A retired municipal court judge recently suggested the city consider using national guard troops to patrol the streets of Philadelphia. The judge is running for a US congressional seat in the city’s first district.
The criticisms of his ill thought out plan were swift enough. Victor Fiorillo, writing in The Philly Post says:
“Deploying any branch of the United States Armed Forces in a law enforcement or ‘peacekeeping’ role on American soil is tricky business… [I]f you call in camouflaged soldiers with big guns and body armor and send them rolling up Broad Street in tanks, suddenly you’ve got Christiane Amanpour and freaking Wolf Blitzer showing up at City Hall asking lots of questions… ‘Martial Law Lockdown in Birthplace of Freedom.’ It’s a PR nightmare.”
Fair enough. Calling in the national guard to deal with city violence seems like an obvious campaign stunt. But Fiorillo’s solution is far worse. He continues:
“[O]n the other hand, if the city were to secretly contract the services of Blackwater, well, we might be getting somewhere…
While the police department and National Guard have codes of conduct and citizens and politicians to answer to, Academi [formerly known as Blackwater] is a private corporation. Its handsomely paid contractors answer to the guy who signs their paychecks. Civil rights don’t exist in their world, and if you try to capture one of their takedowns with your little cell phone camera, well, you might just find out firsthand the meaning of extraordinary rendition…
[H]ere in Philadelphia, we’re faced with a new kind of urban war and a new kind of criminal, one with absolutely no morality and no fear of consequences, for whom killing serves no real purpose… They are not citizens who deserve full protection under the law. They are, in fact, domestic terrorists.”
Blackwater has been collecting domestic contracts in the US since at least Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. There they were accused of violating civil rights and disobeying the law, just like Fiorillo suggests should happen in Philadelphia. Jeremy Scahill who has done extensive research on Blackwater, noted the organization chose to deploy its private Army to New Orleans even before the government issued them a contract. What did they do once they were there? The Nation reports:
“[T]he New York Times reported… ‘New Orleans has turned into an armed camp, patrolled by thousands of local, state, and federal law enforcement officers, as well as National Guard troops and active-duty soldiers.’
The local police superintendent ordered all weapons, including legally registered firearms, confiscated from civilians. But as the Times noted, that order didn’t ‘apply to hundreds of security guards hired by businesses and some wealthy individuals to protect property…[who] openly carry M-16’s and other assault rifles.’”
As the nation puts it, “the war on the poor spilled over into the war on terror.” The government couldn’t get people off of their roofs, but they wasted no time setting up prisons. The nation points to this Salon piece:
“[A local Syrian immigrant helping with relief efforts and eventually picked up by Blackwater] was among thousands of people who were doing ‘Katrina time’ after the storm. There was a complete suspension of all legal processes and there were no hearings, no courts for months and months and not enough folks in the judicial system really seemed all that concerned about it. Some human-rights activists and some attorneys, but otherwise it seemed to be the cost of doing business.
It really could have only happened at that time; 2005 was just the exact meeting place of the Bush-era philosophy towards law enforcement and incarceration, their philosophy toward habeas corpus and their neglect and indifference to the plight of New Orleanians.”
Of course, Fiorillo and others who argue Blackwater should take over law enforcement in Philadelphia are fools. We don’t want to give his name more weight than it deserves. His argument has no basis in the rule of law and has no respect for what it means to live in a free society. Even the aggressive neo-fascists are silent on privatization of police responsibilities at this point (although we expect that will change).
That said, we should take note of his editorial as a reminder of exactly how dangerous private police can be. Katrina taught us some hard lessons; the government cannot or will not protect you if the emergency is fierce enough and may actually work to suppress your rights through the use of aggressive private contractors.