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Hullabaloo


Saturday, April 18, 2015

 

We have met the enemy and he is You

by Tom Sullivan

"How many isolated incidents equal a pattern?" radio host Tavis Smiley asked Bill O'Reilly this week as the two debated police misconduct and mass incarceration.

From mass surveillance to mass incarceration, it appears that government of the people, etc. is increasingly prone to viewing itself as government against the people. The Guardian reported Friday that the Missouri National Guard had to caution its people against referring to Ferguson protesters as "enemy forces":

A briefing for commanders included details of the troops’ intelligence capabilities so that they could “deny adversaries the ability to identify Missouri national guard vulnerabilities”, which the “adversaries” might exploit, “causing embarrassment or harm” to the military force, according to documents obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request by CNN.

And in an ominous-sounding operations security briefing, the national guard warned: “Adversaries are most likely to possess human intelligence (HUMINT), open source intelligence (OSINT), signals intelligence (SIGINT), technical intelligence (TECHINT), and counterintelligence capabilities.”

National Guard spokesman Capt. Quinn told CNN later drafts of mission plans dialed back the language. Quinnn said, "'enemy forces' would be better understood as 'potential threats.'" So that's comforting.

In France, lawmakers debated an anti-terrorism bill that would expand the breadth of government surveillance:

The proposed law, introduced in Parliament on Monday, would allow the government to monitor emails and phone calls of suspected terrorists and their contacts, without seeking authorization from a judge. Telecommunications and internet companies would be forced to automatically filter vast amounts of metadata to flag suspicious patterns, and would have to make that data freely available to intelligence services. Agents would also be able to plant cameras and bugs in the homes of suspected terrorists, as well as keyloggers to track their online behavior.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls insisted, "... this is not a French Patriot Act." We're just going to Hoover your Internet and phone calls. (Pun intended.) Meanwhile, back in Washington, D.C., Congress is getting ready to extend the Patriot Act, including Section 215 that the NSA uses justify bulk data collection of personal data. But even without Section 215, there remain "a host of far-reaching surveillance authorities, including those of the Drug Enforcement Agency that are aimed at US citizens."

Writing for Washington Monthly, Seth Stoughton a former police officer, now a law professor at the University of South Carolina, looks at the warrior mindset being inculcated by law enforcement training:

In this worldview, officers are warriors combatting unknown and unpredictable—but highly lethal—enemies. They learn to be afraid. Officers don’t use that word, of course. Vigilant, attentive, cautious, alert, or observant are the terms that appear most often in police publications. But officers learn to be vigilant, attentive, cautious, alert, and observant because they are afraid, and they afraid because they’re taught to be.

As a result, officers learn to treat every individual they interact with as an armed threat and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making. Every individual, every situation — no exceptions. A popular police training text offers this advice: “As you approach any situation, you want to be in the habit of looking for cover[] so you can react automatically to reach it should trouble erupt.” A more recent article puts it even more bluntly: “Remain humble and compassionate; be professional and courteous — and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”

Gosh, what about that would make young, black males apprehensive when encountering police officers?

Stoughton thinks this is exactly the wrong approach:

Counterintuitively, the warrior mentality also makes policing less safe for both officers and civilians. Officers learn to both verbally and physically control the space they operate in. They learn that it is essential to set the proper tone for an encounter, and the tone that best preserves officer safety is widely thought to be one of “unquestioned command.” Even acting friendly, officers are told, can make them a target. But like the use of physical force, the assertive manner in which officers set the tone of encounter can also set the stage for a negative response or a violent interaction—one that was, from the start, avoidable. From the warrior perspective, the solution is simple: the people with whom officers interact must accede, respecting officers’ authority by doing what they are told. The failure to comply is confirmation that the individual is an enemy for the warrior to vanquish, physically if necessary. And remember that officers are trained to expect threats. Our brains are wired so that we see what we expect to see; given their training, it’s no surprise that officers react to threats that don’t actually exist. The result is avoidable violence.

We are expected to treat police officers as public servants and heroes willing to lay down their lives to protect us. So it baffles me how, as Stoughton writes, "would-be officers are told that their primary objective is to go home at the end of every shift." What is heroic about that? About sacrificing others before you would sacrifice yourself? What is heroic about shooting unarmed suspects in the back or choking them to death for selling loose cigarettes? Stoughton rightly blames the training, and offers suggestions on training Guardian Officers rather than Police Warriors. But beyond that, there is a culture growing within law enforcement, the military, and the intelligence community that, post-September 11, increasingly views the public they are meant to serve as "enemy forces" to be dealt with. Somewhere, Osama bin Laden must be smiling.