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The whole world is watching

August 19, 2014 - Harry Eagar
The whole world is watching

Americans were shocked this month to see pictures of police — looking like, in the deft phrase of Doktor Zoom, Keystone Stormtroopers — threatening citizens with machine guns and tanks. Our grandparents or great-grandparents would not have been shocked.

It was only the New Deal that, among many other civilizing gifts to the public, changed the role of police and militia from agents of labor control into, more or less, guardians of property and ordinary order. As late as 1932, it was nothing unusual to see a governor — a Democrat no less — turn a machine gun on farmers protesting low prices. This happened just a few miles from Ferguson, Missouri, in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

The idea that the cop is Officer Friendly would have seemed outlandish to our forebears. Police were agents of repression in service of the rich, and everybody understood that.

This was true of both formal and informal police. It was most obvious with the “paterollers” of the upper South, white men conscripted to serve a few nights each month as cavalry to terrorize blacks and catch runaway slaves.

But it was also the case with formal police forces, once these began to be enrolled. Every boss knew that if he could not keep his workers in line with low wages, payment in scrip, company stores, eviction, blacklists and strong-arm men, he could call the mayor or governor to have the police or the militia shoot them, or their families.

Police were kept on a payroll in order to have them available to brutalize workers. The rest of the time they filled their days serving eviction notices for landlords and collecting bribes from whorehouses.

There is no instance known to me when police or militia refused to act as the bosses’ enforcers. Legislators chipped in by passing laws that excluded workers from civil rights protections.

It was usual to ride down workers and their wives and children with cavalry, and not unusual to place cannon in the streets to intimidate them.

In the South, the sheriff was also expected to organize and lead lynch mobs.

If the local arms of law and disorder were inadequate, in exceptional circumstances the regular army was available. In fact, President Washington used regulars against protesters because that was the only force he had available. Later, the militia was usually sufficient.

Despite what it says in the 2nd Amendment to the Bill of Rights, the United States has never had — nor even attempted to create — a well-regulated militia. When used in war, the militia has performed poorly, usually running away (as recently as 1942); and in peace it has done nothing much beyond murdering women and children. Chivington’s Colorado “Volunteers” were a particularly noisome example.

Since the New Deal, however, bosses have not been able to call the governor and have him send out troops to shoot workers. The governor who changed this was Frank Murphy of Michigan, who called out his National Guard to protect workers who were under attack from police and mobs of company goons. It was the first time in American history that the militia were used to protect ordinary citizens instead of bosses. It was a startling change for the Michigan National Guard, which President Wilson had sent to Murmansk in 1919 to shoot Russian workers. The Russian workers fought back and over 500 Michigander militia were killed, most left behind in unmarked graves.

Murphy was punished by losing the next election, but his precedent has generally held. Nowadays, regular troops are even called out to uphold the rule of law, as President Eisenhower did at Little Rock; or sometimes when real disorders occur.

There is backsliding. Murphy’s adherence to lawful principles was shocking and unwelcome to the oppressing classes, who screamed, through their corrupt newspapers, for him to have the workers shot. At times, as at Kent State and Ferguson, large police or militia forces are deployed in order to create riots — as admitted, memorably, by Mayor Richard Daley who said his Chicago cops were there to create disorder. And the frightened right-wingers still want to go back to the good old days when Douglas MacArthur used panzers against unemployed veterans. Gov. Rick Perry has game wardens armed with machine guns in Texas.

But for the most part, the trajectory of policing over the past 70 years had been toward professionalism, training and enforcement of actual laws. The memorandum did not reach all districts, and racism is still in control in too many places, from the biggest to the smallest.

Still, the pictures of a masked cop training his rifle on women in the streets last week was shocking, because we do not know our own history. We have come that far. Or maybe we only thought we had.


Article Comments



Aug-24-14 1:31 AM


Back in the 50's to 80's was a "kill Ha'ole" day. Many Caucasian students would not go to school. Why pick on Caucasians? Why do many countries not like Americans? I have no problem.

Recent Editorial showed a writer talking about the meaning of Aloha. Like the time for those who wear watches are different. Same with the meaning of socialist or of Aloha.

My definition is A-Akua or the belief in God.

L-Lokahi or the belief in everyone is family.

H-Ha or the sharing of breath and life. Treat others as you would treat family and do what is right by ethics of knowing Good and Bad. Share what life gives.

Hawaii is no different from the Mainland. There is racism here when dealing with different cultures. Being different many bully because of size of brain or size of built. How I define apartheid is in many ways different.


Aug-23-14 10:19 PM

"Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go, do not collect $200."

Masked terrorist, yet they show their eyes. Instead of finger printing, maybe eye scans should also be taken. Many areas should requires retinal eye scans to enter a room. Maybe that will help with Airport Security to quicken the boarding process.


Aug-23-14 9:49 PM

One word for Caucasians but many words for Africans in South Africa.

Tea party is as old as President Obama has been in office. No one believes a 6 year old.

Maybe with all "Race" crimes, a pass to be in certain areas may be a wise choice to secure cities or states. Martial Law should have been brought to Ferguson.


Aug-23-14 2:28 PM

Apartheid included, among many other things, a pass system preventing blacks from traveling. That is far different from what goes on in the United States.

It also included a government bureaucracy to establish each person's race.

The US had a pass system in the 'black codes' before the Civil War; and Louisiana had a race-determination office up into the '50s or '60s; but we don't have those things any more.

It is important to be precise in using words like apartheid, fascist, communist, socialist, capitalist etc. For example, I have yet to meet any Tea Partier who knows what socialism is, although they rant about it all the time.


Aug-23-14 2:28 AM

Ferguson Police Officer shoots 6 rounds into Michael Brown. Seems to kill and not maim.

Proper action was to bring Martial Law to Ferguson. Let the Military, Police action and not Police do Military action. Unless Police are ex-military, they are in need of being examinded for PTSD. Depression caused by those who oppress.


Aug-23-14 2:23 AM

"a·part·heid ?'pärt?(h)at,-?(h)it/Submit nounhistorical (in South Africa) a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race. segregation on grounds other than race. "sexual apartheid""

South African Police Officers beating Steve Biko to death.


Aug-23-14 12:10 AM

I prefer keeping words like apartheid for use in describing real apartheid. That isn't what's at issue here.

Call it segregation, Jim Crow or whatever, but it isn't anything like apartheid.

Same goes for the use of the word as it relates to Palestinians.


Aug-19-14 10:59 PM



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