Media pundits and politicians are calling the violence that broke out in Baltimore after the spinal cord severance death, while in police custody, of African-American Freddie Gray a «wake up call». However, these self-appointed «experts» on the social collapse of poor, mostly African-American working class neighborhoods across the United States, are avoiding talking about the real reason cities and towns across America are erupting in protest and resorting to rioting every time a young African-American is murdered by the police. America, like the fascist dictatorships in Latin America during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, is now rife with police «death squads». Uniformed law enforcement officers now act as judges, juries, and executioners in meting out death sentences on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb; New York City; North Charleston, South Carolina; Baltimore; and other cities and towns across the dis-United States.
Part of the reason for the appearance of officially-sanctioned death squads among America’s police ranks is the steady militarization of America’s state, city, county, and small town police forces since the 9/11 attack. Under what is called the «1033 program», the Pentagon has provided the police with everything from war surplus armored personnel vehicles (known as Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles or «MRAPS») and military-grade M-16 rifles to mortars and armored Humvees. Some of this equipment was on full display in Ferguson, Missouri during protests over the shooting death by a white police officer of African-American teen Michael Brown.
Because Baltimore, unlike St. Louis and North Charleston, is considered within the national capital area of Washington, DC, the U.S. corporate media and government officials reacted to a group of rioting African-American high school students that followed the funeral of Gray with the sort of existential alarm usually meted out to «menacing» nation-states like Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea. The media expressed more sympathy with the corporate-owned CVS pharmacy that was looted during the melee than with the family of Gray, which was pleading for calm and peace.
The Baltimore police, who were itching for a showdown with Baltimore’s simmering African-American population, decided to stop school buses transporting African-American high school students back to their homes. The police also threw up road blocks on Baltimore streets. The high school students were forced by police to leave their buses. Police then corralled the youth into an area in the Mondawman neighborhood. The nearby subway station was closed by police and the students were prevented from going home by either school bus, public transit bus, or the subway. Eyewitnesses and the students’ parents and high school teachers all verified the fact that the students were illegally detained by police. When a few students began hurling stones at police, the police threw stones and rocks back at the youth who, it should be stressed, had been initially provoked by the heavy-handed police tactic of stopping all local transportation.
Essentially, the Baltimore police adopted the tactics used daily by the Israeli police against Palestinians on the West Bank: deny transit routes, corral the targeted population, and respond with overwhelming force and, often, brutal violence. In fact, Baltimore’s police, just as with the St. Louis County Police who responded to the Ferguson situation, have received Israeli law enforcement and «counter-terrorism» training, including in the use of long range acoustic device (LRAD) sound weapons, use of anti-crowd portable fences, and Krav Maga martial arts instruction, from the Israeli police and Israeli Defense Force. This training is courtesy of programs supported by the right-wing and proto-fascist Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). The ADL once compiled massive data files of American dissidents, civil rights leaders, and anti-war Christian clergy for federal and state law enforcement. Retired police officers who had received ADL-sponsored training in Israel hit the television circuit to proclaim the massive police and army «show of force» in Baltimore to be the template for the rest of the nation.
Baltimore police justified their extreme actions by falsely claiming that the black gangs, the Bloods and Crips, were descending on the city to incite violence. The source of the rumor was unfounded messages posted on social media, likely originating from the Baltimore police intelligence unit. The gangs responded to the allegations by saying they had no such plans.
The message to America’s minorities was clear: police remain free to summarily execute civilians at will and any protests, be they in black ghettoes, Hispanic barrios, or on Native American reservations, will be met with overwhelming police force or «shock and awe».
Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan dispatched hundreds of Maryland National Guard troops to Baltimore to work with Baltimore and police from outside jurisdictions to enforce a curfew. The scheduled Baltimore Orioles-Chicago White Sox baseball game at Camden Yards was to be barred to ticket holders, the first time in major baseball history a game was played for an empty stadium. A weekend series planned to be played at Camden Yards between the Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays was moved to St. Petersburg, Florida. If this sounds like the «collective punishment» meted out by Israel to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, it is exactly where the Baltimore and Maryland authorities got the idea. The disturbances that followed the Gray funeral had been preceded the previous night by a confrontation between police and African-American fans departing the Camden Yards stadium. The solution for the authorities: collective punishment for the majority African-American population of Baltimore. Increasingly, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans are becoming the «Palestinians» of America, people available to the police at any time and any day for «target practice».
New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie, a 2016 presidential contender who, as a former federal prosecutor, is as much overbearing as he is overweight, dispatched New Jersey State Police troopers to Baltimore to help with law enforcement. The use of out-of-state police in Baltimore to bolster city police was a stark illustration of the close links existing between law enforcement agencies across the country to support the «blue line» and police officers facing investigations over extra-judicial executions of citizens. As seen with other incidents across the country, the Fraternal Order of Police union and the internal affairs divisions of police departments charged with investigating police brutality often conspire to cover up evidence of police misconduct. Meanwhile, American political leaders are prescribing «placebo» solutions like police body cameras to solve the issue of police brutality. Body cameras will neither solve the underlying problems of high unemployment in areas prone to police-on-citizen violence nor will they address the fact that the United States has the highest per capita prison population in the world, with some 2.2 million mostly African-American men serving long prison terms for non-violent drug-related offenses.
The corporate media and Republican politicians, including Governor Hogan, found it sporting, as they did with regard to African-American local council members in St. Louis and other cities, to attack Baltimore’s African-American Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as being «incompetent» for allowing things in her city to «get out of hand» without an immediate and massive show-of-force. Her colleague, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, defended her actions in Baltimore. It is a familiar practice that is used by oligarchic Republicans to portray minority Democratic officeholders as «weak on crime» in order to achieve cheap political points as a result of the police murder of minority citizens.
After riots swept American cities in 1968 following the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King in what is now considered by many to have been a government conspiracy involving the FBI to silence the civil rights leader, President Lyndon Johnson responded: «What did you expect? I don’t know why we’re so surprised. When you put your foot on a man’s neck and hold him down for three hundred years, and then you let him up, what’s he going to do? He’s going to knock your block off».
Almost 50 years later, American law enforcement continues to target African-Americans with the «death squad» tactics once popular with Latin America’s most repressive tin-pot fascist dictators, junta leaders who were urged on by the same U.S. agencies involved in King’s murder and today with militarizing America’s police.