William Bratton—Counter-Insurgency Architect for Imperialist Policing

September 2, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


On September 11, 2011, Tayshana Murphy, a promising nationally ranked point guard, was gunned down outside her door—in the hallway of the Grant Houses project in Harlem. People mourned for the high school senior who might have been able to escape the projects on a basketball scholarship, and hung their heads in despair for the youth caught up in a senseless crime like this. A lot of people thought that in this case, the police had a legitimate job to do. A lot of people—including many people actively opposing police harassment in the projects—said something had to be done about this.

What happened next is a lesson oppressed people need to learn. Shortly after Tayshana’s murder, two young men from the Harlem projects were arrested and then convicted for her murder. The mother of Tayshana and the mother of one of the men convicted had joined together in common cause to do something about violence among the youths from rival projects.

Then in June of this year, the NYPD descended on Grant Houses and Manhattanville Houses, with helicopters flying overhead in a full-out military assault, kicking down people’s doors, dragging whole families from their beds, and forcing them to the floor with guns to their heads. Young children were threatened and the pigs made jokes as they tore people’s houses apart. The images of waging war on a people looked no different than in Gaza or Iraq.

The justification cited by the NYPD for this escalation of police tactics, touted as “one of the biggest takedowns in NYPD history,” was an investigation into Tayshana’s murder. As Tayshana’s younger brother was hauled out of his mother’s home during the raid, the cynicism of this justification has about as much credibility as the lies the U.S. government tells to wage every unjust war it has begun.

This isn’t just excessive policies that no longer match the crime statistics—nor is it just rogue cops. The lesson oppressed people need to learn from this is that the police are there to protect a system of exploitation that rules over the people. The police, the courts, the prisons, the parole system, the welfare system people report to, are part of a state apparatus that enforces exploitation and the misery, inequality, and oppression that this stems from. “The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and order that enforces this oppression and madness.” (from BAsics 1:24)

New York mayor Bill de Blasio defended the military assault on Harlem, saying that the two housing projects “are a lot safer today because of this action, and you’re going to see a lot more of these kinds of actions whenever we are in a position to put together the evidence to do that kind of whole sweep.” “Troop movements have already begun,” he said. “You’re going to see a lot more next month, when our [police] recruits graduate.”

And this militarization of the police isn’t just in New York City. In June of this year, the American Civil Liberties Union released “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing,” a report that includes tracking of equipment donated through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to funnel money and military materiel (firearms, explosives, vehicles, battle uniforms, and armored vehicles) to hundreds of local police departments.

Bill de Blasio was elected mayor with a campaign promising an end to stop-and-frisk. What he actually did was bring in as police commissioner William Bratton—the architect under the Giuliani regime of “zero tolerance” policing, also called the “broken windows” theory—that police could prevent crime by going after petty offenses and minor crimes like drinking in public, jumping turnstiles, sleeping on the streets, littering, etc. This is a method of policing that has been adopted nationwide and has been responsible for drastically driving up the number of arrests and incarcerating a hugely disproportionate number of Black and Latino people. It is a genocidal doctrine that has jacketed people with criminal records at very young ages. In Los Angeles, where Bratton was sent after the LA rebellion in 1992, mass stops of young Black men and boys resulted in a database containing the names, addresses, and biographical information of the overwhelming majority of young Black men in the entire city. The database was justified as a tool for tracking “gang-related activity.”

William Bratton is a strategic operative for the U.S. ruling class—from the early ’90s he has pioneered police strategy like the “broken windows” policy—aimed at making large cities like New York centers that are safe for imperialism to operate from. Bratton, as police commissioner, and Mayor Giuliani declared war on the homeless and the city’s poorest neighborhoods. They laid siege to artistic expression and the right of Black and Latino youths to hang out or congregate in public. After his stint in NYC, Bratton started a string of lucrative private security companies, including one that served as the LAPD’s so-called “independent review” agency. He then left the private sector to serve as police commissioner of Los Angeles after the LA rebellion—to rebuild the crumbled credibility and morale of the LAPD.

Bratton has specialized as a consultant for cities that have experienced civil unrest: London, where David Cameron tried to hire him as police chief after the London Riots of 2009; Oakland, in the wake of a sustained upsurge of resistance after the police murder of Oscar Grant; and a crackdown on the Occupy movement that aroused tens of thousands to march in support of Occupy and against the police repression. He’s been a visiting consultant for the governments of Mexico City, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Johannesburg, South Africa.

De Blasio has stood by William Bratton’s decision to continue arrests for marijuana possession that have disproportionately impacted hundreds of thousands of Black and Latino youths who have been charged for possession of minor amounts of marijuana since 2002. De Blasio, in the tradition of Giuliani, has also remained committed to Bratton’s racist doctrine of zero tolerance, rolling this out with a campaign to arrest teenagers in hip-hop dance crews for performing on subway cars!
Now that stop-and-frisk has become the subject of exposure and public outcry, those who run the city have simply shifted gears to drive the same systematic oppression forward, using the zero tolerance doctrine to continue the harassment and terror being perpetrated in Black and Latino neighborhoods. Within days of the July 11 police execution of Eric Garner for selling untaxed cigarettes, bystanders filmed the same illegal chokehold being used for the “crime” of jumping a turnstile.

William Bratton’s stated goal has been to make cities like New York “safe.” Safe not for the people living under police terror but safe to be the financial center for an empire of worldwide exploitation—and Bratton, like others at the top of this system, sees a potential threat to that “safety” in the many millions of oppressed people who also live in the mega cities of the world. Police doctrine like stop-and-frisk or zero tolerance is based on carrying out counter-insurgency against millions of oppressed people and several generations of youth who the system has no future for. Bratton’s so-called “broken windows” theory, with its objective to prevent crime before it occurs, really is the selling of a doctrine of domestic counter-insurgency with the objective of preventing possible insurgency before it occurs.

The criminalization of whole peoples—the militarization of the police departments that enforce a daily hell for those who have to scratch out a way of survival in this capitalist system—this has to end. And there’s another lesson to take away from this as well: They may seem all powerful, but all their doctrine tells you that they don’t think they are. They are more convinced of the possibility of insurgency—of the possibility of revolution that the oppressed themselves cannot see. It takes science and a party to wield science to be able to see how that could all crack apart—and for a real revolution to get rid of this system and replace it with something radically and entirely different. To learn more about why revolution is possible and how it could be fought and won... check out the RCP’s “On the Strategy for Revolution,” printed as a supplement in Bob Avakian’s book, BAsics.

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