On July 4th, 2015 Itemid “Angel” Al Matar was climbing an el train platform with a backpack full of food she’d just purchased. She was headed home to break her ramadan fast with family. Unannounced, six uniformed members of the Chicago Police Department ran up behind her and tackled her on the stairs. In the tumult, the traditional niqab covering she was wearing came off. Police had received a bulletin from Chicago’s Deployment Operation Center warning of terror attacks during the US holiday, and claimed the large backpack and bulges around her ankles (later found to be exercise weights) looked suspicious.
After being assaulted, Al Matar was charged with reckless conduct and resisting arrest. During the trial, as she attempted to fight these charges, it was revealed in the testimony of one of the officers that, in addition to receiving sensitivity trainings specifically around working with Muslim civilians, he had also attended counter-terror exercises for law enforcement in Socorro, New Mexico.
The Illinois Tactical Officers Association’s 29th annual conference meets on October 9th in Hoffman Estates. The organization — which regularly collaborates with the Cook County Department of Homeland Security — brings together local police forces and weapons manufacturers for tactical trainings. This year’s keynote speaker is Trump campaign consultant and Fox News regular Sebastian Gorka — described as an expert in counter terrorism. Perhaps best known for his rabidly anti-Muslim book Defeating Jihad, he is also a proponent of vetting the political leanings of immigrants attempting to enter the US.
The conference also features a series of workshops under the banner “Policing Post-Ferguson,” all designed to train officers on responding to protests and riots. Echoing the anxious language of the “Post-9/11 Era” these courses run the gamut from PR pointers for dealing with media, to corralling political dissenters — presumably those who are Black and poor, especially in the wake of the murder of yet another of their community members.
The ITOA — like the trainings attended by officers in the Al Matar case — represents a small part of a massive project supported by a pantheon of government agencies designed to paint a picture of oppressed people — in this case Black, Arab and Muslim — as the greatest threat to national security, and to legitimize the militarization of the police force as a reasonable response to that threat. The backdrop of the effort is, as always, an inherently racist commitment to war as the ultimate act of patriotism.
The recent spate of athletes kneeling during the national anthem — a symbolic protest of police violence sparked by football player Colin Kaepernick — have done more than spur a national dialogue. They’ve brought to light that together the Department of Defense and the National Guard have given out more than $10 million to the NFL since 2011, money donated specificaly for patriotic ceremonies. The statement being made by Kaepernick and other sports stars isn’t just offending sensibilities, but hijacking an empire-subsidized spectacle of patriotism to draw attention to what should have long been a national shame.
This series of seemingly disparate events should tell us two important things: Firstly, that the military industrial complex doesn’t merely benefit from anti-Muslim and anti-Black sentiments: it manufactures them. It relies on a complex network of patriotic propaganda, pseudo-academic expertise, and tactical training to teach the imaginary terrorist — both domestically and internationally — as the target for elimination.
Secondly, the conflation of Muslim and Black people as violent threats shows the veil between the police and the military is actually non-existent. Their supposed separation is an illusion designed to portray the imperial project at home as distinct from the imperial project abroad — a tactic which tacitly pits Black and Muslim communities against one another.
This is exemplified by the interrogating of new immigrants suggested by Gorka. In order to gain access to the US, immigrants — specifically those from the Middle East — are called on to prove their patriotism, demonstrate their commitment to an order based explicitly on the annihilation of Native and Black people — a fact which we should no longer have to debate. Similarly, poor, Black and undocumented people are offered legal and economic salvation by joining the military — committing to violence against Arab and Muslim communities abroad. Many of those who return are recruited to the police force, and the cycle barrels on.
The oppressed are led to believe that if they commit to killing off the right people, the will gain access to the comforts of empire. In actuality, the opposite happens. The fear of Islam is used to justify heightened policing, which leads to more Black death. The deeper the commitment to militarization in Black communities, the more legitimacy it is given in Arab and Muslim communities in the US and abroad. The higher the specter of terrorism is raised, the more weaponry is called in to beat back the threat — wherever it is claimed to exist.
There is a nearly constant flow of anti-Black and anti-Muslim rhetoric produced by the state as justification for mass militarization. Whenever Black people support anti-Muslim sentiments, or Muslim and Arab people believe anti-Black lies, we are playing into a cycle that inevitably results in violence against our own communities.
After Ferguson police rolled tanks through the streets to put down protests over the murder of Mike Brown, there was a national outcry over the level of weaponization for the department of such a small city. President Obama spoke out against local departments being able to purchase military-grade weaponry. Yet after meeting behind closed doors with heads of the Fraternal Order of Police (the US’ largest police union, which recently offered its endorsement to Donald Trump), he personally renewed the bill which makes such purchases possible.
We know who benefits from these deals, whose interests push them forward, even with resounding disapproval from the public. Violence persists as the state’s answer to social strife because the state is controlled by the corporations who profit from the peddling of that narrative.
As the recipients of state violence, Black, Arab and Muslim communities worldwide must band together in calling for the abolition of all militarization. This means struggles against policing and invasion can’t only target police departments and military forces, but weapons manufactures like Boeing and Lockheed Martin, corporations engaged in surveillance like Motorola, and the governmental bodies that profit from war on a planetary scale.
Police abolitionists have long argued that defunding local police forces and redistributing those resources into education, housing and food safety is the true answer to stopping neighborhood violence. As Black, Arab and Muslim communities, we must learn to see this model as applicable to our neighborhoods on a global scale, and demand the trillions that go annually into weapons and war be redirected to projects that support community growth, meet basic needs, and create real safety.
In 2014, when Ferguson rioters were pepper-sprayed by police in riot gear, Palestinians on the other side of the planet tweeted them remedies they used against chemical warfare. Spent teargas canisters recovered by protesters from Baltimore, Baghdad and Gaza revealed the same US-based company — Combined Tactical Systems — manufactured all of them. As the propaganda machine attempts to conflate all political dissent as terrorism, Black, Muslim and Arab communities around the globe are learning to see their struggles against militarization — led by US-based corporations — as inherently united.
The growing global realization is that the line between the police and the military was never there. They are funded by the same bodies, invested in by the same corporations, recruit from the same populations, protect the same interests, produce the same propaganda, and target the same people, wherever they are functioning on the globe.
In this sense, the militarization of the police is a misnomer. The hyper-weaponizing of police in the US shouldn’t shock us, but instead be seen as a minor upgrade, allowing the level of state-sanctioned violence on the mainland to rise to that of the conquered territories — as deep economic disparities and the revoking of rights are also mirrored more and more across geographies.
This realization teaches us that Black and Muslim communities (which for millions of us are one and the same) must unite in solidarity as they call for the global abolition of militarization. Whenever one of us is demonized, the inevitable result is the policing, incarceration and murder of the other. The cycle only ends when we stop believing that by denouncing the other, we can become human in the eyes of empire. It stops when we stop pledging allegiance to a government that will call on our help to invade one day, then render us the target of invasion the next.
We cannot decry state violence in one space while normalizing it in another. We must see it all as connected, which means when we call for the abolition of the police, we must also call for the abolition of the military, of the weapons industry, of a global system of imperialist aggression.
The fear of the propaganda machine is that terrorist organizations will join forces for greater violence. The reality is that Black, Arab, Persian, Native, immigrant and Muslim communities must combine their strength to push for the demilitarizing of their neighborhoods and homes, and the ultimate abolition of the military globally.
Calling for an end to state terror is not terrorism. Uniting to demilitarize — reprioritizing local and global economies to support oppressed communities instead of policing them — is the answer to ending state violence.