JHTL’s mission, as written in our constitution, is to promote the education, research, and publication of ideas and issues regarding technology. Given the inextricable linkage between technology and social justice, it is beyond time that we use our status as an honor board to provide a platform for discussion surrounding the continuous inequalities that remain persistent in our communities. This Black Lives Matter blog series seeks to highlight the deliberate disparate treatment of Black people and to provide a space for discourse surrounding technology and social justice issues
By: Brian Rizza, Blog Editor
Department of Defense officials, military personnel, and members of the Armed Services Committee in Congress have called for federal agents to discontinue the use of military-style uniforms during attempts to respond to protests in Portland and across the nation against police brutality sparked by the murder of George Floyd.
Mark Esper, the Secretary of Defense, expressed concern that people might be unable to differentiate between soldiers and police. “We want a system where people can tell the difference,” he said.
“They need to stop this charade and stop pretending they’re the military. They need to put their ICE uniforms and CBP uniforms back on,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq.
George Floyd was murdered on May 25th, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota by officer Derrek Chauvin. While investigating Mr. Floyd for allegedly using a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill, Chauvin used an illegal chokehold on George Floyd, while the unarmed black man begged for his life for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, all on video, and while other armed officers looked on and did nothing to stop him. Mr. Floyd died while in police custody.
His death has sparked nationwide protests. While many protests across the country were peaceful and continue to be peaceful, protests on June 1st in Washington DC were met with teargas fired by unidentifiable Federal agents in military-style uniforms, apparently on order from President Donald Trump.
In Portland, Oregon, protests have continued for 90 consecutive days and were met by similar camouflaged federal agents without badges or identification. These agents drove white paneled vans and took protestors off the streets, covering their heads with burlap sacks. Critics compared these actions to the “secret police” of fascist regimes.
These agents are not military. They are mainly comprised of Immigration agents and Border Patrol agents and are authorized by outdated regulations that allow Department of Homeland Security officers to act 100 miles from any border or any port. Portland is 93 miles from the ocean. And though these officers are not military, they wear the very same camouflage pattern worn by the United States Military.
Military uniforms as a form of technology have a longstanding history. Originally, they were used to differentiate one group of combatants from another to prevent fratricide. As gunpowder weapons became more prevalent, bright colors like the British “Redcoat” were advantageous to distinguish and see through the gun smoke. Today, modern military uniforms are highly scientific and designed technologies to aid in camouflaging soldiers.
But woodland-patterned uniforms designed for stealth in the climate of Afghanistan would seem at first glance counterproductive to the mission of keeping the peace. These agents want to be seen and to scare protestors, to intimidate and “control” the situation. And by wearing army uniforms, the full weight and might of the most powerful armed force in the world rests, quite literally, squarely on their shoulders, even though they have none of the responsibilities that go with wearing it. Indeed, several witnesses and news outlets mistakenly thought these officers were National Guard troops, who had earlier been called to service to respond to civil unrest.
The danger, as Secretary of Defense Esper understood, is this conflation of the Army and the police. The public trust and confidence that the United States Army has carefully husbanded over its more than 300 years of service can be dashed in an instant. The National Guardsman called to protect the very first students entering desegregated schools as a result Brown v. Board of Education was forgotten amidst those who opened fire on Kent State protestors.
United States soldiers continue to protect and serve, to uphold the constitution. Each soldier swears an oath to protect the constitution from enemies foreign and domestic. And while police continue to disavow their “protect and serve” slogan, the U.S. Military continues to do just that.
Student Bio: Bryan Rizza is a third-year law student at Suffolk University Law School and a blog editor for the Journal of High Technology Law. He is also a U.S. Army National Guard field artillery officer and a graduate of the University of Massachusetts with a degree in Political Science a minor Computer Science.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.