For Abolition: Prisons and Police Are More Than Brutality, They’re State Terror

November 13, 2016
Posted in Blog
November 13, 2016 Editor

For Abolition: Prisons and Police Are More Than Brutality, They’re State Terror

Please click on audio of post. NOTE: only main text read; no links, text markings, images, videos, footnotes, etc. read aloud.

Saturday, 12 November 2016 00:00

By Frank Castro, The Hampton Institute | News Analysis

photo above: Jobs For Felons Hub; Edited: LW / TO

This is an incredibly powerful assessment of “state terror” in arguably the most oppressive democracy of recent times: the United States of America. The author’s analysis rings true at every turn: true to needing to step outside the “rigged system” (thanks Donald Trump) in America that is centuries old, that is designed like an iron-clad caste system to keep the masses (overwhelmingly non-white) in their place in perpetuity. The step outside like a good anthropologist, is the only way there is to even hope that from that vantage point one can cry out, “But the Empire has no clothes!” – is a complete sham, is Public/Planet Enemy Number One in the way it wages terror on all who would oppose it, who too often by virtue of colour alone from birth on are terrorized victims.

To read this article is to weep at the blatant injustices endured by those who fall afoul of “the Law”, a law that too often at once generates the drug trade (for instance), then punishes those who use the drugs authorized and channeled by the very system which created the laws. In this way, “the system” has its cake and eats it too.

How Long O Lord?” is ever the heartfelt cry in the Psalms, in the Book of Revelation, in the Prophets, in myriad human experiences of profound victimization and injustice. And so we work and wait for “Thy Kingdom Come“. Amen.

an excerpt:

In his speech “Terrorism: Theirs and Ours,” now deceased Professor Eqbal Ahmad elucidated five types of terrorism: state, religious, mafia, pathological, and political terror of the private group. Of these types, the focus in mainstream political discourse and media has almost always centered itself on discussion of just one: “political terror of the private group” — organizations like al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS. But as Ahmad (and Ben Norton) pointed out, this is “the least important in terms of cost to human lives and human property.” Rarely discussed is state terror, which has the highest cost in terms of human lives and property. According to Norton, Professor Ahmad estimated that the disparity of “people killed by state terror versus those killed by individual acts of terror is, conservatively, 100,000 to one.”

Undoubtedly, the professor’s observations were meant to provide insight into the material costs of global militarism, where millions, if not billions, have found themselves caught in — between or on the receiving end of state domination. While this may invoke imagery of American drones scalping the Middle East and North Africa for resources, its aircraft carriers patrolling international waters, or even thousands of refugees huddled into camps outside cities under siege, these are only instances of the United States’ most visible crimes. They are the sites of its most demonstrative, and yet least diffuse, violence. In the turmoil and spectacle of US foreign policy, often other forms of state terror remain relatively unknown, their intersections with overarching structures of oppression obscured beneath overt cruelty.

But Professor Ahmad’s analysis of state violence can be applied directly to operations within state borders as much as it can be applied internationally. Militarism outside America, paired with its domestic institutions of terror, ought to be viewed inseparably as two sides of the same coin. Here, imperial power complements prisons and policing as institutions for producing obedient, governable subjects, both locally and globally. It does so in a variety of ways: By supplying local police departments with an ever-escalating arsenal of repression, by constantly reconstructing the context for social control, and by extending white supremacy and colonial rule into the 21st century. Combined, governments like the United States have been responsible for far more terror than any private group, possibly, in history [emphasis added].

Our task is to understand and to decide what we are going to do about it.

From Battlefield to Battlefield

War profiteering has a formulaic pattern. No conflict? No problem. The Pentagon will just create one and enrich a tiny minority (remember the Bush administration’s claim that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction“). The pattern continues by pointing out the devastation of war, then, like a revolving door, it uses the conflict it stirs as justification for more. This is how the United States has been embroiled in the Middle East for the better part of 50 years, how it armed and supported Osama bin Laden as a “freedom fighter” against the Soviets only to later have cultivated the forefathers of al Qaeda and ISIS. Meanwhile, weapons manufacturers have steadily supplied arsenals to the battlefield, and like any capitalist enterprise, it requires new markets — and new battlefields — to survive.

In 1971, President Richard Nixon introduced the ultimate market to arms manufacturers. The “War on Drugs” provided increased federal funding to local police departments. But more importantly, in 1990 Congress enacted the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which enabled the Secretary of Defense to “transfer to Federal and State agencies personal property of the Department of Defense, including small arms and ammunition, that the Secretary determines is — (A) suitable for use by such agencies in counter — drug activities; and (B) excess to the needs of the Department of Defense.” Section 1208 states further, under the “Conditions for Transfer,” that any property transferred must be “drawn from existing stocks,” meaning any purchased surplus can be offloaded to local police agencies with little to no obstruction.

The consequences of which have been far reaching. Today, municipal police departments serve as a release valve for the overflow of military grade weapons produced by arms manufacturers. Amended versions of the NDAA have provided local law enforcement agencies with armored personnel vehicles, grenade launchers, high-caliber assault rifles, and an ever-escalating stockpile of combat-ready equipment. It is not just weapons either. Imperial war has imported the ideology of military combat, blurring the distinction between the “Rule of Law” and the “Rules of Engagement,” and brought it to bear upon the intimate details of everyday life. We have seen an escalation of military — styled “special ops” teams within police agencies, the dismantling of the 4th amendment, and heightened advocacy for complete submission to the state in the name of national security, no matter how intrusive.

But no matter what manifestation state violence takes, as physician Gabor Maté accurately observed, it is never waged against inanimate objects, it is waged against people. In the case of the “War on Drugs,” “we are warring on the most abused and vulnerable segments of the population,” an observation that remains true internationally as well. If there were no wars waged against the most vulnerable of the planet, none to constantly supply with arms to subjugate the poor, it stands likely that there would be drastically less weapons to be wielded against the addicted and destitute in our streets.

Expanding State Terror

As New York State prisoner David Gilbert noted, there is simply no way the “War on Drugs” was a “well-intentioned mistake” with Prohibition having proven such an abysmal failure. Rather, he writes, it “was conceived to mobilize the US public behind greatly increased police powers, used to cripple and contain the Black and Latino communities, and exploited to expand the state’s repressive power.” Gilbert’s poignant observations notwithstanding, the “War on Drugs” did not mark the first time US government used drugs as an instrument to develop state dominance. It has been done many times before. In “Drug Wars,” Professor Curtis Marez demonstrates how the United States has historically wielded the drug trade not to end it, but to channel its flow in order to enhance imperial power:

“The use of drug traffic to support the state is evident in a number of ways. First, the United States has supported drug traffic to finance imperial wars. US participation in the cocaine trade as a means for funding rightwing military proxies such as the Contras could be viewed as the refinement and expansion of the strategies first deployed during the Vietnam War, in which the United States promoted heroin trade in order to support anti-communist Hmong forces in Laos. Second, at the same time as it fostered drug traffic internationally, the state used the “drug problem” as an excuse for the criminalization and suppression of domestic dissent… And finally, the United States has indirectly promoted drug consumption as a method for controlling people of color… Drugs have been deployed, in other words, as weapons of counterinsurgency that aimed to dissipate or sedate oppositional energies.”

The techniques of wielding the drug trade have roots closer than Vietnam or Central America. They rest in US attempts to disrupt and destroy indigeneity, first with alcohol through the 1800s, but more recently through substances such as peyote. By prohibiting or restricting access to drugs, government creates the pretext for selective enforcement and criminalization, and ultimately generates substantial leverage for social control. Marez reveals the circularity of this process, noting that “criminalization generates the very forms of criminality it is supposedly meant to prevent, which in turn provides new opportunities for further criminalization.” In other words, “the law does not work simply through the prohibition of crime” but also through a “production of criminality” placed principally upon minorities.

Political prisoner Leonard Peltier once wrote, “When you grow up Indian, you don’t have to become a criminal, you already are a criminal.” Through the drug trade, US government has effectively marketed the policing and imprisonment of minorities as the key to public safety, and therefore marked them as targets of state terror. This unearths how Native men can be incarcerated at four times the rate of white men, how Native women can be incarcerated at six times the rate of white women. It demonstrates how the flooding of crack cocaine into Black communities during the ’70s correlated with a sharp increase in minimum sentencing laws that helped put 1.7 million Black people under some form of correctional control. It reveals how native Hawaiians, who represent just 20 percent of the state’s population, can comprise 40 percent of the its incarcerated.

It also explains, in part, how America’s imprisoned population exploded to 2.4 million since the start of Nixon’s “War on Drugs” — an increase of 700% . But mass incarceration, like most drug policy, has little to do with safety and everything to do with the maintenance and expansion of state power. With the exception of capital punishment, the ability to revoke a person’s freedom, to condemn one to a lifetime in a cage, is the ultimate exercise of state violence. To visit Michel Foucault’s seminal text Discipline and Punish, “There can be no doubt that the exercise of the [state] in the punishment of crime is one of the essential parts of the administration of justice. […] The right to punish… is an aspect of the [state’s] right to make war on [its] enemies: to punish belongs to ‘that absolute power of life and death.’ ”

As we have seen, however, when “crime” is engineered around selective enforcement it is constructed to control the political and economic aspirations, and the very bodies, of the oppressed. Indeed, of minorities and the poor it fashions enemies of the state with the intent to exercise terror. From the origins of police, to the school — to — prison — pipeline, to the vast network of US incarceration, this has been the enduring legacy of the American judicial system — not safety, and certainly not justice. For the legal system which reigns over the poor, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised has not been of their own design, but was created entirely by a white, patriarchal upper class that is incapable of expressing anything but malcontent for those who struggle against it.

The end result is a sprawling cornucopia of state violence supported at every level of America’s social structure — and which relies principally on police for enforcement. After all, we should never forget that every single person convicted for a violent or a non-violent crime, every single person wrongly convicted, every single person corralled for simply being different or standing up for justice, every single person unable to navigate poverty, homelessness, or addiction, who is placed in a cage to work in servitude or slavery, was put there by a cop. It follows that if ever we are to mobilize to dismantle mass incarceration, it must also be a movement to extract the final breath from policing itself, and to abolish for all time every manifestation of state terror.

In the words of prisoners themselves:

“We need support from people on the outside. A prison is an easy lockdown environment, a place of control and confinement where repression is built into every stone wall and chain link, every gesture and routine. When we stand up to these authorities, they come down on us, and the only protection we have is solidarity from the outside. Mass incarceration, whether in private or state-run facilities is a scheme where slave catchers patrol our neighborhoods and monitor our lives. It requires mass criminalization. Our tribulations on the inside are a tool used to control our families and communities on the outside. Certain Americans live every day under not only the threat of extra-judicial execution… but also under the threat of capture, of being thrown into these plantations, shackled and forced to work.”

Abolition, then, is the only answer to a system whose currency is terror.

Please click on: State Terror


  1. [1]Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
    The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below.
  2. [2]It continued:
    ‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.”   The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed.  It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.  He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions.
  3. [3]Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
    Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).
    What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach.
  4. [5]
  5. [4] The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". [5]He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
    Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.
  6. [6]A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
    In June [2017], the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
    It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.
    Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
    The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.
    To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.
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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

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