The Founding Fathers considered the “right of the people peaceably to assemble” such an important right that they included it in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution’s all-important Bill of Rights. In this nation’s history, peaceable assembly has been a necessary and crucial tool for groups and individuals to bring public attention to support an agenda or inform some kind of injustice. After a Ferguson police officer murdered an unarmed African American teenager for jaywalking in Ferguson Missouri with apparent impunity, the local community peaceably assembled to bring the nation’s attention to yet another injustice of law enforcement killing another unarmed African American.
The response from Ferguson and St. Louis county police to residents peaceable assembly was itself an injustice, and it appears there is a reason that reveals how local law enforcement officials regarded African Americans gathering in their own neighborhoods. The overwhelming show and use of military force that created the unrest in Ferguson has caught the attention of the entire world, including people in nations that have themselves been the victims of tactics more apropos in a combat zone than a small community neighborhood. One group that immediately identified with Ferguson protestors being confronted with militarized police is the Palestinian people. In fact, Palestinians were so moved by the plight of Ferguson residents they took to social media to offer advice to protestors on how best to deal with “painful effects of tear gas” and how to get around “various tactical oppression” used by military police. They also expressed empathy and solidarity with African Americans for the unwarranted oppression they faced for assembling peaceably.
It turns out that a little over three years ago the St. Louis County Police Chief was part of a delegation of law enforcement officials who traveled to Israel to study counter-terrorism tactics. Counter-terrorism incorporates practices, tactics, techniques, and strategies that governments and militaries adopt to attack terrorist threats and acts, both real and imputed. It is likely that local law enforcement officials in and around Ferguson consider the peaceful African American protestors terrorists to have brought out military hardware and “counter-terrorism” tactics, because the response was completely out of line for demonstrators and peaceful protests. However, the response was nearly identical to Israel’s reaction to peaceful Palestinian demonstrators.
Apparently many of the same counter-terrorism techniques Israeli’s use on Palestinians protesting peacefully are precisely the same techniques peaceful protestors suffered at the hands of law enforcement on the streets of Ferguson. The St. Louis police chief learned how Israel’s police, intelligence, and security forces prevent terror attacks when he was briefed by members of Israel National Police and the Israel Defense Forces, and implemented the strategies to deal with peaceful African Americans calling attention to the injustice of another unarmed African American gunned down by law enforcement. It is no wonder Palestinians in Gaza recognized the tactics used against peaceful African American protestors in Ferguson.
The Palestinian’s empathy with Ferguson protestors is likely because this year 16 Palestinians, most of whom were unarmed, were killed by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank. Like the police treatment of protestors and media in Ferguson, Palestinians do not have the freedom to demonstrate, or protest, even in their own villages. One infamous example is a small village, Nabi Saleh, that regularly protests nearby encroaching settlements appropriating the villager’s freshwater spring only to have their peaceful demonstrations suppressed by tear gas, rubber bullets and “skunk trucks.” It is why Palestinians see themselves in Ferguson protestors and commiserate with their plight.
Palestinians were not the only people to see the injustice meted out on peaceful demonstrators. In an ironic slap in America’s holier-than-thou humanitarian hypocritical face, a spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said the government is “closely following the escalation of protests and demonstrations in the city of Ferguson and reactions thereto.” The spokesman said “the United States should deal with protests according to the American and international standards,” but they obviously do not comprehend that in America there is a different set of standards for unarmed African American protestors than for heavily-armed white conservatives where law enforcement does show maximum restraint and respect. The Egyptian spokesman also noted that U. N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon agreed with Egypt and said “the international community’s position towards these events calls for restraint and respect for the right of assembly and peaceful expression of opinion.” China, Russia, and Iran also called on America to exercise restraint against peaceful protestors that were treated more as terrorists according to the counter-terrorism tactics employed by law enforcement in Ferguson.
Interestingly, the Egyptian and U.N. language urging restraint and respect for peaceable assembly is a reiteration of at least three separate calls from America for Egypt’s military to show restraint against protestors. It makes sense that oppressive regimes in China, Iran, and Egypt recognized the lack of restraint and respect for peaceful protests and called for America to toe the line they preach, but it is not a surprise that Israel never called for restraint against a minority group peaceably protesting a long line of injustices towards a minority people.
One cannot help but wonder how long law enforcement in and around St. Louis has waited to employ the counter-terrorism tactics the St. Louis county police chief learned during his tutelage in Israel. The rapid deployment of militarized police at the first sign of peaceful demonstrations inclines one to believe law enforcement was anxious to put in practice what the chief learned in Israel, and the immediate recognition of the tactics by Palestinians implies that there is little, if any, difference between the law enforcement response to Ferguson demonstrators and the Israeli reaction to Palestinian demonstrators.
Whether law enforcement in Ferguson knows it or not, unlike Palestinians, American citizens, all American citizens, have the constitutional right to assemble peaceably without interference and attacks from militarized law enforcement. Peaceful protestors are not terrorists and do not warrant counter-terrorism tactics used against them because they are minorities. It is necessary to repeat that when angry, heavily-armed white men gathered to confront federal agents executing a federal court order, law enforcement did not treat them like the domestic terrorists they are. It is a sad commentary indeed that in a nation with a constitutional guarantee of the right to peaceably assemble, American citizens received the same treatment as Palestinians Israel has labeled terrorists. Likely because St Louis county law enforcement learned Israeli counter-terrorism tactics they could hardly wait to use on African Americans they regard and treated as terrorists.
Image: The Crisis Magazine