by Gloria Tatum
Once upon a time long, long ago, in the city too busy to hate, police officers did not look like militarized soldiers going into war to fight a foreign enemy.
But those days are gone, since Dr. Robert Fiedmann, professor of Criminology at Georgia State University (GSU), founded the controversial Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) program in 1992 to train police officers in foreign countries.
Now with GILEE, we have militarized police officers in riot gear, trained in foreign countries to control civilian populations and to see them as the enemy.
Recently, a coalition of civil and human rights organizations, consisting of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Jewish Voice for Peace/Atlanta (JVP), Project South and Black Lives Matter (BLM) held a town hall forum on GILEE at the Atlanta University Center.
This coalition sent a letter to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms asking her to suspend Atlanta’s participation in GILEE and to meet with the community to learn about GILEE’s history of enabling police brutality, anti-Muslim bigotry, racism, and rightwing political extremism.
Fifty-seven civil and human rights groups, plus many more faith leaders, and scholars signed the letter to Mayor Bottoms.
The letter states that GILEE partners with foreign governments that use their law enforcement agencies to restrict civil liberties, commit human right violations, and promote bigotry, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and Islamophobia.
The GILEE program arranged for police training with Israel’s apartheid government, and it quickly expanded to include other repressive governments that violate human rights including China, Colombia, Egypt, Hungary, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.
“The police in some of those countries open fire on protesters, torture dissidents locked in concentration camps, and police officers come back with internalized Islamophobia – and this is who is training our police,” Edward Ahmed Mitchell, Executive Director, Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), said at the town hall meeting.
By allowing Atlanta police officers to train with foreign governments that violate human rights, we run the risk of those officers learning dangerous policing methods and bringing those methods back home and applying them to the residents of Atlanta, the letter to Mayor Bottoms warns.
Fifty years after Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it controls these areas through repression, institutionalized discrimination, and systematic abuses of Palestinian’s human rights, Human Right Watch reports.
Anna Simonton wrote an investigative report about GILEE for Mondoweiss a few years ago and exposed GILLE’s rabid brand of Zionism and secrecy surrounding their private funding.
In 2008, during the Christmas holidays, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead that devastated Gaza with over 1,400 dead including 313 children and more than 5,500 wounded. Most of the casualties were civilians. Israel had 13 soldiers killed.
In that operation, Israeli bombs destroyed schools, hospitals, mosques, homes, and destroyed Gaza’s infrastructure including electricity, water, sewer, and roads leaving Gaza in shambles. Israel also fired white phosphorus shells on civilians, causing deadly burns down to the bone, Human Rights Watch called this a war crime.
After Operation Cast Lead, Atlanta mobilized over one thousand people in support of Palestine’s human rights and marched against Israel bombing a defenseless civilian population.
In 2009, the Movement to End Israeli Apartheid in Georgia (MEIAG) was formed by Muslim, Palestinian, Black and other activists. MEIAG and GSU students requested information on GILEE through open records to determine how the program impacts policing in the U.S.
Their request was denied.
Attorney General, Sam Olens, introduced revisions to Georgia’s Open Records Act to include new exemptions that covered some of the information students had requested.
Olens not only censored the information about GILEE, but he also told the press that the students were aiding terrorists.
The GILEE website advocated for the Iraq War, the bombing of Iran, smears Arab-Americans, and repeatedly slanders President Jimmy Carter and says he is a supporter of genocide.
A research report, “Deadly Exchange,” by the American-Israeli Alliance in partnership with Jewish Voice for Peace, argues that these police exchange programs train with an occupying force that rules a population deprived of human and civil rights.
Rather than promoting security for American citizens, these programs facilitate an exchange of methods in state violence and control that endangers us all, especially people of color.
Dawn O’Neal, a Black Lives Matter organizer, was sick and could not attend the town hall, but she gave Streets of Atlanta her report over the phone.
“Since GILEE started in 1992, we have very harshly felt the effects of unjust racial profiling, stop and frisk laws, mass incarceration, and violent police killings. The police have become an occupying militarized force in Black communities, where they do not protect and serve but are the incarcerators [of Black lives],” O’Neal told the Streets of Atlanta.
“The U.S. imprisons more people than any country in the world, and a disproportionate number of those in prison are Black. Incarceration has tripled since the inception of GILEE,” O’Neal said.
Encounters between Black communities and police in Ferguson, and other cities across the country, have led Palestinians and Black Lives Matter activists to draw parallels between police brutally in the U.S. and in Palestine.
The video “When I See Them, We see Us” explains the connections between state-sanctioned violence and structural racism in Palestine and the United States. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFVijtMN4dU
Palestinians on social media gave instruction to African Americans in Ferguson on how to treat the inhalation of tear gas. They made connections between the systems of violence and criminalization that makes Black and Palestinian bodies so easily expendable.
“If the GiLEE training is not stopped, we will continue to see cases like Kathryn Johnson, a 92-year-old grandmother gunned down in her home by a police SWAT team …who then planted drugs in her home,” O’Neal said.
O’Neal talked about other victims of militarized police, like Jamarion Robinson, shot 76 times by U.S. marshalls, Baby Bou Bou, crippled and disfigured by a flashbang thrown in his crib by militarized police, and Anthony Hill, an Iraq veteran with mental health problems, shot naked and unarmed by a police officer.
This is only the tip of the iceberg of civilians killed across the country by militarized police trained in war zones by foreign countries.
A 2015 study by the US Department of Justice concluded that close to 1,000 people were killed by police on average each year. The victims are disproportionately minorities, Indigenous,
Native American, Black, Latino, the mentally ill, and homeless people.
“We must now detach ourselves from these police exchanges which only exacerbate already problematic and deadly policing in the U.S.,” Ilise Cohen, Founder and Co-Leader, Jewish Voice for Peace Atlanta Chapter, said.
“This fight continues. Just as activists advocated for the closing of the detention center in the heart of Atlanta and found success, we must now advocate for the closing of Atlanta’s relationship with GILEE,” Cohen said.