AlterNet All-Access

The truth about Officer Sicknick's death in the Capitol riot

United States Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died of a rare kind of blood clot, more often seen in men 20 years his senior, hours after being sprayed directly in the face with a chemical product designed to stop a 1,200-pound brown bear in its tracks. Even so, a medical examiner announced Tuesday that he died of natural causes.

Washington, DC's chief medical examiner, Francisco J. Diaz, stressed that "all that transpired played a role in his condition," referring to the January 6 insurrection, during which Sicknick, 42, engaged in hand-to-hand combat with armed insurgents. The Capitol Police Department considers Sicknick to have died in the line of duty.

Right-wing pundits said the lugenpresse framed the mob. Fox contributors Charlie Hurt and Glenn Greenwald accused the media of lying about the cause of Sicknick's death. Initial reports that Sicknick had been beaten to death with a fire extinguisher were based on vague statements by the Capitol Police and video of an officer being attacked with a fire extinguisher. Those reports were later revised when it became clear it was a different officer in the video. Later, video of the bear-spray attack on Sicknick was widely reported.1 The medical examiner's ruling of death by natural causes probably precludes murder charges against Julian Khater and George Tanios, who allegedly attacked Sicknick. But they're still facing serious criminal charges for the assault.

Sicknick suffered devastating strokes caused by a blood clot in his basilar artery, a vessel that supplies blood to the brainstem. His death is considered natural because he died from a medical crisis rather than from trauma or an allergic reaction to the bear spray. But the ruling does not mean Sicknick's death was a random mishap.

These rare blood clots are seldom seen in people Sicknick's age. They account for 1 percent of strokes and they are more likely to strike men in their mid-60s. The autopsy report has not been made public, and it's unclear whether Sicknick had any risk factors, such as hypertension, hardening of the arteries or a blood clotting disorder.

The factors that precipitate these blood clots have not been widely studied, but there are case reports of basilar clots forming in younger people following relatively minor trauma, like chiropractic neck manipulation and even head-banging during religious rituals. That's the sort of thing that wouldn't necessarily show up on an autopsy. As I said, the last day of Sicknick's life saw hand-to-hand combat with angry insurgents. So it's possible he suffered some kind of less-than-obvious trauma precipitating a clot.

Extreme stress has also been known to precipitate blood clots in susceptible people. The body's fight-or-flight response enhances blood clotting, which is thought to be an adaptation that reduces the chances of bleeding to death from wounds. Stress also raises heart rate and blood pressure, which primes the body for peak performance, but places extra stress on the cardiovascular system. Interestingly, two insurgents also died of cardiovascular events during the insurrection. Three cardiovascular deaths in a group of a couple thousand relatively healthy people is way more than you'd expect by chance. Fact is, this insurgency killed people, including some who died of so-called natural causes. About 140 cops were injured defending the Capitol. Their injuries included stab wounds, crushed spinal disks, head trauma and a mild heart attack. That's not even counting two responding officers who died by suicide afterward.

Could the bear spray have caused the clots? There's not a lot of research on the effects of bear spray on humans, probably because it's explicitly not designed to be used on people. Bear spray uses the same active ingredient as the pepper spray used by police departments, but in a more concentrated form and at a much higher dose. When inhaled, the spray causes acute inflammation of the lungs that, combined with the stress of agonizing pain, could predispose a susceptible person to throw clots.

A medical examiner looks for hard evidence that can point authorities to a specific person who caused Sicknick's death. The standard for a criminal conviction is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Science and commonsense tell us Sicknick's strokes were almost certainly caused by the insurgency. But it wouldn't be fair to charge suspects who allegedly sprayed Sicknick with his murder, given that we don't know for a fact that the bear spray they pumped into his face had anything to do with his death.

The January 6 insurrection was a premeditated assault on our democracy and everyone who supported the putsch ultimately shoulders responsibility for Sicknick's death.

Why cops get away with killing

For most Americans, the murder trial of Derek Chauvin would seem to be an open-and-shut case. There's a video of the Minneapolis police officer kneeling down on George Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes until Floyd suffocated to death. All viewers were witness to the crime. At the same time, most of us believe justice is blind. Put these together—the evidence and the principle—and surely the jury, which is now deliberating, will deliver a guilty verdict in keeping with what most Americans expect.

Except the odds are in Chauvin's favor. Police are almost never convicted of serious crimes. That's despite the ubiquity of cellphone and body cameras. Juries, meanwhile, almost never second-guess the split-second decisions of cops on duty. According to the Times, about 1.1 percent of police officers who kill civilians are charged with murder or manslaughter. Over a 15-year period, only 140 state and local police officers were arrested after shooting incidents. Only 44 were convicted on lesser charges.

That may be because shootings are legally justified, Philip Stinson, a professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green University, told the Times. Or it may be because "the legal system and laws themselves are overly deferential to the police. That deference, he added, protects the status quo in the more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the country." Stinson said: "Culture eats policy, as the saying goes. We have a police subculture whose core elements in many places include fear of Black people."

Most of us believe the reason we have police officers in the first place is providing public safety and peacekeeping. That's certainly what most of us want from state and local cops. Given this expectation, most are shocked when they murder people. Most are doubly shocked when they get away with it. But what if we're wrong? What if our presumptions are off? What if cops are doing what they think they're supposed to do?

That's certainly what the data suggests. Police officers deal out death so frequently you'd justified in thinking that's what normal, acceptable policing looks like. Since 2013, around than 1,100 people have died annually at the hands of law enforcement, according to Mapping Police Violence, a nonprofit. (These numbers include unarmed victims, like George Floyd.) Since the end of last month, at the start of Derek Chauvin's murder trial, police officers have killed more than three people every day over a span of 20 days. The data might not show policing as anomaly so much as policing as intended.

I don't mean to be cheeky. I do mean, however, to shake up most people's thinking—by which I mean most white people's thinking. Black people and people of color are on the receiving end of state coercion far more than white people are. They might be deeply disappointed if Chauvin's jury finds him not guilty. They might be despondent. They won't be surprised, though. It's white people who will be stunned. It's white people who will be outraged! It's white people who will struggle to accept the truth, and it's white people—many of us anyway—who won't. We will instead think of Chauvin's getting away with murder as the exception to the rule instead of the rule itself.

I think Philip Stinson, the criminal justice expert, is mistaken. It's not that subcultures in police departments fear Black people. It's that subcultures have come to understand for themselves, quite rationally, that their true mission, however unpopular it may be, is doling out legal and extralegal state violence to people who are deserving of state violence in the name of public safety and peacekeeping. These subcultures understand that even when white people complain about police brutality, white people benefit from it. They know what they have to do. They only need a reason for doing it. And because, in their view, Black people act criminally by existing, there's reason aplenty.

Attributing irrational fear to what is, I think, rational thinking actually deepens the problem. It makes changing the status quo more difficult. For many white people, perhaps most white people, being scared of Black people, due to the fact that Black people exist, is understandable. Therefore, second-guessing a cop seems unreasonable. Such compassion therefore contributes to the idea that most cops are good, while only some are bad, a mindset that blinds white people to what the data is telling us. Good or bad has nothing to do with it. Cops deal out so much death, because it's their job.

Immigrants aren't the real threat in the United States — ICE and the Border Patrol are

President Joe Biden has been lauded for his empathetic comforter-in-chief responses to the ravages of the coronavirus, economic pain and gun violence. But anyone worried about the fate of non-citizens in the US, or at the border, has observed not empathy but a toxic mix of indifference and willful commitment to pointlessly punitive policies.

From a failure to rescind the former president's Title 42, causing almost all recent asylum-seekers to be expelled from the US, to his equivocation on the 2021 refugee cap, it's almost impossible to find good news about immigration policy in 2021.

Biden isn't exceptional. For Democrats, "border security" is a familiar posture, whether or not immigration reform is on the table. Bill Clinton presided over the creation of a legal architecture leading to mass immigrant incarceration. Barack Obama pushed the limits of the deportation infrastructure that was built in the interim, deporting more people from this country than any president to this day.

But the very phrase "border security" is misleading, training our minds on ominous-sounding but imaginary threats from outside the US and distracting us from the very real threat posed by an enormous militarized force charged with policing immigration.

In fact, much of the devastation causing people to flee triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) is the direct result of the deportation of gangs formed in the US (notably, MS-13 and Barrio 18) as well as American interference with those three countries dating back to the early 20th century. Today, we're told we need border security forces to prevent trafficking, among other crimes. Too often, though, it is the border police themselves engaging in trafficking and related criminal activity.

Two agencies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), are responsible for policing immigration. They decide who gets arrested, who gets hearings, who is deported, and who will be jailed indefinitely. They are huge, awash in cash, poorly supervise and incentivized to be maximally cruel.

CBP alone constitutes the largest federal law enforcement agency in the US. Together, the two agencies consume nearly $20 billion a year, a non-trivial portion of which goes to shadowy private companies like Geo Group and Core Civic for incarceration and, increasingly, for so-called e-carceration that can transform any home or neighborhood into a penal outpost, often with very little protection for anyone's data privacy.

Even when they don't outsource their work, we underestimate the dangers posed by ICE and CBP. ICE is reported to generate thousands of sexual and physical abuse complaints each year. CBP agents are more famous for indifference to law. They are five times more likely to be arrested than other law enforcement agents. They have been found illegally cooperating with citizen militias that dress in police costumes and "patrol" areas where they think they'll encounter people they can harass and abuse.

CBP's lawless culture is likely in part an outcome of the fact that the US Congress and the US Supreme Court have affirmed a distinct interpretation of the 4th Amendment that gives CBP leeway, in many instances, to stop, search and question people without warrants or the kinds of suspicion required of all other law enforcement agents. Last year, CBP drones were seen flying over protesters in Minneapolis. ICE has also targeted and harassed journalists and lawyers who specialize in immigration issues.

Deportation and detention may sound like problems for only non-citizens and mixed-status households, but as long as deportation forces have existed, those same forces have arrested and sometimes expelled US citizens. In the case of ICE, the number of citizens targeted for deportation is quite high. The Cato Institute estimates that over the course of 11 years, it is likely that more than 20,000 citizens were issued ICE "detainers" (i.e., requests from ICE or DHS to local law enforcement to keep people incarcerated who would otherwise be released so that ICE agents can pursue them).

There are many reasons that we find ourselves living with two sprawling immigration police forces that each year encroach further on the basic civil rights and safety of everyone in the US. But one important reason is that their very existence implies threats from outsiders that do not exist. For all the money, weapons and power that CBP and ICE have claimed, they have not reduced crime rates, ended the illegal narcotics trade, prevented the flow and use of deadly weapons, or in any other way made people safer. To the contrary, all too often is the immigration police who are committing crimes, trafficking illegal substances and compromising our security.

How the right wing invented a fictional 'migration crisis' — and tricked us into believing it

Most people seem to have accepted the truth about the so-called war on drugs. By that, I mean it was never about drugs. Its true target was non-white people, especially Black people. Its goal was social control. Slavery gave way to Jim Crow, which gave way to the mass incarceration of "undesirables." Illegal drugs were merely a pretext. These days, states are legalizing drugs. Some are even releasing people convicted of drug crimes. In all, we seem to be experiencing a new age of drug enlightenment.

I hope it does not take most people as long with "border security." Like the "war on drugs," it's not about security. It's about social control. It's about having a legal reason to put non-white people in jail, kicking them out or just acting barbarously toward them. Drugs did not threaten the national interest until the government said they did. Same with the southern border. People used to pass freely, wherever the seasonal work took them. It did not threaten the national interest until the government said it did.

If it isn't already, please permit me to make it clear. When the Republicans talk about "illegal immigrants," they're not talking about illegal action. They're giving voice to their real objectives. They want to punish immigrants for who they are. They can't outlaw them outright, of course. The Congress, the law, the courts and popular opinion would prevent that from happening. But they can expand the scope of political conflict so that legal behavior seems illegal, thus forcing the government to respond. The result is billions spent every year on securing a border that will never be secure. The result is billions wasted annually on punching down on the poor, the weak and the brown.

For instance, "unlawful entry." That's the offense of crossing the border without proper authorization. It's a misdemeanor. (I'm serious.) So is overstaying your work or student visa. These are crimes, to be sure, but hardly serious crimes. They don't rise to the level of a felony. They are not deserving of being ripped from one's family or community—presuming the point of the law is justice. It isn't for the Republicans. The point is dominance. So for a decade and more, they have expanded the meaning of a minor criminal offense so that it looks like a dangerous way-of-life threatening crime.

The same thing is being done to "refugees." Fact: Anyone traveling to the southern border to request political asylum is a temporary legal immigrant. Full stop. That's the law. Indeed, the statute requires US Customs and Border Protection to open a process by which the agency tries reconnecting refugees with family in the US. But what began with the Trump administration is being continued by the GOP. Anyone traveling to the southern border is being called "illegal," even if they're children. Another fact: Every one of those 22,000 migrant children in government custody is here legally.

The same thing is happening with respect to the "open border." Fact: There is no such thing. It is a complete fiction. The border is tightly regulated. The Democrats in the Congress are not trying to open it. The Biden administration wants nothing to do with the idea. What it does, however, is follow laws entitling asylum-seekers to a legal process. But because the Republicans have defined refugees as "illegal," that gives the impression the administration, which is following the law, is opening the border.

If 22,000 children are refugees, if they're entitled to ask for asylum and if the government is required by law to try connecting eligible refugees to family if possible, why is everyone talking about a "migration crisis"? Great question! There is currently no such thing as a migration crisis. Yet our national discourse is dominated by this fiction.

Partly, it's because the press corps is laundering right-wing talking points in order to get a reaction out of a Democratic administration. Partly, it's out of genuine concern about "social cohesion."1 But mostly, it's because the Republicans have expanded the scope of conflict by way of nonstop lying. It has made legal action seem illegal. Which brings us back to "border security." It's not about security. It's now about forcing a Democratic administration into acting in ways preferred by the Republican Party.

It nearly worked. The White House said last week it would cap the number of refugees allowed into the country at the same level established by the previous administration, at 15,000. This is almost certainly the result of the Republicans making it seem like the Biden administration was opening the border even as it was merely following the law. Fortunately, there was an enormous reaction from not just liberals but moderates like Dianne Feinstein. By Friday, the White House reversed course and did so in a hurry.

This seems to be the first step in a process that might bring "border security" to a similar level of awareness that the war on drugs has achieved. That first step is refusing to give liars the benefit of the doubt. Drugs were never a threat to the national interest. Immigrants will never be either. What is a national threat, however, is the harmful Republican pursuit of "border security" that just makes everyone less free.

Why Republicans are suddenly panicked by the market they used to love

Did Mitch McConnell cancel the market? Answer: No. He was never a real fan.

For the past few decades, the GOP's interests aligned harmoniously with those of corporations. Businesses amassed wealth while staying out of social issues. The GOP, in turn, rewarded businesses with tax cuts. The status quo was fine.

This state of affairs allowed the Republican Party to reward itself with the mantle of the "pro-market" party. However, as society has become more socially liberal, businesses are adapting to their customers' evolving preferences. A longstanding symbiosis has been upset and the Republicans have begun panicking.

The Senate minority leader issued an ominous warning to corporations who stood in opposition to voter suppression laws in Georgia, stating, "My advice to the corporate CEOs of America is to stay out of politics," adding these corporations would "invite serious consequences if they became a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country."

Many noted that McConnell's stance was blatantly hypocritical. How can a conservative party that has argued that corporations deserve the rights of speech now be telling these same entities to shut up? And, certainly, one wouldn't expect the party of markets to be troubled by corporations responding to customer preferences. So what happened to the Good Old GOP, champions of markets and freedom?

The answer is simple. The Republicans never defended markets on principle. It was always an alliance of opportunity. The rhetoric of markets was a useful instrument—an anti-government cudgel—wrapped in the language of freedom. The GOP's claim, since Reagan, was that the markets promote freedom and the government does not. Thus: lower taxes and shrink the government. Start with eroding protections for civil rights.

The branding was effective. The GOP is widely perceived as the pro-market and pro-liberty party by conservatives and liberals alike. But, if you start to poke beyond this veneer, a different picture emerges. Its love of markets, it seems, is as sincere as its periodic despair over the deficit, which reliably animates opposition to Democratic policies, but recedes as soon as the resident of the White House is a Republican.

To understand the GOP's relationship with the market, we need only to consider its entire platform since Reagan. Republicans have consistently advanced policies that facilitate what economists call market failure. Such failures occur when conditions, such as monopolies, information asymmetries, and externalities, prevent the market mechanism from operating properly. By this measure, the GOP does not fare well.

Consider, first, how the GOP's deregulatory policies proliferate negative externalities. The predictable result? Depletion of resources, increased pollution, and poisoned communities. In these cases, the Republican Party seems conveniently unconcerned about personal responsibility. They're happy to have businesses impose costs on the rest of us, and eager to ensure that responsible parties escape accountability.

The second issue stems from the GOP's cavalier attitude toward monopolies. While some Republicans opine about anti-trust when it suits their interests, the party as a whole continues to encourage monopolies. For example, few Republicans have expressed any qualms about Sinclair—a rightwing group—buying up local media stations, thus creating an information monopoly. While the GOP may wax poetic about the marvel of markets, their favored policies hamper their proper function.

That the GOP's commitment to markets is disingenuous—tenuous and unprincipled—is elsewhere apparent. For example, markets could better improve people's welfare if wealth and income wasn't so concentrated. Yet the GOP's fiscal policies reliably produce income inequality, as if by design. This correlates with lower market participation. Rather than using markets to improve lives, the GOP prioritizes the returns of a tiny minority. Or, to take another example, consider the GOP's resistance to increasing the labor force, such as investing in childcare. They favor policies that keep individuals in perpetual debt, unable to engage in a variety of markets, such as housing. They also oppose legislation that alleviates job lock, such as the ACA.

We should not believe this party ever cared about markets. They loved the rhetoric of markets. It was useful. It allowed them to adopt a faux neutrality in their opposition to civil rights. Their hostility towards government could be dressed up as principled support for freedom. Yet they have stood by while markets crumbled, content to encourage the accumulation of wealth, as others drowned in bankruptcy and poverty.

Despite all of this, the GOP is regarded as pro-market. Their rhetoric worked. Why? Because American consumers were largely content with the social status quo. There was little reason for corporations to take a stand on social issues. Thus the happy symbiosis between Big Business and the party of corporate tax cuts was preserved.

But now the times are changing. The GOP hasn't undergone a reformation, nor have CEOs developed a collective sense of social conscience. The real shift is occurring within American society. The market reflects this. It has become relatively unpopular to be a bigot. Majorities of Americans now support same-sex marriage and pluralities support the Black Lives Matter movement. Of course, let's not overstate the point. The country still has a problem with bigotry (we elected Trump, after all) and much of the anti-bigot movement might be performative or aesthetic. But, overall, people who identify as non-bigots are in the majority, especially among the younger generations.

Big businesses recognize this shift and its implications. They see how the path to profit has changed. They don't necessarily oppose the Georgia voter suppression laws because of deeply held moral principles. They just see the writing on the wall. Customers prefer companies that oppose bigotry and stand up for civil rights. Businesses, to survive, are doing what the GOP has always said they should: listening to the market. But the message of the market has changed. The GOP can't accept it.

As corporations have come out against Georgia's voter-suppression laws, Republican voters have launched their own boycotts. If the pro-market party truly cared about the freedom of the market, they would say, as they always have, "let the market decide." But now, given they're unhappy with the market's decision, they can't say that. The market is becoming less useful. The marriage of convenience is over.

So what is the GOP left with? Not much. Since they won't adapt to changing preferences—of consumers or voters—they'll resort to something else. There is already some indication of what's to come. They might deploy more of the empty populist rhetoric that served the previous administration. Or they might try to find some middle ground. They might argue, as The Wall Street Journal did in an editorial last week, that "markets" are still sacred; but the heads of business are nefarious. Perhaps they'll ultimately settle on a strategy. But at the moment, the party is panicked.

The GOP's future is uncertain. What's clear, however, is that the party will continue to do whatever it takes to pursue their actual goals: bigotry, wealth and power.

America does not have to wait for the next insurgency. We're living in one

Daniel Block is a brilliant young editor at the Washington Monthly. In the latest print edition of the magazine, which I encourage you to read and support,1 he explores the possibility of prolonged, acute civil violence in the wake of an authoritarian president's downfall and his failed attempt to overthrow the results of a free and fair election.

Research suggests that a growing number of Americans believe that political violence is acceptable. In a 2017 survey by the political scientists Lilliana Mason and Nathan Kalmoe, 18 percent of Democrats and 12 percent of Republicans said that violence would be at least a little justified if the opposing party won the presidency. In February 2021, those numbers increased to 20 percent and 28 percent, respectively. Other researchers have found an even bigger appetite for extreme activity. In a January poll conducted by the American Enterprise Institute, researchers asked respondents whether "the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it." Thirty-six percent of Americans, and an astounding 56 percent of Republicans, said yes.

"Could the United States experience prolonged, acute civil violence?" Block asks.

I spend a lot of time here at the Editorial Board thinking about ways of seeing familiar sociopolitical issues differently so that we, the free people of this republic, might discover new ways of solving the old problems we all live with. I would like to suggest something that may seem odd at first, but once you think about it, it makes sense. Indeed, once you think about it, it will, I hope, seem so obvious that you might wonder why we hadn't thought of it before. After reading Block's piece, it occurred to me that we're not so much going to experience "prolonged, acute civil violence" after the January 6 insuregency. We are already experiencing it and have been for years.

The American Civil War began formally when Confederate forces shelled Union troops at Fort Sumter off the coast of South Carolina. But there was plenty of informal violence beforehand. Block tells the story of Jacob Branson, a Kansas abolitionist, who got into an argument over land rights with Franklin Coleman, a slavery advocate. One day, a friend of Branson's accosted Coleman. Coleman took out his gun and shot him.

It was the start of what's now called "Bleeding Kansas," which has become shorthand for the period of bloody unrest that prefaced formal war. "A group of abolitionists led by John Brown killed five proslavery settlers in Franklin County," Daniel Block wrote. "Hundreds of slavery supporters retaliated by attacking an antislavery settlement in the town of Osawatomie, murdering several locals and burning most of the settlement to the ground. Abolitionists then drove proslavery forces out of Linn County. Slavery proponents next pulled 11 antislavery settlers from their homes and shot them down."2

Maybe we're seeing our own "Bleeding Kansas." Maybe we're seeing our own period of bloody unrest that prefaces formal war. The challenge wouldn't be asking whether a period of "prolonged, acute civil violence" is coming. It would be recognizing that it's already here. I woke up this morning to news of yet another shooting massacre, this one in Indianapolis.3 Turns out it was the third mass shooting in the city in the last month. Nationally, it came after massacres in Atlanta, Boulder, Colorado, and Orange County, California. CNN ran a graphic this morning showing mass shootings that have taken place over 30 days. There were so many they nearly burst the frame.4 Thousands of Americans have died in massacres. The political violence is here.

We are seeing so many massacres, because there are so many guns in circulation. And we are seeing so many guns in circulation, especially guns designed to kill quickly, because our government has militarized civil society by way of deregulation. Why has our government militarized civil society? Because, as I have said before, democracy stopped producing desirable outcomes. The GOP did not randomly start obstructing popular gun control measures. There was a reason. They started after the Sandy Hook Massacre, which was after the 2012 election, which showed the GOP that normal democracy could no longer be trusted to stop a Black man from being president.

That was when the Republican Party fully abandoned republican democracy. That was when norm-busting and constitutional hardball became requirements. That was when political violence started to become acceptable. Make no mistake: that's what these shooting massacres are. They seem chaotic. They seem arbitrary. Their motives are often unclear. But considered in the long stretch of history, it seems to me obvious that each of them, in their unique ways, was a reaction of some kind to the outcomes of republican democracy, outcomes that have given power and respect to people who had been considered unworthy of them—Black people, people of color, LGBTQ people and women. Democracy could not stop them. The only political options left were violent.

It was started out slowly, at first, but since that mind-shattering and heartbreaking moment, when 20 first-graders were shot to pieces after which the Republicans showed not a care in the world, political violence has grown in popularity. It has grown such that a huge majority of Republican voters believes the sacking and looting of the US Capitol was just peachy,5 because they believe Donald Trump was robbed. They don't need a reason, though. Stealing the election is beside the point. Political violence, even to the point of treason, has already been established as optional. We don't have to wait for the next insurgency. We're still living in the first one.

The brutal history that went into killing 13-year-old Adam Toledo

Adam Toledo, 13, is one of about 1,000 people every year who are killed by police officers. Video of the incident was released reluctantly Thursday by the Chicago Police Department. It shows a cop, who is white, shooting Toledo once in the chest after the Hispanic youngster obeyed his commands by dropping his gun and raising his hands. People are still arguing about whether Toledo's death was justified. (It wasn't.) There is no argument, however, about its place in the racist history of policing in America.

Of the 6,211 people killed by police since 2015, about 10 percent were unarmed. Over half were not attempting to flee. While white Americans account for nearly half, Black people, men as well as women, are killed at almost twice the rate of white people. Native Americans and Latino men also face a higher risk of being killed by police than white people. Alternatively, 295 officers were killed in the line of duty last year. The average death toll for police for the last six years was 190, making the public more in danger from police officers than police officers were in danger from the public.

While there has been increased interest in police brutality in the last decade, racist police violence and police brutality dates back to the inception of police forces in this country. The first modern organized force in the United States was the New York City Police Department in 1845 with New Orleans, Cincinnati, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Baltimore following soon after. Urban police forces were encouraged by nativist anti-immigrant concerns and capitalist desires to protect private property.

By 1860, the NYPD was deeply involved in partisan politics, corruption and ethnic resentments, even among Irish and German immigrants who had made inroads into the department. This corruption and politicization of policing and criminal punishment encouraged officers to mete out their own "curbside" justice in the form of beatings rather than arrests. Irish Protestants were more likely to support Republicans, leading to a violent police response to the Catholic Irish protests of Republican Irish parades in 1870-1871. Unfortunately, police brutality did not lessen after 1870 when the police department was once again controlled by Democrats.1

By 1865, the press started reporting on police brutality and complaints made by citizens. Between 1865 and 1894, the Times reported more than 270 cases. Three quarters of these involved an officer clubbing a suspect, usually unarmed, with a baton or nightstick. Wrongful shooting accounted for 7 percent of incidents. Almost 10 percent of victims died. While most police violence was committed against men, 20 percent was against women and 4 percent of reported incidents were sexual assault.2

Police brutality was racialized even at the beginning of police force history. While 68 percent of victims were English/Scottish or Irish, that ethnic group accounted for 91 percent of the police committing the violence, with Irish officers committing a full 50 percent of police brutality incidents, despite being only 22 percent of the police force. About 15 percent of incidents were committed against Jews, Black Americans and Italian immigrants, who had virtually no representation in the police department.3

Police violence became more racialized after the turn of the century. Predominantly Irish police officers joined violent white crowds in attacking Black people, Jews and other immigrants in the early 20th century. Riots in 1900 and 1903 led to police violence against Black Americans in New York's Tenderloin district and the city's old San Juan Hill neighborhood's, respectively. A virtual pogrom broke out during the Hoe Riot when Irish cops joined Irish workers on the Lower East Side in violence against a Jewish funeral march. This legal racist violence by police became a method of assimilation and whiteness for many Irish immigrants. Police forces continued to protect capitalist interests by committing violence as strikebreakers as well as serve nativist political concerns by enforcing increasingly racist immigration laws.

Before organized police departments in the North, some colonial governments appointed constables to protect the community from Native Americans. Some communities also created night watches or used the local militia to protect citizens from outside threats, not to police the behavior of citizens. Policing in the South developed to enforce the slave system and protect against slave rebellions rather than to provide public safety. The first slave patrol was formed in South Carolina in 1704, but soon spread throughout the colonies and lasted until the Civil War in Southern states. Slave patrols were meant to return runaway slaves, deter slave revolts and maintain some discipline among slaves who might violate plantation rules. Slave patrols supported a vigilante style of policing that continued after the Civil War. Vigilance committees formed in the West to police the frontier and were often sanctioned by governments. Slave patrols also contributed to Jim Crow and segregation policing that led to lynchings that went unchecked by governments.

Policing has violent racist origins in all parts of the United States. Rather than general public safety and law enforcement, police departments were created to enforce racial boundaries and the political concerns of white supremacy. Rather than tools of justice and peacekeeping, police forces have historically acted as state-sanctioned vigilantes or to support truly extralegal violence. Most of us think police were created to deal with rising crime and urbanization, but they always served the needs of the white elite to protect property with violence and enact their own racist animus. Government-sanctioned police brutality is embedded in our policing structures. You should know about this history. It's what powered the bullet that flew into Adam Toledo's chest.

Q is exposed. Will he face consequences?

A month before the sacking and looting of the United States Capitol on January 6, Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee asked the FBI for an updated assessment of the threat posed by QAnon. At a hearing on Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray assured the committee that the report would be available shortly.

A lot has happened since 2019, when the bureau flagged QAnon as a threat after a number of sensational QAnon-related crimes, including an armed assault on a pizzeria, a blockade of the bridge over the Hoover Dam and the murder of a mob boss. QAnon went on to back Donald Trump's Big Lie of a stolen election. Worse came to worst when insurgents in full Q regalia fought their way into the Capitol in a bid to throw out a free and fair election. Q hasn't been heard from since December 8, but the FBI has plenty of material to incorporate into its new QAnon threat assessment.

Another development in this sordid saga was the March release of Cullen Hoback's documentary Q: Into the Storm, which strongly suggests that the impresario of QAnon is Ron Watkins, the degenerate failson of the owner of the notorious 8kun message board. Which is … more or less what most knowledgeable observers thought all along.

The documentary lays out a strong circumstantial case that Watkins wrested control of QAnon by establishing his board, then known as 8chan, as Q's exclusive online home, booting the original Q, and assuming the old Q's digital identity. Hoback follows Watkins and his father Jim to the Capitol on January 6. The filmmaker shows how Watkins reinvented himself as a bogus "election security" expert and fomented voter fraud conspiracy theories on right-wing media. It was Watkins who seemed to bring down the curtain on Inauguration Day, urging the conspiracy's faithful to go back to their lives and focus on the "friends and happy memories" they'd made along the way.

What sets the documentary apart is that Hoback extracts the closest thing to a confession from Watkins that we're ever likely to get. Watkins tells Hoback that he's been anonymously posting on the QResearch message board for the last three years, teaching ordinary people to do intelligence work—which is exactly what Q did. Watkins hastily adds he never did so as Q. Hoback obviously doesn't believe him.

I leave it to the reader to decide if a "confession" from a professional liar is any more reliable than a denial from a professional liar. Either way, Q: Into the Storm has solidified the conventional wisdom that Ron Watkins is the main architect of Q.

The Watkins' main antagonist in the film, Frederick Brennan, is now calling for the arrest of Ron Watkins and Jim Watkins for their role in the QAnon conspiracy. United States Senator Martin Heinrich, Democrat of New Mexico, may have been inspired by the documentary when he asked Wray whether Watkins and his father could face charges for their role in promoting a conspiracy theory that inspired an insurrection against the United States and numerous acts of violence. To his credit, Wray said the FBI was focused on investigating violent plots, rather than policing speech online.

Even if it could be proven that Watkins is the ringleader of QAnon, he doesn't seem to have broken any laws. LARPing1 is not a crime, except perhaps against good taste.

The central theme of QAnon ideology is the glorification of political violence. The anons are awaiting "The Storm," a cleansing political purge in which the military will liquidate tens of thousands of Q's enemies and seize control of the government. As repellent and toxic as this belief is, it's legally protected speech. The First Amendment protects the right to wish that the military would overthrow the government someday.

A speaker only crosses the line if they're inciting imminent lawless action—i.e., telling people to violently overthrow the government right this minute. QAnon was crucial in popularizing the Big Lie that spurred the insurgency, but Q's writings are far too elliptical and non-directive to count as an concretely inciting. To put it more bluntly, they don't make enough sense. For the most part, Q spits out a bunch of riddles, acronyms and leading questions, and his fans read what they want into them.

A big part of running a site like 8kun is fielding requests from law enforcement to take down illegal content that users have posted, such as child porn and death threats, so Watkins probably has a solid grasp of the boundaries of free expression online.

The Watkins' nemesis, Frederick Brennan, argues that Ron Watkins and Jim Watkins should be arrested for impersonating federal agents. This legal argument seems far-fetched. Q certainly invited the inference that he was a national security big-shot, but Q was as vague about his fictional credentials as he was about everything else.

Moreover, the federal law against impersonating an officer of the United States is designed to be used against impostors who usurp the authority of the federal government to coerce their victims. Classic examples include the kidnapper who flashes a fake FBI badge to convince his victim she's under arrest, or the con artist who poses as an IRS auditor and demands a pensioner's Social Security number. Implying you're a government agent for internet clout probably doesn't cut it, even if said clout helps you raise money or sell ads. That's because the suckers are forking over that cash freely, and not because you ordered them to do so in the name of the state.

As satisfying as it would be to see Ron Watkins and Jim Watkins in handcuffs, it wouldn't solve the underlying problem, namely, that millions of Americans remain in the grip of right-wing conspiracy culture, including most of the GOP. Prosecuting the architects of this pathetic scheme would only validate their sense of persecution.

There's a profound moral problem that the pro-life movement ignores

Once upon a time, I was a straight news reporter freelancing for a new national religion publication. My assignment was to attend religious services in my area to see what faith leaders were saying on the Sunday before the 2012 presidential election.

I decided to go to a Roman Catholic Church here in New Haven that offers mass in English, Polish and Latin (obviously, not at the same time). The Latin Mass, if you've never experienced it, is truly moving what with the incense and cathedral setting and so on. I was enjoying myself all the way up to the homily. It was in English. I got my notepad. "Abortion is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our lifetimes," the priest said. The message was clear: don't vote for the (Black) candidate supporting infanticide.

I don't think abortion is murder, but I can see why others do. I can see why people see it as a "humanitarian crisis." I can even see why some think of the pro-life movement as a civil-rights movement. For these believers, life begins at conception, meaning a person becomes a person at what they believe is a sacred moment. Even if you don't think it's murder, you might credit the view with having a profound moral weight.

Yes, yes. I know. Anti-abortion politics is really about putting women back in their place in the natural order of things.1 It's about maintaining the local authority of white man, for the most part, and their dominance over women, especially the women in their lives. This, to me, is transparently true. Even so, abortion is what it is. It's not like the pro-life movement is based on nothing serious. There is a moral foundation, no?

What if it's not what you think it is? The energy driving 40 years of partisan politics, to strike down Roe, has been described as a moral crusade. The moral dimension has been strong enough to wedge apart liberals and social-gospel Catholics, wrote Christopher Jon Sprigman. "But for so many I knew, the struggle over abortion overwhelmed their other political commitments. For many, it was the Supreme Court's constitutionalization of abortion that turned disagreement into a great moral schism."

Again, what if it's not that? What if the question is not centered on the morality of ending a pregnancy but on something quite different? Most liberals don't even bother asking the question. They just deny the premise of the argument. They deny a fetus is a person. But what if a fetus is a person, as pro-lifers say? Then what? Well, then we have a titanic ethical dilemma no serious person in the pro-life movement talks about. And by refusing to talk about it, they give up the game. This isn't really about babies.

Think about it. The pro-life movement wants the government to outlaw access to abortion, the result being women carrying out pregnancies. Put this together with the belief that a fetus is a person. What are pro-lifers asking for? That the government force one person to permit another person to use her body. Though it's true this person requires another person's body for its survival, that doesn't change the fact that forcing one person to permit another person to use her body for its survival is a moral question as profound as the question of whether ending a pregnancy is good or bad.

Even if you think ending a pregnancy is bad, on account of your belief that a fetus is a person, you should be downright disturbed by the idea of the government forcing one person to allow another person to use her body for its survival. These are different moral problems, sure, but they are equally problematic. If the pro-life movement is not ignoring one in favor of the other, it's deciding one is OK while the other is not. And the consequential burden of either decision falls entirely on who? Pregnant women.

If abortion really were a "great moral schism," its opponents would be struggling to untangle the vexing moral knot of a government forcing one person to use another person's body. But I don't see serious abortion opponents doing that. What I do see is what everyone else sees—debate over whether the US Supreme Court will strike down Roe, or enfeeble it, out of the profound moral conviction that abortion is wrong.

But abortion is not a "moral debate." It's a one-sided moral debate. It's a debate over which one side won't look at the moral implications of winning the debate. Or it's a debate over which one side understands the moral implications and accepts them, because accepting them is in keeping with its view of the natural order of things. What's sacred isn't so much the life inside the mother as her presumed social role.

A GOP senator's dumb, reckless, and immoral words reflect a disturbing fact about the American mind

Kim Potter, a 26-year police veteran who killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop that began with an air freshener and overdue plates, resigned from the Brooklyn Center police department, and has been charged for that killing.

I don't know how to feel about that. Not that I'm upset to see her go or arrested. I'm not. It's just that even though it is heartening to know she won't be patrolling the streets any longer, I don't know if this gets us closer to justice or further away. It's hard to know what justice looks like these days. Or even what the word justice means.

Had we an actual criminal justice system, and if Potter's former boss was correct that she "accidentally" shot Wright, her "mistake" would be a powerful point of mitigation for how the public should view her. An accidental shooting doesn't make a killing any less tragic, but accidents—even horrific ones—do happen, particularly in stressful situations on stressful jobs. It's why we don't court martial every soldier who kills an innocent person during an exchange of gunfire in a war zone (though we should care more than we often do about those on the other end of American bullets and bombs).

It's why on some level I began making a distinction between Potter's actions and the actions of Derek Chauvin, the man currently on trial for the killing of George Floyd. If Potter's act was a mistake, Chauvin's was premeditated murder by a man who seem quite comfortable perched atop Floyd's neck as life escaped Floyd's body. Besides, before the killing of Wright, the Brooklyn Center police department was considered a model of reform. One mistake, no matter how tragic, shouldn't upend years of work.

But every time I try to get to maintain that level of nuance, I come across men like John Kennedy, a Republican US senator from Louisiana. During the Chauvin trial, and in the aftermath of the Wright killing and an egregious abuse of power by police during a traffic stop in Virginia, Kennedy decided to take his talents to Fox News to dispense this gem: "If you hate cops just because they're cops, and you don't know anything about them, then next time you get in trouble, just call a crackhead."

He said that as a chyron saying "Dems use strategy to push radical agenda" shared the TV screen with Kennedy's face. What he said was so dumb, so reckless, so amoral, it's hard to find just the right words to describe it. And yet, that man is a lawmaker who has been charged with helping lead the country through times such as these.

He isn't alone. I've encountered people online and in person who openly argue that Floyd was the cause of his own death; that the Black US soldier who was pepper-sprayed by a cop for no good reason was at fault for not more perfectly complying—even though he literally held his hands high and through the driver's side window to illustrate his compliance—that the criminal behavior of Black people is the cause of all this mess, not the police. Kennedy dipped his toe in that as well, telling Fox News that minority communities have higher crime rates. He tried to soften his words with a quick "because of poverty," but the message he was sending was clear.

Lawmakers are supposed to be knowledgeable about complex subjects, or at least know how to pretend to be. Kennedy can't be bothered to be either. Black people are targeted more by police even when you account for crime and poverty rates. Police shootings do not correlate well with the amount of crime in a given area. That's why Kennedy's message was as clear as that of Tucker Carlson, host of cable news's top-rated political show, who has been putting a bow tie on the white supremacist conspiracy "replacement theory" while claiming it has nothing to do with race.

And that's what's underlying just about all of this, how we view anti-Black racism and white supremacy or deny their existence. It's why many white people will continue defending the likes of Carlson, because he doesn't say explicitly that he doesn't hate Black people and is supposedly in favor of Dr. King's dream. It's why true policing reform is so hard to come by, because the subtext is that Black people deserve what we've been getting and that cops are good people. It's why it is hard to even contemplate what a just justice system should do with officers like Potter who make "mistakes" that cut lives short and send fear and anguish throughout an entire area.

As long as we don't grapple with the underlying racism that still connects dark skin and crime in too many American minds, there's little chance we'll be able to move forward together. But, frankly, I'm not sure I want to move forward together with people who refuse to acknowledge even that.

A voice of reason in an insane world: Why a legendary diplomat resigned from the United Nations

Denis Halliday is an exceptional figure in the world of diplomacy. In 1998, after a 34-year career with the United Nations—including as an Assistant Secretary-General and the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq—he resigned when the UN Security Council refused to lift sanctions against Iraq.

Halliday saw at first hand the devastating impact of this policy that had led to the deaths of over 500,000 children under the age of five and hundreds of thousands more older children and adults, and he called the sanctions a genocide against the people of Iraq.

Since 1998, Denis has been a powerful voice for peace and for human rights around the world. He sailed in the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza in 2010, when 10 of his companions on a Turkish ship were shot and killed in an attack by the Israeli armed forces.

I interviewed Denis Halliday from his home in Ireland.

Nicolas Davies: So, Denis, twenty years after you resigned from the UN over the sanctions on Iraq, the United States is now imposing similar "maximum pressure" sanctions against Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, denying their people access to food and medicines in the midst of a pandemic. What would you like to say to Americans about the real-world impact of these policies?

Denis Halliday: I'd like to begin with explaining that the sanctions imposed by the Security Council against Iraq, led very much by the United States and Britain, were unique in the sense that they were comprehensive. They were open-ended, meaning that they required a Security Council decision to end them, which of course never actually happened - and they followed immediately upon the Gulf War.

The Gulf War, led primarily by the United States but supported by Britain and some others, undertook the bombing of Iraq and targeted civilian infrastructure, which is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, and they took out all electric power networks in the country.

This completely undermined the water treatment and distribution system of Iraq, which depended upon electricity to drive it, and drove people to use contaminated water from the Tigris and the Euphrates. That was the beginning of the death-knell for young children, because mothers were not breast-feeding, they were feeding their children with child formula, but mixing it with foul water from the Tigris and the Euphrates.

That bombing of infrastructure, including communications systems and electric power, wiped out the production of food, horticulture, and all of the other basic necessities of life. They also closed down exports and imports, and they made sure that Iraq was unable to export its oil, which was the main source of its revenue at the time.

In addition to that, they introduced a new weapon called depleted uranium, which was used by the U.S. forces driving the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait. That was used again in southern Iraq in the Basra area, and led to a massive accumulation of nuclear debris which led to leukemia in children, and that took three, four or five years to become evident.

So when I got to Iraq in 1998, the hospitals in Baghdad, and also of course in Basra and other cities, were full of children suffering from leukemia. Meantime adults had gotten their own cancer, mainly not a blood cancer diagnosis. Those children, we reckon perhaps 200,000 children, died of leukemia. At the same time, Washington and London withheld some of the treatment components that leukemia requires, again, it seemed, in a genocidal manner, denying Iraqi children the right to remain alive.

And as you quoted 500,000, that was a statement made by Madeleine Albright, the then American Ambassador to the United Nations who, live on CBS, was asked the question about the loss of 500,000 children, and she said that the loss of 500,000 children was "worth it," in terms of bringing down Saddam Hussein, which did not happen until the military invasion of 2003.

So the point is that the Iraqi sanctions were uniquely punitive and cruel and prolonged and comprehensive. They remained in place no matter how people like myself or others, and not just me alone, but UNICEF and the agencies of the UN system - many states including France, China and Russia - complained bitterly about the consequences on human life and the lives of Iraqi children and adults.

My desire in resigning was to go public, which I did. Within one month, I was in Washington doing my first Congressional briefing on the consequences of these sanctions, driven by Washington and London.

So I think the United States and its populus, who vote these governments in, need to understand that the children and the people of Iraq are just like the children of the United States and England and their people. They have the same dreams, same ambitions of education and employment and housing and vacations and all the things that good people care about. We're all the same people and we cannot sit back and think somehow, "We don't know who they are, they're Afghans, they're Iranians, they're Iraqis. So what? They're dying. Well, we don't know, it's not our problem, this happens in war." I mean, all that sort of rationale as to why this is unimportant.

And I think that aspect of life in the sanctions world continues, whether it's Venezuela, whether it's Cuba, which has been ongoing now for 60 years. People are not aware or don't think in terms of the lives of other human beings identical to ourselves here in Europe or in the United States.

It's a frightening problem, and I don't know how it can be resolved. We now have sanctions on Iran and North Korea. So the difficulty is to bring alive that we kill people with sanctions. They're not a substitute for war - they are a form of warfare.

Nicolas Davies: Thank you, Denis. I think that brings us to another question, because whereas the sanctions on Iraq were approved by the UN Security Council, what we're looking at today in the world is, for the most part, the U.S. using the power of its financial system to impose unilateral sieges on these countries, even as the U.S. is also still waging war in at least half a dozen countries, mostly in the Greater Middle East. Medea Benjamin and I recently documented that the U.S. and its allies have dropped 326,000 bombs and missiles on other countries in all these wars, just since 2001 - that's not counting the First Gulf War.

You worked for the UN and UNDP for 34 years, and the UN was conceived of as a forum and an institution for peace and to confront violations of peace by any countries around the world. But how can the UN address the problem of a powerful, aggressive country like the United States that systematically violates international law and then abuses its veto and diplomatic power to avoid accountability?

Denis Halliday: Yes, when I talk to students, I try to explain that there are two United Nations: there's a United Nations of the Secretariat, led by the Secretary-General and staffed by people like myself and 20,000 or 30,000 more worldwide, through UNDP and the agencies. We operate in every country, and most of it is developmental or humanitarian. It's good work, it has real impact, whether it's feeding Palestinians or it's UNICEF work in Ethiopia. This continues.

Where the UN collapses is in the Security Council, in my view, and that is because, in Yalta in 1945, Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill, having noted the failure of the League of Nations, decided to set up a United Nations that would have a controlling entity, which they then called the Security Council. And to make sure that worked, in their interests I would say, they established this five-power veto group, and they added France and they added China. And that five is still in place.

That's 1945 and this is 2021, and they're still in power and they're still manipulating the United Nations. And as long as they stay there and they manipulate, I think the UN is doomed. The tragedy is that the five veto powers are the very member states that violate the Charter, violate human rights conventions, and will not allow the application of the ICC to their war crimes and other abuses.

On top of that, they are the countries that manufacture and sell weapons, and we know that weapons of war are possibly the most profitable product you can produce. So their vested interest is control, is the military capacity, is interference. It's a neocolonial endeavor, an empire in reality, to control the world as the way they want to see it. Until that is changed and those five member states agree to dilute their power and play an honest role, I think we're doomed. The UN has no capacity to stop the difficulties we're faced with around the world.

Nicolas Davies: That's a pretty damning prognosis. In this century, we're facing such incredible problems, between climate change and the threat of nuclear war still hanging over all of us, possibly more dangerous than ever before, because of the lack of treaties and the lack of cooperation between the nuclear powers, notably the U.S. and Russia. This is really an existential crisis for humanity.

Now there is also, of course, the UN General Assembly, and they did step up on nuclear weapons with the new Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which has now officially entered into force. And every year when it meets, the General Assembly regularly and almost unanimously condemns the U.S. sanctions regime against Cuba.

When I wrote my book about the war in Iraq, my final recommendations were that the senior American and British war criminals responsible for the war should be held criminally accountable, and that the U.S. and the U.K. should pay reparations to Iraq for the war. Could the General Assembly possibly be a venue to build support for Iraq to claim reparations from the U.S. and the U.K., or is there another venue where that would be more appropriate?

Denis Halliday: I think you're right on target. The tragedy is that the decisions of the Security Council are binding decisions. Every member state has got to apply and respect those decisions. So, if you violate a sanctions regime imposed by the Council as a member state, you're in trouble. The General Assembly resolutions are not binding.

You've just referred to a very important decision, which is the decision about nuclear weapons. We've had a lot of decisions on banning various types of weapons over the years. Here in Ireland we were involved in anti-personnel mines and other things of that sort, and it was by a large number of member states, but not the guilty parties, not the Americans, not the Russians, not the Chinese, not the British. The ones who control the veto power game are the ones who do not comply. Just like Clinton was one of the proposers, I think, of the ICC [International Criminal Court], but when it came to the end of the day, the United States doesn't accept it has a role vis-a-vis themselves and their war crimes The same is true of other large states that are the guilty parties in those cases.

So I would go back to your suggestion about the General Assembly. It could be enhanced, there's no reason why it couldn't be changed, but it requires tremendous courage on the part of member states. It also requires acceptance by the five veto powers that their day has come to an end, because, in reality, the UN carries very little cachet nowadays to send a UN mission into a country like Myanmar or Afghanistan.

I think we have no power left, we have no influence left, because they know who runs the organization, they know who makes the decisions. It's not the Secretary-General. It's not people like me. We are dictated to by the Security Council. I resigned, effectively, from the Security Council. They were my bosses during that particular period of my career.

I have a lecture I do on reforming the Security Council, making it a North-South representative body, which would find Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa in situ, and you'd get very different decisions, you'd get the sort of decisions we get in the General Assembly: much more balanced, much more aware of the world and its North and South and all those other variations. But of course, again, we can't reform the Council until the five veto powers agree to that. That is the huge problem.

Nicolas Davies: Yes, in fact, when that structure was announced in 1945 with the Security Council, the five Permanent Members and the veto, Albert Camus, who was the editor of the French Resistance newspaper Combat, wrote a front-page editorial saying this was the end of any idea of international democracy.

So, as with so many other issues, we live in these nominally democratic countries, but the people of a country like the United States are only really told what our leaders want us to know about how the world works. So reform of the Security Council is clearly needed, but it's a massive process of education and democratic reform in countries around the world to actually build enough of a popular movement to demand that kind of change. In the meantime, the problems we're facing are enormous.

Another thing that is very under-reported in the U.S. is that, out of desperation after twenty years of war in Afghanistan, Secretary Blinken has finally asked the UN to lead a peace process for a ceasefire between the U.S.-backed government and the Taliban and a political transition. That could move the conflict into the political realm and end the civil war that resulted from the U.S. invasion and occupation and endless bombing campaign.

So what do you think of that initiative? There is supposed to be a meeting in a couple of weeks in Istanbul, led by an experienced UN negotiator, Jean Arnault, who helped to bring peace to Guatemala at the end of its civil war, and then between Colombia and the FARC. The U.S. specifically asked China, Russia and Iran to be part of this process as well. Both sides in Afghanistan have agreed to come to Istanbul and at least see what they can agree on. So is that a constructive role that the UN can play? Does that offer a chance of peace for the people of Afghanistan?

Denis Halliday: If I were a member of the Taliban and I was asked to negotiate with a government that is only in power because it's supported by the United States, I would question whether it's an even keel. Are we equally powerful, can we talk to each other one-to-one? The answer, I think, is no.

The UN chap, whoever he is, poor man, is going to have the same difficulty. He is representing the United Nations, a Security Council dominated by the United States and others, as the Afghans are perfectly well aware. The Taliban have been fighting for a helluva long time, and making no progress because of the interference of the U.S. troops, which are still on the ground. I just don't think it's an even playing field.

So I'd be very surprised if that works. I absolutely hope it might. I would think, in my view, if you want a lasting relationship within a country, it's got to be negotiated within the country, without military or other interference or fear of further bombing or attacks or all the rest of it. I don't think we have any credibility, as a UN, under those circumstances. It'll be a very tough slog.

Nicolas Davies: Right. The irony is that the United States set aside the UN Charter when it attacked Yugoslavia in 1999 to carve out what is now the semi-recognized country of Kosovo, and then to attack Afghanistan and Iraq. The UN Charter, right at the beginning, at its heart, prohibits the threat or use of force by one country against another. But that is what the U.S. set aside.

Denis Halliday: And then, you have to remember, the U.S. is attacking a fellow member state of the United Nations, without hesitation, with no respect for the Charter. Perhaps people forget that Eleanor Roosevelt drove, and succeeded in establishing, the Declaration of Human Rights, an extraordinary achievement, which is still valid. It's a biblical instrument for many of us who work in the UN.

So the neglect of the Charter and the spirit of the Charter and the wording of the Charter, by the five veto members, perhaps in Afghanistan it was Russia, now it's the United States, the Afghanis have had foreign intervention up to their necks and beyond, and the British have been involved there since the 18th century almost. So they have my deepest sympathy, but I hope this thing can work, let's hope it can.

Nicolas Davies: I brought that up because the U.S., with its dominant military power after the end of the Cold War, made a very conscious choice that instead of living according to the UN Charter, it would live by the sword, by the law of the jungle: "might makes right."

It took those actions because it could, because no other military force was there to stand up against it. At the time of the First Gulf War, a Pentagon consultant told the New York Times that, with the end of the Cold War, the U.S. could finally conduct military operations in the Middle East without worrying about starting World War III. So they took the demise of the Soviet Union as a green light for these systematic, widespread actions that violate the UN Charter.

But now, what is happening in Afghanistan is that the Taliban once again control half the country. We're approaching the spring and the summer when the fighting traditionally gets worse, and so the U.S. is calling in the UN out of desperation because, frankly, without a ceasefire, their government in Kabul is just going to lose more territory. So the U.S. has chosen to live by the sword, and in this situation it's now confronting dying by the sword.

Denis Halliday: What's tragic, Nicolas, is that, in our lifetime, the Afghanis ran their own country. They had a monarchy, they had a parliament - I met and interviewed women ministers from Afghanistan in New York - and they managed it. It was when the Russians interfered, and then the Americans interfered, and then Bin Laden set up his camp there, and that was justification for destroying what was left of Afghanistan.

And then Bush, Cheney and a few of the boys decided, although there was no justification whatsoever, to bomb and destroy Iraq, because they wanted to think that Saddam Hussein was involved with Al Qaeda, which of course was nonsense. They wanted to think he had weapons of mass destruction, which also was nonsense. The UN inspectors said that again and again, but nobody would believe them.

It's deliberate neglect of the one last hope. The League of Nations failed, and the UN was the next best hope and we have deliberately turned our backs upon it, neglected it and distrusted it. When we get a good Secretary General like Hammarskjold, we murder him. He was definitely killed, because he was interfering in the dreams of the British in particular, and perhaps the Belgians, in Katanga. It's a very sad story, and I don't know where we go from here.

Nicolas Davies: Right, well, where we seem to be going from here is to a loss of American power around the world, because the U.S. has so badly abused its power. In the U.S., we keep hearing that this is a Cold War between the U.S. and China, or maybe the U.S., China and Russia, but I think we all hopefully can work for a more multipolar world.

As you say, the UN Security Council needs reform, and hopefully the American people are understanding that we cannot unilaterally rule the world, that the ambition for a U.S. global empire is an incredibly dangerous pipe-dream that has really led us to an impasse.

Denis Halliday: Perhaps the only good thing coming out of Covid-19 is the slow realization that, if everybody doesn't get a vaccine, we fail, because we, the rich and the powerful with the money and the vaccines, will not be safe until we make sure the rest of the world is safe, from Covid and the next one that's coming along the track undoubtedly.

And this implies that if we don't do trade with China or other countries we have reservations about, because we don't like their government, we don't like communism, we don't like socialism, whatever it is, we just have to live with that, because without each other we can't survive. With the climate crisis and all the other issues related to that, we need each other more than ever perhaps, and we need collaboration. It's just basic common sense that we work and live together.

The U.S. has something like 800 military bases around the world, of various sizes. China is certainly surrounded and this is a very dangerous situation, totally unnecessary. And now the rearming with fancy new nuclear weapons when we already have nuclear weapons that are twenty times bigger than the one that destroyed Hiroshima. Why on Earth? It's just irrational nonsense to continue these programs, and it just doesn't work for humanity.

I would hope the U.S. would start perhaps retreating and sorting out its own domestic problems, which are quite substantial. I'm reminded every day when I look at CNN here in my home about the difficulties of race and all the other things that you're well aware of that need to be addressed. Being policeman to the world was a bad decision.

Nicolas Davies: Absolutely. So the political, economic and military system we live under is not only genocidal at this point, but also suicidal. Thank you, Denis, for being a voice of reason in this insane world.

Nicolas J. S. Davies is a researcher for CODEPINK, a freelance writer and the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.