Torture, Police Brutality, and Dehumanization

Though my focus both professionally and personally has been on the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay for almost a year, the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has changed the discourse in this country, has impacted my life as well.  I find myself on the streets with the occupiers and others to address the economic and social issues that are behind all the US depredations, including torture, within this country and abroad.

Since OWS calls attention to the complete failure and illegitimacy of the current social-political-economic system in the US, the occupiers are not focusing specifically on the wars and torture, but, with their skillful use of independent media including a twenty-four hour online broadcasting network, they are showing the world the brutality of militarized police state repression in the US.  The same things that led to US torture of prisoners of war obtain in torture of prisoners in the US and in the militarization and brutality of police here now.

They are forcing the New York City administration to show itself in its true colors: the servants and protectors of the corporate empire that has brought the people of this country and the world to economic distress and increasing loss of freedom, rights and dignity.  The NYPD leads signally, though the police of other cities compete well.

Below is a film still of deputy inspector Johnny Cardona punching a protestor in the face and another photograph.

Johnny Cardona hitting a protester in the face: video here

Cardona

Though NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly, implies that Mr. Rivera-Pitre was at fault. This report says it appears Cardona punched Rivera-Pitre in the face in response to a “look,” and was protesting with others.

For quite some time, it has been risky to “look” askance at a police officer or to join with others in protest.  A review of entries on this blog alone alone, especially during the Republican national convention in 2008, for instance, or media coverage before this blog existed of the 2004 convention in this city,  will give ample evidence of what police here and in other cities have been doing to peaceful protesters regularly.

Philadelphia Police Captain (ret) Ray Lewis

On Liberty Square yesterday, I met the retired police Captain Ray Lewis from Philadelphia  who joined OWS, was arrested last Thursday, and stays with the Occupation, continuing to support them and engage in civil disobedience.  He spent time with me, encouraging me to continue to suggest to police officers that they join us on our side of the barriers where they really belong.  But as people gathered around us, he began talking about how to deal with the police–standing up and walking away as opposed to “going limp” when arrested, for instance.  He said it makes the police work much harder when they have to carry someone away, causing resentment among them.  He said that police do not mind civil disobedience itself, but they do mind protesters making their work hard.

I see his point of view, but some may prefer making a statement.   The job of protesters is not to facilitate the work of the police.

How is all this related to the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo (and in Bagram and the Black Sites and of US prisoners in jails and prisons…)?  A huge effort especially since September 11, 2001, by US leaders of government and media serving the corporate empire has created the idea of “enemies” who are not like “us,” not entitled to the rights of human beings like us, in short not human.  They use skillful propaganda that makes the Nazi sort look crude; and they attach it to notions of public safety and supposed threats.  The corporate media have fed this diet of lies continuously to the US public for a decade in the context of media blackout about what is really happening.

Finally, with the advent of Occupy Wall Street, there are more people willing to challenge it.  Fortunately, too, OWS is endowed with its own skillful users of media who are able to get truth out to the world.  When we were handfuls of people on Foley Square crying out against torture and war, we were negligible.  We were watched, of course, and herded behind barriers, but I never saw a beating.  Police brutality was mostly reserved for young people of color and “Muslims” in targeted neighborhoods.  Now, there are many people challenging the whole system in public squares all over the country, and via media of all kinds.  They not only chant “the whole world is watching,” they are making certain that it is.

Statements by officials reveal what the “government” is doing about Constitutional rights.  Obama, a Harvard educated lawyer, said publicly that Bradley Manning, accused of leaking information to Wikileaks, “broke the law.”  That was about a year ago and Manning has not yet been tried.  He should be presumed innocent.  Worse, Obama issues orders to kill people anywhere in the world without any form of legal process.  Raymond Kelly says that it is okay for one of his officers to hit a person in the face if he looks at an officer and is part of a protest.

The treatment of Guantanamo prisoners was not televised, so few of us know about their dehumanization. But those prisoners have been deprived of any semblance of their rights under US and international law, are presumed guilty, and are tortured and continue to be deprived of their freedom.  Anyone that the police, the military, the mayor, the governor, or the president doesn’t like is now without rights.  We are all not human when they decide we are not.  It is chilling that most of the people in Guantanamo, those already released and those still held, are entirely innocent of any violence against the US or anyone.  These men have been tortured because the US government officials said they should be.

Do not be deceived; the same things that drive US torture drive the police brutality.  None of us is safe from this

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