Home » Culture & Society
Category Archives: Culture & Society
Bank Crimes Pay: Under the Thumb of the Global Financial Mafiocracy
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
27 November 2015
Originally posted at Occupy.com
On Nov. 13, the United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced it was charging 10 individual bankers, working for two separate banks, Deutsche Bank and Barclays, with fraud over their rigging of the Euribor rates. The latest announcement shines the spotlight once again on the scandals and criminal behavior that have come to define the world of global banking.
To date, only a handful of the world’s largest banks have been repeatedly investigated, charged, fined or settled in relation to a succession of large financial scams, starting with mortgage fraud and the Libor scandal in 2012, the Euribor scandal and the Forex (foreign exchange) rate rigging. At the heart of these scandals, which involve the manipulation of interest rates on trillions of dollars in transactions, lie a handful of banks that collectively form a cartel in control of global financial markets – and the source of worldwide economic and financial crises.
Banks such as HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, Bank of America, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS anchor the global financial power we have come to recognize as fraud. The two, after all, are not mutually exclusive. In more explicit terms, this cartel of banks functions as a type of global financial Mafia, manipulating markets and defrauding investors, consumers and countries while demanding their pound of flesh in the form of interest payments. The banks force nations to impose austerity measures and structural reforms under the threat of cutting off funding; meanwhile they launder drug money for other cartels and organized crime syndicates.
Call them the global Mafiocracy.
In May, six major global banks were fined nearly $6 billion for manipulation of the foreign exchange market, which handles over $5 trillion in daily transactions. Four of the six banks pleaded guilty to charges of “conspiring to manipulate the price of U.S. dollars and euros exchanged.” Those banks were Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland, while two additional banks, UBS and Bank of America, were fined but did not plead guilty to the specific charges. Forex traders at Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and other banks conspired to manipulate currency prices through chat room groups they established, where they arrogantly used names like “The Mafia” and “The Cartel.”
The FBI said the investigations and charges against the big banks revealed criminal behavior “on a massive scale.” The British bank Barclays paid the largest individual fine at around $2.3 billion. But as one trader at the bank wrote in a chat room conversation back in 2010, “If you aint cheating, you aint trying.” The total fines, while numerically large, were but a small fraction of the overall market capitalization of each bank – though the fine on Barclays amounted to some 3.4% of the bank’s market capitalization, the highest percentage by far among the group.
Despite the criminal conspiracy charges covering the years 2007 through 2013, the banks and their top officials continue to lay the blame squarely at the feet of individual traders. Axel Weber, the former president of the German Bundesbank (the central bank of Germany), who is now chairman of Switzerland’s largest bank, UBS, commented that “the conduct of a small number of employees was unacceptable and we have taken appropriate disciplinary actions.”
Looking at the larger scale of bank fines and fraud in the roughly eight years since the global financial crisis, the numbers increase substantially. In addition to a 2012 settlement for mortgage-related fraud in the U.S. housing market, which amounted to some $25 billion, several large banks paid individual fines related to mortgage and foreclosure fraud – including a $16 billion fine for Bank of America, and $13 billion for JPMorgan Chase. Added to these are fines related to the rigging of the Libor rate (the interest rate at which banks lend to each other) and the Forex rigging, as well as money laundering, violating sanctions, manipulating the price of gold, manipulating the U.S. electricity market and assisting tax evasion, among other crimes.
According to a research paper published in June, the total cost of litigation (fines, penalties, settlements, etc.) paid by 16 major global banks since 2010 has reached more than $300 billion. Bank of America paid the most, amounting to more than $66 billion, followed by JPMorgan Chase, Lloyds, Citigroup, Barclays, RBS, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, BNP Paribas, Santander, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, UBS, National Australia Bank, Standard Chartered and Société Générale.
Virtually all of these banks also appear on a list of data, compiled through 2007, revealing them to be among the most interconnected and powerful financial institutions in the world. This core group of corporations forms part of a network of 147 financial institutions that Swiss scientists refer to as the “super-entity,” which, through their various shareholdings, collectively controland own each other and roughly 40% of the world’s 43,000 largest transnational corporations.
In other words, the big banks – along with large insurance companies and asset management firms – do not simply act as a cartel in terms of engaging in criminal activities, but they form a functionally interdependent network of global financial and corporate control. Further, the banks work together in various industry associations and lobbying groups where they officially represent their collective interests.
The largest European banks and financial institutions are represented by the European Financial Services Round Table (EFR), whose membership consists of the CEOs or Chairmen of roughly 25 of the top financial institutions on the continent, including Deutsche Bank, AXA, HSBC, Allianz, RBS, ING, Barclays, BNP Paribas, UBS, and Credit Suisse, among others.
In the United States, the Financial Services Forum (FSF) represents the largest American along with some European banks and financial institutions. The Forum’s membership consists of less than 20 executives, including the CEOs or Chairmen of such firms as Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, UBS, HSBC, AIG, Bank of New York Mellon, State Street Corporation, Deutsche Bank and Wells Fargo, among others.
And on a truly global scale, there is the Institute of International Finance (IIF), the premier global association representing the financial industry, with a membership of nearly 500 different institutions from more than 70 countries around the world, including banks, insurance companies, asset management firms, sovereign wealth funds, central banks, credit ratings agencies, hedge funds and development banks.
In addition to these various groups and associations, many of the same large banks and their top executives also serve as members, leaders or participants in much more secretive groups and forums – for example, the International Monetary Conference (IMC), a yearly meeting of hundreds of the world’s top bankers hosted by the American Bankers Association, which invites selected politicians, central bankers and finance ministers to attend their off-the-record discussions. In addition, there is the Institut International d’Etudes Bancaires (International Institute of Banking Studies), or IIEB, which brings together the top officials from dozens of Europe’s major financial institutions for discussions with central bankers, presidents and prime ministers in “closed sessions” with virtually no coverage in the media.
These financial institutions are major owners of government debt, which gives them even greater leverage over the policies and priorities of governments. Exercising this power, they typically demand the same thing: austerity measures and “structural reforms” designed to advance a neoliberal market economy that ultimately benefits those same banks and corporations. The banks in turn create the very crises that require governments to bail them out, racking up large debts that banks turn into further crises, pressuring economic reforms in return for further loans. The cycle of crisis and control continues, and all the while, the big banks and financial institutions engage in criminal conspiracies, fraud, manipulation and money-laundering on a massive scale, including acting as the financial services arm of the world’s largest drug cartels and terrorists organizations.
Welcome to the world governed by the global financial Mafiocracy – because if you’re not concerned, you’re not paying attention.
Why Paris Reveals the Horror – and the Hypocrisies – of Global Terrorism
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
23 November 2015
Originally posted at Occupy.com on 17 November 2015
The world was shocked and horrified at the terror inflicted upon Paris on the night of Friday the 13th, 2015, when ISIS-affiliated militants killed well over 100 civilians in one of the world’s most iconic cities. An outpouring of grief, solidarity, support and condolences came in from across the world. The tragedy, and tyranny, of such terror cannot be underestimated, but it should also be placed in its global context: namely, that the chief cause of terrorism is, in fact, terrorism, and that the chief victims are the innocent, wherever they may be.
While ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks, following attacks the group undertook in previous days in both Beirut and Baghdad, it is worth remembering and reflecting on what led to the development of ISIS itself. The so-called Islamic State had its origins in the Iraq War, launched by the United States and closely supported by the United Kingdom in March of 2003. After overthrowing Saddam Hussein, a dictator once favored by the U.S., the occupying powers struggled to deal with a growing Sunni insurgency against their military occupation. In response, the U.S. helped create death squads in Iraq that further fueled a sectarian conflict between Shi’a and Sunni communities, which likewise fueled a growing regional rivalry between Shi’a Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.
The resulting civil war in Iraq killed hundreds of thousands, and the U.S. aligned itself even more tightly with Saudi Arabia, a country the West considers to be “moderate” in comparison to both Iran and Syria, yet it was the primary financier of al-Qaeda. The broader aim, in Iraq and across the Middle East, was to support the regional hegemony of the West’s allies – Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab dictatorships – against their chief rivals, Iran and Syria. If it meant supporting the countries that supported al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, so be it.
After all, it has never been much of a secret that the Saudis and their Gulf neighbors were the major financial backers of global terrorists; even then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted as much in a memo leaked by Wikileaks. Nor was it a secret that Saudi Arabia was responsible for more destabilization and terrorism inside Iraq than Iran, which nonetheless received most of the blame.
The Saudis and the Gulf dictatorships are U.S. and Western allies, with immense oil riches that have made them some of the largest investors and shareholders in Western banks and corporations. Iran and Syria, on the other hand, are not.
Al-Qaeda did not exist inside Iraq until after the U.S. invasion and occupation. Over the years, since the war and occupation began, the group has undergone a number of name changes and transitions. One such evolution of the group is the al-Nusra front. And another is now known as the Islamic State, or ISIS.
Origins of the Current Terror
When the Arab uprisings began against Western-supported dictators back in late 2010 and early 2011, the U.S. and its key Middle East allies faced an unprecedented crisis. The longtime French and U.S.-supported dictator of Tunisia, Ben Ali, fled his country in January of 2011. The following month, it was Egypt’s dictator, Hosni Mubarak, a “family friend” of Hillary Clinton’s, who had to leave.
The Saudis and other Arab dictators were furious that the U.S. could toss one of its major regional clients aside, fearful that if Mubarak could be removed, any of them could be next. Thus, Saudi Arabia and other Arab dictators led a counter-revolution against the Arab Spring, pouring in money to support dictators they considered friendly (such as in Jordan), sending in troops to violently crush uprisings (such as in Bahrain), and arming rebel groups and terrorists against long-time foes in an effort to take advantage of the uprisings and undermine their rivals (such as in Libya).
In Libya, NATO led a war against long-time dictator Colonel Gaddafi in cooperation with many extremist rebel groups, including al-Qaeda. France and Britain were the main proponents of the war against Libya, which is hardly surprising given that both countries have hundreds of years of experience invading, occupying, colonizing and waging war against peoples of the Middle East and Africa. The war in Libya was of course a monumental disaster. While it removed a dictator long despised by both the Western powers and the Gulf Arab dictators, its ultimate effect was to plunge the country into civil war and chaos, terrorism and collapse.
Meanwhile, the weapons looted in Libya during the war began making their way into neighboring Mali and the more-distant Syria. As the arms crossed borders, so too did terror and warfare, and the French weren’t far behind. In early 2013, France launched airstrikes in Mali, leading to a ground invasion that ended in 2014. Around the same time, France also military intervened in the Central Africa Republic.
In 2013, Western powers including France, the UK and U.S. began increasing their participation in the Syrian civil war, which was already a full-blown regional proxy war pitting Syria’s government, led by Bashar al-Assad allied with Iraq and Iran, against Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Turkey. The Gulf dictatorships armed and funded religious extremist sects to fight against the Syrian government, and were aided in this process by Western countries.
The U.S., France and Britain provided training and support to so-called “moderate” rebels inside Jordan to fight against the Syrian government. The CIA has been involved in arming and training Syrian rebels at least since 2012, in close cooperation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The official line stressed that the CIA’s efforts aimed to prevent weapons from getting into the hands of extremist groups like al-Qaeda – yet virtually all of the rebel groups it was aiding inside Syria were hardline religious extremists.
Even as reports emerged that secular and moderate rebel groups had all but collapsed, the CIA continued to funnel more sophisticated weapons (in cooperation with Saudi allies) to these mythical “trustworthy” rebel groups. France was not far behind in delivering arms to Syrian rebel groups.
Around the same time, an internal CIA study noted that in its decades of experience arming insurgencies against regimes that the U.S. opposed, the agency’s efforts had largely failed. The main “exception” to the litany of failures, ironically, was when the CIA armed and trained the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. That “success,” as we now know, led directly to the creation of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
A Plan Backfires
With all the support given to Syrian rebel groups in the form of training and arms, those same groups quickly became enemies of the West that had armed and trained them. This includes ISIS, whose rise was fueled by U.S. involvement in both Syria and Iraq, and who is funded and supported by key U.S. allies in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
In fact, a report prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2012 predicted the rise of ISIS, noting that such al-Qaeda-affiliated groups were the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” and added that they were being supported in their efforts to take over large parts of Syria and Iraq by “western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey.” Further, the document noted, this was “exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.” A former Pentagon official who ran the DIA even suggested that the U.S. not only didn’t “turn a blind eye” to its support of such groups, but that “it was a willful decision.”
Here is the takeaway: the Syrian civil war, combined with the effects of the Iraq war, Libyan war and other conflicts in the region that were fueled by Western powers and their regional allies, has resulted in the massive refugee crisis Europe faces today, as millions of civilians flee the conflicts plaguing their nations while Western powers continue to pour weapons and money into them. Conflict and terror has bred further conflict and terror.
Yet when terrorism hits inside Western nations, like it did Friday in Paris, the reaction by Western governments is fairly, and tragically, typical. The Paris attacks occurred less than two months after France began launching air strikes against ISIS inside Syria, and have already prompted calls for a more aggressive strategy against ISIS in the future. So what can we expect as a result? Simply, more terror.
In short, if the objective is to oppose or prevent terrorism, the most logical strategy is not to dismantle civil liberties at home and send militaries and weapons abroad, but to stop participating in terrorism itself. This does not take away from the tragedy of the lives lost in Paris on Nov. 13, but the hypocrisy in how we acknowledge and address terrorism only enhances the tragedy. French President Francois Hollande called the attacks that killed 129 people an “act of war,” which it was. But in turn, he declared that “France will be merciless” in its response, and this is something we have yet to see.
If 200,000 dead Syrians, millions of refugees, and regional warfare spreading from state to state is considered “merciful” participation by Western nations in Middle East conflicts, the terror that might now be unleashed abroad – and the new terror that will, inevitably, once again wash ashore as a result – is indeed something to fear. To end terror, perhaps Western states should consider stopping its own participation in terror. In the very least, it would be a first step in the right direction.
The Global Mafiocracy and the Empire of Economics
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
26 March 2015
I am aiming to raise $500 in order to complete and publish for all to view and read a sample introduction chapter to my book about the Global Mafiocracy and the Empire of Economics. The chapter would provide a sampling of the subject matter, style and approach to discussing these complex issues in a way that is understandable and approachable to as wide an audience as possible. The sample chapter would be completed relatively soon (in the next week or two), so long as the funding objective is reached so that I can afford to put in the time to complete the draft.
So what is the subject matter and focus of the book?
– Translating the world of Economics and Finance into basic English, dismantling the ‘technical’ language of ‘experts’ into a more direct and honest dialectic
– An introduction to the Global Mafiocracy: the banks, corporations, asset management firms, sovereign wealth funds, insurance companies and holding companies that collectively own each other and the wider network of global corporate and financial institutions, manifesting as a relatively small cartel of roughly 150 large financial institutions that wield unparalleled financial power in the modern world. How did the cartel evolve? What institutions are dominant within it? Who are the individuals and groups that lead these organizations? How is the cartel’s wealth and power accumulated and exercised? What role does the cartel play in the world of global finance, economic and politics?
– Behind the major corporate and financial institutions are individuals and families, smaller units of concentrated power who own the largest shares and steer the operations of the global cartel. These individual oligarchs and family dynasties – from the Rockefellers in the US, to the Wallenbergs in Sweden, Agnellis in Italy, Desmarais’ in Canada, to the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia, Oppenheimer in South Africa, among others – control and.or influence large percentages of wealth within their respective nations and in the world of globalized financial and corporate networks. How did these dynasties and oligarchs emerge? What do they own and control? How is their wealth and power organized and exercised? What are their ideologies, beliefs, objectives?
– Empire and Economics: When people think of Empire, they often imagine the old European colonial powers venturing off to Africa, Latin America and Asia where they would militarily occupy and colonize foreign lands, regions and peoples for their own imperial benefit. While formal colonialism is largely an historical anachronism, unjustifiable and increasingly untenable in the modern world, Empire itself has never vanished. While the military and overtly political components of empire and imperialism remain relevant in the modern world (think: U.S. military, CIA, State Department, NATO, etc.) the most effective and evolved means of imperialism in the world are exercised through the economic and financial spheres. In these realms, empire is more effective because its ideology, objectives, actions and effects are hidden behind vague and obscure language, the “expertise” of economists, finance ministers, central bankers and other technocrats who claim to be separate of politics and only interested in economics. Empire is more evolved in these spheres because it has become the vanguard of the global Mafiocracy and imperial system, leading the political and often military apparatus of empire, far more institutionalized and advanced on a global scale than any parallel in political and military spheres.
– Global Financial Diplomacy and Governance: What are the institutions that manage and shape the imperial economic order? In the world of financial diplomacy and governance, those institutions which wield incredible (and increasingly expanding) power and authority remain largely unknown or misunderstood to the general public. The book will examine some of the origins, evolution and character of many of these institutions, including: the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, Bank for International Settlements (BIS), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), World Trade Organization (WTO), central banks and finance ministries, among others. What are the specific roles, functions and objectives of these institutions? How do they wield power? In whose interest do they operate? Who leads them?
– State Power: The institutions that make up the world of financial diplomacy and governance rely principally upon state power for legitimacy and political might. Whether it’s a central bank, a finance ministry, the IMF or other agencies, the role of powerful nation states such as the United States and other rich nations is central to the system and structures of the global Empire of Economics. The centrality of state power is made all the more apparent through an examination of the origins and evolution of less formal groupings of nations, such as the Group of Seven (G7), the Group of Five (G5), the Group of Ten (G10) and the Group of Twenty (G20), the principal political forums for the system of global governance and empire. Who attends these forums? What institutions are represented? What are the ideologies and competing interests? What effect do they have? What is the role of the ’emerging market’ nations of China, Russia, Brazil, India, Turkey and South Africa within this system?
– The Global Financial Mafia: What is the relationship and interaction between state power, the various Groups of nations, international institutions, finance ministries and central banks with the global cartel of banks and corporations, and the oligarchs and family dynasties that control the cartel? In what forums do the individuals who lead these various institutions interact, cooperate, communicate, socialize and organize? At various global and national think tanks, foundations, forums, conferences and social events, politicians, finance ministers, central bankers and top technocrats meet, often in secret, with the heads of banks and corporations, patriarchs and matriarchs of powerful family dynasties and other oligarchs. Among such events and forums are: the Bilderberg Group, International Monetary Conference (IMC), World Economic Forum (WEF), the Trilateral Commission, the Institute of International Finance (IIF), and the Group of 30, among others. These forums and events provide political leaders and the heads of influential institutions with a private forum where they are able to have off-the-record, often secretive discussions on important issues of global importance to the populations of their respective nations and the planet as a whole. Collectively, this group, and the institutions which dominate it, compose the Global Mafiocracy: a global political, social and economic system dominated by relatively few nations and institutions that operate largely in the interests of a small, criminal cartel of banks and corporations, a global financial Mafia.
– Top-Down: These institutions, individuals and ideologies will be examined and discussed not as a dry, historical account, but in terms of telling a series of stories. I want to try to present this information and analysis in the same way in which it appeals most to me, a fantastic, interesting, often horrifying and shocking tale of intrigue, empire, power politics, petty tyrants, in-fighting, domination, destruction and empire. I want the people who lead and participate in this system to become as familiar to the reader as they are to me, to see an image and read stories about the personalities and complexities of those who rule and wield power. What emerges is a story, or series of stories, worthy of the the intrigue and interest in historical and fictional accounts of imperial families and ancient empires, of mythical worlds, fantasy tales and science fiction societies. Get a view of our world from the top-down.
– Bottom-Up: In parallel to the institutions, individuals and ideologies that dominate and shape our world from the top-down, there are also processes, people, protests and mass movements or revolutions that shape and re-create and re-imagine the world from the bottom up. While Europe’s finance ministers meet in secret, off the record conversations in distant castles located in Luxembourg, deciding the fate of Europe and its citizens, mass protests and demonstrations and riots take place on the streets of Athens, Madrid, Lisbon, Rome and Frankfurt, in which the populations oppose and reject the decisions being made in far-off places by largely unelected technocrats who do not serve their interests. What role do protests and popular movements have in shaping and changing the modern world? How do the dominant institutions and individuals view and respond to such events and processes? Do they fear the potential of the people? What is that potential, or what could it be? What is the bottom-up story of the Global Mafiocracy and Empire of Economics?
– A Series of Stories: History, its chief actors, institutions and evolution is best understood when told as a story, with characters that readers and observers can relate to, understand, find an interest in, to be intrigued and even horrified. It would seem that the best way to explain the overly and unnecessarily complicated world of economics and finance is to explain it not as one would read in a textbook or industry publication, nor reportage in the financial press, nor through the dry and deceptively dull language and rhetoric of economics, academics, finance ministers, central bankers, technocrats and politicians. No, this is a world best understood through the stories, characters, challenges, triumphs, disasters and wars waged by the personalities and people who have shaped and changed this world. A system of human ‘civilization’ is, after all, ultimately a product of humans, and is, therefore, as deeply flawed, complex, conflicted and intriguing as are most human tales of the rise and fall of kings, queens, emperors, dictators, or the triumphs and tribulations of the ‘common person’, those on the streets, in the schools, bustling around the cities, towns and in the urban slums. Human beings understand human struggles and human stories. Thus, this book is not a history of economics and finance, it is a story of human beings, struggle, suffering, success and complexity. In short, it is a story like any other.
I need your help to write these stories and complete this book, what will be the first in a series. For now, my objective is to write a sample chapter, drawing from the many thousands of pages of research I have done in recent months and years. This chapter would be made available online for all to read, to truly gain a better understanding of the focus, approach and objectives of this book. To do this, I need your help. If this is something you would be interested in reading, please consider donating or sharing and promoting this through social media and other avenues.
My objective is to raise $500 in the short-term. If that goal is reached, the sample chapter will be completed (in rough form) and published online for all to read in April of 2015.
Thank you very much for all the support and encouragement.
Andrew Gavin Marshall
The Brutes in Blue: From Ferguson to Freedom, Part 3
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
24 December 2014
Part 2: Institutional Racism in America
The protests resulting from events in Ferguson and New York have spurred a nation-wide anti-police brutality and social justice movement. This movement is addressing issues related to the realities of institutional racism in the United States, a colonial legacy born of slavery. Policing itself has a history and institutional function that is relevant to current events. This part in the series, ‘From Ferguson to Freedom’ examines the institution of policing and ‘law enforcement’, designed to protect the powerful from the people, to punish the poor and enforce injustice.
A Primer on Policing
Many social divisions erupt when it comes to discussing the issues of police and policing. Many accept the police and state-propagated view of police as being there ‘to serve and protect’, and that the ‘dangerous’ jobs of ensuring ‘peace’ and ‘safety’ are deserving of respect and admiration. Others view police as oppressors and thugs, violent and abusive, the enforcers of injustice. Here, as with the issue of racism itself, we come to the dichotomy of individual and institutional actions and functions.
As individuals, there are many police who may act admirably, who may ‘serve and protect’, who serve a social function which is beneficial to the community in which they operate. But, as with the issue of racism, individual acts do not erase institutional functions. The reality is that as an institution, policing is fundamentally about control, with cops acting as agents of ‘law and order’. They enforce the law and punish its detractors (primarily among the poor), they ‘serve and protect’ the powerful (and their interests) from the people.
When individuals in poor black neighborhoods are caught with illegal substances, such as drugs, the police are there to arrest them and send them into the criminal justice system for judgment and punishment. When Wall Street banks launder billions in drug money, police are nowhere to be seen, the law is ignored, justice is evaded, and the rich and powerful remain untouched. Crime is subject to class divides. Crimes such as mass murder, crimes against humanity, war crimes, slavery, ethnic cleansing, money laundering, mass corruption, plundering and destruction are typically committed (or decided) by those who hold the power, have the money and own the property. These crimes largely go unpunished, and very often are even rewarded.
Crimes committed by the poor, the oppressed, and especially those which take place in communities of colour are the main focus of the criminal injustice system. It is the poor and exploited who are policed and repressed, punished and sentenced, beaten and executed. The criminal rich and powerful are largely untouchable. The police enforce the law, so far as it applies to the poor, and are primarily there to serve the interests of the powerful. This is not new.
Like with all institutions, to understand their functions, one must turn to their origins and evolution through the years. In the United States, the history of ‘policing’ pre-dates the formation of the country itself, when it was a collection of European colonial possessions. From the late 1600s onward, just as racism was itself becoming institutionalized in the slave system, the social concept of policing increasingly emerged. The European colonial system was dependent upon the exploitation of slave labour, which since the late 1600s had become increasingly defined along racial lines.
In the 1700s, colonial societies began forming “slave patrols” to keep the slaves in line, to capture escapees, and to maintain “law and order” in an inherently unjust and exploitative social system of domination. As black slaves increasingly outnumbered the local white colonists, paranoia increased (especially in the wake of slave rebellions), and so the “slave patrols” and other locally organized ‘vigilante’ groups would be formed to protect the white colonizers against the local indigenous populations and the enslaved black African population.
The slave patrols defined the early formation of the modern “law enforcement” institution in the United States, which extended into the 19th century, up until the Civil War. The slave patrols also had other functions within the communities they operated, but first and foremost, their primary purpose was “to act as the first line of defense against a slave rebellion.”
Following the processes of industrialization and urbanization, cities became crowded, immigrants became plenty, and poverty was rampant as the rich few became ever more powerful. Thus, throughout the 19th century, the slave patrols began evolving into official “police forces,” with their concern for “order” and “control”, largely via the policing of poor communities of colour.
The evolution of policing in America since the 19th century has largely maintained its focus on the policing of the poor, acting as soldiers in the “war against crime” (which J. Edgar Hoover declared in the 1930s), though, of course, this applies almost exclusively to crime committed by the poor, by immigrants and ‘minority’ groups, as the rich and powerful are able to continue plundering and stealing wealth, waging wars and killing great masses of people, engaging in institutional corruption and even participating in war crimes and crimes against humanity, almost always with impunity and beyond the reach of police or justice.
In the past few decades, police forces across America have become increasingly militarized, with the rise of what has been called the “warrior cop.” Police forces get military equipment, tanks, rocket launchers, and even wear military outfits and get military training. Militaries are of course designed to be institutions of force, to kill, to destroy, to occupy and oppress. They are fundamentally, and institutionally, imperial. So as police forces become increasingly militarized, their function becomes increasingly aligned with that of the military. While the military secures the interests of the rich and powerful abroad, the police secure the interests of the rich and powerful at home. The domestic population is treated increasingly like an “enemy population,” with poor communities (especially poor black, Hispanic and indigenous communities) treated like occupied populations.
The origins of the modern police force began as a distinctly colonial structure, to enforce the injustice of slavery, to protect the colonizers as they expanded their territories and committed genocide against the indigenous population. Colonization, ethnic cleansing, slavery and genocide are inherently wrong and unjust. As such, these policies must be protected by force. The legal system has always been far more concerned with the protection of property (belonging to rich white men) than it has been with the protection of the population from the abuses of an inherently unjust social system. In a slave society, human beings become property. The law protects private property, but does so often through the oppression of populations. Property becomes more important than people, even when people are property.
The Global Reality of the Brutes in Blue
Think, for a brief moment, of the images, videos and realities of protests, revolutions, resistance movements and rebellions around the world in the past several years. From the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, to Indigenous movements in Canada and Latin America and Africa, to the peasant and labour unrest across Asia, to the anti-austerity movements across Europe, with social unrest reaching enormous heights in Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal, from the Indignados to Occupy Wall Street, to the student movements in Quebec, the UK, Chile, Mexico and Hong Kong, to the urban rebellions in Turkey and Brazil, and now to the civil unrest in the US sparked by Ferguson. What do you see, in all of these cases?
In each and every case, there are large or significant segments of populations who are rising up in resistance to oppressive structures, against dictatorships, state violence and repression, against poverty, racism and exploitation. In each case, there are populations struggling for dignity and opportunity, for freedom and democracy, for justice and equality. These populations, those who protest and resist, those who struggle and strive for the realization of democracy and justice, are historically the main reason why society has in any meaningful way ever been able to advance, to civilize itself, for rights and freedoms to be won and realized. Progress for people as a whole has always been accompanied by mass struggle and resistance against the forces of oppression and to upset the ‘stability’ of the status quo.
And, both historically and presently, without exception, the struggle and resistance of populations at home and abroad has always been met with the blunt, brute force of police, there to beat the people back down into subservience and to maintain “law and order.” In the youth-led rebellions from Egypt to Spain to Indonesia, from Brazil to Mexico to Quebec, from Hong Kong to Turkey to Ferguson, Missouri, the police are there with batons, pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, real bullets, beatings and brutality, mass arrests and murder, all in the name of preserving ‘stability’.
This is the true institutional function of the police. It cares not whether there are good or decent individuals within police forces, no more than the institutional reality of militaries cares whether individual soldiers are good or decent. Their job is to protect the powerful, police the poor, and punish those who threaten the stability of this unjust system. This is an institutional function which has been a lived reality for the black community in the United States since the origins of slavery and policing. The protests resulting from Ferguson are a reflection of this reality, regardless of the opinions of white people who have been largely spared the blunt truth of batons and bullets wielded and shot by the Brutes in Blue.
Black and Blue
According to a study published in 2012, every 28 hours in the United States, a black man, woman or child is murdered by a law enforcement official, security guard or “vigilante.” In 2011, murder was listed as the number one cause of death for black males between the ages of 15 and 34. In the month prior to Michael Brown’s murder, three other unarmed black men were killed by police, with data from police forces across the country revealing that black males are far more likely to be shot and killed by police than any other demographic group.
According to data from the Department of Justice, between 2003 and 2009, roughly 4,813 people were killed in the process of being arrested or while in the custody of police officers. In 2012 alone, 410 people were killed by police in the United States. Between 1968 and 2011, data from the CDC reveals, black Americans were between two and eight times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans. On average, black Americans were 4.2 times more likely to be murdered by police than whites.
Between the murder of Michael Brown in August and the delivery of the verdict in November of 2014, police in the United States killed roughly 14 other teenagers, at least six of them black. Two days before the Darren Wilson verdict was reached, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was murdered by police in Cleveland, Ohio, for holding a BB gun.
In late December, however, a mentally ill man in New York shot and killed two NYPD police officers in Brooklyn, after which he shot and killed himself. New York mayor Bill de Blasio, who has attempted to navigate between placating protesters and police, has made himself hated by many in the NYPD, who view anything but absolute and unquestionable loyalty as unforgivable betrayal. The head of the NYPD’s union commented on the two killed cops, saying that many had “blood on their hands”, which “starts on the steps of City Hall, in the office of the major.”
Attempting to placate the police, mayor de Blasio called for the protests to end until the funerals for the two cops had passed, saying, “It’s time for everyone to put aside political debates, put aside protests, put aside all of the things that we will talk about in due time.” Of course, this and other statements made by de Blasio are designed to keep his own police force under his control; however, the hypocrisy of the statement should not go unnoticed. After all, hundreds of unarmed black Americans are murdered by police every year, and now, people have had enough, have reacted, taking to the streets to protest. Yet, when two cops are killed, the mayor calls for the protests to end out of some misplaced form of ‘respect’ for the police. Clearly, murdered black Americans are not given the same type of respect, even if it is guided by political pandering. That should speak volumes.
The backlash against the protesters and the emerging social justice movement has been palpable, and the police have been (as they often are) on the front lines of social regression. There was even a small protest in New York held in support of the NYPD, attended mostly by white men (and cops), some wearing shirts declaring, “I can breathe,” mocking the final words of Eric Garner as he was choked to death by a NYPD officer, repeating, “I can’t breathe.” At the same time, there was a counter protest on the other side of the street, attended largely by black and Hispanic New Yorkers, chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets!” with the pro-NYPD crowd responding, “Whose jails? Your jails!” When the crowd chanted “hands up, don’t shoot!” the pro-police crowd chanted, “Hands up, don’t loot!” The pro-NYPD protest was largely made up of retired or off-duty police officers and their supporters, which along with the assembled on-duty police, media and counter-protesters, did not amount to more than 200 people.
Following the shooting deaths of the two NYPD officers, the head of an NYPD union declared that, “we have, for the first time in a number of years, become a ‘wartime’ police department. We will act accordingly.” So the NYPD has declared ‘war’, but against who? Well, they place the blame for the two deaths not only on the mayor, but more so on the protesters and the anti-police brutality movement itself. Thus, the largest police force in the United States, made up of 35,000 people, has essentially declared ‘war’ on a significant part of the population. It’s worth remembering that the previous New York mayor, billionaire oligarch Michael Bloomberg, once declared during a press conference, “I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world.”
In light of the two killed cops, many who had previously been pleading for people to respect the police and remember ‘that they are there to protect us’ and have ‘dangerous jobs’ suddenly feel vindicated. However, as the Washington Post reported back in October of 2014, “policing has been getting safer for 20 years,” with 2013 being the safest year for police since the end of World War II. Indeed, as the Post noted, “You’re more likely to be murdered simply by living in about half of the largest cities in America than you are while working as a police officer.” According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, policing is not even on the list of the top ten most dangerous jobs in America. Some of the jobs which appear on the top ten list include loggers, fishermen, pilots, garbage collectors, truck drivers, farmers and ranchers.
However, it IS dangerous to be an unarmed black man, woman or child in America. And while the NYPD union boss has declared a “war” on the people, the realities of that war have been felt and suffered by black and Hispanic Americans for years and decades.
For over a decade, New York City has implemented a “stop and frisk” policy whereby police are given the illegal ‘authority’ to stop and frisk citizens without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, an obvious violation of constitutional rights. Between 2004 and 2012, New York City cops conducted 4.4 million ‘stops’, with 88% resulting in no further action (arrest or court summons). In roughly 83% of ‘stop and frisk’ cases, those stopped by the police were either black or Hispanic.
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2014 revealed that young men who were subjected to stop and frisk by police, particularly young black men, “show higher rates of feelings of stress, anxiety and trauma.” In over 5 million stop and frisks that took place during the 12-year tenure of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire oligarch, young black men accounted for a total of 25% of those targeted, yet accounted for 1.9% of the city’s population, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. In over 5 million stops, police found a gun in less than 0.02% of the cases.
In late 2014, with a new mayor (de Blasio) and following increased public outrage against the policy as well as legal rulings against it, the ‘stop and frisk’ policy declined in its implementation. However, as the New York Times noted, “police officers today remain ever-present in the projects,” with a “new strategy” for policing the projects slowly forming. Police stand at posts on the perimeters of housing blocks, “officers park their cars on the sidewalk and turn on the flashing roof lights,” and, at night, “the blue beams illuminate the brick of the projects for hours on end, projecting both a sense of emergency and control.”
Black communities remain under ‘military’ occupation by the Brutes in Blue, the modern manifestation of the ‘slave patrols’. The rich and powerful are protected and served, the poor are punished, the descendants of African slaves are slain, their communities under ‘control,’ as the police walk their beat, and beat black lives back down. From Eric Garner and Michael Brown, to the mass protests and civil unrest, the institutional function of the police is, as always, about maintaining stability and order in an inherently unjust social system.
The institutionalization of racism, slavery, and policing predates the formation of the United States itself. And while these things have evolved and changed over the years, decades and centuries, they remain relevant and present. If they are not addressed in a meaningful or substantial way, the America that many imagine or believe in will fade away, leaving only racism, slavery and repression here to stay.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a freelance researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada.