Popular Movements Can Overcome Authoritarian Policing

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Above photo: Portland protests say Go Home Feds as protests grow. By Noah Berger, AP.

Today is the 60th day of protests since the murder of George Floyd. This weekend, people marched in cities across the country in solidarity with Portland and in opposition to the US becoming a police state.

President Trump sending troops to cities added fuel to the nationwide uprising against racist police violence. Protests have grown not only in Portland but in Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Omaha, Austin, Oakland, San Francisco, New York, and Washington, DC, among other cities.

Trump is not a ‘law and order’ president, he is a chaos and disorder president. He is mistaken to think that increasing conflict in cities throughout the country will save his failing 2020 campaign. Just as his hyped attack on Central American caravans backfired before the 2018 mid-term elections, this escalation is also backfiring as people are mobilized to stand against Trump’s authoritarianism.

While Trump’s actions are the focus of current protests, Portland demonstrates there is a long history of police violence that preceded Trump. Mayors have allowed police violence and Joe Biden, when he was Chair of the Judiciary Committee, authored legislation that led to over-policing and encouraged police militarization. While Trump sending in militarized troops to cities needs to be opposed, police violence is bigger than Trump.

Federal troop pushes a mother back during a demonstration against the presence of Trump’s federal enforcement. Reuters

Trump Sends In Federal Troops, Escalates Violence

While federal officers protect federal buildings across the country that is not what Trump is doing. He is using the excuse of protecting federal buildings as cover for sending in federal troops to dominate cities.

On June 1, President Trump made his plan clear warning governors that if they did not get control of the cities, he would send in troops. He told governors “You have to dominate, if you don’t dominate you’re wasting your time.” 

June 1 was also the day that National Guard troops in Washington, DC fired tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets into non-violent protesters in Lafayette Park across from the White House so Trump could walk across the park for a widely denigrated photo-op holding a bible in front of St. John’s church. Trump said last week that he sent personnel to Portland because “the locals couldn’t handle it.”

The presence of federal troops in Portland and being sent to other cities is based on an executive order signed on June 26 to protect “Federal monuments, memorials, statues, or property.” Homeland Security director, Chad Wolf, created task force made up of Border Patrol, Coast Guard, U.S. Marshals, and other agencies. Three different operations have been announced: Wolf’s “Protecting Americans Communities Task Force”; the Department of Justice’s crime-fighting “Operation Legend” announced on July 8; and “Operation Diligent Valor,” which includes the Portland police mission.

Legal analysts and commentators are debating whether the actions of federal troops in Portland are legal. The government argues they are merely protecting buildings and when they go blocks away they are investigating who damaged buildings. The Oregonian questions that writing,Even if the federal agencies have legitimate license to defend the courthouse, ‘The real question is: Is it being used as a pretext?'” 

It is evident from federal troop actions in Portland that this generalized federal policing is beyond federal authority. Reports and videos of unidentified Border Patrol agents in camouflage grabbing people off the street, stuffing them into unmarked vehicles, and driving off are unconstitutional, illegal actions.

Oregon officials including the governor and Portland mayor have asked Homeland Security to keep its troops off of Portland’s streets but Chad Wolf has refused. Oregon’s senators have also opposed Trump sending paramilitary squads to Portland.

Some, including the District Attorney of Philadelphia Larry Krassner, say federal troops should be prosecuted when they violate the law. The Oregonian reported that Steven Wax, a former Federal Public Defender, called on Oregon’s US attorney and the Multnomah County district attorney to convene grand juries with subpoena powers to investigate alleged criminal acts by federal officers. Potential charges could include kidnapping, assault, and racketeering conspiracy, he said. The district attorney and attorney general are conducting a criminal investigation focused on the injury of a protester, 26 year old Donovan La Bella, on July 11 who was shot in the head with an impact munition near the federal courthouse and subsequently needed surgery.

Oregon’s attorney general, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, state legislators, and others have filed at least four lawsuits against federal agencies. US District Judge Michael H. Simon issued a 14-day order barring federal officers from targeting journalists or legal observers and said in court that he was disturbed by several images of federal officers using force against non-aggressive demonstrators. He noted the July  18 baton-beating of 53-year-old Navy veteran Chris David who tried to talk with federal officers outside the courthouse and the injury of La Bella.

As our guest on Clearing The FOG, constitutional lawyer Mara Verheyden-Hilliard makes the point that courts need to protect the rights of all people to protest and not make journalists and legal observers a separate category with greater rights than others. Hear our interview with Mara on The Militarized Assault on Our Right to Protest.

The Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) carries weaponry of the sort usually used in Afghanistan or Iraq. John Rudoff.

Paramilitaries Instead of the Military

We describe these federal agents as “troops” because that is what they are. President Trump threatened to use the Insurrection Act to deploy armed services to states but people in the military and legal scholars opposed him. Instead, Trump has sent militarized troops from civilian agencies into the cities.

The Department of Homeland Security sent Border Patrol Tactical Units (BORTAC) from Customs to Portland. BORTAC is an elite paramilitary unit that includes snipers and other highly trained troops who often operate outside of the US and are based along the Mexican border.  These “Specialized Response Teams” wear the US Army’s camouflage and use military gear. BORTAC units have been deployed to war environments, including Iraq and Afghanistan. While not a violation of Posse Comitatus, which forbids the use of the military in domestic law enforcement, they subvert the intent of the Act.

An internal Homeland Security memo found the federal troops were not trained in riot control or mass demonstrations. It also stated this kind of federal action was “going to be the norm” so training was needed. Trump has promised to send troops to “Democrat” cities in an election year spectacle.

In addition to on-the-ground troops, the US is using the US Air Force ‘Cougar’ surveillance plane over Portland.  The Intercept reports the flight data shows tight, circular surveillance flights over Portland. Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Government Secrecy Project, asks “What is their mission? Under what authority are they operating, and who authorized them?”

Trump is using police as a prop in the 2020 election with Portland as a campaign stage. The campaign seeks to win votes in the suburbs, which he won by 4 percent in 2016 but is now losing by double digits. Trump’s re-election campaign has spent over $983 million in 2020, more than the $878 million spent in his entire 2016 campaign. Despite this spending, he is behind Biden by landslide margins in all of the battleground states. He fired his campaign manager and is obviously getting desperate.

Trump is mimicking the ‘law and order’ campaign of Richard Nixon but this is a different era when police violence and racism are on video for all to see. Protests after police murdered George Floyd took place in cities of all sizes and in many suburbs. A national consensus is developing that racist police violence exists and it must end. Images of militarized police shooting and tear-gassing unarmed protesters is likely to backfire against Trump.

Portland protester enveloped in tear gas waves US flag. By Nathan Howard for Getty Images.

Police Violence is Bigger Than Trump

Before the federal troops arrived, Portland police were using extreme violence and chemical weapons against protesters. The Portland Police Bureau already had a temporary restraining order for its violation of protesters’ free speech rights and another for arresting journalists and legal observersAnother court ruling largely prohibited local police from using tear gas, but that has not stopped federal troops from doing so. When Mayor Ted Wheeler, who also serves as the police commissioner, came to the courthouse protests people jeered him and signs called him ‘Tear Gas Ted.’ Wheeler was teargassed himself by the federal troops. 

The Intercept describes how the Portland Police Association has dominated elected officials for decades. In meetings with the mayor, one police union president would put his gun on the table. The union contract protects racist cops making it hard to fire those who’ve used deadly force. When the new contract was being considered in 2016, people protested at City Hall and the police rioted forcing protesters outside where police in riot gear then surrounded the building as city officials approved their union contract. 

The NY Times reports that of the 35 cities in the United States with populations larger than 500,000, Portland is the whitest with 71 percent of residents categorized as non-Latino whites and only 6% are Black. This stems from the state being founded as a state for white people. A 19th-century law called for whipping any Black person found in the state. In the early part of the 20th century, Oregon’s Legislature was dominated by members of the Ku Klux Klan. As the destination of Lewis and Clark, Oregon symbolized the conquest of the American West and the subjugation of Native peoples.

Police violence in Portland is disproportionately against Black people including being stopped by police and targeted with the use of force. Slate reports, “When the police chief banned chokeholds in 1985 after officers killed a Black man with the hold, officers made T-shirts that said, ‘Don’t Choke ’Em. Smoke ’Em.’ In 2012, the Justice Department reported that the PPB had an unconstitutional ‘pattern or practice’ of using excessive force against people with mental illnesses.”  The Portland police have also been sympathetic to right-wing, white supremacist organizations when they demonstrated in the city.

With this history of white domination, some would think racist policing would not be a political issue but the evidence of racist police brutality has struck a chord not only in Portland but across the country. Portland has had a strong protest movement over inequality, neoliberalism, wars, and more. The police have a long history of using violence against protests resulting in court settlements for victims. Now, opposition to racism, capitalism, and fascism has led to a unified movement.

The Wall of Moms, followed by a Wall of Dads, combating tear gas with leaf blowers, has been joined by a wall of veterans. Veterans are challenging the federal troops, telling them they are following illegal orders. Other affinity groups forming “walls” include grandparents, chefs and lawyers. People have made shields and are wearing helmets and gas masks to protect themselves against federal violence. Some are using hockey sticks to hit tear gas containers back toward federal troops.

Most local officials have opposed Trump’s threats to send troops to their cities and have threatened litigation. Lori Lightfoot, a neoliberal Democratic mayor, initially opposed federal troops coming to Chicago but, after a phone call with Trump and a promise that troops would work under the control of the US Attorney with a very limited role, she changed her mind. Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, has faced protests at her home for this.

Alliances with federal police can be problematic. Separate from the current controversy, Albuquerque, Atlanta, St. Paul, San Francisco, and Portland all pulled out of federal-local task forces because federal agents have violated local rules regarding racial profiling, use-of-force policies, and requirements to wear body cameras.

While Trump is putting himself at the center of current police violence, the reality is police violence is bigger than Trump. The system-wide challenges with policing are deeply entrenched. Police defend the status quo including racial injustice and class inequality. Whenever political movements develop to respond to racial and class unfairness, the police have undermined their politically-protected constitutional rights. Now that the conflict has heightened, it is time for the people to resolve it.

Retired US Army major intelligence officer Jenine Betschart (center) protests outside the Multnomah County Justice Center along with the ‘Wall of Moms’ as night fell on the city. Daily Mail.

People Can Protect the Right to Protest and Limit Police Powers

Militarized police violence is the wars abroad coming home. Strategic tactics like the Wall of Moms and veterans in broad opposition to militarized federal police demonstrate how movements can stop Trump’s authoritarianism, limit the actions of police and protect the right to protest.

At the beginning of this century, mass protests in Washington, DC against corporate trade agreements led to violent responses by DC and federal police. Litigation by the Partnership for Civil Justice followed. The result was large monetary awards to protesters but also agreements between the parties that put in place “best practices” to protect the right to protest in Washington, DC. Now both local police and federal police are bound by these agreements.

We interview Mara Verhayden-Hilliard on this week’s Clearing the FOG Radio (Hear our interview with Mara on The Militarized Assault on Our Right to Protest.) about whether the current protests could also lead to the protection of our rights. The overreach of President Trump and the violent reaction of local police is an opportunity for change. To succeed requires smart litigation that protects all protest, not a hierarchy protecting media or legal observers, and the litigation must act in synergy with the people.

People cannot give up the streets but must oppose violent police with strategic tactics that continue to pull people to support the movement and oppose police violence. Our goal is to transform the concept of public safety to mean programs that meet people’s basic needs and build a national consensus for policing that is defundeddemilitarized and democratically controlled. Already the movement has changed the opinions of people in the US, we must build on that success, and continue the pressure for change no matter who is elected president.

  • il corvo

    This could very well be the beginning of the end. What will the protests look like when masses are hungry because the food chain has broken down and many are homeless and without work?

    The Covid 19 scare is starting to break down so what will happen to keep us frightened? Another war? A second and third wave of Covid 19 ? Or a nano particle gene altering vaccine that will make us more docile? The NIH has come out with a paper telling us that 5G can activate a Coronavirus in our skin as well as depriving us of the ability to absorb oxygen. The ruling class is hell bent to institute a global reset and will use any means to do it.

    This is a class war like nothing we have ever seen before. Store food and protect your family and neighbors. We can not go back to a life as it was nor can we go towards a life under corporate rule. Now is the time for continued action such as protests to noncompliance. Our humanity can not stay hidden under a mask.

  • Mensch59

    You are writing truth. Unfortunately it will be dismissed by members of “The GenuineLeft™” as “right-wing” or “reactionary” or “conspiracy theoretical”.
    I’m more disgusted with the Left in the USA than ever before in my years on social media when I first got “political” on AOL chatrooms.
    And how is the Left behaving in the real world contrasted with on social media?

    I’d sure like some good news about what leftists are doing to stand up to “the ruling class … hell bent to institute a global reset and [using] any means to do it”.

  • pajarito

    The fight for social justice has become a beautiful family affair with moms, dads, elders, vets and others protecting the protesters. I am cynical and critical of leaf blowers as yet another mindless materialistic consumptive gadget that symbolizes the obscene extreme of America’s lawn-obsessed culture. It is so uplifting to see the blowers used in the service of social justice. I’ll probably buy one now to practice for the coming tear gas. Struggle on Portland!

  • il corvo

    The good news for me are folks like you that are awake. I live in a “liberal” town that is lock stepping behind the authority of Democratic party. How do we wake folks up Mensch, that is the question? Maybe the answer is one at a time.

  • some ‘leftists’ are disassociating from the ‘left’ label and shifting to an apolitical stance. These people are joining other like-minded people regardless of prior party affiliations – placing a future of freedom and natural rights over lesser ideological issues – these people do not accept the enslavement future awaiting the fearful. A multi-pronged resistance with decentralization as a key theme is developing. open war has been declared on the people; some with fight and some will submit – it appears a fate many consider worse than death may await those that submit.

  • Mensch59

    Thanks for this. It’s a breath of fresh air and a sigh of relief and a renewed call for sanity all rolled into three sentences. Kudos.

  • JohnDoe00

    An “apolitical stance” is nothing more than a ruling-class WELCOME mat. “…lesser ideological issues” like what, Kelly? Working-class control of the commons and the means of production? Knowing which side of the struggle you’re on won’t fully eradicate your fears but lemme’ give you a hint: it’s got damn little to do with masks.

  • SteelPirate

    LOL…”abandon authoritarianism” and embrace your inner capitalist and owner mentality. !!!!

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    Boycott the Digger and all right-wing propaganda. Your life depends on it.

  • Mensch59

    My life and sanity depend on me paying as much attention to you and JohnDoe00 and Collectivist and newestbeginning and your tag-alongs as I pay attention to Joe Biden.

  • SteelPirate

    More nothing from the reactionary poodle. Here’s something on one of your favorite go to sites Spiked-Online poodle.

    ——-

    That this network is substantially funded by foreign donors puts the group’s own claim to be radical iconoclastic “free-thinkers” in a new light.

    Public tax returns from the Charles Koch Foundation show that in 2016 the organisation donated $150,000 to Spiked’s American fundraising arm, Spiked US Inc, through two separate donations (of $130,000 and $20,000). That is more than the total funding ($137,000) that Spiked US Inc declared on its 2016 tax return.

    The Charles Koch Foundation also gave Spiked US Inc $20,000 in 2017, over half of the $37k in total declared by Spiked US Inc in 2017.

    When approached by this investigation to clarify its funding relationship with the Charles Koch Foundation, Spiked’s managing editor, Viv Regan, revealed that it had actually received as much as $300,000 from the foundation over the past three years.

    Spiked’s editor, Brendan O’Neill, also writes for Reason Magazine, owned by the Reason Foundation, which has received $1 million from the Charles Koch Foundation over the past two years.

    Contrast Spiked US Inc’s tax return with Spiked’s UK accounts (which by law do not have to contain as much detail as US public accounts), and it seems that almost all of the organisations’ resources appear to come from the US.

    —————-

    Public service announcement…

    Boycott The Digger and all right-wing propaganda. Your life depends on it.

  • You’re correct – it has virtually nothing to do with masks.

  • Mensch59

    JohnDoe00 is a rigid, dogmatic, verbally violent, illiberal ideologue.
    He won’t hesitate to use the most vulgar language in the book if you dare argue with him.
    I fear the day if or when sadistic thugs like him ever obtain real political/state power. It will be a bloodbath to make the Reign of Terror look like child’s play.
    Just a warning.

  • JohnDoe00

    The potential for violence has never worried me too awfully much. The body takes over and knows what to do. The chips soon fall where they will. Chknshts and scabs – now those give me pause. You know, those special qualities that your Star finds so attractive.

    I think what you may be most frightened of is not having the safety of anonymity to hide out in anymore. Like a jellyfish stranded on the beach, I expect you’ll dry up at the first sign of a real challenge. Poor Star…

  • Mensch59

    What you “expect” makes about as much sense as your rigid, dogmatic, verbally violent, illiberal, sadistic mind.

  • JohnDoe00

    Yeah. Expecting punks to grow a spine and talk out of something besides their neck is a BIG ask. The Digger don’t have a weight room, does it? Lol.

  • Folks like Mensch who are “awake”??? You consider that conspiracy addled right wing fruitcake AWAKE???

    LOL

  • Collectivist

    She probably deserves him.

  • JohnDoe00

    Odd. 🤷🏿‍♂️… SP is right. You’re doing some good work, man. Don’t know where you get your patience.

  • Mensch59

    When you talk about “spineless punks”, you are projecting. Keep it up. Practice makes perfect.
    I’d be happy to argue actual ideas and theories & practices with you, but you have demonstrated over a period of years that you are totally incapable of arguing in good faith.
    That’s why I have concluded that you — like Atomsk and Harb/TA and SP and newest and Jay Hansen and Collectivist and V4Vendeta and the rest of your hangers-on — are rigid, dogmatic, verbally violent, illiberal, orthodox ideologues who confuse strength with inflexibility.

  • JohnDoe00

    Darn. Lol.

  • Collectivist

    Lol

  • GypsyFreyja

    That’s got to be something to see. I guess the feds are using leaf blowers now too.

    Be careful. Just as goggles and masks are “weapons”, so too shall the deadly leaf blower be labeled when the police become concerned for their own safety because of its use.

  • ozarkmichael

    sounds like an ad hominem attack.

  • Mensch59

    Newestbeginning is butthurt because (among other reasons and rationalizations) I abandoned the little online clique she’s still part of and I criticized her mentor, Two Americas/TA, who made a brief return to Disqus under a new screen name. Newest seems to idolize TA. She is quite immature in other areas too — such as dismissing any opinion contrary to her ideology as “right-wing”. That’s her go-to “argument”.

    I’m beginning to come around to your pov. Many(?), most(?), all(?) online Marxists seem to behave much more like authoritarian fascists than conservatives do. Maybe that’s because the conservative tradition advocates for a distrust of big government and these Marxists are all-in with a world government whose power will someday be theirs.

    There really isn’t a modern conseervative tradition in the USA though imo. Most politicians who tout themselves as “conservatives” in high government positions are actually neoliberals.

  • Mensch59

    Yep. It’s a conspiracy alright.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/10ee0745ff4a5acdba8142fe2f0bec050c398021ecf159476b68ac7e70e23fdb.png

    Do you know how common real conspiracies actually are in the legal sense, i.e. conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to commit theft, conspiracy to commit murder.

    Let’s presume that this new SARS strain of corona virus is real, i.e. recently discovered. (That eliminates one level of conspiracy theorizing.)
    Let’s also presume that it really doesn’t matter — once the virus has entered the general population — if the virus’ origin was zoonotic or genetically engineered in a bioweapons lab. (That eliminates another layer of conspiracy theorizing.)
    Let’s presume that the lethality of this new virus can be studied by following the evidence. (This eliminates conspiracy theorizing altogether.)
    Admittedly, this is a corona virus which causes sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). SARS is a type/kind of response to a viral infection. Pre-Covid-19 (i.e. the name attached to the disease caused by this virus which causes SARS), there were x-number of deaths annually from assorted acute respiratory infections. (Again, all of this is evidence based.)
    If there is a real pandemic — as opposed to a hyped one, and there is no need whatsoever to get into why “the politicians, the bureaucrats and the propagandists… proven liars” would have a collective agenda to hype a pandemic, because that’s getting into conspiracy theorizing — then there ought to be excess mortality due to this new corona virus causing SARS demonstrably above and beyond (1) the background mortality due to seasonal influenza (2) the background mortality due to influenza-like infections (3) all combined acute respiratory infections. Supposedly, from my scanty research, back in 2010 the total number of deaths from all combined acute respiratory infections was about 4 million annually.
    Show. Me. The. Money Bodies! That’s empirical evidence. It cannot be hidden by words and conspiracies. It ought to be evident that, if this is a global pandemic, this pandemic is demonstrable by all of the excess deaths.
    I have seen nothing which compares (A) total numbers of worldwide deaths caused by acute respiratory viral and bacterial infections pre-Covid-19 with (B) total numbers of worldwide deaths caused by acute respiratory and bacterial infections during Covid-19. This comparison would provide proof (i.e. the necessary and sufficient evidence) of a pandemic. Where is the evidence?
    I’ve always been taught that, from a scientific worldview, one must be skeptical of a hypothesis until the necessary and sufficient evidence demonstrates that the hypothesis is probably not wrong. In short, Follow. The. Evidence. Where is the evidence that this pandemic is real? If there is no evidence, then we must return to the null hypothesis.

    A comparison of total US Deaths — as opposed to Total US or Worldwide deaths from all acute respiratory infections combined — from the period Jan-May from 2017 through Jan – May 2020 will get these numbers:
    Jan – May 2017: 976,000 total deaths
    Jan – May 2018: >1 million total deaths
    Jan – May 2019: 989,000 total deaths
    Jan – May 2020: 740,000 total deaths

    It doesn’t look like there are a huge number of deaths being caused by a pandemic to me.
    I don’t really like posting links to videos, because these links tend to clog feeds. Perhaps do a word search for the “Truth and Freedom” video produced by Dr. Carrie Madej on 27 July 2020, which includes a list of links supporting Carrie’s video presentation in the description box underneath the video.

  • Mensch59

    Don’t allow yourself, if you can help it, to get dragged into the Disqus drama going on between me and the clique I recently removed myself from. Bad feelings all around I’m afraid. Maybe there is some realistic but minute expectation for things simmering down.