Deadly Exchange — A Bipartisan Blind Spot in Police Brutality

‘To Protect and Serve’ is the official motto of the Police Academy of Los Angeles, and has since then been adopted by police precincts across the country. Police officers are enforcers of the law, but for some people in this country police officers act more like occupiers, engaging in acts of violence against unarmed civilians, and killing more than 1,100 people in 2017 alone. Justice Department investigations into the police departments of Chicago, Cleveland, and Ferguson reveal systemic abuses involving the use of excessive and deadly force, and problems of systemic bias, with particular issues of racial bias highlighting the Ferguson report. But the systemic abuses exhibited by police officers in this country is not limited to the aforementioned cities, as instances of police brutality are captured on film all over the country. Despite the fact that police training on the use of force doesn’t seem to be as rigorous as it is in the military, police in this country are identified as becoming more militarized each year, receiving excess military equipment from the Pentagon’s 1033 program. Throughout this period of increased public debate on police brutality there has been one element of this subject that hangs in the blind spot of the public, and that is the “Deadly Exchange” program, in which US police are trained by members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

I call this a blind spot because there is almost no discussion about it in the mainstream press, despite the fact that the cities that were investigated by the Justice Department all had police officers who underwent IDF influenced training. This is a problem because if one knows anything about the IDF, they know that they operate under the guise of a military occupation, where the individuals they “police” are not considered citizens, but “terrorists” or enemies of the state. IDF forces act on what Human Rights Watch describes as a ‘shoot to kill’ policy, encouraging the use of deadly force against Palestinians even when those individuals no longer pose a threat. The most recent high profile case of this policy came when IDF soldier Elor Azaria shot in the head at point blank range a wounded Palestinian who was laying on the ground. Azaria was tried and sentenced on manslaughter charges, but will only serve 14 months in prison, with most of the country, including high level Israeli officials, saying he should have been spared any prison time.

In a country where victims of police brutality, who are disproportionately people of color, are seeing police more as occupying forces than law enforcement, this should be of concern. If US police are learning policing tactics from a foreign military force that is more accustomed to acting like an occupying military force, then the tactics that will be learned from this program will reflect as such in the communities that are policed. These tactics are most exhibited in the Chicago Police Department, one of the cities investigated by the Justice Department. Rahm Emmanuel, the mayor of Chicago, is the son of Israeli immigrants and even had a brief stint in the IDF. Chicago Police have traveled to Israel multiple times to receive training on intelligence led policing techniques as well as other Israeli policing techniques. When we look at some of the recent controversy surrounding the Chicago Police, we can now examine the cases with some much needed context and perspective.

Consider the case of the murder of Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. McDonald was a 17 year old who was shot and killed by Chicago police in a murder that would expose the Chicago Police and the Mayor’s office and show levels of corruption that have come to be expected by many. The details of the case are public, but here is what we know about the shooting. Officers were called to the scene to investigate McDonald, who seems to have been using a knife to break into vehicles. After a confrontation with officers, which mostly involved them walking him down, Van Dyke arrived at the scene and immediately pointed his gun at McDonald, and fired a shot that knocked him down as McDonald was walking away from Van Dyke. Van Dyke then proceeded to fire another 14–15 shots into McDonald as he was already lying on the ground, at one point taking time to re-load his pistol to fire more shots. Dashcam video and radio logs confirm the details, but this footage was almost never released due to an elaborate cover up that stretched from the CPD all the way to the mayor’s office.

We also need to consider the case of Homan Square, a secretive facility that the Chicago Police used to “disappear” suspects for off the books interrogations, many of which were hidden from the Chicago Police themselves. Over 6,000 of the known 7,000 plus detainees were black, and while Homan Square is far from a CIA black site, the secretive nature of such a facility reeks of militarized intelligence operations and not ethical policing. Let’s also not forget about the militarized police state Chicago put together to ensure the safety of the NATO imperialists at their 2012 summit. Protesters faced armed raids, detention without charges, and were faced with police officers that moreso resembled special operations forces than law enforcement officials.

The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO is perhaps one of the most high profile examples of modern police brutality. Michael Brown was an 18 year old who was shot and killed while unarmed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Brown was supposedly a suspect in an armed robbery, but that detail was unknown at the time by Wilson, who approached Brown for walking in the street. Brown was shot six times, with Wilson saying he kept firing because Brown was charging him, even using the word “demon” to describe what Brown’s face looked like, for sure a not so subtle racial epithet that is all too common when describing the physical appearance of young black men. Ferguson is within St. Louis county, and the St. Louis police and the Israeli Defense Forces have a relationship that should be examined. For instance, Timothy Fitch, who at the time was the chief of police for St. Louis county, who also led an investigation into the murder of Brown by Wilson, attended an ADL National Counter-Terrorism Seminar (NCTS) in Israel in 2011. Joseph J. Mokwa, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief, who was eventually forced to resign over a corruption scandal, went to Israel in 2008 on a Law Enforcement Exchange Program that was hosted by JINSA, or the Jewish Institute of National Security, a group of rabid Zionists and their American supporters. The Anti-Defamation League, which helps to facilitate many of these US Police-Israeli exchange programs, honored the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Dept. in a 2015 ceremony.

The connections between the tactics of American and Israeli police go far beyond the Rules of Engagement and shootings of unarmed civilians, but even to the tactics of racial profiling. Racial profiling was long a tactic of American police that stretches back centuries, but it is still pertinent to examine the influence that Israeli sponsored training has had on US police forces. In Israel, as many as 60% of people arrested by police are non Jews, so Israel definitely has their own history with racial profiling. This doesn’t extend to just Palestinian people in Israel, but also to Israel’s treatment of Ethiopian immigrants, with Israel’s most senior police officer saying in 2016 that suspicion of Ethiopians as criminals was a natural thing. Israeli practices of racial profiling have indeed influenced American police, and no other city provides a better example of this than New York City.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, many American police departments started to look to Israel as an authority on counter-terrorism. Israel has an extensive defense exports industry, which includes their exporting of defense techniques. In 2016, the value of these exports reached $6.5 billion, which is a lot for a country that still receives billions of dollars from the US to shore up its regional military advantage. One city that started to take full advantage of this was New York City, which was the unfortunate victim of two of the planes on 9/11 that made the World Trade Center buildings collapse. The NYPD has a history of blurring the lines between policing and militarized operations, and has been sending officers to Israel since 2002 to receive training. One of the more blatant examples of that blurring of the lines was the hiring of Lawrence Sanchez, a former CIA officer who came in to help the NYPD construct its “demographics unit”. Considering it is illegal for the CIA to run operations on US soil, the hiring of Sanchez was already controversial. The other controversial aspect of this program is that Sanchez drew inspiration from how Israeli authorities operate when designing this program. Other NYPD officials connected to Israel include Ray Kelly, the longest serving NYPD commissioner, who was honored by the ADL in 2014. Thomas Galati, the chief of the NYPD’s intelligence department, traveled to Israel in 2010 for training and was honored by the ADL in 2011. Galati famously admitted to federal investigators that the NYPD spying operation on Muslims led to no arrests, numbers that reflect those of the failed stop and frisk program, which often failed to produce any arrests because nearly everyone stopped had nothing on them. The current NYPD commissioner, James O’Neill, went to Israel with a JINSA delegation in 2010, so to this day the upper echelons of the NYPD still cavort with their Zionist counterparts.

This is not to say that no one is paying attention or fighting against this. On the contrary, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, an international movement to end Israeli apartheid through boycotting Israeli products and encouraging divestment in their country has an entire campaign dedicated to ending “Deadly Exchange”. The organization Jewish Voice for Peace also has a campaign against deadly exchange and their website is an excellent tool for educating people on it. Some cities have even been fighting back, one being Seattle, which has seen protests against the program fostering a relationship between the Seattle police department and the IDF. We may remember that Seattle is the city where Charleena Lyles, a 30 year old black woman and mother of four who was also several months pregnant, was shot 7 times and killed in an exchange that left many wondering why she couldn’t be subdued with lesser force. The Seattle Police Dept has been scrutinized by the Justice Department for the excessive use of deadly force but not many people talk about their connections with Israel. There is also outcry in Los Angeles, where elements of the LAPD maintain relationships with Israel, even shopping for Israeli produced drones.

What can we learn from this? A lot, but that isn’t to say that the “Deadly Exchange” program is responsible for police brutality in America. Police brutality has been in America for centuries, and is very much the by-product of America’s white supremacist founding. Also, America’s police were undergoing a process of militarization long before any meaningful relationships started to develop between US police and Israeli Defense Forces. With that being said, the influence of IDF training on America’s police going forward cannot be ignored, especially considering that the current administration in the White House is not only pro-police, but extremely pro-Israel. Officers in Israel have even picked up some tactics that US police have made famous, such as “stop and frisk” and “broken windows” policing. In the end, this is another example of how there needs to be solidarity in the face of oppression, and the movement against US imperialism and white supremacy needs to be internationally focused. Right now, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have any real meaningful plan for police reform, and while the Dems included such measures on their 2016 platform, there was no mention of curbing “Deadly Exchange”.

This is indeed a blind spot for this hot button issue, and we need to consider a way to defeat this relationship before it spawns into something bigger and more evil than we can imagine.