Posted 5 months ago on March 16, 2014, 3:43 p.m. EST by LeoYo
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Coming Home to Roost: American Militarism, War Culture and Police Brutality
Sunday, 16 March 2014 12:12
By Colin Jenkins, The Hampton Institute | News Analysis
"President Kennedy never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon..."
- Malcolm X, December 1, 1963
American Militarism and White Supremacy
Any discussion involving American militarism must include the underpinnings of white supremacy, an all-encompassing ideology which has ravaged the lives and communities of non-white peoples for centuries. White supremacy is fueled by objectification and, more specifically, the collective dehumanization of peoples of color. Its power lies in the fact that it not only transcends the fundamental societal arrangement of class, but that it is embraced largely by working class whites who have shown a willingness to internalize and project their own oppression onto others - in this case, the non-white working classes.
Not surprisingly, this foundation extends far beyond the geographic confines of the US, representing the basis for which the "White Man's Burden" and age-old foreign policies like the Roosevelt Corollary of the Monroe Doctrine operate. The ties that bind what Martin Luther King, Jr. once referred to as "the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism" cannot be underestimated, as they provide the self-righteous, societal "justification" necessary to carry out indiscriminate acts of aggression both here and abroad. Social theorist bell hooks' assessment of George Zimmerman, the self-appointed neighborhood watchman turned murderer of Trayvon Martin, captures this mindset: "White supremacy has taught him that all people of color are threats irrespective of their behavior. Capitalism has taught him that, at all costs, his property can and must be protected. Patriarchy has taught him that his masculinity has to be proved by the willingness to conquer fear through aggression; that it would be unmanly to ask questions before taking action."
When Muhammad Ali refused to fight in Vietnam, famously stating, "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong; No Viet Cong ever called me nigger," he was referring to the dominant power structure of white supremacy that had not only subjugated him in his own country, but also had global implications regarding imperialism, colonialism, and ever-increasing militarism. Ali, along with other conscious Black Americans, recognized life in the U.S. as a microcosm of the war in Vietnam. Whether in Birmingham, Alabama or the Ben Tre Province in South Vietnam, black and brown people were being murdered indiscriminately. African Americans had their share of enemies at home - Bull Connor, George Wallace, the Ku Klux Klan, the FBI, Jim Crow - and, for good reason, had no vested interest in wars abroad. Their priorities were defense and self-preservation in their homeland; not offense and destruction in Vietnam.
Racism is a cousin to militarism, and its influence on shaping American culture over the years is undeniable. Despite misconceptions, reconstruction in the post-slavery US was no more kind to Black Americans than during colonial years, especially in the southern states. "In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the lynching of Black people in the Southern and border states became an institutionalized method used by whites to terrorize Blacks and maintain white supremacy," explains Robert A. Gibson. "In the South, during the period 1880 to 1940, there was deep-seated and all-pervading hatred and fear of the Negro which led white mobs to turn to 'lynch law' as a means of social control." These lynchings were almost always spontaneous, rooted in white supremacist and racist emotion, and void any semblance of due process. They were also mostly supported - whether through direct supervision or "turning a blind eye" - by local politicians, judges, and police forces.
According to Tuskegee Institute figures, between the years 1882 and 1951, 3,437 African Americans were lynched in the United States - a tally that amounts to roughly 50 per year, or a little over 4 per month through the lifespan of an entire generation. Essentially, for nearly a century, "freed" slaves were still very much at the mercy of, as WEB DuBois once noted, "men who hated and despised Negroes and regarded it as loyalty to blood, patriotism to country, and filial tribute to the fathers to lie, steal or kill in order to discredit these black folk."  This general hatred was not only projected by white citizens throughout the country, but remained institutionalized by laws of racial segregation - also known as "Jim Crow" - in much of the US until the 1960s.
While the courageous and awe-inspiring Civil Rights movement of the '60s was successful in curbing some government-backed segregation, the ugly stain of white supremacy has endured well into the 21st century through a convoluted lens of extreme poverty, poor education, lack of opportunity, and disproportionate imprisonment. It has become blatantly evident within the world of 'criminal justice,' and more specifically through the ways in which law enforcement engages and interacts with Black communities across America.
Modern forms of lynching have gained a foothold with laws such as New York City's "Stop and Frisk" and Florida's infamous "Stand Your Ground" - with both providing legal outlets to harass and kill Black Americans at an alarming rate. However, even before such laws, police officers terrorized inner-cities for decades. The most glaring example occurred in 1991 with the beating of Rodney King - an incident that uncovered a deliberate and widespread brand of racist policing as well as "an organizational culture that alienates itself from the public it is designed to serve" while teaching "to command and confront, not to communicate."
The 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman served as a sobering reminder of the tragically subhuman value that has been placed on Black life in America. Martin's death rightfully brought on cries of an "open season on young black men," while another 2012 murder, this time of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, who was shot and killed by Michael Dunn in broad daylight while sitting in a car with three friends, reiterated this fact. Like Martin, Davis was unarmed and posed no threat - and certainly not enough of a threat to justify lethal force. In Davis' case, the murderer, Dunn, indiscriminately fired 8 bullets into the vehicle where Davis and his friends were sitting. The public reaction to the two murders (adults killing unarmed children, mind you), especially from those who somehow felt compelled to defend the killers, as well as the subsequent trials, the posthumous (and false) 'criminalizing' of the victims with decontextualized images and information, and the total absence of justice on both accounts - all products of a long-standing culture of white supremacy - exposed the lie that is "post-racial" America.