At the end of January, NYPD chief William Bratton outlined a plan for a new unit of specially trained officers focused on patrolling terrorist targets and protests, using more high-powered weapons. This plan includes the creation of a heavily armed unit of about 350 officers to be called the Strategic Response Group to respond to what Bratton called “large-scale events, such as protests or terrorist attacks.” Bratton said these officers would be equipped with heavy protective gear and machine guns, and trained in counterterrorism tactics and “advanced disorder control.”
Bratton said, “It is designed for dealing with events like our recent protests or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris.”
STOP. Look at what Bratton said here. He grouped three things together: “terrorist attacks” in India in 2008; the murders of journalists at the parody magazine Charlie Hebdo in France; and recent massive protests against police murder.
First of all, Bratton is equating instances of “terrorist murder” carried out by small groups with a reactionary agenda with mass demonstrations of thousands of people protesting police murder.
Bratton said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio supports this plan and that “They’ll [Strategic Response Group] be equipped and trained in ways that our normal patrol officers are not... They’ll be equipped with all the extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and machine guns—unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances.”
Bratton’s view that protesters against police brutality should essentially be seen as enemy combatants and treated like “terrorists” was put out there in the world to hit headlines and infiltrate articles and commentary for several days.
Only later, after widespread outrage at how this proposal outrageously and blatantly paints protesters against police brutality as “terrorists,” did Bratton come out and say the interpretation of his remarks “may have confused the issue” and he slightly changed his plan to one where there are two new groupings of officers—one heavily armed unit to “combat terrorism” and a mobile unit to handle things like “protests and neighborhood crime spikes.”
But whatever way they organize it, it still sounds and looks a lot like Ferguson last August after Michael Brown was killed and the police used tear gas, rubber bullets, and armored vehicles against protesters. Rightfully so, this display prompted a lot of protests against the militarization of the police. And now Bratton is not only upping the militarization of the NYPD, he’s adding the political rhetoric that preparation for such protests should be treated as part of “counter-terrorism readiness.”
The moves to call for increased penalties against protesters, like Bratton’s proposal to make resisting arrest a felony as well as efforts like this, to paint protests with a “terrorist brush” in order to justify increased repressive measures, is coming from a ruling class that has been stung by and is worried by the tremendous upsurge of anger and protest against police murder. In the face of this whole counter-offensive by the powers-that-be, the movement against police murder must now not only continue, but also retake the initiative.