Israel and the militarization of Atlanta’s police

GSUPD has been working with Israel through the GILEE program since 1992 and has yet to pull out from it, even after the highly-publicized human rights violations from the Israeli Police Force. Photo by kobbydagan on

For months, the atrocities against Palestinians by the Israeli Police Force (IPF) were front-page news. Social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram were inundated with mutual aid requests and infographics pleading for mercy at the hands of Zionist ethnic cleansing.

In June of 2021, Amnesty International published a scathing report on the IPF’s tactics, stating that they were “carrying out a discriminatory, repressive campaign including sweeping mass arrests, using unlawful force against peaceful protestors, and subjecting detainees to torture and other ill-treatment.” 

GSUPD has been exchanging technology, homeland security policies, and community policing tactics with the IPF through the GILEE program throughout these human rights violations.

GILEE, or the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange, is, according to their website, “A joint project of Georgia State University and local state, federal, and international law enforcement and public safety agencies.” 

Throughout their introductory blurb, they highlight their focus on anti-terrorism measures following the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing and the September 11th attacks. Any ties to Israel seem ludicrous. 

One has to work to find a quote from Rodney Bryant, the Acting Chief of the Atlanta Police Department (APD), that directly addresses the GILEE’s ties to Israel. “I was impressed by the level of community policing efforts employed by the Israeli Police to build relationships and maintain peace among such diverse populations,” Bryant said. 

The statement is a horrific misrepresentation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it highlights the ignorance of the current people in power. 

Despite the militarized tactics utilized by the IPF, with the ultimate intent to oppress, GSUPD has a generally neutral and apathetic reputation among students. Chris McKnight highlighted this in a 2020 interview with The Signal

“On [several] occasions, I recall GSUPD arriving late to incidents that I required their assistance on.” He said. In the interview, McKnight also commented on the “commanding” authority of these peace officers. 

Students have long viewed the GSUPD as either a joke or simply ineffective. They are seen as indifferent and irresponsible, which begs the question, what is the goal of a seemingly indifferent-viewed police force working with a notoriously ruthless Israeli authority? Put more simply, why GILEE?

In the wake of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, campuses everywhere became the site of an excavation led by young radicals. It was an endeavor in unearthing and reactivating a bricolage of student organizations and youth movements, dead and gone and immobile. 

It had been five-some years since they last were on the scene, with fists and voices raised against Bush. It had been five-some years, and we were still in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Driven by an outlay of antagonisms and anti-capitalist sentiments, this effort would become a growing tide, cresting in Zuccotti Park and along Wall Street in 2012. 

The ripples would work their way through Atlanta, coalescing in Occupy Georgia State. Still, by 2013, the energy was gone. 

The involved parties were arrested or funneled into the typical channels of inert activism, joining the speaking tour circuit, declaring victory from the vantage points of their blogs and memoirs. Three years and Wall Street had won the confrontation – but they could not have done it without their cops.

I am reminded of October 2010. Swaths of students freshly anointed with the grease of political action gather in Unity Plaza under a big-tent coalition, the Progressive Student Alliance. 

They intend to present a 900-signature petition to Mark Becker to end GILEE, right there on the streets. Two years of American austerity had built up a wave of anger, now rushing through the avenues and boulevards of downtown Atlanta. 

The GSUPD’s involvement with Israel was to end, or the protests would only continue. Two years is sufficient time to build a hatred, one large enough to convince yourself that you might stand on the corner with signs for two years more. Protests ended in November.

Now, eleven years later, GILEE marches on and will soon find itself a new appendage in a police training facility (so-called “Cop City”) built atop a razed forest in south Atlanta. The students lost at Wall Street; before that, they lost at Unity Plaza. 

The anger, of course, dissipated with the same fluid motion that it hit its zenith. Though this statement is passive: actively, by whom was the anger dissipated?

It should seem like a truism to say that protesting in America is complicated, messy and only radically fruitful on the rarest of occasions. Building a rigid on-campus movement composed of the students would seem nigh impossible if precedent serves. 

Building a movement based on a nebulous appeal to “the masses” only creates the type of subversiveness that Adbusters feels safe publishing. If we are to win, we cannot mince words here. 

Our fight against Wall Street and GILEE lost because we have failed. Though we cannot deny the existence of our opponents, either: we have been failed, too.

Thus we return to the question, why GILEE? 

Here we find a clue of its goal, an analog to that of the IPF. It is the death of dissent, the neutralization everywhere of political action. 

The GSUPD and every other department training alongside the IPF have taken one lesson to heart. By way of the baton, the taser, the pistol and the riot shields, anger dies – or finds itself too weak to begin with, the tide never reaching shore. 

The very presence of the gun is often enough; GILEE exists as a reminder of the gun, its message loud: you will have to get used to this. We have failed, and they have been sure to help in failing us. 

The IPF marching through the West Bank, through Gaza, through Jerusalem intends to scream with its very presence. You will have to get used to this. The IPF plans to kill the possibility of anything else, and you will have to get used to that.

The GILEE is a siren sounding off to the streets, rife with the contingent possibilities of something new. GILEE screams with its suffocating voice. You will have to get used to that too.

Though many are indifferent to or supportive of GSUPD officers receiving training in Israel, the through-line of militarizing the force is clear as day. While students do not view the GSUPD as an oppressive or militant group, the City of Atlanta’s police department is and has been since its inception. 

Distrust in the APD has grown since the excessive use of force was highlighted last year by various Black Lives Matter protests. According to the AJC, this force is due to the training that “has not dramatically changed in 25 years.” 

In John P. Granfield’s Some Reflections on the Atlanta Police and the Community Nightmare – Crime, a collection of papers on crime statistics and general write-ups about the APD from 1982, Granfield states: “The officer must take pride in his position, his organization and himself.” He said, “It must not and cannot be ‘Us’ (police) against ‘Them’ (public). The officer must have the support of the public and his administrators when carrying out his duties in a competent and good faith fashion.” 

The proposed 2022 city budget has ignored this sentiment and has set aside a staggering $230 million for the APD. In contrast, only $13 million has been set aside for community services that would aid in tackling the root of much of the issues that cause conflict between police and the public, namely mental health services, drug rehabilitation and answers to the homeless crisis. 

Such a stark financial disparity creates a disconnect between law enforcement and those in need of help. The officer will never “have the support of the public” if the state does not divert to the public. 

This collection of papers also indicates the for-profit nature of the APD, and subsequently, the GILEE program, as it discusses the horrors of modern-day slavery through a positive, rose-tinted lens. 

The papers state that “Prisoners in good physical and mental health should be productive. The U.S. Penitentiary, Atlanta, provides an excellent illustration [of] a successful industry operat[ing] within the prison walls. In 1979, sales of products manufactured in the Penitentiary totaled some $28.4 million….” 

Without meaning to, Granfield displays the true objective of a militarized police force: to make as much money as possible off the backs of the disenfranchised. However, the oppressors don’t know that the seams that hold them together may be pulled by those whose voices they suppress. 

We don’t have to get used to this.