“We are All the Enemy”

“Ferguson matters because it provides us with a foretaste of what is to come. It is the shot across the bow, so to speak, a warning that this is how we will all be treated if we do not tread cautiously in challenging the police state, and it won’t matter whether we’re black or white, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat. In the eyes of the corporate state, we are all the enemy.

This is the lesson of Ferguson.”
–John Whitehead, The Rutherford Institute


As usual, the discussion of the police killing of a young man has devolved into a morass of race relationships and retributions opening up old wounds, and feeding deep-seated feelings all the way around. So much of this is predictable, and the protests, riots, and counter-attacks all create pablum for a media more interested in controversy and sound bites for the 24 hour news cycle, than in examining what is happening to our country.

I’ve commented elsewhere on what I thought the grand jury process was all about. Ferguson was a perversion of what grand juries are, and how they should be used. If the prosecutor only wanted somebody to share the responsibility of his decision to not bring charges, he could have just impanelled a coroner’s jury to conclude the officer acted in self-defense. Or he could have just called a press conference and said he didn’t have the evidence to support a prosecution and left it at that.

In any case, what the prosecutor has done is to influence the public’s perception of what a grand jury is all about, allowing it to further be used as a shadowy substitute for real justice. Real justice being to allow for a cross examination of other witnesses, and the introduction of other evidence. The prosecutor used the grand jury in a way that bolstered his decision to not prosecute the police officer – he was a de facto defense attorney for the defendant. There are few that understand the grand jury system that would agree with his tactics.

On to today’s topic. This reading from John Whitehead, “We Are the Enemy: Is This the Lesson of Ferguson?” puts aside the notion that the importance of what happened at Ferguson is just another incident in a long litany of racial oppressions and its inevitable blowback:

However, the greater question—whether anything will really change to rein in militarized police, police shootings, lack of accountability and oversight, and a military industrial complex with a vested interest in turning America into a war zone—remains unanswered.

Yes, we are the enemy… since those first towers fell on 9/11, the American people have been treated like enemy combatants, to be spied on, tracked, scanned, frisked, searched, subjected to all manner of intrusions, intimidated, invaded, raided, manhandled, censored, silenced, shot at, locked up, and denied due process.

I chose Whitehead as a way to try and move the Ferguson discussion in a more productive direction. He is a respected, and somewhat conservative civil libertarian with a long record of not playing politics or the race card. I hope folks will read the whole article and think about the greater ramifications of what has happened to our nation, and how the “powers-that-be” continue to profit when the dialogue descends into an unproductive racial diatribe.

I’ll leave folks with one more excerpt, and leave this as an open thread on the greater meaning of the Ferguson debacle. Let’s try and not let this discussion divert into the usual left-right, dem-rep racial garbage that just avoids the real issue: how our country has devolved into one where the police are becoming less and less distinguishable from the military or the national guard, and all our civil liberties are trampled. If we cannot, then we are just reinforcing Whitehead’s message.

Ferguson provided us with an opportunity to engage in a much-needed national dialogue over how police are trained, what authority they are given, what weaponry they are provided, and how they treat those whom they are entrusted with protecting.

Caught up in our personal politics, prejudices and class warfare, we have failed to answer that call. In so doing, we have played right into the hands of all those corporations who profit from turning America into a battlefield by selling the government mine-resistant vehicles, assault rifles, grenade launchers, and drones.

As long as we remain steeped in ignorance, there will be no reform.

As long as we remain divided by our irrational fear of each other, there will be no overhaul in the nation’s law enforcement system or institution of an oversight process whereby communities can ensure that local police departments are acting in accordance with their wishes and values.

And as long as we remain distracted by misguided loyalties to military operatives who are paid to play the part of the government’s henchmen, there will be no saving us when the events of Ferguson unfold in our own backyards.

When all is said and done, it doesn’t matter whose “side” you’re on as far as what transpired in Ferguson, whether you believe that Michael Brown was a victim or that Darren Wilson was justified in shooting first and asking questions later.

What matters is that we not allow politics and deep-rooted prejudices of any sort to divert our efforts to restore some level of safety, sanity and constitutional balance to the role that police officers play in our communities. If we fail to do so, we will have done a disservice to ourselves and every man, woman and child in this country who have become casualties of the American police state.



  1. steve kelly

    Since our humble beginning police powers of “the state” have enforced settler democracy. When “might makes right,” the underclass gets the shaft.

    “Behind the black clothed and solemn “Pilgrims,” was a corporation of shareholders, the Virginia Company, accompanied by armed and seasoned mercenaries on a colonizing project ordered by the English King James. If any local Natives were present at a colonizers’ celebratory meal, they were surely there as servants, and the foods were confiscated, not offered as a gift.” Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz


  2. If the facts don’t fit you must acquit.

  3. People are all indignant about Ferguson, but the truth is that none of us have enough of the facts and all that I read are merely using it is a perch from which to spout moral superiority. I think that all of politics is nothing more than a quest for moral and intellectual superiority, and that drives me batty, seeing it in others and coming to terms with it in myself.

    There is enough good and evil to go around, fill every nook, be a defining feature of every race. I’ve known some truly good people in my time, but most people are just opportunistic, only as good as they must be and taking what they can get away with. MLK said he much preferred the open racism of the bad people to the quiet racism of the good. I much prefer dwelling with sinners than saints, and when I see open hostility towards other races, am more comfortable with it than with the pious platitudes of liberals.

  4. The “corporate state’ takes one in the backside.

    Police state clears the road so people can go to work/feed their families.

  5. lizard19

    for some reason this post got me thinking about Missoula’s ban on vehicular cell phone use. Nanny state champion, Dave Strohmaier, got his desired ordinance passed, and last year didn’t see any perceptible change. from the link:

    Councilman Dave Strohmaier, who pushed the ban for years, often walks downtown, and he hasn’t seen a perceptible drop in the number of people talking on their phones and driving in the initial phase of the prohibition.

    “I continue to see folks pulling bonehead maneuvers downtown while turning corners talking on a cellphone or sitting at stoplights downtown,” Strohmaier said. “So my hope would be, come Tuesday, with the opportunity to send a little stronger message to people, we might see a significant reduction.”

    the problem with ordinances like these is they invite selective enforcement. I’m not saying that’s happening here, but it could. in any locale, police have all kinds of things they could use to justify intervention. maybe it’s a ban on sitting on sidewalks, maybe it’s the policy of stop and frisk.

    whatever it is, those who can pay, skate, and those who can’t, are caught.

  6. steve kelly

    The Patriot Act is worth another look. I’m not up on the latest litigation, but I’m pretty sure it says the government no longer has to show probable cause, or obtain a warrant or subpoena that a crime has been committed. Until it’s repealed, everyone and anyone looking suspiciously like a terrorist (how’s that for discretion) is a potential terrorist in the eyes of “law enforcement.”

  7. Turner

    The Whitehead thesis seems to be that racial conflicts are merely a distraction. The racially neutral police state is what we should be worrying about.

    I agree that we should be concerned with over-policing, but we need to focus more not less on racism in America. Slavery is the original sin in this country. We’re still very much tainted by it.

    Recently I’ve been reading defenses of slavery by southern intellectuals in the antebellum period. These upstanding gentlemen defined white attitudes toward black people that persist and underlie incidents like the police shooting in Ferguson.

    Some government or corporation looking at my Facebook page and taking notes is nothing compared to the white establishment’s war against people of color.

    • JC

      Whitehead’s thesis isn’t that race is a distraction. It’s that when you say the problem is: “white establishment’s war against people of color”, he says that it is the oligarchs against the people. If it surfaces as a white cop against a black kid, that’s just a symptom of a greater problem than institutional racism. Or are you trying to claim that there is no greater sin in america than racism?

      The founders of this country were slaveholders. Was that a manifestation of the “white establishment’s war against people of color”, or was it capitalists’ looking to maximize return on labor?

      I think the answer is pretty clear, because “people of color” were brought here to be slaves and work the fields and homes, not to be pariahs.

      So I agree with Whitehead here, that if we just see Ferguson as another episode in a long litany of racially tinged incidents, then we miss the greater picture (which is what the oligarchs want) which is that they have created a militarized police state to oppress the people — all of them who do not bow down. Look at what happened to Occupy.

      That wasn’t the white establishment breaking the back of peoples of color. That was the oligarchs breaking the back of a diverse movement that was challenging the powers that be. And they broke the back of Occupy using a militarized police force, intense surveillance, and agents provocateurs.

      And they’ll continue to break the backs of any movement that challenges the plutocracy running this country whether it be the tea party, libertarians, leftists, Occupy, Idle No More, Rising Tide, women’s movements, poor movements, black movements, etc..

      • Occupy didn’t die it morphed into Ferguson with one giant leap forward.

        It actually stopped capitalism with fire and blockades.

      • Turner

        JC, Basically what you’re saying is “Look over here, not over there.”

        • JC

          No, I’m not. I’m not a binary sort of thinking person. We can examine race as well as look at police militarization. I think you are the one who is saying look at this, and not that, and that is Whitehead’s thesis: lets not let the racial elements of these sorts of incidents keep us from looking at larger issues.

          Again, I’d ask you do you think that institutional racism is a larger problem than the fact that our democracy is turning into a militarized police state? And the corollary to that would be if we were to dismantle the militarized police state, wouldn’t that significantly help to resolve race relations?

          • And in your estimation what would have happened if a militarized police force was not present in MO?

            Maybe a glorious lynching?

            • JC

              You’re confusing the issue. It is about the overarching militarization of policing in america (a symptom of creeping fascism), not about single incidents of policing or protest.

              If you’ve ever been to a protest, Swede, you’d understand that when facing off with a militarized police force, or meeting with a community-focused police force, you’re going to have two different outcomes, one not as rosy as the other.

              Watch the video I posted above. It is what happens when a local community police force allows itself to be militarized for an occasion. Without the militarized influence, the protests and rioting would not have escalated (and when I say “rioting” I mean police riots).

  8. steve kelly

    More focus keeps us living in the past, when we very much need to be living in the present. And what drives racism, if not greed? Elitism (American “exceptionalism”), greed, and ignorance, get closer to direct causes than racism IMO.

  9. JC

    Here’s a reminder that the militarized police state even exists here in Missoula, MT:

  10. JC

    The Obama admin today released a “Fact Sheet: Strengthening Community Policing.”

    It also released the “Review: Federal Support for Local Law Enforcement Equipment Acquisition.”

    A cursory look over leads me to think the Fact Sheet and the Review are in conflict with each other. The Review describes in detail the transfer of funds, equipment, and military supplies from the Fed to LEAs (law enforcement agencies).

    The Fact Sheet lists the inevitable call for yet another task force, this one centered on “21st Century Policing” whatever that means. It also calls for giving LEAs another quarter billion dollars in the next 3 years for things like body cameras, training and DOJ facilitation of community and local LEA engagement.

    But none of this gets to the root of the problem that since 9/11 our police and siege mentality have escalated tremendously. Nothing less than a major rollback, and recall of leased/loaned military assault gear does anything meaningful.

  11. JC

    Then there’s this. I really don’t know what to say.

  1. 1 Where Do We Go From Here? | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] yesterday’s post, JC pulls back the lens on Ferguson to examine the implications of an unchecked police state. […]

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