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Raleigh police 1033 program

The Devil is a Lie

Words: Matt Leatherman
Pictures: Tumblr

It took coming home to really understand why I had been in DC.

I spent my time and spilled my ink from a perch in Dupont Circle, deconstructing American military force in the language of its native tongue: money. I spoke it fluently and effectively, I think, but it’s not my own language. My language is people.

The reason why any of it matters, from nation-building as policy to the cost of an F-35C relative to a recapitalized F-18, is because of people: the voices represented by these decisions and the bodies subjected to them.

The past month has laid bare — again — the human toll of the force that we wield around the world. The armor and arsenal that Americans have faced in our streets is the same force levied on Black and brown bodies worldwide, just more visible because of video backdropped by our own landmarks.

Let’s remember: scenes of paramilitary crackdown from Minneapolis and Atlanta and New York and my own home, Raleigh, have unfolded nightly in communities across Afghanistan for nineteen years. Same for Iraq for a decade. And so forth.

When that kit was exhausted on Afghani, Iraqi, or so many other bodies worldwide, some was brought home, consigned to local law enforcement agencies, and deployed against the Black and brown bodies of our own people. Inkstick readers will know it by its shorthand, the Section 1033 program. With a few modern exceptions, like Kosovo, when people outside of the wealthy world think of us, this violence is what they see because it’s what gets broadcast globally and experienced across the map of our “building partner capacity” efforts.

The reason why any of it matters, from nation-building as policy to the cost of an F-35C relative to a recapitalized F-18, is because of people: the voices represented by these decisions and the bodies subjected to them.

The only difference for me is that here, I know the resistance. Andréa Hudson – Muffin –who was gassed and pinned to the ground earlier this month by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, but still managed to bail out a protest leader in the hours just before sunrise. Salisbury Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins, who organized the community to peacefully remove a Confederate monument from the center of this small town in the middle of a bright-red county. Reverend Doctor T. Anthony Spearman, chair of the state NAACP, who is fighting voter suppression in a year of pandemic while also serving as a bulwark of the community as it takes to the streets.

Each of them would be familiar with a refrain common in Black church: “The devil is a lie.”

The lie we tell that this is about safety and security and stability. Or about human rights. Or about industry and ingenuity.

The devil is a lie. Comfortable, sure. One that we ourselves believe, sort of. Still, the devil is a lie — and that devil is White supremacy.

Whether in Afghanistan or Atlanta, these are the tools merely of force and, in an American context, that force is White supremacy. Our willingness to turn it on Black and brown bodies at home serves to make it obvious.

Dwight D. Eisenhower — himself a highly problematic character in communities of color — nevertheless created a historical moment when he equated the military-industrial complex with “humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”

Today it is the same as it ever was. Foreign or American, defy the White man’s structures of power, and you will face the force of these iron tools equally.

Ending the Section 1033 authority is an urgent and deserving priority. Yet it falls within the category of “stop doing the wrong thing.”

Eisenhower laid out the contrast in the preceding paragraph of that speech:

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

These opportunity costs are not equitable, of course. Black and brown children disproportionately are our public-school students where I live, and I bet you too. Black and brown women die during childbirth at more than twice the rate as White moms where I live, and I bet you too. Black and brown families get evicted to pave way for gentrification where I live, and I bet you too.

I feel numbed and inured about the force used in my streets. It’s exactly what I’d expect. It’s routine, and it’s ordinary. We paid for it, staged it, and here it is. I struggle to see how it matters that more people are attentive now if they remain only bystanders, shouting at the authorities in languages foreign to them, whether that’s the keyboard heroes of social media or the whiz kids of policy wonkery.

Security forces, Pentagon or police, have to be addressed in their native tongue.

It’s your money. Put it to power for the people.

Matt Leatherman is a fiscal and financial expert whose career ranges from co-authoring “A Leaner and Meaner Defense” in the Winter 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs to running as a Democratic candidate for NC Treasurer earlier this year.

Matt Leatherman

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