Crackdown on campus protests reveal that America is sliding towards becoming a police state

Crackdown on campus protests reveal that America is sliding towards becoming a police state

Zeynep Tufekci writes:

Two police cars idled across the street from the protest rally I was attending in front of the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, their red and blue lights flashing but their sirens silent. The police seemed more bored than annoyed. It was the early 2000s, and I had recently moved from Turkey to study at the University of Texas.

My fellow protesters were outraged. “This is what a police state looks like!” they started chanting.

I turned around, bewildered. Turkey was still emerging from the long shadow of the 1980 coup. For years, protests were suppressed, sometimes with deadly force. Even a whiff of disruption could get Istanbul shut down, with armored vehicles blocking major roads. Trust me, I said, this is not what a police state looks like.

When I told my friends back home that Americans thought it was outrageous for the police even to show up at a demonstration, it was considered yet more evidence that I had been recruited by the C.I.A.

“The American police showed up to a protest and did nothing?” one of my friends scoffed. “Just watched? No arrests? No heads bashed in?” Yeah, right.

In the two decades that have passed since then, American protests have changed a bit. America’s response to them has changed a great deal.

Many observers name Sept. 11 as the turning point when America’s police departments started becoming something more like a military force, but really, it was the Iraq War. That conflict turbocharged a policy that allowed police departments to get surplus military equipment at no charge. More than 8,000 local police departments have acquired over $7 billion worth of the kind of heavy equipment — mine-resistant armored vehicles, tactical gear, grenade launchers, weaponized aircraft, assault rifles — normally used in combat.

Why do places like Preston, Idaho (population 6,000), and Dundee, Mich. (pop. 8,000), need armored vehicles designed to withstand mines?

If you acquire it, it will likely be used. Police officers are a lot less likely to sit in cars and watch protests from a distance these days.

I stayed in academia and made political resistance around the world one of my primary fields of study. The one lesson I learned above all else is that a disproportionate crackdown is often a protest movement’s most powerful accelerant. [Continue reading…]

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