Coastal Post Online

October 2000

Shoot To Kill: The Militarization of the U.S. Police

By Charles Simmons

The fatal shooting by Detroit Police of a deaf man holding a rake was followed several days later by the murder of a factory worker who was trying to kill a dog that had been terrorizing the neighborhood for two years. These recent killings are the culmination of a series of brutal beatings and murders of residents during the administration of Mayor Dennis Archer, and Detroit residents are demanding the resignation of the Mayor and the Police Chief Benny Napoleon for continuing to support a Shoot-To-Kill policy. Detroit police killings have won the city the distinction of the highest rate of murders by a police department in the U.S.

The policy of "Shoot-To-Kill" is also the policy of the U.S. Marines, CIA and Mafia hit men, and is fast becoming the defacto policy of civilian police forces throughout the nation. The armaments, supplies, computerized and military vehicles, combat and intelligence training, and values of U.S. police forces are similar to that of military forces in many nations which serve exclusively to suppress their local populations.

In Georgia, at the School of the Americas, the U.S. trains military leaders from Latin America in torture tactics and death squad operations to oppress and rob the little people of a continent. How many of those professors of death are training the Detroit Police? A friend from Spain recently remarked that the conduct of American police forces reminds her of the treatment of civilians by the police and military during the Nazi regime in Spain under General Franco.

In addition, some big corporations are making tremendous profits from this massive domestic weaponry. The U.S. armaments industry, one of the leading sectors of the global economy and the major export of the U.S., makes billions of dollars annually from domestic and international sales of weapons and support systems.

The increasing globalization of the economy is rapidly intensifying the gap between big wealth and workers. With this process everywhere there are the usual suspects: downsizing, privatization, outsourcing, union-busting, a growing disrespect for people of color, youth, and workers, and everywhere there is the expansion of the police and military forces to maintain the old order of exploitation surrounded by a sea of riches.

In Michigan, this police Shoot-To-Kill policy goes hand in hand with the Shoot-To-Kill policy of Governor Engler's cuts in domestic services and fundamental democratic ideals. The massive cuts in services for health care, the closing of mental health institutions, the elimination of home rule, the opposition to affirmative action, the take over of the Detroit judiciary-- all reflect a Shoot-To-Kill domestic policy. The opposition to urban and rural environmental policies to promote clean air and water, and legislation against Living Wages, reflect the Shoot-To-Kill mentality and a race to the bottom in providing fundamental needs in a society in which the people seek a true democracy rather than nice speeches about democracy.

The globalization of the economy by the giant corporations is a world wide Shoot-to-Kill policy that wreaks havoc in American urban neighborhoods by grabbing the land, health and safety in the inner cities from Detroit's Brush Park to Los Angeles' South Central. The Shoot-to-Kill policy steals the wealth of diamond mineworkers and their families in South Africa. In Nigeria, residents who live near the oil deposits suffer from chronic health problems and police brutality caused by environmental degradation imposed by foreign corporations headquartered in New York, London and Paris. Smiling Bill Clinton's remedy is to send Marines to train the Nigerian soldiers, already experts in brutality against their own people. Farmers and workers in Columbia, South America, face death squads armed with U.S. weapons financed by American tax dollars which Clinton claims are being sent to stop CIA drug trafficking which continues to expand in New York and Little Rock.

The Shoot-to-Kill Policy is responsible for the fact that mothers, teenage girls and war refugees in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and female immigrants across the globe are being brutalized and sold by the tens of thousands into slavery as prostitutes throughout the world. And in the industrialized nations, and in states such as Michigan, women are increasingly the victims of impoverishment, and are filling the prisons as never before.

But this is not simply the time for complaints; this is a call for peoples' action and empowerment. This is not a call to hear the usual speeches of eloquent politicians, but a call to form a grassroots movement to make fundamental changes in the system right now at the local and national level. In the process of building such a movement, we must reach across borders and boundaries to join hands with others who seek social and political and environmental justice.

As we demand the resignation of the mayor and police chief, we must also demand a democratic method of selecting officials to oversee the police by the working people and in the community and not by big corporations. We must demand that police at every rank will be personally liable for their corruption, abuse and murder. We must demand that the training, selection, and discipline of police be supervised by elected community representatives at the top level who are not allowed to take money or benefits from big corporations. We must demand that the profits be taken out of the prison industry and that the administration of prisons and other penal institutions be turned over to elected officials whose objective is to rehabilitate the inmates so that they be returned to the society prepared to make a positive contribution.

We have to call for a living wage for all those employed and a guaranteed wage for all residents. We have to demand the restoration of social and health services to all people and a new and positive environmental policy that is compatible with good public health.

In addition, we have to demand socially relevant public education at every grade level that incorporates these issues into the curriculum so those students will feel connected to their community. This approach to education will help the youth to feel empowered to participate in the positive life of the community. This approach will compel the youth to use their energy in creative ways to begin to make changes that will contribute to a better home and family, a better neighborhood and a true democratic nation.

Charles Simmons teaches journalism and media law at Eastern Michigan University and is co-chair of the Committee for the Political Resurrection of Detroit.

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