina tragedy to permanently remove all restrictions on the president’s power to deploy an active military unit within the country.

Predictably, officials justify having an active combat brigade functioning within the United States by the need to fight "terrorism." But the details of the plan make the likely use of the army unit quite clear. One of the unit’s official purposes is to deal with "civil unrest and crowd control."

To further make obvious the Pentagon’s plans for the unit, they will be issued "the first ever non-lethal package that the Army has fielded." Brigade commander Colonel Roger Cloutier went on to say that "this is the first time that these modules were consolidated and this package fielded, and because of this mission we’re undertaking we were the first to get it." The package includes state-of-the-art "hasty road blocks," tasers, "non-lethal" bullets, shields and batons.

The soldiers tapped to pioneer this mission have just returned from 15 months in Iraq. Once their one-year mission in the United States ends, another active-duty combat brigade will take over. They are then scheduled to return almost immediately for yet another grueling tour in Iraq.

This move by the Pentagon is a sobering reminder that this government is prepared to use overwhelming force to maintain its power and their ownership of the wealth produced by the working class. The same military units ordered to brutalize the Iraqi people are being deployed to suppress popular dissent at home.

But the soldiers whom the ruling class hopes will protect their rule are working-class people themselves. Workers have different class interests than the capitalist bosses and pentagon generals. In times of crises, the loyalty of the military rank-and-file to the ruling class’s program of repression against working people is not a given.

In building an independent people’s movement, we must reach out to its sisters and brothers in the armed forces to win them over to our side of the struggle, so that together we can fight the real enemy. Exploiting the natural weaknesses in the ties that bind working-class soldiers to the ruling-class exploiters can greatly increase our strength.

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