Chris Hedges: Our Ever-Deadlier Police State

Authored by Chris Hedges via,

None of the reforms, increased training, diversity programs, community outreach and gimmicks such as body cameras have blunted America’s deadly police assault, especially against poor people of color. Police forces in the United States - which, according to The Washington Post, have fatally shot 782 people this year - are unaccountable, militarized monstrosities that spread fear and terror in poor communities.

By comparison, police in England and Wales killed 62 people in the 27 years between the start of 1990 and the end of 2016.

Police officers have become rogue predators in impoverished communities. Under U.S. forfeiture laws, police indiscriminately seize money, real estate, automobiles and other assets. In many cities, traffic, parking and other fines are little more than legalized extortion that funds local government and turns jails into debtor prisons.

Because of a failed court system, millions of young men and women are railroaded into prison, many for nonviolent offenses. SWAT teams with military weapons burst into homes often under warrants for nonviolent offenses, sometimes shooting those inside. Trigger-happy cops pump multiple rounds into the backs of unarmed men and women and are rarely charged with murder. And for poor Americans, basic constitutional rights, including due process, were effectively abolished decades ago.

Jonathan Simon’s “Governing Through Crime” and Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” point out that what is defined and targeted as criminal activity by the police and the courts is largely determined by racial inequality and class, and most importantly by the potential of targeted groups to cause social and political unrest. Criminal policy, as sociologist Alex S. Vitale writes in his new book, “The End of Policing,” “is structured around the use of punishment to manage the ‘dangerous classes,’ masquerading as a system of justice.”

The criminal justice system, at the same time, refuses to hold Wall Street banks, corporations and oligarchs accountable for crimes that have caused incalculable damage to the global economy and the ecosystem. None of the bankers who committed massive acts of fraud and were responsible for the financial collapse in 2008 have gone to prison even though their crimes resulted in widespread unemployment, millions of evictions and foreclosures, homelessness, bankruptcies and the looting of the U.S. Treasury to bail out financial speculators at taxpayer expense. We live in a two-tiered legal system, one in which poor people are harassed, arrested and jailed for absurd infractions, such as selling loose cigarettes—which led to Eric Garner being choked to death by a New York City policeman in 2014—while crimes of appalling magnitude that wiped out 40 percent of the world’s wealth are dealt with through tepid administrative controls, symbolic fines and civil enforcement.

The grotesque distortions of the judicial system and the aggressive war on the poor by the police will get worse under President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. There has been a rollback of President Barack Obama’s 2015 restrictions on the 1033 Program, a 1989 congressional action that allows the transfer of military weaponry, including grenade launchers, armored personnel carriers and .50-caliber machine guns, from the federal government to local police forces. Since 1997, the Department of Defense has turned over a staggering $5.1 billion in military hardware to police departments.

The Trump administration also is resurrecting private prisons in the federal prison system, accelerating the so-called war on drugs, stacking the courts with right-wing “law and order” judges and preaching the divisive politics of punishment and retribution. Police unions enthusiastically embrace these actions, seeing in them a return to the Wild West mentality that characterized the brutality of police departments in the 1960s and 1970s, when radicals, especially black radicals, were murdered with impunity at the hands of law enforcement. The Praetorian Guard of the elites, as in all totalitarian systems, will soon be beyond the reach of the law. As Vitale writes in his book, “Our entire criminal justice system has become a gigantic revenge factory.”

The arguments—including the racist one about “superpredators“—used to justify the expansion of police power have no credibility, as the gun violence in south Chicago, abject failure of the war on drugs and vast expansion of the prison system over the last 40 years illustrate. The problem is not ultimately in policing techniques and procedures; it is in the increasing reliance on the police as a form of social control to buttress a system of corporate capitalism that has turned the working poor into modern-day serfs and abandoned whole segments of the society. Government no longer makes any attempt to ameliorate racial and economic inequality. Instead, it criminalizes poverty. It has turned the poor into one more cash crop for the rich.

“By conceptualizing the problem of policing as one of inadequate training and professionalization, reformers fail to directly address how the very nature of policing and the legal system served to maintain and exacerbate racial inequality,” Vitale writes.


“By calling for colorblind ‘law and order’ they strengthen a system that puts people of color at a structural disadvantage. At the root, they fail to appreciate that the basic nature of the police, since its earliest origins, is to be a tool for managing inequality and maintaining the status quo. Police reforms that fail to directly address this reality are doomed to reproduce it. …Well-trained police following proper procedures are still going to be arresting people for mostly low-level offenses, and the burden of that will continue to fall primarily on communities of color because that is how the system is designed to operate—not because of the biases or misunderstandings of officers.”

In a recent interview, Vitale told me, “We’ve been waging a war on drugs for 40 years by putting people in prison for ever longer sentences. Yet drugs are cheaper, easier to get, and at a higher quality than they’ve ever been. Any high school student in America can get any kind of drugs they want. Yet we persist in this idea that the way to respond to the problem of drugs, and many other social problems, is through arrest, courts, punishments, prisons. This is what Trump is playing to. This idea that the only appropriate role for the state is one of coercion and threats—whether it’s in the foreign policy sphere or in the domestic sphere.”

Police forces, as Vitale writes in his book, were not formed to ensure public safety or prevent crime. They were created by the property classes to maintain economic and political dominance and exert control over slaves, the poor, dissidents and labor unions that challenged the wealthy’s hold on power and ability to amass personal fortunes. Many of America’s policing techniques, including widespread surveillance, were pioneered and perfected in colonies of the U.S. and then brought back to police departments in the homeland. Blacks in the South had to be controlled, and labor unions and radical socialists in the industrial Northeast and Midwest had to be broken.

The fundamental role of the police has never changed. Paul Butler in his book “Chokehold: Policing Black Men” and James Forman Jr. in his book “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America” echo Vitale’s point that the war on drugs “has never been about public health or public safety. It’s been about providing a cover for aggressive and invasive policing that targets almost exclusively people of color.”

“People often point to the London Metropolitan Police, who were formed in the 1820s by Sir Robert Peel,” Vitale said. “They are held up as this liberal ideal of a dispassionate, politically neutral police with the support of the citizenry. But this really misreads the history. Peel is sent to manage the British occupation of Ireland. He’s confronted with a dilemma. Historically, peasant uprisings, rural outrages were dealt with by either the local militia or the British military. In the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, in the need for soldiers in other parts of the British Empire, he is having more and more difficulty managing these disorders. In addition, when he does call out the militia, they often open fire on the crowd and kill lots of people, creating martyrs and inflaming further unrest. He said, ‘I need a force that can manage these outrages without inflaming passions further.’ He developed the Peace Preservation Force, which was the first attempt to create a hybrid military-civilian force that can try to win over the population by embedding itself in the local communities, taking on some crime control functions, but its primary purpose was always to manage the occupation. He then exports that model to London as the industrial working classes are flooding the city, dealing with poverty, cycles of boom and bust in the economy, and that becomes their primary mission.”

“The creation of the very first state police force in the United States was the Pennsylvania State Police in 1905,” Vitale said. “For the same reasons. It was modeled similarly on U.S. occupation forces in the Philippines. There was a back and forth with personnel and ideas. What happened was local police were unable to manage the coal strikes and iron strikes. … They needed a force that was more adherent to the interest of capital. … Interestingly, for these small-town police forces in a coal mining town there was sometimes sympathy. They wouldn’t open fire on the strikers. So, the state police force was created to be that strong arm for the law. Again, the direct connection between colonialism and the domestic management of workers. … It’s a two-way exchange. As we’re developing ideas throughout our own colonial undertakings, bringing those ideas home, and then refining them and shipping them back to our partners around the world who are often despotic regimes with close economic relationships to the United States. There’s a very sad history here of the U.S. exporting basically models of policing that morphs into death squads and horrible human rights abuses.”

The almost exclusive alliance on militarized police to deal with profound inequality and social problems is turning poor neighborhoods in cities such as Chicago into miniature failed states, ones where destitute young men and women join a gang for security and income and engage in battles with other gangs and the police. The “broken windows” policy shifts the burden for poverty onto the poor. It criminalizes minor infractions, arguing that disorder produces crime and upending decades of research about the causes of crime.

“As poverty deepens and housing prices rise, government support for affordable housing has evaporated, leaving in its wake a combination of homeless shelters and aggressive broken-windows-oriented policing,” Vitale writes. “As mental health facilities close, police become the first responders to calls for assistance with mental health crises. As youth are left without adequate schools, jobs, or recreational facilities, they form gangs for mutual protection or participate in the black markets of stolen goods, drugs, and sex to survive and are ruthlessly criminalized. Modern policing is largely a war on the poor that does little to make people safer or communities stronger, and even when it does, this is accomplished through the most coercive forms of state power that destroy the lives of millions.”

The accelerated assault on the poor and the growing omnipotence of the police signal our transformation into an authoritarian state in which the rich and the powerful are not subject to the rule of law. The Trump administration will promote none of the conditions that could ameliorate this crisis—affordable housing; well-paying jobs; safe and nurturing schools that do not charge tuition; better mental health facilities; efficient public transportation; the rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure; demilitarized police forces in which most officers do not carry weapons; universal, government-funded health care; an end to the predatory loans and unethical practices of big banks; and reparations to African-Americans and an end to racial segregation. Trump and most of those he has appointed to positions of power disdain the poor as a dead weight on society. They blame stricken populations for their own misery. They seek to subjugate the poor, especially those of color, through police violence, ever harsher forms of punishment and an expansion of the prison system.

“We need an effective system of crime prevention and control in our communities, but that is not what the current system is,” Alexander writes in “The New Jim Crow.” “The system is better designed to create crime, and a perpetual class of people labeled criminal. … Saying mass incarceration is an abysmal failure makes sense, though only if one assumes that the criminal justice system is designed to prevent and control crime. But if mass incarceration is understood as a system of social control—specifically, racial control—then the system is a fantastic success.”


Bes Billy the Poet Tue, 10/31/2017 - 00:37 Permalink

me or we?-----------try this,the first step is always:  taking trump's dick out of your mouththe second step is: admitting that there is a problemthe third step is:  not being afraid to call out the problem publiclythe fourth step: hold everyone in power accountablethe fifth step is: not getting distractedfigure out the rest

In reply to by Billy the Poet

Bes Billy the Poet Tue, 10/31/2017 - 01:14 Permalink

now billy, you know that this is a public forumperhaps his dick isn't in your mouth, but seeing all the orange cumstachesaround here gives me pause and pushes me to remind them thatthey are just as bad as the obamabots and the canklewhatevers-------going back to the point,publicly demanding that elected officials stop militarizing the polize,publicly demand they dismantle the MIC,publicly call out people who are beholden or dependent on the MIC/Police State as dangerous parasites,publicly denounce dumbfucks,publicly talk about this with your family and friends without shame,and publicly demand more from elected there an easy answer no, that's what TPTB want.  They want you to give up.Americans forgot Civics.  being a citizen requires work.  And it is going to take a long time to turn the ship.(btw, publicly means more than here on ZH)

In reply to by Billy the Poet

Bes Billy the Poet Tue, 10/31/2017 - 01:29 Permalink

 we are brothers in armsthe error lies in thinking that it can be done quickly, or even in one generationthe true pathlies in realizing that any real solutions to the evils and tyrannyrequires a multigenerational effortstarting small, and locally before globallyand most importantly, being okay with that----it did take us centuries to get to this point... it's going to take way longer than we think to move forward,now the x factor would be revolution, good luck predicting and steering one of those.but a bloody civil war would be folly and send us back to the dark ages. 

In reply to by Billy the Poet

Billy the Poet Bes Tue, 10/31/2017 - 01:30 Permalink

No one could speak more eloquently on the topic than Mr. Thoreau. He made the following statement a hundred and seventy years ago and yet government has gotten larger and larger and larger. 

But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.

In reply to by Bes

Bes Billy the Poet Tue, 10/31/2017 - 02:43 Permalink

Thoreau.nice.I would like to add some Emerson."Hence, the less government we have, the better, -- the fewer laws, and the less confided power. The antidote to this abuse of formal Government, is, the influence of private character, the growth of the Individual"… also wrote Thoreau's eulogy…(btw, never downvoted you)

In reply to by Billy the Poet

Billy the Poet Bes Tue, 10/31/2017 - 02:51 Permalink

but a bloody civil war would be folly and send us back to the dark ages. "Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss. As we go gladly to Faneuil Hall to be played upon by the stormy winds and strong fingers of enraged patriotism, so is a fanatical persecution, civil war, national bankruptcy or revolution more rich in the central tones than languid years of prosperity. What had been, ever since our memory, solid continent, yawns apart and discloses its composition    and genesis. We learn geology the morning after the earthquake, on ghastly diagrams of cloven mountains, upheaved plains, and the dry bed of the sea." -- Emerson's The Conduct of Life…

In reply to by Bes

Bes Billy the Poet Tue, 10/31/2017 - 03:12 Permalink

like I said, revolution is an x factor.  unpredictable. if done to challenge the status quo then we are talking:“Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”  - Adam Smithor"The upper class: keeps all of the money, pays none of the taxes.  The middle class: pays all of the taxes, does all of the work.  The poor are there...just to scare the shit out of the middle class."  - George Carlina bloody civil war or revolution against the oligarchy strangling the planet is what is needed. however, any other type of civil war would doom us all, and hasten the globalist police state. (and btw, neither Emerson or Thoreau lived in a time of nukes, drones, bombers, tanks, etc.........)

In reply to by Billy the Poet

Billy the Poet Bes Tue, 10/31/2017 - 03:19 Permalink

The Civil War was America's bloodiest conflict.  The unprecedented violence of battles such as Shiloh, Antietam, Stones River, and Gettysburg shocked citizens and international observers alike.  Nearly as many men died in captivity during the Civil War as were killed in the whole of the Vietnam War.  Hundreds of thousands died of disease.  Roughly 2% of the population, an estimated 620,000 men, lost their lives in the line of duty.  Taken as a percentage of today's population, the toll would have risen as high as 6 million souls.

In reply to by Bes

Bes Billy the Poet Tue, 10/31/2017 - 03:28 Permalink

exactly with single shot weapons, primitive machine guns, no air force, no chemical weapons, no nukes, etc.....we have become much more efficient at murderso imagine today......but perhaps our voices of reason, discourse, and criticism are being drowned out because“Societies in decline have no use for visionaries." - Anais Nin

In reply to by Billy the Poet

esum Bes Tue, 10/31/2017 - 09:41 Permalink

YES the problem is the deeply embedded Clintonistas and LIBTARDS who pervert JUSTICE...LET'S START WITH THE CLINTONS LITANY OF FELONIES ... YOU KNOW THE no intent ones for example... the clinton money laundering foundaiton, the uranium one treason... THAT OUGHT TO BE ENOUGH TO LOCK EM UP....then on to OBAMA and his conspiracy with the MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD.... It all will start when TRUMP wises up and fires SESSIONS and gets someone with balls in there.... Rudy Giuliani FOR EXAMPLE..... 

In reply to by Bes

Sparkey Billy the Poet Tue, 10/31/2017 - 11:51 Permalink

Somebody has to tell me and Moma what to think and do, why not The Donald? Moma has loved him ever since he had his other TV show and 'his is still the best show on TV', best show in the World really, he has people all over the World listening to his every word reading every tweet', why don't people see this as something to be proud of?' You can tell a lot about a country by the way it treats it's celibrities, Donald Trump is the world's greatest celebrity, come on America if ever there was somone who deserves your love and adulation it is 'The Donald', those other Celibrities you fawn over are nothing compared to The donald. like I said, Moma loves him and I guess I do to, maybe!

In reply to by Billy the Poet

what happened Bes Tue, 10/31/2017 - 05:13 Permalink

 The government are taking the children of the poor and lower middle class, even if they are good parents and placing them in foster care for profit.  The great majority of those placed suffer trauma, PTSD, and wind up abused.  Permancy in the form of adoption is remote after age 6.  These children are then prepared and doomed to repeat the cycle.  Most wind up in jail.  Horrific childhoods created by the government to protect them.  Billions made trafficking them.

In reply to by Bes

Mr_Potatohead what happened Tue, 10/31/2017 - 06:07 Permalink

It's always about the children, isn't it?  In this case, one group of political donors makes a fortune from the foster care business.  Other groups make fortunes from the law enforcement and health care businesses.  Still other groups make generous livings as government employees managing various tentacles of the mess they created.  And finally, the Dems maintain their voting base by increasing the number of uneducated people who are completely dependent on government and too dumb to do anything about it. 

In reply to by what happened

EmergentMind WernerHeisenberg Tue, 10/31/2017 - 02:28 Permalink

Chris is 60% right. He is correct on economic inequality mostly. He is wrong on the need for racial reperations 100%. He is correct on the over-reliance of prisons, but wrong on who it affects. The truth is whites are hurt as much or more than people of color proportional by the police. I like Chris, because he reminds me of how I used to think in college, however today I disagree with much.

In reply to by WernerHeisenberg

TeethVillage88s Mon, 10/30/2017 - 23:49 Permalink

Stand Aside, I know this subject!

I'll Be Right Back.... Trust me I am from Ideological Center... and Educated... and in leadership position... and ...

Fuck it... I am just a man. I don't represent anyone. Only government people think they actually solve problems.

Chupacabra-322 Tue, 10/31/2017 - 00:06 Permalink

The Criminal Fraud UNITED STATES, CORP. INC. sets a precedent to all other Corp. government agencies (like local police) that it's ok to flout the "law."

When the top dog tells the public "fu#k off, we'll do what we like and not hold anyone accountable", all the smaller dogs follow suit.

So, when you see local police abusing the public, Executing the Public “Live on Tee Vee” and no one does anything about it, you're seeing the smaller dogs following the Criminal "UNITED STATES, CORP. INC".

Parallel Construction will be the Police Surveillance State modern version of "Night of the Long Knives."

God forbid someone criticize the Borg Gas Lighting False Narrative Dystopian reality these Pure Evil Criminal Psychopathic "Intelligence" / PysOp Agencies are predictively programming the assimilated minds with.

Cynicles II Chupacabra-322 Tue, 10/31/2017 - 00:56 Permalink

"Under U.S. forfeiture laws, police indiscriminately seize..." whatever they want for profit.Machine guns are just dandy for cops, but nooo, the citizenry cannot be trusted with them. Not much of a surprise why there are so many movements against "cops" in general. Only takes a few bad apples...Nevermind them, nah, it's just the police state, pay them no mind - trust us.

In reply to by Chupacabra-322

Omen IV Tue, 10/31/2017 - 00:07 Permalink

country needs to be divided and segregated those that want to kill at will and rob people blind without police interference need their own country - so they can have their own rulesI want stability and safety for my people - so lets divide the real estate - you people can have - Illinois / CA / Maryland and a few others no public schools are necessary -you have sex you pay for the privilege for what ever happens including tuition  - no third party has any responsibility - same for medicalno more war as well

junction Tue, 10/31/2017 - 00:14 Permalink

Hedges should mention the death squads that are roaming the USA, an FBI army of the night composed of former thug cops and soldiers.  Who knows how many of those dead gang members in Chicago were killed by the federales?  Government death squads are a feature of third world countries like the Philippines and Brazil.  And America is going the way of a banana republic.

waspwench Tue, 10/31/2017 - 00:36 Permalink

Yes, the militarization of the police in the US is a major problem.No, it is not Trumps's fault, and no, Trump will not make matters worse.The militarization of our police did not happen overnight.   It is something which has been going on for a long time.   Obama was in office for eight years and he dindunuffin so how is it all Trumps's fault?The notion that aggressive policing only affects blacks is not correct.   Asset forfeiture is an outrage and it does not seem to be directed at blacks.    We do have to confront the fact that we have feral ghetto populations where crime is high and the areas are unsafe - it is not at all clear how the police can keep order in these areas whether they be black, hispanic or poor white.   Our government persists in ignoring the crime which is endemic among illegal aliens - especially drug related crime - and continues to do nothing to stem the flow of illegals or to deport those convicted of crimes.   The government continues to bring in economic migrants (which they designate "refugees") and these people do not assimilate and are a source of  terrorism and crime.   All of these problems existed throughout Obama's time in office.   Trump is attempting to deal with the illegal alien and "refugee" problems but is being obstructed by the Democrats and liberals in the judiciary. This article lays out the problem but the conclusion which it draws is largely BS.