In the past decades, we have witnessed war, displacement, economic collapse, drought, and viruses transcend borders, and become regional humanitarian crises. Today, over a billion people live in the America’s. The approaching horrors of climate change will displace millions in the next decade, and millions more in decades to come. The concept of ‘state- citizenship’ is not equipped to address the trajectory of conflict on the international level. Therefore, we must closely examine the utility of the state and its institutions. Who does the state protect? Whose interests does the state safeguard?
The United States: by man for man
The nation-state framework centers white male heteronormativity as the nucleus of power in society. The further one deviates from the ‘center of power’ the more vulnerable they are. This creates male dependence, and a demand to be in proximity to power. The ability to possess power guarantees protection, and creates privilege.
Historically, the state’s exclusions of women owning property reinforced male dependence, heteronormativity, and patriarchal belief systems like religion. The state was built on genocide, slavery, and violence against women. Therefore white supremacy, misogyny, and anti-queerness is the intended hierarchy.
Instruments of Oppression
The first police departments in the United States were slave patrols tasked with chasing down runaways and preventing slave revolts. Local police were established at the behest of rich slave owners wanting to protect their ‘capital’. Just so we are clear, law enforcement was created to protect the system of slavery, to defend the assets of the rich. For over 400 years ‘social order’ has looked like the brutalization of black bodies on behalf of ‘law enforcement’.
The end of slavery did not suddenly inspire local law enforcement to protect the rights, or lives of African Americans. Instead, hostility towards the Federal government grew and fueled a rise in white supremacist groups like the KKK, which infiltrated local police departments and recruited members across the entire country. —This is a critical point to pause over, because ‘Federal law’ is subject to being enforced, and interpreted by local-level law enforcement.
Another point to consider, if ‘equal state protection’ is a contingent aspect of a ‘democratic society’: how successful can democracy be in the United States, if ‘democratic institutions’ like law enforcement have racism built from within?
In 2020 the Department of Homeland Security says white nationalism is the biggest domestic terrorist threat to the U.S. In 2015, The Federal Bureau of Investigations warned the U.S. government of a growing overlap between white supremacists and law enforcement on terrorist watch lists. Yes, you read that correctly there are increasing numbers of police officers on ‘FBI domestic terrorist’ lists. The report cites « Domestic terrorism investigations focused on militia extremists, white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists often have identified active links to law enforcement officers,”.
In an earlier 2006 report, the FBI expressed concern over white supremacist groups ‘infiltrating law enforcement communities and recruiting law enforcement personnel.’ Perhaps this contextualizes to why being shot by the police is one of the leading causes of death in black men.
There is no lone wolf, no bad apple, there is a racist system operating exactly how it was designed to. What does it say when the U.S. spends trillions every year to fight ‘terrorism’ abroad but remains unconcerned by actual domestic terrorism within law enforcement? Today most major police departments like LAPD or NYPD have budgets that are bigger than the military budgets of some countries.
Post 9/11 laws, gave local police departments access to military weapons to ‘fight terrorism’ domestically. Today, small-town rural police departments have access to weapons of war. Almost every police department has a robust ‘tactical’ SWAT team, and access to ‘bomb- proof’ military tanks and M-16’s; all weapons originally used by soldiers in Iraq.
Ten years ago, the Atlantic wrote an insightful article on How the War on Terror has Militarized police. Stating, « The most serious consequence of the rapid militarization of American police forces, is the subtle evolution in the mentality of the men in blue from ‘ peace officer’ to soldier”.
Today U.S. police officers kill more people in months than the undemocratic kingdom of Saudi Arabia publicly executes in a year. How does police brutality undermine constitutional rights like the sixth amendment ‘right to a trial’? What does that say about the rule of law in the United States? Militarized policing in minority neighborhoods produces one result; increased killings and arrests of minorities.
Governments that Export Oppression, Use it Against Their Citizens.
The idea to ‘give’ local law enforcement weapons of war, was the government’s response to a weapons surplus. In 2015, congress bought weapons, the military didn’t want or need. In fact, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Pentagon, both urged Congress to stop buying military tanks because they were not needed. Congress ignored this request and invested billions in the ‘Abram tank’ a 70-ton indestructible vehicle. This waste of U.S. tax dollars happened after the subprime mortgage crisis, where millions of U.S. citizens became homeless because of bad bank loans. The government let millions of U.S. citizens become homeless, and bailed out the very banks who are to blame for the housing crisis; and then spent a grotesque and unnecessary amount of tax dollars for unwanted weapons.
What does this say about both political parties? Who is the government protecting and at what cost? These optics reflect one thing, the U.S. government will sacrifice U.S. citizens to perpetuate war, and safeguard the profits of the 1%.
Lawlessness or Law enforcement?
In 2018, over 400 cases of rape were charged against U.S. police officers. Today police and military personnel have the highest rates of domestic violence when compared to the average U.S. household. In fact, « Two studies have found that at least 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence, in contrast to 10% of families in the general population”. Meaning, law enforcement households experience violence at three times higher rates.
These studies contextualize why the current model of investigating and prosecuting the rape and assault of women is not a state priority. We should consider a common scenario: What happens when an officer responds to a domestic violence call? Who does he statistically identify with, the victim or perpetrator? How could that impede the integrity of documenting and investigating the case?
Today these studies can’t be replicated, because there is no database of officers charged with sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking. It reveals state priorities when police departments have records on ‘suspected gang members’, but won’t collect a list of officers charged with sexual assault. Most college campuses have databases of students ‘accused of cheating’, why can’t police departments keep ‘permanent records’ of rapist police officers?
Law Enforcement: The Curators of Rape Culture
The RAINN institute reports 5 in 1,000 reported rapes, result in a felony conviction ( less than 1%). And when a rapist related to their victim they receive even lighter sentences.
The Bureau of Justice and Statistics finds that even when a guilty conviction is reached, criminals are more likely to receive probation or parole than actual jail time. To further illustrate the indifference of the U.S. justice system, by 2018 there were over 225,000 untested rape kits. Most of these critical pieces of forensic evidence are now decades old.
In California, San Diego police have the largest caseloads of untested rape kits. The SDPD issued a response to their national record number, stating « 40% of the kits which remain untested were because victims were uncooperative’. » The department doubled down, stating they don’t ‘automatically test any kits’ instead they ‘investigate a case first’ and then determine if the ‘kit is worth testing’.
Recalling that rapists are often ‘repeat offenders’ there is irrefutably value in collecting forensic evidence, to cross-reference in a nationwide database. This can literately prevent violence against women. The SDPD launched a ‘facial recognition’ program to identify over 70,000 residents, but isn’t interested in collecting the DNA of rapist? What does this say about the department’s priorities?
Another appalling example of police indifference towards rape is 25 different police departments have policies to destroy rape kits even while an investigation is still ongoing. Florida destroys evidence after 30 days. This re-traumatizes victim, and objectively illustrates the unwillingness of the justice system to diligently investigate, prosecute, and convict rape. What does this say about the value of women’s citizenship in the U.S.?
Plutocracy and the Fall of the Empire
Last week over 100,000 people living in the U.S. died from COVID-19.
For over a year, 78% of families in the U.S. live paycheck to paycheck.
And still, the U.S. government refuses to provide universal healthcare to its citizens.
In fact, the first ‘COVID relief bills‘ passed by the house bailed out billionaires and corporations with U.S. tax dollars. Sadly both political parties betray their base for the interest of the 1%. Billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk had their wealth increase as a result of the recent ‘stimulus package’; meanwhile the unemployment rate in the U.S. is the highest its ever been. When wealth is constantly re-distributed to the wealthiest in society, that’s socialism for the rich.
Why is it that billionaires, military, and police budgets are always safeguarded? When do our tax dollars work for us? What does this image say when both parties work together to bail out billionaires, but won’t protect the health of U.S. citizens? Billionaires have social mobility, they have an escape plan for climate change, they are not limited by borders. They are not bound to citizenship. Its time we make an escape plan too.
Reform or Revolution?
The state was never designed to protect minorities or women. Racism and misogyny are built from within. When we look at the U.S. government’s response to domestic terrorism, violence against women, poverty, or COVID-19… what can we expect for climate change when millions will be displaced rapidly? The current optics of a militarized police force, signals that the U.S. is ready to go to war with its citizens. We need to part ways with the illusion of having a democracy or fair justice system. It takes less than 10% of the population to sway public policy and create reform. Americans can exercise direct action by refusing to pay taxes, organizing community rent strikes, occupying public space to disrupt the status quo.
Workers from Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Wholefoods all successfully organized to strike in solidarity against working conditions last month. Today, hundreds took to the streets to protest the unlawful murder of George Floyd, by the Minneapolis police. Just one of 200 cases of police murdering civilians in 2020.
Uniting The America’s
The institutions that oppress us will not be the ones to liberate us, therefore its times we start organizing and discussing what we want our future and citizenship to look like. Do we want to reform this failing system or revolutionize it to work better, for more people?
What kind of international coalitions can we build to legalize transnational activism? Racism and violence against women will only be compounded by climate change. Working-class solidarity is the only way to safeguard our future and build social capital with our regional neighbors.
Maybe, there is a working-class consciousness that needs to rise beforehand, but uniting the America’s is the most comprehensive way to promote a regional framework of ‘human security’. The concept of Human Security was developed in International Relations as an inclusive framework to address transnational issues like refugee displacement, economic collapse, natural disasters, and pandemics. We need to understand the benefits of social mobility that the regional framework provides. Billionaires and multinational corporations won’t be limited to citizenship, we shouldn’t be either.
About the author:
Sarah Cavarretta was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. Growing up in a multicultural environment helped framed her world view and appreciation for diversity. She holds a BA in International Security and Conflict Resolution from San Diego State University. Her undergraduate research focused on international women’s coalitions and the implementation of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, a landmark resolution calling for gender mainstreaming. After graduating Sarah became certified in Mediation and Negotiations from the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego, CA. Shortly after this, she moved to Costa Rica and attended the U.N. Mandated University For Peace in San Jose, Costa Rica. This one of a kind program gave direct access to regional mechanisms and how they implement human rights law, like the Inter-America Court of Human Rights. Her thesis Moving Beyond Philanthropy urges states to enable regional action plans to address the impending crisis of climate change and global inequality. She has experience in social work as a behavior therapist and has worked for international NGO’s like the International Rescue Committee and Oxfam International. Her most recent work has been on political campaigns and community organizing. Today Sarah lives in Costa Rica where she is pursuing beekeeping and sustainability. Her feminism is intersectional and champions the liberation and free movement of all people.