Peacekeeping effort or domestic occupation?

Two military police officers stand next to their vehicle on Tremont Street in Boston, a night after a peaceful protest turned chaotic. (Courtesy of Jake Epstein)

As I’ve aged through the various levels of education in the United States, different classes have offered me a thorough insight into the history of American military involvement — both the highs and the lows. 

Younger years focused on the American Revolution, which led to the birth of the country, the Civil War, which saw the nation tear itself apart, and the two World Wars, where the U.S. joined allied forces to stop brutal offences in Europe and elsewhere. 

It wasn’t until high school that I first learned about Korea, Vietnam and seemingly endless war in the Middle East. During my international relations courses in college, we’ve looked into covert operations, proxy wars and various security efforts of the military. 

For the first time in my life I feel as though the American war machine has turned its focus inward, maintaining a constant presence in cities across the country as Black Lives Matter protests march onward. It seems more like a domestic occupation than it does an organized peacekeeping effort. 

In Boston, it feels as though security forces hold a constant presence. On the last night of May I witnessed a peaceful protest turn violent and, in the days following, nearly every city block became a hangout spot for members of the military police and various branches of law enforcement. 

The only other time I can remember witnessing such a large military-like presence was during the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings. A terrorist was on the run, and people were scared. The city was hurting, and the swarm of law enforcement was implemented specifically for security reasons. 

I was in high school, and I felt more safe thinking the city was protected and under guard.

It’s worth noting, of course, that the current military-like presence isn’t just in Boston. Photos and videos from various news outlets show scenes of humvees and camo-clad soldiers posting up throughout major cities around the country as a so-called deterrent for rioting or looting. 

At a protest in a Boston park a few days after the night of chaos, the presence of military police was tangible — dozens of them lined the park’s entrance — before the protest had officially started.  

Some of the more powerful deterrents used by law enforcement include tear gas, rubber bullets, flash bangs and physical body-to-body contact. At the same time, one of the most concerning themes during the heavy presence of military police and law enforcement in American cities has been attacks against the press. 

Over the last two weeks there have been multiple instances where reporters have identified themselves and still been on the receiving end of baton swings or rubber bullets. Some reporters have even been arrested on air, despite showing proper credentials.

This is particularly troublesome when journalists — tasked with being the watchdogs of the powerful — are unable to fully report on what they are witnessing on the ground. Attempting to silence the free press fosters an even more authoritative quality of occupation. 

I feel lucky that I’ve never had to live beneath a foreign occupation, and I know many around the world could not say the same — sometimes at the hands of U.S. military involvement. Of course, the domestic occupation I am referring to is vastly different from U.S. or other Western involvement in foreign countries, and comparing the two is not the point.

But it is worth noting that as I’ve noticed the increased presence of military police in my own city, and seen reports of the forceful tactics used by law enforcement during protests and physical assaults on the press, I feel as though I have been witnessing a hybrid form of domestic occupation across the U.S.  

About the Author
Jake Epstein is an intern at The Times of Israel. A native of the Boston area, he recently graduated from Lehigh University with a BA in journalism and international relations.
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