Policing the Poor and Minorities as Counter-Insurgency

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 2227 ... October 28, 2020
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Policing the Poor and Minorities as Counter-Insurgency

Justin Podur

The Minneapolis City Council’s attempt to defund police may have fizzled out for the moment, but the problem of police violence across the United States is unresolved -- and much of it stems from the institution’s colonial, counterinsurgency roots.

Here are seven counterinsurgency features of policing and the inequities in the criminal justice system.

1. Counterinsurgency Tactics Are Everywhere

In the Canadian province of Ontario, when the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) changed its public transportation fare collection method from tokens to the Presto card, users had a strange experience. Sure, the fare booth was predictably replaced by an inhuman and unforgiving terminal that malfunctions all the time (despite the steep price the province had paid for it). But instead of having less human interaction, TTC passengers found they had more -- with fare inspectors who corral passengers into small spaces at stations to test everyone’s cards. In counterinsurgency terms, this is called a cordon-and-search operation.

Another counterinsurgency concept, that of "hearts and... minds," can be seen in a public information campaign to shame fare evasion through posters blanketing subway walls and the sides of buses. Riders were infuriated -- not just by the campaign itself but also by abuses and racial discrimination by the fare inspectors. Unsurprisingly, spoofs of the TTC’s messaging followed, as they did in New York City in resistance to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) fare evasion messaging.

There is nothing special about Toronto, New York City, or other transit systems that increasingly use these warlike techniques to police customers; what’s happening with the TTC and MTA is a relatively mild example of what happens when counterinsurgency methods are the first resort for any urban problem that arises.

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