Even since the ham-handed response in Ferguson by the local police department and St. Louis County Sheriff’s Department, there’s been a sudden interest in the militarization of the police throughout the country. The subject had already grabbed the interest of libertarians and some progressives with the response to the Boston Marathon bombing, and conservatives noticed with the Bundy Ranch incident, but the racial aspect of Ferguson got it into the mainstream news.
Almost as quickly there has been a steady pushback by supporters of the law enforcement/military/intelligence-industrial complex. We heard how Michael Brown had robbed store, had injured the police officer — see!?! Obviously a line of riot-geared cops with armored vehicles was the proper response to a protest against police violence! Suddenly the timeline is changed — there weren’t riot cops until the rioting started (wrong.) It was just a response to people breaking the law!
The latest of these screeds comes from Andrew Malcolm in Investors’ Business Daily. His Militarizing the Local Police is a Good Thing is as well considered as the title suggests. The gist of his argument: most of the material is night vision goggles and assault rifles…so what?
It’s a great idea to have state and local police departments armed way beyond the firepower of any conceivable opponent. Remember the North Hollywood bank hold-up some years back that turned into a 45-minute shootout because both robbers were better armed and protected than cops hiding behind patrol cars?
See? That single incident proves that police need tanks and air strikes! How did that end, by the way? Oh, that’s right — the suspects died.
This argument that having police armed “beyond the ability of any conceivable opponent” includes a very obvious opponent: people being oppressed by a government that is abusing its authority. Like shutting down legitimate businesses by browbeat banks. Or refusing to honor laws that have been passed. Or using the organs of state to spy on its people. Or using unrestrained violence against people on the flimsiest of excuses. (Just google Radley Balko and there should be a nice list of these incidents…)
Statists don’t like it when the people expect the government to follow the same rules as the rest of us, or have the ability to say “no” to whatever scheme the powers-that-be have in the offing, or wish to make a living without being shaken down by the parasites in the regulatory bureaucracy.
Let’s watch Malcolm trot out the same tired reasoning for militarized police:
We’re in a new era now. The first 9/11 when jumbo jets became weapons should have taught us to think outside the box when imagining attacks on the homeland. Dirty bombs, Ebola. Sarin. Breast bombs. Gone is the age of a whistling Officer O’Riley walking his beat, checking that shop doors are locked.
Actually, community policing by police who are on foot, know the people on their beat, and look like the people in the neighborhood is an excellent idea. Violent encounters with the police are much less likely to happen when the cop is a person not some impersonal, armor-clad machine of the state.
As to the terrorism is imminent bullshit the statists have been slinging since 2001. The major terrorist incidents — the Fort Hood shooting, the DC sniper, Botson marathon bombers, the blunderwear bomber, the numerous incidents of Muslim honor killings — have all been caught or killed without the aid of military equipment. How was the Boston bomber caught? — oh, shot by normally armed police officers, not the SWAT team special forces-wannabes. The blunderwear bomber was beaten up by passengers. The Fort Hood shooter was arrested after being shot not by MPs, but by a local police officer armed with a pistol. No assault rifle. No grenade launcher. No MRAPs or APCs. DC Sniper? State troopers. Not SWAT.
Here’s a link to an interactive map showing what the 1033 Program has shoveled into your local area from The New York Times. So what exactly are the alleged benefits of militarized police? What is the application for this equipment? Generally, warrant service and drug raids, where the majority of injuries are not caused by the suspects, but by trigger happy police officers.
Here’s a little infographic:
The militarization of police is demonstrably not to protect us from terrorism, but to protect police officers from the public. What’s wrong with that, you might ask? When the police are trained to think of their service as “war” and the public as “the enemy” it’s very easy to lose sight of the primary mission of protection of the public and their property, and service — instead, the public are something to be feared and hated, and controlled. Here’s the much cited Sunil Dutta — a professor of “homeland security” at Colorado Tech University showing what the attitude of a militarized policeman looks like:
Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?
He has a point: most stops are routine and over quickly. To be fair, most police interact with folks when they are having a pretty bad day (or the stop is causing a bad day…) — reaction to police encounters is sometimes inappropriate to why the person was stopped. But this “How dare you not meekly submit?” attitude is just as inappropriate. Having a monopoly on the legitimacy of force thanks to a badge and a gun does not always make right.
Worse, however, is this…
But if you believe (or know) that the cop stopping you is violating your rights or is acting like a bully, I guarantee that the situation will not become easier if you show your anger and resentment… Save your anger for later, and channel it appropriately. Do what the officer tells you to and it will end safely for both of you. We have a justice system in which you are presumed innocent; if a cop can do his or her job unmolested, that system can run its course. Later, you can ask for a supervisor, lodge a complaint or contact civil rights organizations if you believe your rights were violated. Feel free to sue the police! Just don’t challenge a cop during a stop.
So, suck it up, little people! So what if the police abused you? that supervisor’s going to do what? Oh, that’s right — side with his officer. How about that civilian oversight board? Unlikely you’ll see more than a down twinkle from them. You can sue them, right? Of course, the police have special protections thanks to their union-negotiated contracts that make it damned near impossible to fire a problem police officer. Maybe you get lucky and get a settlement — the officer doesn’t pay; the taxpayers pay.
The officers learn that they are beyond punishment. They feel entitled to abuse their authority. And that can’t go wrong, can it?