When an oppressive government is challenged, it always tries to put down the resistance through police crackdowns and tightened rules. This is what’s happening right now as opposition mounts to neoliberalism and the rule of the world’s plutocratic elites.
Occupy Wall Street only stopped because of unnecessary mass arrests and police violence against peaceful protesters, which deterred people from organizing more events. Aggressive police tactics in Ferguson greatly inflamed the 2014 protests. And police used excessive force on the Standing Rock protesters, having unnecessarily attacked them with tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, lead-filled beanbags, and chemical agents.
The militarization of America’s police in the last decade or so, as well as the creation of America’s surveillance state and the empowering of the intelligence agencies, have all been about preparing to put down uprisings. And as the worldwide anti-austerity Yellow Vest protests come close to spreading into America, this threat of crackdowns from the police state looms bigger than ever.
The Macron government has responded to France’s Yellow Vest protests by trying to portray them as violent neo-fascists, by carrying out exceptionally massive arrests, and by assaulting protesters without provocation. Ordinary Americans have now planned many protest events in the image of the Yellow Vests (one of which will happen in New York City on December 22nd, another of which will happen in various decentralized locations on that same day). When these events happen here, will they be treated the same way?
I don’t know if they’ll indeed provoke police violence, and the decentralized event is the least likely to. But while I strongly encourage people to show up at these events, we should remind ourselves that our challenge in the next few years will be to keep fighting for our freedom despite escalating violence from the state.
Under the Trump presidency, the instruments for state repression have been alarmingly expanded, and this conflict between the people and the government is soon going to cause them to be put into use. Click To Tweet Trump, who’s endorsed by America’s largest police union, has been trying to turn the police against the people by publicly encouraging officers to use more violence. With the help of police unions, Trump has further militarized police by giving local departments more access to army equipment. The escalations of the drug war in the last two years have also grown the power of the police, and are an implied threat to anyone who tries to disrupt the system.
Because these things have initially targeted the poor blacks and Hispanics who Trump demonizes, Trump’s supporters haven’t seen the recent police state encroachments as a threat. But authoritarian takeovers start by taking away the rights of the vulnerable, and Trump’s attacks on immigrants are also part of the transition into tyranny.
When the president can have ICE agents detain longtime undocumented residents, put thousands of children in what are effectively concentration camps, and send troops to block peaceful migrants at the border, these things can be done to the broader mass of poor and working-class people.
We should also be alarmed by the recent programs which have had American and Israeli police officers train together; U.S. officers are now being taught to take an example from a police force that regularly mows down unarmed Palestinian protesters.
Free expression, which in modern America is only permitted to give a cover to the reality of corporate tyranny, is going to be tolerated less and less as the people rise up. But in the face of a tyrannical police state, we can gain hope from past populations that have overthrown their authoritarian governments. As Egyptian journalist Muhamed Hassanein Heikal assessed after the 2011 revolution against Mubarak:
Simply put, the regime made the common mistake of those who rely on violence. When the police force grows to 1.24 million people who have access to all forms of technology, the result is excessive force that created a great illusion for the former regime about its true influence on the ground. Force is often arrogant and overestimates its influence. Here, I reference Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s The Autumn of the Patriarch to help understand what occurred in Tunisia. The tyrant was feared by everyone, but the people broke the fear barrier.
For now, our best options are to increase nonviolent resistance against corporate capitalism, build the institutions for revolt, and get people to see that the oppression machine is weaker than it looks.