Most people expect their government to provide them with a safe society, where one doesn’t have to live in fear of dangers, enemies and refugees.
Are we able to see the consequences of the authorities’ gradual introduction of stricter controls – similar to those found in countries where law enforcement agencies are increasingly militarised, and where cities are imposing zero tolerance policies for minor offenses?
Do we understand what is really taking place when our government argues in favour of arming the police? For example in Norway, where its parliament’s previous decision was against permanently arming the police, government’s champions won a victory in June this year when a motion allowing the police to carry firearms in «vulnerable areas» was passed. The Norwegian government is aware that crime rates are reduced when zero tolerance policies are introduced. But.
«What if the US – with its conservative ‘Wild West’ attitudes and the world’s most overcrowded prisons – exports this mentality to a small country like Norway?»
Such changes are indicative of a particular atmosphere in the society. What Stimmung or mood (a concept from Martin Heidegger’s philosophy) represents the mentality of our time? Which dogmas and norms are gaining currency, so that they become ideologically and morally anchored in our system of values? Responding to demands for greater security, governments resort to technology and police methods that are employed in other parts of the world – ones we do not like to compare ourselves with. This «governmentality» thus gains acceptance among the majority of the population and as a result becomes acceptable.
Let me give one telling example of this tendency: American law enforcement officers go to Israel to receive training and Israeli military experts train American police officers on US soil. They have plenty of experience in handling Palestinian demonstrations and managing internal control and border security in the occupied territories. The increased presence of police forces makes civilian demonstrations in the US resemble war zones, replete with armoured vehicles, helmets, shields and weapons. As in Israel, the line between the police force and the military force is blurred.
The militarisation of the police
Examples of such militarisation and of the attendant increase in police brutality abound in the book The End of Policing (Verso, 2017).
And just recently, the city of Durham, North Carolina was the first city in the US to go against the trend. According to Al-Jazeera, the city council opposed «international exchanges with any country in which Durham’s police officers receive military-style training.» The city of 250,000 inhabitants is aware of how black-majority neighbourhoods have been brutalised at the hands of the police. The council’s motion prevented their new police chief, Cerelyn Davis – who championed exchanges with Israel while heading Atlanta’s police department – from «militarising» the police in the city, home of the prestigious Duke University.
«You shoot first and ask later.»
Durham’s act of dissent was inspired by movements like Demilitarize from Durham2Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. The latter recently published a declaration stating: «As Jewish people, we reject Israel’s detention and prosecution of Palestinian children like Ahed Tamimi.» (See Modern Times in April, she has now served her term in prison.) At the other end of the spectrum is The Anti-Defamation League, a pro-Israeli American-Jewish organisation that sponsors the training of federal and local police personnel and government officials by Israeli police, intelligence and military experts – 15,000 professionals from dozens of American cities have travelled across the Atlantic during the past years alone.