And while an imperial expansion into a new part of the world is typically initiated with a flashy, spectacular moment of violence, the real measure of an imperial power’s longevity is its ability to maintain its hold over the places it seeks to envelop.
Historically, this maintenance is delegated to imperial police advisers training local police forces, who then become the everyday means through which that imperial power is projected. Many of the U.S.’ imperial ventures have been oriented around policing, imposing and then enforcing a particular political order onto a native population that benefits the metropole. For the empire then, police officers and soldiers have complementary roles as counterinsurgents.
This dynamic has much to do with why George Floyd was murdered by police officers in Minneapolis, and why it has produced a global reckoning with police violence all over the world. It turns out, there are thousands of George Floyds who have been held under the knee of thousands more Derek Chauvins. More than a pattern, police violence reflects an institutional arrangement between officers and civilians that has been fashioned relatively recently; a relationship that my guest today has spent much of his career highlighting.
Understanding the reason why Floyd’s death has caused such an impact requires a historical analysis of imperialism.
It’s common for activists and journalists to point to the police's militarization and highlight things like the 1033 Program, which allows local police departments to purchase surplus military equipment to then use on civilians at home. But Al Bawaba's guest for this week's Gateway podcast argues that this way of thinking underestimates the intimacy and shared outlook police have with the military.
Al Bawaba spoke with Stuart Schrader, who is a lecturer at Johns Hopkins University, Associate Director of the university’s Program in Racism, Immigration, and Citizenship and author of the book Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing.
Stuart Schrader (stuartschrader.com)
He argues that police are militarized not simply because of a surplus of material being bought, but because programs aimed at professionalizing police have used the military as their model.
In his book, Schrader implores us to recognize that domestic U.S. police are intimately tied to American imperialism and militarism from the outset, and that there is no clean cut-off point separating domestic police actions, strategies and tactics from foreign counterinsurgency operations. Indeed, they often borrow, learn and evolve from each other.
So the reason why so many police departments responding to civil unrest have looked like an occupying power is because they’ve been functionally trained to act as one. Understanding the reason why Floyd’s death has caused such an impact requires a historical analysis of imperialism.
Even after the program was discontinued, its militaristic philosophy still underwrites the American policing paradigm.
Central to this history is the Office of Public Safety, a short-lived U.S. government-funded program that trained and equipped dozens of police forces around the globe, who then worked in partnership with Washington to hold the lines of American global power.
At the same time, this program created a set of practices and beliefs that U.S. police began adopting and enacting in their own jurisdictions. Even after the program was discontinued, its militaristic philosophy still underwrites the American policing paradigm.
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