“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” ~ II Amendment

Michael Brown was unarmed when he was shot by the police.

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America has the world’s largest military budget. For over half a century it has been the world’s pre-eminent, undisputed hegemon. It is not a country in need of a militia. And yet, nowhere in the Western world are firearms more fiercely clung to; just try prying one from Charlton Heston’s hands.

So how is the right to bear arms not infringed? How can a militia still be “necessary” when any invading army would surely be crushed – not that any nation has invaded America since independence? The argument has revolved around the idea of a “free state” and the supposedly inalienable and rights this gives the individual. This has the backing of the incredibly strong National Rifle Association (NRA) lobby. But, more than anything, it is the neo-liberal strain of thought that has gone from strength to strength since the Reagan administration that reigns supreme here. There is a deeply ingrained and unstable suspicion of the government in America. There is a tendency to see the government as Police-action-in-Ferguson-690something to be tamed, to be locked in gridlock. An only partially necessary evil; not an instrument of and for the people. And this is why they retain the right “to keep and bear arms” – to fight off the encroachments of the state.

As Wayne LaPierre, executive Vice President of the NRA, said,

“more and more Americans are buying firearms and ammunition. Not to cause trouble, but because that America is already in trouble. We know that sooner or later reckless government actions and policies have consequences, that when government corrupts the truth and breaks faith with the American people, the entire fabric of society, everything we believe in and count on, is then in jeopardy.”

And so we arrive in Ferguson, Missouri. 10 days after Michael Brown, a young black man, was shot by a white policeman. A peaceful vigil was met by tanks and policemen in fatigues and the situation has erupted.

Ferguson is a largely black town. The Ferguson police force is largely white. In a country that needs no excuse to devolve into it, this has become defined, rightly or wrongly as white versus black.

Make no mistake, this is in many ways white vs black. It is the latest chapter in an American story that spans centuries, penned while the ink of the Trayvon Martin tragedy is still not dry. The brutal action of the white police against the black population, the killing of an innocent black man has led one previous Democrat senator to insist that white St. Louisians “join the protest en masse”. Jeff Smith, the Senator in question, has stated that he believes that if “there’s ten thousand white people at the protest […] the police aren’t responding with tear gas, rubber bullets, and dogs”.

It it is also the story of an overreaching state versus the people. This is the moment that America has been waiting for as it stockpiled its weaponry in kitchen cabinets, between sock drawers and under mattresses. This is the reason the American public, in the face of the Newton shooting and the Aurara shooting and the Columbia shooting sat through lectures by LaPierre and his ilk on how gun’s do not kill people and how they must remain sanctified. It is why subsequent firearm reform was never enacted.

But, in Missouri, despite Jelani Cobb of the University of Connecticut echoing in part the “reckless government actions that LePierre condemns, as he see’s Ferguson as “a place where law enforcement is capable of gross overreaction”, the NRA is absent.

The police brutality in Ferguson is the culmination of damaging and truly reckless Government policies. Before the shooting of Michael Brown, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that “policing…in the United States today has become excessively militarized…through the Department of Defense’s 1033 Program”. Noam Chomsky, almost in unison with the report, points to the National Defense Authorization Act as a policy that “allows the military to be involved in domestic policing”. One ALCU member has said that “if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

The hammer is being wielded in Missouri. This is where the NRA has the strongest argument. Not after a gunman has ripped through a community but when an American community is oppressed by a state system that has, and is abusing, its monopoly on violence. And though we left race behind to discuss the encroachments of the state, the silence of the NRA only serves to drag us back. If this was in any of the predominantly white towns up and down the United States, the NRA surely be there.

In the wake of the Newton shooting, LaPierre, in an official statement by the NRA, advocated placing guns in the hands of school security forces. Here, they are silent.

In War Comes Home, the ACLU report, they found that “the use of paramilitary weapons and tactics primarily impacted people of colour”. And this is why the NRA is not there. Because to fight in Ferguson, to create a militia in Ferguson, to “fight for a free state” in Ferguson, would be to fight up and down the country for a free state for minorities. To remove the weight of an oppressive and prejudiced police force that only weeks before had strangled a black man to death in New York would be all-encompassing mission. It would be to support the empowerment of the minorities, or, at the very least, acknowledge minorities in ways America has constantly, and regressively, obstructed.

stlouis10n-7-webAll this is not to ondone the arming of what has largely been a peaceful protest. Nor is it to repeat the trope of the NRA that the victim of a shooting would have been alive if more guns had been present. Those points should be dismissed out of hand elsewhere. This is simply to point out the hypocrisies of the gun lobby and the dialogue around a “free state” in the America.

Michael Brown was unarmed when he was shot. But there is nobody from the NRA clamouring for the Michael Browns of the future to be armed.

Michael Brown was black.

 

6 Comments »

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  • “Gabby” McDonald
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    “If this was in any of the predominantly white towns up and down the United States, the NRA surely be there.” Surely? I live in a “predominantly white town”; we have had several shooting in the past couple of years, including one by a Marshal’s Deputy, and the NRA has not involved themselves at all.

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    Laith
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    Hi Gabby, my apologies, this incident regarding the Marshal’s deputy did come up in searches. With this in mind “surely” was a naive mistake. I would say, however, that it is not the shooting but the militarised police reaction, and what this means for the people versus the state, which has brought about this idea. I would venture to suggest such a reaction has not happened elsewhere, though I could be wrong.

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    Laith
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    Did not*

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    "Gabby" McDonald
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    The Hollywood bank robbery several years ago resulted in a surge in police asking for more effective weapons against criminals. Many Police Departments recruit their officers from ex-military personnel. So military looking/acting LEOs are to be expected. How they respond to threats – that’s another matter; and can depend on any number of factors, all the way down to their spouse having said “No” last night. In other words, they’re human, and subject to all human frailties.

    Should police officers have military style weapons? The time may come, probably when least expected, that s/he needs that firepower. The mind-set of the officer will determine the use it is put to.

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    Laith
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    We can agree to disagree but I think it is an interesting discussion.

    The weapons are not all that more effective against criminals. In America, what does a machine gun do for the police that a handgun does not? In Ferguson, some police were wearing camouflage. In an urban setting. That is bordering on comical.

    I think your point regarding the humanity of the police is an especially important one. However, I think it just reinforces the importance of not arming the police in such a way. Why should the police, who are no more immune to such human frailties, be given such powerful firearms when we wouldn’t arm the public in such a way? Why should the life of a human be held captive to the anger of a policeman or woman whose spouse said “no” the night before? That is no justice system.

    Personally, I don’t believe the police should carry any fire arms. But the nature of the police force in America now far exceeds that personal qualm. It is excessive.

    In addition, I cannot see a time where such firepower will ever be needed by police. Should it be needed, that is what the Army is for.

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    "Gabby" McDonald
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    Unarmed Police? In earlier times, the London ‘Bobby’ was used as an example of an effective un-armed officer. Notice that since the IRA bombings of some 20 years ago, certain bobbies are now armed. Police Scotland has recently armed about 200 of their officers, apparently without the consent of the Member of Scottish Parliament who oversees the police force. It’s happening around the world, law enforcement personnel are getting heavier arms. Armored cars are available in many European countries. Sad but true. I’ll agree to disagree on that aspect.

    My take on law enforcement is mostly based on the history of organized police forces around the world, as described in Compton’s Encyclopedia. America and Australia were some of the last countries to have organized forces. Prior to that, the “posse comitas” (spelling – sorry), vigilantes, and the ‘hew and cry’.

    In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s in the larger cities, we had officers on foot patrol. They knew everybody on their beat, and everybody knew them. Shootings by officers? Few, if any. Later, two officers in a patrol car, cruising around. Today, one officer, in a vehicle, who probably doesn’t know anyone in the area he’s patrolling. Why? Money, or lack there-of. Higher taxes anyone?

    For most disturbances/problems, an officer will wait for backup before proceeding – in a city, perhaps two minutes, elsewhere, it could be 20 minutes or more. (San Bernardino County, CA; up to 40 minutes – two officers cover over 1,000 square miles along the Highway 60 corridor) In the meantime, if I may borrow a phrase from the US military, the on-the-scene officer might have to be “An Army of One”.

    Should we turn law enforcement over to robots? After all, humans aren’t perfect, never have been, never will be.

    Brings to mind a science fiction story from the 1960’s. Messages passed back and forth between two computers. From the Library computer to the Police computer: Reporting an overdue book – “Kidnapped””Robert Louis Stephenson”. Police: What is the current status of Stephenson” Library: Dead. (It’s about a five page story, but that’s the essence.) So an overdue book becomes a murder. That was written in the same time frame that the Social Security Administration was declaring that some recipients had passed away – and stopped sending checks. Robots? No thanks.

    Security cameras? Sometimes help in catching the criminal, after the crime has been committed, and victims have been traumatized, injured, or killed.

    For now, we’re stuck with humans, sometimes preventing crimes by their very presence, sometimes having to make a split-second decision as to what the response to a crime in progress should be.

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