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Nov 21 2011

The creeping paramilitarization of the police

The government response to the Occupy Wall Street movement has been to unleash the police to forcibly clear the protestors from various sites. The crackdown has many of the signs of paramilitary actions: dark uniforms and hard enveloping black helmets with visors that hide the faces, brandishing large truncheons, with tasers and guns on their hips, widespread use of pepper spray and tear gas, rough treatment of peaceful protestors irrespective of age and whether they are resisting.

Here are some photos of recent events, where the police look like the storm troopers from Star Wars. We should note that this look by the police is deliberately created. It is not merely meant for their own protection but also to intimidate people, not just the protestors they are confronting but anyone who sees the events in newspapers and on TV and on the web who might think twice before joining the protests and having to personally confront storm troopers.

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Up to now, the fact that the police still have visible names and numbers on their uniforms act as a restraint on the brutality, since they can be singled out and punished, however mildly, for excesses. The real danger comes when even those identifiers are covered up, because then there will be little restraint. This may well happen since some of the more aggressive police have already been identified for shaming and police chiefs may say they need the anonymity to ‘protect’ their people from retribution.

The next stage in paramilitary actions come when the uniforms become generic and the vehicles unmarked, preventing identification of even the police units involved let along individual officers. Then we are approaching the stage of the death squads that operate with impunity in so many countries and where people that are perceived as opponents of the government simply ‘disappear’, to be never seen again. We are not there yet, but vigilance is required to make sure we do not.

The Egyptian military government has recently been cracking down hard on demonstrators there, causing many deaths and using the police tactics in the US as justification. Gawker comments that when watching the video footage of police beating protestors with sticks and dragging them by the hair, it is hard to tell if we are seeing events in Egypt or in the US, except that the chyrons are in Arabic.

Yes, we have become the model for the Egyptian military junta.

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