America’s Brutal Police State Expands Its Reach In Portland
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: By now, most of you have seen the video that has gone viral of a lone man in a Navy sweatshirt standing quite like a statue as he is being assaulted by heavily-armed, unidentified, and obviously brutal agents of the state in Portland, OR. You’ve seen the lines of moms, some pregnant, arms linked, standing between the federal agents and the protesters, getting teargassed for their trouble, and growing in number in response. You’ve seen The Portland Dads now join them, leafblowers in hand to repel the teargas teargas canisters thrown at protesters. All in response to shadowy state agents snatching protesters off the streets and whisking them away in unmarked vans, as protests after the public lynching of George Floyd have continued in Portland for more than 50 days, as they have across the country.
But there is so little national coverage of all the ongoing protests that people think they’ve stopped unless they live directly in a city where they are still happening, so overall the media black out of these protests makes the ongoing coverage of Portland all the more interesting. One might think that the media is focusing on this area because of what federal agents are doing, practically kidnapping people under nefarious circumstances and holding them in unknown locations, accusing or charging them with flimsy alleged crimes, but honestly this kind of thing is actually quite normal and has been going on for decades – if not centuries – in this country.
When the bodies of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney, the three students who were murdered by the Klan during the Freedom Summer in the late 60s, were discovered in that infamous earthen dam in Philadelphia, MS, the search for those young men had already revealed the bodies of at least eight other Black men and boys from the rivers in the area that were dredged. Eight Black men and boys who were snatched up by mobs of white vigilantes – the klan, their sympathizers and friends and apologists, and the cops who gave them cover or who were klan members themselves – never to be seen alive again by their families, until their bloated and water-logged bodies were dragged out of some murky river in the search for more high-profile victims. My Grandma would tell me about the Night Riders tearing through the Black neighborhoods, brandishing torches while riding horses, and in dark cars riding through town when she was a little girl, this is the terrorism that they imposed on Black people who didn’t stay in their place – they could and would snatch you or a family member up, take them away, and you may never see them again, or if you did, what you might find would only be their mutilated remains.
If you think this kind of thing only happened in what you believe is the distant past in this country, I must remind you that the Guardian broke the story about Homan Square in 2015, the secret interrogation and detention facility where the Chicago PD held over 7,000 people they had snatched up and detained with little if any documentation or even booking records to prove a person was there, and that made it impossible for them to be found by an attorney or even their families. It’s interesting to note that over half of the arrests that were documented took place under Rahm Emanuel’s tenure as mayor of Chicago. Officials did not have any information on people who were detained but not ultimately charged, though, and there were NO records for any activity at the facility BEFORE 2004, although it absolutely existed before then.
And this was in the same city that agreed to pay a multi-million dollar reparations package to 57 victims of former Chicago commander John Birge and his reign of terror for the unlawful detention and torture – including beatings, electric shock, suffocation with typewriter covers and games of Russian roulette – of over 100 mostly Black Chicagoans between the 1970s and 1993. When the allegations began to become public Birge was fired, but with his $4,000 a month pension intact. While other cities may not have had the kind of high-profile operation like Homan Square or a monster as prolific as John Birge in their police departments, I am confident that if you ask Black and Latino and Native people who are old enough to know the history, they will tell you that there have been little Homan Squares and John Birges all over this country.
People think they understand the law by citing that deploying the US military against US citizens is illegal under the 1878 federal law known as the Posse Comitatus Act, which generally bars the use of the active-duty U.S. military — the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines — from carrying out domestic law enforcement. But this law does not apply to state National Guard units, which are state militias, basically. And the 1807 Insurrection Act is the exception to the Posse Comitatus Act that allows a president to deploy federal troops anywhere in the country to put down what they consider to be an insurrection. The Insurrection Act has been used by several presidents to deploy the National Guard to break strikes in the 1800s and 1900s, often resulting in atrocities such as the Great Railroad Strike massacres in 1877, the Ludlow Massacre in 1914, the Bay View Massacre in 1886, and several others. And remember that the National Guard was deployed to the Greenwood District in Tulsa, OK in 1921 where over 6,000 targets of the worst racist massacre in the history of this country were held without due process for up to eight days in the destruction and massacre of Black Wall Street.
In more recent history, in May of 1970 Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes ordered the National Guard to the Kent State campus to quell protests against the Vietnam War, where they opened fire with live ammunition and murdered four students and injured nine others. Police and the militia assaulted students protesting the war across the country during this time, as “police wounded a dozen protesters at the State University of New York at Buffalo with shotgun fire. National Guard troops attached bayonets to their rifles before charging demonstrators in both Albuquerque, New Mexico and Carbondale, Illinois. In Madison, Wisconsin, guardsmen indiscriminately fired tear gas into student housing blocks.”
Just a few days after the Kent State massacre, Mississippi state police opened fire into Alexander Hall on the campus of all-Black Jackson State College. But this wasn’t about anti-war protests. Students had protested years of racist harassment from white residents in neighboring Fayette. Cops alleged that a dump truck being set on fire on campus was actually a riot, though no students were in the street at the time. But Mississippi highway patrolmen carried state-issued shotguns and double-aught buckshot, personal weapons, and even “two 9mm submachine guns” to the campus anyway, and fired on the students who were in a dormitory. Two students were killed and 12 injured.
And that happened after the earlier racist slaying of Ben Brown near the Jackson State campus in 1967, the State Patrol’s murder of three black students and wounding of 28 others at South Carolina State College at Orangeburg in 1968, the assassination of Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in 1969, and the police’s fatal shooting of six young black men—all shot in the back—during a moment of civil unrest in Augusta, Ga., just a few days earlier.
The National Guard was also deployed during the racial unrest that was already fueled by decades of racist police violence and social oppression across the country in the late 1960s and 70s, and they abused and killed citizens then, too. Incidents that were the straw that pushed poor, Black residents over the edge included a Black cab driver being brutally beaten by police in Newark; a 16 year old unarmed Black kid shot dead by a white cop in San Francisco; the mass arrest of 82 partygoers who were assembled to celebrate the return of GIs from Vietnam in an unlicensed after-hours club that existed because there was nowhere else in segregated Detroit for Black citizens to socialize. The images and accounts of the cops and the Guard’s brutality toward citizens has been documented in books and dramatized in movies. Our own Eddie Conway recounts his own experience seeing National Guard troops on the streets of Newark, NJ, with a 50 calibre machine gun pointed at women protesting on a street corner that caused him to refuse to go to Vietnam.
And it was just 2016 that heavily armed, private security forces, local and state police, and who knows who else violently assaulted water and land protectors at Standing Rock. Few know that The Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) that was signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996 in response to Hurricane Andrew to facilitate interstate cooperation between agencies was used by Jack Dalrymple, then the governor of North Dakota, to convene a multi-state, multi agency force that was unleashed against protesters trying to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from being built on sacred Indigenous land. And it needs to be noted that this same law was used by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan a year earlier in 2015 to summon police forces from neighboring jurisdictions in Philadelphia and New Jersey to repel protesters in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody.
So why is America suddenly absolutely shocked and outraged at what is honestly just the natural progression of authoritarian police abuse and the deployment of the military or federal agents against US citizens going on in Portland now? Let’s be honest here: it is because of who it is being done to this time around. The man in the viral video is a Navy veteran who had never been to a protest in his life, but had heard about the abuses by law enforcement against the protesters, and said that he went down there to see for himself what was going on. Christopher David went down to the federal courthouse to see women – a lot of them pregnant he saw – linking arms in protest against police brutality and to ask the armed agents why they were ignoring their oath. They women were there, they said, to demand that federal agents stop targeting and abusing and literally kidnapping Portland kids in these protests. What he and the other mostly white women experienced instead of what they were sure was their right to peacefully protest, and a right they were sure would be respected, was what we Black, Latino, and Native American citizens have experienced in the entirety of our “relationshIp” with agents of the state in this country when we stand up for our rights – indiscriminate, violent, terroristic abuse; violations of our rights; violence against our bodies. The women were teargassed and knocked to the ground, and David, as we saw in the video, was beaten with batons by the camouflaged thugs, to the point that his hand was broken in two places.
I hate to say it, friends, but what you’re seeing in Portland has been done to other people in this country who don’t look like Christopher David and the moms he saw being assaulted. As I watched this unfold, I couldn’t help but think of that famous poem by MARTIN NIEMÖLLER, German Lutheran minister and public critic of Adolf Hitler: First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Remember that it was only within the last two years that mass protests at ICE detention facilities were being held, as people learned about secret immigration raids, ICE agents snatching suspected “illegals” off the streets, raiding workplaces, schools, churches, dragging people away from their jobs, families and communities, only to disappear them in facilities that had been secretly built and were shrouded in political and legal cover. But as much of the recent attention to the secret police tactics of “immigration agents” has been trained on the Trump administration, the truth is that the Obama Administration carried out very similar undercover detention activities that were carried over from the Bush Administration.
The entire history of law enforcement in this country has led us to this moment, and as much as oppressed people have tried to warn the rest of the country that this was coming, few would listen. Are you listening now? Because our future not only depends on knowing this history, but it also depends on what YOU do from here on out.