How U.S. Police Brutality Undermines The Media War Against ISIS

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Police officer Michael Slager shot unarmed Walter Scott in the back--such brutal acts become propaganda material for groups like ISIS

America is in two wars against ISIS. One war involves guns, bombs, and drones. The other is an information war. It is a war to persuade those regular people on the other side to reject pressure to fight against America. This war to win the hearts-and-minds of those on the other side relies on showing which side is better. America is losing that war due, in part, to police-involved civilian shootings.

The key to winning insurgent-type wars goes beyond military fighting. It requires engaging indigenous people, says David Kilcullen, a counter-insurgency expert. Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen recognized the need to get the Afghans to ‘help us help them’ fight the Taliban in his book “Dragon Fire.”

America’s miserable showing in the war for hearts-and-minds can be blamed on ISIS’s superior use of social media, says William McCants, a former State Department senior adviser. ISIS controls parts of Iraq and Syria and uses Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook to spread its messages. But, ignored in this propaganda war, is what America is practicing at home while touting democracy abroad.

American police officers gunned down dozens of civilians, with near impunity. So far, in 2015, police killed nearly 400 civilians, according to the The Washington Post. Most of those civilians were unarmed and people of color.

The world watches America’s police shootings on television, follows Americans on social media, and reads about America in their local newspapers.

The world sees the same prosecutors with stellar records in civilian-involved shooting cases fail to get indictments in police-involved shooting cases. Indictments are not trials. Indictments simply lead to a trial. Each time the light of American democracy grows dimmer.

Abroad, the American military fights ISIS with drones and air strikes. America will increase arms and training of Iraqi security forces and Sunni tribes, according to Carol E. Lee of the The Wall Street Journal.

The Obama administration will “continue to build up the capacity of local fighters on the ground in Iraq and in Syria to take the fight against ISIL in their own country,” says White House Press Secretary Josh Ernest, in a May press briefing.

Back in Syria and Iraq, men, women, and children must be persuaded to not only fight against ISIS, but to fight for democracy. That fight for democracy, for their hearts-and-minds, involves more than providing guns and military training. That fight involves convincing them and potential terrorists that democratic rule is best, no matter what their religion.

That means America must explain how any democracy in which 400 civilians have been killed by police in six months is worthy of their hearts-and-minds. Instead, America’s police shootings may operate as a recruitment tool for ISIS making it a national security risk abroad and domestically.

Domestic terrorist threats are increasing. FBI Director James Comey says he has local police looking at hundreds of possible domestic suspects. While NYPD Commissioner William Bratton says he wants to add 450 officers to its counterterrorism unit to deal with increased domestic ISIS sympathizers.

Winning the war for hearts-and-minds is an old strategy. Back in the Cold War, America was losing the propaganda war for hearts-and-minds due to racial segregation. When the world was divided between democracy and socialism, the Soviet Union used America’s racism to expose democracy’s hypocrisy.

Back then, the world saw the lynched body of 14 year-old Emmett Till, nine Black students attacked for desegregating Little Rock, Arkansas’ Central High School, and Blacks beaten for voting rights. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a five-star General and leader of occupied Germany, knew world opinion mattered in war.

President Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 which created the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. He appointed a progressive, Gov. Earl Warren, as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court after the death of segregationist Fred Vinson and sent military protection for the Central High Nine.

President Eisenhower’s actions may have been pure propaganda. But, the war for hearts-and-minds is a propaganda war. Show the world that democracy is better. Diminish the enemy militarily while promoting the virtues of democracy, freedom and equality.

The world has watched the deaths of Tamir Rice, 12-years-old, gunned down by police; Eric Garner, strangled by police; Walter Scott shot in the back in South Carolina; John Crawford shot down in a Walmart store; Freddie Gray dragged away to his death by spinal fracture. There are hundreds more since January.

Although our enemy burns people alive, rapes girls, and beheads prisoners, it is not enough to show America is not as cruel. To win this war for hearts-and-minds, America must show it is not a hypocrite.


Gloria J Browne-Marshall, an associate professor of Constitutional Law at John Jay College (CUNY), is the legal correspondent for ANNIC (African-American News & Information Consortium) and author of “Race, Law, and American Society: 1607 to Present” (Routledge). #WorldWatchingUS @gbrownemarshall



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