A startling independent report into “extrajudicial killings” of Black people in the US by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) — an activist organization with chapters in Atlanta, Detroit, Fort Worth-Dallas, Jackson, New Orleans, New York City, Oakland, and Washington, DC — raises deeper questions. The report released in May 2013 — months before the outbreak of violence in Ferguson — found that an African American male is killed every 28 hours by US police or vigilantes, with little or no accountability. In 2012, a total of 313 Black people were unlawfully killed in this way.
The report contextualizes this systematic violence against Black communities by US police forces as part of a wider system of racist repression in which local police departments are entwined with a network of domestic security structures encompassing “the FBI, Homeland Security, CIA, Secret Service, prisons, and private security companies, along with mass surveillance and mass incarceration.” Together, this domestic national security apparatus “wages a grand strategy of ‘domestic pacification’” through endless “containment campaigns” against groups designated as problematic or dangerous to the system.
The MXGM analysis coheres disturbingly well with mounting evidence of Pentagon contingency planning for “domestic insurgencies” triggered by social, economic, or food shocks, or natural disasters. US federal government planning documents suggest that the Pentagon’s role in militarizing local police forces is linked to growing concerns about domestic civil unrest due to the state coming under increasing strain from elevated climate, energy and economic risks.
My in-depth investigation last month into the Pentagon’s controversial Minerva research initiative has, for instance, exposed how the US Defense Department is funding universities to develop complex new data-mining tools capable of automatically ranking the threat level from groups and individuals defined as politically “radical.” Such tools, which according to NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake could feed directly into the algorithms used to fine-tune the CIA’s drone kill lists abroad, are increasingly being used to assess threats from activist and civil society groups in the US homeland.
In a society where racial tensions are intensifying, this dynamic inevitably affects marginalised Black and ethnic minority communities disproportionately. Police forces end up being brought into Black communities “with the marching orders, equipment and the mentality of an occupying army that inevitably results in systematic extrajudicial killings of citizens without respect for their human rights,” the MXGM report found. “The adoption of military tactics, equipment, training, and weapons leads to law enforcement adopting a war-like mentality,” concurred journalist Adam Hudson on the MXGM report’s conclusions. “They come to view themselves as soldiers fighting against a foreign enemy rather than police protecting a community.”
Given the extent of America’s racial divide, does this suggest that the civil rights movement has failed? I put the question to Terron Sims. “It’s not that the movement has failed — it’s that it’s not over,” he told me. “In Ferguson, the conditions have been brewing for a while. Black people are being shot all across America, but the reason it hasn’t kicked off everywhere is because the demographics aren’t the same. Ferguson has a fairly sizeable and concentrated Black population, unlike with the shooting of Trayvon Martin for instance in a district in Florida, where the Black community is more dispersed and certainly more affluent than in St. Louis.”
Indeed, Ferguson represents a microcosm of these problems, with wealth inequalities markedly worse than the national average. For example, census figures for 2012 in St. Louis County show that nearly half of all African American men are unemployed, compared to just 16 percent for White men.
“At those levels of poverty and inequality, with no jobs available and nothing to do all day, that’s a serious level of despair and hopelessness,” said Sims. “You prod and proke a situation like that, and it’s going to start simmering. You shoot a kid in the street in a situation like that for no good reason, well then it’s going to explode.”
For Sims, the only solution is for Black communities to mobilise socially and politically: “Part of the reason there’s no money going into these communities is because there are no Black political representatives on the scene advocating for those communities. That needs to change. We need to compel change by engaging with these institutions.”
If nothing is done to address these bigger, deeper issues of racial discrimination and inequality, does Ferguson represent the future of the United States?
“Of course it could”, said Sims. “I’m not saying Fergusons could happen everywhere, but for sure, if things continue as they are, there’ll come a point where the combination of unaccountable, rampant and racist police repression will inflame community tensions in circumstances of growing levels of deprivation and hopelessness. And that’s where race riots could become far more of a norm than we might expect. So unless something changes, yes, Ferguson is our future.”
By: Dr. Nafeez Ahmed