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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Puerto Rico's outlaw police force

(Photo: AP)

The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera.

In February 2011, US congressman Luis V Gutierrez, a Democrat from Illinois, addressed the House of Representatives:

“I want to talk to you today about a part of the world where the rights of citizens of all walks of life to protest and speak their minds is being denied, with clubs and pepper spray. A part of the world where a student strike led the university to ban student protests anywhere, anytime on campus, and where, when the students protested the crackdown on free speech, they were violently attacked by heavily armed riot police… What faraway land has seen student protests banned, union protesters beaten, and free speech advocates jailed? The United States of America’s colony of Puerto Rico”.

Gutierrez was referring to a period of intense crackdowns by Puerto Rican police on peaceful protests that began in response to fiscal austerity measures, the firing of 30,000 state employees, the suspension of collective bargaining rights, and a 50 per cent increase in tuition fees – rendering education prohibitively expensive for many students. Police violence has been amply documented in a new report released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), titled “Island of Impunity: Puerto Rico’s Outlaw Police Force”.

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Police pseudoscience and the 'War on Terror'

(Gallo/Getty)

The following is an excerpt from my latest piece for Al Jazeera.

Radicalisation in the West: The Homegrown Threat” is the name of a 2007 report issued by the New York Police Department (NYPD) highlighting the allegedly underappreciated risk that terrorist acts might be committed by the domestic Muslim population.

The report’s pseudoscientific analysis postulates that Muslim individuals generally pass through four different phases prior to engaging in terrorism: Pre-Radicalisation, Self-Identification, Indoctrination and Jihadisation.

Examples of the Self-Identification phase are said to include “[g]iving up cigarettes, drinking, gambling and urban hip-hop gangster clothes” and “[b]ecoming involved in social activism and community issues”. To illustrate the Indoctrination phase, the report’s authors assert that the Islamic bookshop in Brooklyn that previously employed Pakistani American Shahawar Matin Siraj – convicted in 2006 for plotting to blow up a New York subway station – served as an “extremist incubator” and a venue for “transferring [Siraj’s] Salafi-like mindset to his perception of global issues”.

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Homegrown

(Image from ny1.com)

The following is an excerpt from my latest blog post for the London Review of Books.

Last year the Associated Press revealed that the NYPD, with help from the CIA, had set up an extensive surveillance operation to spy on Muslims both in the city and over the state line in New Jersey. Known informally as the Demographic Unit, it employed a network of undercover officers (a.k.a. ‘rakers’) and informants (‘mosque crawlers’).

Raymond Kelly, New York’s police commissioner, said that unwarranted surveillance of certain ethnic groups did not infringe their civil rights, though ‘there’s always going to be some tension between the police department and so-called civil liberties groups because of the nature of what we do.’
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An Army of One

Chris Hayes

This blog post appeared at Jacobin.

Last weekend, MSNBC host Chris Hayes offered the following sensible explanation for his reluctance to engage in a blanket application of the word “hero” to fallen U.S. military members:

 I feel uncomfortable with the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war.

As might be expected from a domestic media that finds conscientious whistleblowingmore appalling than the gleeful slaughter of Iraqi civilians, Hayes was assailed for his deviance.

The validity of his point, however, is underscored in Matt Kennard’s forthcoming book on the earthly identity of various candidates for heroic death: Irregular Army: How the War on Terror Brought Neo-Nazis, Gang Members and Criminals Into the US Military.

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Cocaine, Death Squads, and the War on Terror

This is my review for Jacobin Magazine of Oliver Villar and Drew Cottle’s new book Cocaine, death squads, and the war on terror: U.S. imperialism and class struggle in Colombia, published by Monthly Review Press.

In March of 2009, my friend Amelia Opalinska and I hitchhiked around Colombia. Despite our parents’ conviction that such behavior was conducive to immediate kidnapping by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the greatest challenge we ultimately faced was the reluctance of motorists to pick us up.

After being informed by a compassionate passerby that this reluctance was probably a result of recent robbery schemes involving female hitchhikers, we attempted to render our appearance as innocuous as possible by designing colorful placards to indicate our intended destination and decorating them with rainbows and flowers. When this did not work, we drew stop signs in red marker and positioned ourselves in the middle of the road, which only caused vehicles to swerve around us.

Appeals to police at anti-narcotics checkpoints for assistance in procuring rides meanwhile proved even less effective, as citizens appeared unconvinced that the representatives of the state had their well-being at heart.

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