Pre-emptive States of Emergency: Martial Governmentality & the Crisis of Police

While pre-emptive states of emergency mobilize a familiar discursive arsenal of state violence, they are at the same time a tacit admission of the State that the ‘normal’ operations of law and order are no longer legitimate.


Commenting on the investigation into the police killing of Luis Rodriguez in Moore, OK in February 2014, an attorney for the Moore, OK police department declared, “In this country, it seems we are becoming anti-police and that the tide has turned in respecting law enforcement.”1‘Private Autopsy Claims Asphyxia Killed Man in Moore In-Custody Death Case’, by Lisa Monahan,, Sept. 16, 2014. URL: In the wake of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand jury verdicts, and the lack of any formal charges in the cases of Luis Rodriguez and so many other victims of color of police violence just this year, it is easy to see why. In this article, I focus on the pre-emptive state of emergency declared by the Governor of Missouri in the Michael Brown case, and link this form of ‘martial governmentality’ to the apparent crisis of police in their inability to control or suppress the revolts stemming from the Ferguson protests which seek to shut down the normal operations of law and order.

The militarization of American policing has received much needed scrutiny in recent years by both academics and civil rights watch groups like the ACLU. In the wake of anti-police protests from Ferguson to New York and around the globe, these analyses could not be more timely. However with the growing unrest leading up to the Michael Brown grand jury verdict, the state of Missouri saw something perhaps even more startling than a militarized police force: a pre-emptive state of emergency.

As Janai Nelson from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund reminds us, governors have used their emergency police powers preemptively in the past in anticipation of eminent natural disasters and, more recently, in the case of ‘potential’ Ebola outbreaks. But the preemptive state of emergency issued in Ferguson by Governor Nixon, for example, signals the activation of a form of governmentality which grants “…carte blanche to determine what actions are required throughout the state in the name of public safety- despite the lack of any imminent threat.”2‘Missouri Governors pre-emptive state of emergency is an alarming mistake’, by Janai Nelson. Reuters. November 24, 2014. Nelson calls attention to the ‘preemptive’ declaration of emergency issued during World War Two by FDR and allowed in the 1944 Koremastu v. United States case which authorized the internment of Japanese-Americans. And while the case of Ferguson is of a different order of magnitude, it nonetheless follows the same logic. As Nelson writes,

(I)t seems premised on the fearful notion that black people gathering in Ferguson to protest perceived injustice is a state of emergency. But the expectation of Americans coming together to express outrage does not justify intervention by the militia.3‘Missouri Governors pre-emptive state of emergency is an alarming mistake’, by Janai Nelson. Reuters. November 24, 2014.

The expectation that public protest in Ferguson might require the mobilization of state military forces is precisely what seems to underwrite the justification of Nixon’s executive order. The rationale for the executive order is couched in the language of protecting peaceable assembly, protest and the protection of public safety, civil rights and private business. However, the suspension of law to protect civil rights raises a disturbing prospect, one that Stephen Graham highlights in his recent book Cities Under Siege: the New Military Urbanism. As Graham shows, there is an increasing coincidence of the discourses of policing, domestic security and militarization in urban governance such that policing the city comes to look more and more like the protection and organization of a military camp. Echoing Agamben’s thesis on the camp as internal logic of the contemporary nomos, Graham writes,

A priori incarcerations, bans, and a creeping mass criminalization begin to puncture already precarious legal norms of due process, habeas corpus, the right to protest, international humanitarian law and the human rights of citizenship. Increasingly, the always- fragile notions of homogenous national citizenship fray and disintegrate as different groups and ethnicities are pre-emptively profiled, screened, and treated differently. The rights of citizenship are disaggregated or ‘unbundled: ‘Law’ is deployed to suspend law, opening the door to more or less permanent ‘states of exception’ and emergency Systems’ of camps, militarized borders, and systems of illicit, invisible movement now straddle nations and supranational blocs. The resulting transnational archipelagos of incarceration, torture and death exhibit startling similarities to those that sustain global geographies of tourism, finance, production, logistics, military power and the lifestyles of elites. The ‘enemies within’, the persons adjudged risky or worthless or out of place – the African-Americans of New Orleans, the troublesome inhabitants of Paris’s banlieues , the Roma encamped in the suburbs of Naples or Rome, the favela dwellers on the edges of Rio’s tourist hot spots, the undocumented immigrants, the beggars, the homeless, the street vendors everywhere – become increasingly disposable, assaulted, forcibly excluded.4Stephen Graham. Cities Under Siege: the New Military Urbanism, 94-5

Indeed, to the extent that “(L)aw is deployed to suspend law, opening the door to more or less permanent ‘states of exception’ and emergency Systems’ of camps, [and] militarized borders”, it is precisely the legal, civil and human rights that ‘law’ is supposed to protect that is suspended and replaced with the logic of ‘camp’. The suspension law in order to protect civil rights is thus the paradigm of the logic of the exception, a disturbing situation where martial law becomes necessary for the protection of civil rights. In this way, justifying a state of emergency by claiming that such a state is the best means to protect civil rights therefore implies the very possibility Graham raises: the permanent state of exception or state of emergency that claims it is necessary to protect civil rights.

In Cities Under Siege: the New Military Urbanism, Graham documents the “…massive global proliferation of deeply technophiliac state surveillance projects…[which] signals the startling militarization of civil society – the extension of military ideas of tracking, identification and targeting into the quotidian spaces of everyday life.”5Stephen Graham. Cities Under Siege: the New Military Urbanism (New York: Verso Books, 2011) xi Situating the massive crossover of military discourses and technologies into the governance of urban life, Graham argues that these military-style governmentalities “…represent dramatic attempts to translate long-standing military dreams of high-tech omniscience and rationality into the governance of urban civil society.6Stephen Graham. Cities Under Siege: the New Military Urbanism, xi-xii For Graham, these movements to militarize urban policing and governance, most notably after 9/11, also signal the blurring of the lines between discourses of State ‘homeland security’ and martial practices. Indeed for Graham, what we are seeing is “(T)he dovetailing of state domestic security and military doctrines.”7Stephen Graham. Cities Under Siege: the New Military Urbanism, xii

Graham makes sense of the militarization of civil society through Foucault’s thesis about the ‘boomerang effect’ of modern state governmentality, whereby colonial techniques of genocide, discipline and social control are appropriated by the State and applied internally on their own populations. This is a central thesis of the book. Thus for Graham, the militarization of civil society can be understood as the internal application of colonial and post-colonial models of social control, developed also in the Global South and in the War on Terror, internally upon the domestic population. Graham outlines five key features of the new military urbanism. First, Graham notes the expansion of the traditional language of ‘battlespace’ from the field to the city, such that everyday urban places such as subways, supermarkets, tower blocks, industrial districts, and public spaces become reimagined as the site of urban warfare. Indeed, “(E)veryday spaces of the city “…are becoming the main battlespace both at home and abroad.”8Stephen Graham. Cities Under Siege: the New Military Urbanism, xv In this way, Graham states,

Western security and military doctrine is being rapidly reimagined in ways that dramatically blur the juridical and operational separation between policing, intelligence and the military; distinctions between war and peace; and those between local, national and global operations.”9ibid

According to Graham, the ‘traditional’ understanding of ‘legal or human rights and legal systems based on ideas of universal citizenship’ is being replaced within these new ‘battespaces’ with “…the profiling of individuals, places, behaviors, associations, and groups….[and] assign these subjects risk categories based on their perceived association with violence, disruption or resistance against the dominant geographical orders sustaining global, neoliberal capitalism”10Stephen Graham. Cities Under Siege: the New Military Urbanism, xv This for Graham, the profiling of individuals with regard to their risk or dangerousness is a feature of the new military urbanism.

The second feature of the new military urbanism has to do with ‘Foucault’s Boomerang: where “…explicitly colonial models of pacification, militarization and control, honed on the streets of the global South, are spread to the cities of capitalist heartlands in the North.”11Stephen Graham. Cities Under Siege: the New Military Urbanism, xvi Internal colonization as mode of social control. For Graham, the new technologies of militarization that are being deployed by local and state government increasingly view urban areas as if they were a sort of post-colonial ‘military camp’ which needs to be protected and walled in from outside invading forces. Indeed, for Graham, such technologies,

force people to prove their legitimacy if they want to move freely. Urban theorists and philosophers now wonder whether the city as a key space for dissent and collective mobilization within civil society is being replaced…by camps which are linked together and withdrawn from the urban outside beyond the walls or access-control systems.12Stephen Graham. Cities Under Siege: the New Military Urbanism, xxi

The third feature of the new military urbanism for Graham is what he calls ‘the surveillant economy’. For Graham, ‘the surveillent economy’ refers to the ‘political economy’ of the new military urbanism which is composed of private security firms, weapons manufacturing, and the international weapons trade. Together, the public-private network of military-to-industry economic exchange drives and incentivizes the further militarization of city, state and governmental agencies, while emphasizing the importance of surveillance as a method of internal security. The fourth feature of the new military urbanism for Graham is the emergence of a new kind of ‘urban warfare’. For Graham, the city as site of urban warfare signals a transition from a conception of ‘total war’ against cities which aimed at annihilation to a long, biopolitical war against the population. For Graham, these ‘humanitarian’ modes of warfare in fact,

end up killing the most vulnerable members of society as effectively as carpet bombing, but beyond the capricious gaze of the cameras. Such assaults are engineered through the deliberate generation of public health crisis in highly urbanized societies where no alternatives to modern water, sewage, power or medical and food supplies exist.13Stephen Graham. Cities Under Siege: the New Military Urbanism, xxvi

Thus for Graham, one might say that the new military urbanism signals a transition from a conception of war as ‘annihilation’ to a conception of war as ‘attrition’, an extended campaign of material, biopolitical and psychological war on one’s opponent.

The final feature of the new military urbanism for Graham is the phenomena of ‘the Citizen Soldier’. However, rather than analyzing the various discourses of popular movements or republican discourses of the citizen soldier, Graham focuses on the discourse of the citizen soldier in popular culture. Here, Graham focuses on the material culture of urban life, electronic and popular media, and the rise of militaristic pop culture. Two examples in particular Graham focuses on are the new military video games, some of which are sponsored by the US Army, and ‘The Hummer’ SUV culture in urban life.

Graham’s book could not be more timely, especially in light of the ACLU’s recently released report War Comes Home: the Excessive Militarization of American Policing. In that report, the ACLU documents the rise of the startling militarization of American policing through two stages. Beginning with the ‘War on Drugs’ in the 1980s, the report documents how the US government began to collaborate more closely with local and state government to combat the urban ‘drug-dealer’ and his network. The ‘War on Drugs’, as the report documents, culminated in the 1989 National Defense Authorization Act, which was then made a permanent program intended for the transfer of military resources to fight ‘counterdrug and counterterrorism activities’.14ACLU, ‘The War Comes Home: the Excessive Militarization of American Policing’, 16 The 1990s then saw the development of the ‘1033 Program’, which was intended to provide local and state authorities with military equipment.15ACLU, ‘The War Comes Home: the Excessive Militarization of American Policing’, 16-17 After 9/11, the report continues, the Department of Homeland Security developed a grant program for local and state law enforcement, one branch of which is the ‘Urban Areas Security Initiative.16ACLU, ‘The War Comes Home: the Excessive Militarization of American Policing’, 17 This grant program only requires applications from local and state government to dedicate a minimum of 25% of received grant monies to ‘terrorism prevention-related law enforcement’, allowing a wide net of requests to be granted that have a marginal relation to ‘terrorism’.17ibid

One fundamental aspect of the militarization of the governance of urban life noted by both Graham and the ACLU report is the transformation of the self-conception of many police departments, major authorities and officers themselves. While not universally accepted by any means, the ACLU documents that “(T)he most common rationale put forth to support the notion that the police in fact should be militarized is to protect life”.18ACLU, ‘The War Comes Home: the Excessive Militarization of American Policing’, 18 Referencing the emerging discourse of ‘the Ethical Warrior’ within the policing community, the report summarizes the discourse in its own words: “(A) warrior cop’s mission is to protect every life possible and to only use force when it’s necessary to accomplish that mission.”19ibid

The discourse of ‘exception’ essential to the logic of ‘the camp’ flows from the idea of securocratic war developed by Feldman and discussed by Graham. Drawing up Feldman’s notion of securocratic war, Graham links the ‘militarization’ of the urban city as camp to the neoliberal privatization and ‘enclosing’ of the city. “Securocratic war”, Graham writes,

involves the reconfiguration of sprawling cities, as increasing numbers of spaces within them are turned into camp-like environments supported by private security forces; hardened, impermeable or militarized boundaries; high – tech security systems and customized infrastructural connections to elsewhere. Urban geographies become increasingly polarized, and cities experience palpable militarization as secessionary elites strive to sequester themselves within fortified capsules…More inward-looking as well, they militarize the effort to draw and police their boundaries with the urban outside. It is made very clear to intruders judged as illegitimate that they must leave or face serious consequences.20Stephen Graham. Cities Under Siege: the New Military Urbanism, 100

Here the discourses of security, war and urban governance dovetail in what might be called a new kind of ‘martial governmentality’. And while these new forms of martial governmentality raise an alarming specter of state violence and suppression of public protest, it is also true that these developments point to a very real crisis in the inability of local and state police to control the discontent and unrest within their own cities and municipalities. Indeed the emergence of pre-emptive states of emergency, while raising the specter of a new era of martial government, also announces a crisis in the inability of police to suppress, sequester and pacify the growing revolt and refusal of the masses to comply with law, order and ‘business as usual’.

There is little doubt that we are, as one police attorney recently said, living in an era of ‘anti-police’ sentiment. Much like the Zapatista’s declaration of refusal, ‘Ya Basta’, the protest movement begun in Ferguson seeks to #ShutItDown, announcing that indeed, ‘enough is enough’. The daily renewal of rupture introduced by these movements into the everyday fabric of the normal ‘police order’ has spilled into the major streets, subways, shopping malls, train stations, and businesses of major US cities. The emergence of new forms of ‘martial governmentality’ seems to represent one response to the crisis of police brought on by these sustained movements of revolt and refusal to allow the normal operation of law and order to continue as usual. And while pre-emptive states of emergency mobilize a familiar discursive arsenal of state violence, they are at the same time a tacit admission of the State that the ‘normal’ operations of law and order are no longer legitimate. And if the declaration ‘No Justice No Peace’ applies equally to law and order as to the enforcement of law and order, then one might wonder after the legitimacy of the police itself, and equally declare, ‘No Justice, No Police’.

Kevin Scott Jobe is a doctoral candidate in Philosophy at Stony Brook University.

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