Black students stand in solidarity with Palestinian students in front of Atlanta City Hall as both groups see the similarity in the oppression and brutality they experience from police in Israel and Atlanta.
Students and community organizers understand the connections between the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) program that sends Georgia law enforcement officers to Israel and other foreign countries that violate human rights and police killings of Black and Brown people in their communities.
GILEE is a privately controlled police exchange program founded in 1992 by Robert Friedmann, a professor of Criminal Justice at Georgia State University.
Friedmann is often described – by communities that bear the brunt of police brutality – as an Islamophobe bigot, an anti-Palestinian activist, and a racist with ties to the Israeli Embassy in the United States.
“GILEE was founded by an anti-Muslim bigot, teaches anti-Muslim bigotry, and works with anti-Muslim bigots. This biased and bigoted program arranges for Georgia law enforcement officers to learn about border policing, urban policing and mass surveillance from governments that regularly brutalize innocent people,” Edward Ahmed Mitchell, Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) Georgia Executive Director, said at an Atlanta Out of GILEE town hall meeting in 2019.
Israeli was the first foreign country to train Atlanta law enforcement officers but the program has expanded to include other countries that violate human rights such as China, Egypt, Hungary, Colombia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.
In these countries, police learn community policing, urban policing that includes racial profiling, Islamophobia, mass surveillance, suppression of protest and dissent and encourages right-wing extremism, and police bring that training back to Atlanta to use mainly on Black and Brown communities.
A few examples of human rights violations in these countries include: China imprisons Muslims, Egypt police torture dissidents, Hungry threatens Jewish activists, and Israel police holds millions of Palestinian under an illegal occupation, and opens fire on protesters.
Although this project started in Georgia it has been exported all across the United States to other police departments.
“The same tactics Israeli police are using to commit genocide against Palestinians are the same violent tactics being used to murder, suppress and inflict trauma against Black and immigrant communities in the City of Atlanta. Atlanta police officers are getting a crash course in these tactics when they travel to Israel through the GILEE program housed at Georgia State University,” a member of Palestinian Youth Movement, Atlanta Chapter, said.
I’m not using names of individual speakers because some have asked to be anonymous and also activists in the past have received threats and blowback from people who want to censor Palestinians’ reality and experience.
The organizations involved in calling for Atlanta to end its relationship with GILEE are: Demilitarize Atlanta to Palestine Coalition, Palestinian Youth Movement Atlanta Chapter, Southerners On New Ground, Project South, Black Alliance for Peace, and A World Without Police.
In Georgia, we have witnessed police violence, and police killings of Black people, mostly unarmed and innocent, like Rayshard Books, Ahmaud Arbery, Yassin Muhamed, Oscar Cain, Jr, Alixia Christian, Jimmy Atchison, Anthony Hill, Shali Tilson, Deandre Phillips, Jamarion Robinson (shot over 70 times), Jabril Robinson, Devin Davis, Nicholas Thomas, and Kathryn Johnson, and so many more – the list goes on and on and on.
“Methods such as shot to kill, knee to the neck, used to kill George Floyd, Rashard Brooks, and countless other Black folks in the United States. We know our oppressors are linked and our resistance against the state and police violence is transnational,” a member of the Palestinian Youth Movement, said.
“When are y’all going to stop killing us?” Black activists have asked for years but the killings never stop, and politicians don’t listen, and nothing changes, while GILEE continues to train police in foreign lands that are racist and violate human rights.
The reason police are rarely held accountable for their actions is because “qualified immunity” protects them. It is time to end qualified immunity that allows police to get away with murder.
“We demand justice for Rayshard Brooks, and we know we have not found justice in the courts. There has been no trial, and none set for the murder, Garrett Rolfe, who was reinstated in the police force in May of this year.
We demand justice for Palestinians living under military occupation and daily assaults and we know we have not found justice in any administration.
We demand an end to the GILEE program and a full demilitarization of all police as one step in a long organizational battle for abolition of all forms of state violence and social control,” a Project South organizer said.
It is no secret that Black and Brown Americans are killed by police at a much higher rate than white Americans. Here is a link to the Washington Post database of police shootings.
Mondoweiss reports that GILEE deserves considerable attention in conversations surrounding police accountability because it is a tool to further militarize local law enforcement by teaching them Israeli policing methods that have long been deployed upon an occupied people, the Palestinian people who are viewed as enemies by Israel.
A fact sheet with citations put out by Project South documents the many reasons that Georgia needs to end their relationship with the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE). Some of these reasons have been mentioned above.
Under the guise of teaching urban policing and counter-terrorism GILEE teaches police officers the tactics of militarized police forces that treat communities as enemies. GILEE has taught that officers should inspire fear….. and limit free speech by targeting incitement, according to the Project South fact sheet.
In 2019, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms received a letter from 38 organizations, 23 faith leaders, and 5 scholars asking her to get Atlanta out of the GILEE programs because they have a history of enabling police brutality and right-wing extremism. Here is a link to that 11-page letter which is a must-read.
“More than 26 million dollars has been given to the GILEE program in the past 8 years instead of to our communities for housing, livable wages, healthcare, and education. We demand that GSU release the records of officers involved and information regarding the GILEE budget and financial backers,” a member of the Palestinian Youth Movement said.
For years students, activists, and community leaders have tried to gain information about GILEE by open record requests to find out who funds GILEE, the names of officers who participate in GILEE, and what the training involves. Politicians and lawyers put up a wall of secrecy around GILEE’s records.
For example, former State Attorney General Sam Olens said the information was sensitive and could aid terrorists and be a security threat.
Even the Georgia General Assembly got in on the cover-up by passing HR 261 to protect GILEE records from dangerous exposure from sabotage or terrorist attacks.
But in 2016, Anna Simonton wrote an article for Mondoweiss “Inside GILLE, the US-Israel law enforcement training program seeking to redefine terrorism” that reveals some of GILEE donors and corporation-state partnerships.
The students and community organizers not only want to abolish GILEE, but they also demand an end to the militarization of police forces, no more exchange of surveillance technology, and no more exchange of oppressive and brutal tactics against people in our communities.
“We understand the importance of connecting the struggle against GILEE to a broader struggle against militarization, and an end to the police occupation of Black and Brown communities worldwide. One of our big campaigns is against the 1033 program which allows federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies to acquire military weapons from the pentagon. Police departments claiming to need help fighting the war on drugs create further control, colonizing, incarcerating, and terrorizing working-class people. We need to recognize that GILEE and 1033 and all these programs of militarization and imperialism need to be denounced, fought against, and abolished,” an organizer with Black Alliance for Peace said.
“If our oppressors are in solidarity with each other, why can’t we be in solidarity with each other against our oppressors,” a Palestinian student said.
Palestinians are not alone in their struggle for liberation. All over the world people who care about justice, peace and human rights are with you. Friends of the Congo send solidarity to Palestine. Black, Brown, and White people of conscience stand in solidarity with Palestine.
Slowly but surely, the censorship block is cracking and the word is getting out that GILEE is a program, created by a racist that trains police in foreign countries that violate human rights that hurts Black and Brown communities in the United States. Time to end GILEE.
Written & photo by Gloria Tatum