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The Return of the Colonial

Published: 
Sunday, August 31, 2014

What cultural logics connect recent confrontations in Ferguson, Gaza, and east Port-of-Spain? The short answer is militarism, poverty and racism. Peter Kraska, a professor of justice studies, describes police militarisation as “the process whereby civilian police increasingly draw from, and pattern themselves around, the tenets of militarism and the military model.” 

Watching events in Ferguson and elsewhere in the USA it is clear the sale and transfer of billions in weapons and military equipment to police forces around the US has created a militarised police force unable to fathom the concept of community policing.

In Gaza, the Israeli state’s embrace of an ideology of militarism has produced a dire public health crisis. The connection there is not just one of ideology but of training and equipment too. The same gun, projectile and shell casings, manufactured by the same US companies like Combined Tactical Systems, litter the streets of Ferguson and the rubble of Gaza ... while Israeli security forces also trained two law enforcement agencies in Ferguson.

In east Port-of-Spain, the State, under the leadership of Captain Griffith, is also involved in turning residential areas into militarised zones. The Captain’s answer to those speaking out at the inherent dangers of police and soldiers treating citizens and residents as wartime enemies is: east Port-of-Spain is the safest it has been in years. And women and children can walk securely again.

Conveniently, Griffith leaves out the part about residents jumping from one dire situation to another, or how making neighbourhoods into state-enforced military zones, and making people live under conditions that feel like occupation, helps in the long term? 

The second link between Ferguson, Gaza and east Port-of-Spain, is a history of poverty. To fail to see the inhabitants of all three as victims of economic injustice, and blame individuals for troublemaking, is to be blind to the context, provocation, and reasons people behave as they do. Crime is often a product of social conditions, and no policing, including militarised policing, can totally eliminate it.

Poverty for all three areas is structural. This means poverty is a historical legacy, reinforced rather than solved by the State. Whether it’s the seven-year blockade of Gaza, or the underdevelopment of Ferguson and east Port-of-Spain, the outcomes of intergenerational poverty produce populations and persons in need of support, development and uplifted social conditions. Not more state violence, destruction, and further retreat from social norms.

The final link between the three is racism. This is the link that makes sense of why people in power accept militarisation and poverty in areas they are not from. Racism is easy to see in Gaza and Ferguson. How could events be described otherwise? The Israeli State is founded on racism, while US police statistics illustrate being black there is a different and more dangerous experience than being white.

In T&T we might pause and say the issues found in east Port-of-Spain are less to do with race and more to do with class. After all, the hotspot areas are low income and we have no white majority. Yet that would be an error. Yes, these situations are about economic realities; but they are patterned by the racist ideologies of their colonial origins.

The sadness about acknowledging connections between confrontations in Ferguson, Gaza and east Port-of-Spain is no leadership anywhere is willing to recognise that when militarisation, poverty and racism blend, we’ve returned to the colonial logic of racist imperialism and white supremacy. 

One form of racist supremacy in this new imperialism is the false pride with which leaders look at their supposed interventions. Whether it’s Netanyahu, Thomas Jackson (the Ferguson police chief), or our own Captain Griffith, the problem to them is always the people in those under-siege communities. 

That is why the powerful and their military agents dehumanise and mistreat them. Yet these fair-skinned male leaders, and it is always men, are so enamoured of their actions, they fail to see the context or consequences of their ideas. 

It isn’t the people who are the problem. Lawlessness is a symptom, not the cause. Whether it’s crime, or looting, or riots, these are some ways the powerless take back power. Many might not like such social rebellion, but it’s symptomatic of a wider problem sewn into the fabric of modern society. 

That problem is the cultural logic of colonialism. Its armed forces, economic looting and white supremacy never completely went away; they just continued along, submerged, and are back in the open for all to see.

Dr Dylan Kerrigan is an anthropologist at UWI, St Augustine