President Obama oversaw a 24-fold (2,400%) increase in the militarization of local police between 2008 and 2014. Even with the scale-back announced in 2015, Obama still managed to transfer a $459 million arsenal to the cops – 14 times as much weapons of terror and death than President Bush gifted to local police at his high point year of 2008.
Black activists confronted police terror on the cops’ own turf, in late July, with actions at the Washington, DC, lobbying offices of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association headquarters in New York City. In stark defiance of demands that they stand down in the wake of the killings of eight police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas, Black Youth Project 100 and Black Lives Matter took the struggle to the very doorsteps of police political power: their unions, the bargaining and lobbying powerhouses that have erected interlocking legal walls of impunity around cops, making them the most protected “class” in the nation.
Protesters rejected the official mythology, that cops risk life and limb to “protect” the community. “They are not at risk. Police officers are the threat,” wrote BYP 100’s New York City chairperson Rahel Mekdim Teka. “Police do not keep us safe. Police do not protect us. They are the danger that keeps Black people unsafe.” Demonstrators at the two protest sites demanded action to “defund the police, and fund black futures.”
It is now common for protesters to demand that police funding be redirected to community social needs. This demand rejects the legitimacy of the armed occupation of Black communities, and makes a claim to control of the allocation of resources in those communities – a step towards self-determination.
President Obama, however, has diametrically opposite plans for these communities. According to the Reuters news agency, Obama is preparing to reverse his decision to ban the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars in armored vehicles, battlefield weapons and riot gear to local police departments. The president reportedly agreed to review the restrictions after meeting with leaders of the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Association of Police Organizations.
Obama’s short-lived retreat from the federal government’s frenzied militarization of local police, announcedwith great fanfare in May of 2015, was his sole substantial concession to the movement that swept the nation after the rebellion in Ferguson, Missouri. The sight of armored vehicles and battle-ready cops on the streets of American cities was an international embarrassment for the United States – bad “optics” for the First Black President’s legacy. However, the sad truth is that Obama is responsible for the biggest escalation in the history of the one-sided war against Black America.
A recent study show that, under the Pentagon’s 1033 program, enacted in 1997, the value of military weapons, gear and equipment transferred to local cops did not exceed $34 million annually until 2010, the second year of the Obama administration, when it nearly tripled to more than $91 million. By 2014, the year that Michael Brown was shot down – and when the full Congress, including 32 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, rejected a bill that would have shut down the 1033 program – Obama was sending three quarters of a billion dollars, more than $787 million a year, in battlefield weaponry to local police departments. In other words, President Obama oversaw a 24-fold (2,400%) increase in the militarization of local police between 2008 and 2014. Even with the scale-back announced in 2015, Obama still managed to transfer a $459 million arsenal to the cops – 14 times as much weapons of terror and death than President Bush gifted to local police at his high point year of 2008.
This was not simply a “surge” in militarization of the police; Obama escalated the war against Black and brown communities by several orders of magnitude. Based on these numbers, Obama is the biggest domestic war hawk in the history of the United States – bigger than Bush, Clinton and all his predecessors since the genesis of the Black mass incarceration regime in the late Sixties.
No wonder all it took was a conversation with two police organizations, this month, to put Obama back on the urban warpath. His return to full combat domestic mode is not an exaggerated response to the death of eight cops in Baton Rouge and Dallas – that was only an excuse to reinstate his original Order of Battle. Obama came into office with the intention of vastly reinforcing the two-generations-long siege of Black America, but was temporarily chastened by the emergence of a resistance movement during his second term. Now he’s preparing to double-down on the strategy by setting a new bar for the politicians that will follow him into the Oval Office: Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Such is the legacy of the First Black President.
What separates the current era of mass Black incarceration, and all of its attendant police atrocities, from the period before the 1960s, is that the “New Jim Crow” has been financed and directed by the federal government. In previous eras, mass incarceration was a state affair. However, since passage of the Law Enforcement Assistance Act of 1968, the feds have made suppression of Black people a national priority, directing, coordinating and financing a vast expansion and militarization of local police, as well as a seven-fold increase in per-capital prison capacity.
The Obama administration marks a new stage in the street war against Black and brown people – a war he escalated before the emergence of a new Black movement, rather than in response to it. Activists should dismiss, out of hand, the Obama administration’s propaganda about “community policing,” a catch-all for finessing an ever deeper police presence in Black communities. When Obama was earmarking $163 million for U.S. Justice Department “community policing” projects in 2015, he was simultaneously budgeting more than half a billion dollars for militarization of the police. Conclusion: Obama is willing to invest limited funds in cultivating more snitches, but he’s really gung-ho about outfitting the cops with tanks, machine guns and grenade launchers.
In light of such stark realities, there can be no pause in mobilizing Black America and its allies for the clashes to come. Clinton or Trump will surely build on Obama’s lethal legacy.Black people must draw on our own legacy of resistance, with the clear understanding that self-determination is the ultimate goal of the struggle. Self-determination – which is the purpose and fruit of democracy – requires the ultimate expulsion of occupying forces from Black communities. It is Black people’s – and all people’s – right to achieve self-determination by any means necessary. The choice of the means is the stuff of politics. It is critical that the full range of self-determinationist politics be thoroughly explored by the emerging Black movement with all deliberate speed, especially in light of Obama’s planned escalation of the war of occupation in Black America.
The next venue in that discussion is August 13 and 14, in Philadelphia, when the Black Is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations holds a conference on a National Black Political Agenda for Self-Determination. One of the proposed Agenda points demands “the immediate withdrawal of all domestic military occupation forces from Black communities.” This is a democratic demand that “assumes the ability of Black people to mobilize for our own security and to redefine the role of the police so that it no longer functions as an agency imposed on us from the outside.”
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be reached at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.