NYPD Announces ‘Strategic Response Group’ to Suppress Protests
This past Thursday (1/29) the New York Police Foundation held their annual ‘State of the NYPD’ breakfast event, in which NY Police Commissioner William Bratton gave his update on law enforcement issues across the city. Of particular note was his mention of plans to create a new “Strategic Response Group” or SRG, to deal with what Bratton called “events like our recent protests, or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris.” For obvious reasons, associating public protests (against police brutality and for racial justice) with Al-Qaeda terror incidents in places like Mumbai or Paris is deeply troubling. As should be obvious, but apparently is not for the NYPD, the difference between legitimate public protests and terrorist attacks is as stark as the difference between night and day. It would make more sense to call this what it is, the NYPD Protest Suppression Strike Force.
According to Bratton, the focus of this new SRG is apparently civilian monitoring and intimidation, or as he described it, “protecting locations” and “dealing with demonstrations” that have so far required the NYPD to pull regular patrol units from around the city. With this new group the NYPD will have a fully dedicated police suppression force that is basically a full military combat suppression unit. Bratton told the group in attendance that SRG “vehicles will be specially equipped with long guns and all the various heavy tactical gear, riot gear, and the officers will have the dedicated mission of protecting locations, being able to assist us in dealing with demonstrations.” These new units are supposed to beta test in four precincts, two in Manhattan and two in Queens.
The comments were quickly corrected the following day by Chief of Department James O’neill. “They will not be involved in handling protests and demonstrations. They’ll have no role in protests. Their response is single-fold. They’ll be doing counter-terror work. They’ll be assigned to different posts throughout the city.” Of course, this is nonsense, and a poor PR attempt to cover the NYPD ass as it once again sets itself on fire. When the NY Police Commissioner says they are for protest suppression and counter-terrorism, we should believe him. That is exactly what he intends to use them for.
While it’s no surprise that the New York is always high on the list of potential target sites for attacks in the US, what is less clear is exactly what the need for this new unit is. As commentators have noted, having such a unit would do nothing to thwart attacks like those in Boston Marathon or the recent attacks on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices in Paris. In fact, a large standing force is basically useless against terror attacks, since they are never armed groups holding fixed or mobile positions that would require a large threat response group to be called in. What is more clear, however, is how such a group would be useful to suppress large-scale and relatively fixed location protests. For this kind of scenario, the SRG makes perfect sense–after all, what could be more effective to suppress a public protest than a dedicated tactical assault force with full automatic weapon loadout specially trained precisely to police and suppress public demonstrations.
It’s also worth noting that, at the same time this is happening here in NYC, a slightly different but equally worrying set of events are unfolding in our neighbor to the north, Canada, in relation to their own anti-terror laws. In case people have not been following C-51, The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2015, but this just happened in Canada. According to CBC reporting on the bill, some of the key changes included in the bill are:
- Lowering threshold for arrest
- Criminalize promoting terrorism
- Allow CISI (Canadian CIA) to ‘counter-message’ or ‘disrupt’ activities
- Remove terrorist material from the internet
- Allow for court proceedings to be sealed
- Expand the no-fly list
Of these various proposed new powers the third, message counter and disruption activities, seems the most likely to be abused. As activists learned in the late 1960 and mid 1970, the US CIA and FBI had no problem creating counter-propaganda and conducting information warfare against legal activists. It’s not hard to imagine Canada using the pretext of terrorism to do the same against radical Canadian activists critical of the government. However, we will have to wait and see what other analysis of this new bill reveal.
Either way, all of these are part of a larger trend we should all be closely watching, of the further and deeper militarization of the public in the name of law and order and public safety. And as we saw from Boston to Ferguson to Los Angeles and elsewhere last year, that increasingly means heavily armed law enforcement–often with secondhand military equipment paid for my taxpayers through the Department of Homeland Security–being used to police and suppress public unrest. It may not be 1984, but the overall trends are quite clearly moving in that direction.
Until next time…remember, state security has always been the enemy of individual freedom.