In response to the chaos in Ferguson, MO, US president Barack Obama has ordered a review of federal programs and funding that allow state and local law enforcement to acquire military equipment. Whoopty doo.
It’s no surprise to those who understand the kind of perverse incentives inherent in government that it took until now for “something to be done.” And it shouldn’t be a surprise that that “something” is merely an attempt to appease the growing distrust and skepticism of police power rather than actually do anything about it.
This war against civilians by the police has been going on for a long time, though. A Radley Balko, author of Rise of the Warrior Cop, writes, “There are two trends which began in the late 1960s and early 1970s that help explain how we got here: the rise of the SWAT team and the escalation of the War on Drugs.”
Militarized police forces are nothing new. They go back nearly 50 years, and only just now is the federal government saying something. To be clear, that’s all they are doing. Why would we expect anything to come of this review?
“The election of Ronald Reagan brought new funding, equipment, and a more active drug-policing role for the paramilitary SWAT units popping up across the country,” Balko continues. “Over the next decade, with prodding from the White House, Congress paved the way to widespread military style policing by carving out exceptions to the Posse Comitatus Act.”
We can thank small government conservative Ronald Reagan for much of the militarization of local police in the past 30 years. I suppose he wasn’t that conservative on arming thugs and terrorizing harmless drug users.
The increasingly military-like local police forces have faced nearly no political resistance. It’s been a steady increase of military tactics and weapons. From 1980 to 2000, the number of SWAT teams increased by 1,400 percent. More than 80 percent of small town law enforcement agencies have SWAT teams; almost 90 percent in larger areas have them. Just in 2011, “50 states, 17,000+ federal, state and local agencies have accepted more than $2.6 billion in donated military equipment so far this year.”
Kurt Eichenwald writes, “Research by Professor Peter Kraska at Eastern Kentucky University shows that 80 percent of the paramilitary deployments by police departments were for ‘proactive’ applications — in other words, instances of police-initiated violence rather than in response to an unusual threat. The majority of these involved ‘no-knock’ and ‘quick-knock’ raids on private homes, searching for contraband like drugs, guns or cash.”
And what does all this ramped-up policing do? It creates more terror, more violence, and more death. Shocking, I know. In fact, you’re eight times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist. Yet I don’t see a “war on cops.”
The neoconservatives have one thing right; terrorism is a threat to America. They just don’t know who the real terrorists are. The real terrorists are in our neighborhoods — walking around in dark outfits wearing badges and toting military equipment.
And what do we get after nearly 50 years of police abuse and terror that has likely killed thousands of innocent people and ruined the lives of thousands more prompt? A review.
A review that’s probably just going to lower the amount of increase in spending on militarization and do nothing to address the real problem or save lives. White House staff and relevant U.S. agencies — including the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, will reportedly lead this review.
Yes, the very same Department of Defense that provides local law enforcement with surplus military equipment will be reviewing the militarization of police. Yes, the very same Homeland Security that has transformed the United States into a police state with the PATRIOT act and the NDAA, is going to be reviewing the militarization of police.
Superman comic books are more believable than this. But that is government for you.
Rather than providing local police forces with surplus equipment, the weapons should be used to destroy the other weapons. And then we should blow up those weapons. We should do this until the police (and the military) have no more weapons.
Perhaps my solution isn’t that likely to occur. But it’s more likely to solve the problem of police militarization than a government-conducted review.