The events of this last week involving police killings of Black men and Black men killing police, are easily traced back to America’s racist nature, with slavery as its chief cause. There is another current factor though that bears some thought, since it has exacerbated our country’s racial problems and has led to police procedures which inevitably resulted in the more than 500 police killings this year in America. Our police officers, rather than being encouraged to view the communities they serve as places where the citizens require protection, have increasingly been encouraged to view citizens as enemies in occupied territories. This has been encouraged by our politicians and by our government. While I wrote the following 3 years ago at a legal blog concerned with civil liberty, my premise sadly holds true today.
If you enter SWAT into google search, you will find numerous example of botched raids and actions by police swat teams. If you go through five or six pages, you will find many situations where SWAT violence has escalated stemming for incidents such as evictions. Just a catalog of the shootings belies the terror that these raids can instill in people who are merely residing within their homes. Many of the articles detail doors suddenly smashed open, flash grenades and gas grenades tossed into the home, people thrown to the floor handcuffed and left for hours in that position, by invading SWAT teams that either had the wrong house, faulty leads and or in some cases were enforcing what were clearly civil warrants. In one instance in California, a SWAT raid was carried out due to the suspicion of a defaulted student loan.
Swat procedures, originally developed by our military to deal with their invasions in places like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, dictate surprise, the immediate use of overwhelming force, and immobilization of individuals. Any potential hint of threat is to be considered life threatening and is to be met with lethal action. When we hear the latest justification of a police killing, typically a person of color, the exculpatory rationales used in each instance are strikingly similar to these military tactics and mindset. The effects of the formation of SWAT Teams, the SWAT training given to police and the SWAT methodology now used to deal with almost all incidents of police interacting with the public, has made for a frightening prospect. None more so than that faced a person of color stopped by police and treated as if they were a hostile combatant in a foreign land.
I believe that the rise of these SWAT teams has led this country towards a modern form of martial law and what we all have commonly understand is a “police state”. America has become as repressive for our citizens of color as has any we’ve seen in the past century. The constant media litany of parents telling their children to follow all police orders to the letter connotes that to not do so is to face deadly harm. We have seen constant encroachment on our citizens Constitutional protections and a continued erosion of “the Bill of Rights”. Free Speech, the right to peacefully assemble, Habeas Corpus and safety from unwarranted intrusion in our own homes, among others, have been steadily eroded under various guises, be it the drug war, or national security. In my opinion the SWAT team concept, which militarizes our police forces, is leading this nation inevitably to a state of Martial Law. Despite ones place on the currently inflamed political spectrum, this is a problem that I think concerns us all as citizens, not as partisans. I will present to you sufficient proof of my belief, the majority of which will come from what can be fairly described as a “Libertarian Think Tank,” which was founded by Charles Koch, among others. When I find myself on the same side on an issue as the Cato Institute, then I know with certainty that my fears are well grounded and unrelated to any personal partisanship of my own.
“Martial Law (definition)
The exercise of government and control by military authorities over the civilian population of a designated territory.” http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/martial+law
That partial definition above really doesn’t state the understood essence of the term “Martial Law”. The full definition would of course describe situations like a “State of National Emergency”, where the National Guard is called out to restore order. Yet, while I’m admittedly stretching the definition to fit my own conception, I don’t believe my conception is far from the mark of what’s occurring in America today.
First let me briefly summarize the history of SWAT teams in America as I see it and then I will present evidence that I believe backs up my opinion with factual argumentation. The man credited with inventing the “SWAT” concept was Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Police Chief Darryl Gates in 1966 as a response to the riots in the Watts section of Los Angeles. Gates was a rather controversial man, who took a draconian mindset into law enforcement. His pronouncement on racial issues regarding both Black and Latinos skirted quite closely to bigotry. Then too the history of the LAPD is a rather checkered one. It was an open fact that the police in L.A. were always seen to be the “protectors” of the “White” population from first the resident Latino’s and then from the Black people who had joined the emigration to California as a land of opportunity. The LAPD actively recruited police officers from the South who were experienced in enforcing “Jim Crow” laws. Gates’ innovation was the use of military tactics and equipment in a special force that was trained by ex-Marines. Besides “riots” the LAPD SWAT team soon became deployed in the “drug wars” and in “controlling” demonstrations.
Gates’ SWAT concept slowly gained popularity through the 70’s but it was limited to units being formed in only a few Cities around the U.S.. With the election of Ronald Reagan though and his institution of the “War on Drugs”, the SWAT concept began to spread across the Nation and local Police Department began receiving massive amounts of Federal funding to organize units, to train in military tactics and to buy military equipment. The public acceptance of these units stemmed from a media all too eager to engender fear ridden news items and to show the “heroism” (and need for) these tactics on their numerous “Cop Shows”. The over sensationalized “Crack Epidemic” of the 80’s and its’ overplay in the media helped impel this new tactic. Having been directly involved in working with “Crack” and Cocaine addiction I’m not trying to lighten their terrible effects. I was on the ground, so to speak, these were issues that required mental health professionals, rather than policing. Especially because invariably those caught and arrested were users, or low level dealers. Interestingly too, “Crack” was an addiction of the lower classes and thus caught most of the attention, whereas the more expensive Cocaine was commonly used among the wealthy with few criminal consequences, other than the health issues it raised.
“The Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act”: Passed in 1981 it was the first “official” blending of the military and the police.“In 1988, Congress ordered the National Guard to assist state drug enforcement efforts. Because of this order, National Guard troops today patrol for marijuana plants and assist in large-scale anti-drug operations in every state in the country.
In 1989, President Bush created a series of regional task forces within the Department of Defense, charged with facilitating cooperation between the military and domestic police forces.
In 1994, the Department of Defense issued a memorandum authorizing the transfer of equipment and technology to state and local police. The same year, Congress created a “re-utilization program” to facilitate handing military gear”
After 1994, the use of SWAT Teams for local police forces grew exponentially with the impetus coming from the infusion of massive amounts of Federal Fund and surplus military equipment. What local police chief wouldn’t want a free armored vehicle? The spread of SWAT Teams around the US has become an epidemic to the point that even relatively small town police forces (towns with 25,000 to 50,000 people) have their own SWAT teams supplied via generous Federal funding and trained by military personnel, often at specialized military training bases.
The essence of this problem as I see it is that conceptually police and the military, while both carry weaponry, have two distinctly separate functions. The Military are to be used for making war and for invading foreign countries. Historically in America we didn’t allow the military to be used on our shores. The responsibility for maintaining order within our country is given to State and Local Police forces and not to the Federal Government. That idea has in fact been chipped away for many years, for many reasons. The FBI which was supposed to investigate Federal Criminal activity has found its duties expanded, either legally by legislation, or by fiat from such figures as J. Edgar Hoover, who conveniently conflated FBI work with his own personal power interests. Since the founding of the DEA, the line between Federal and State/Local has further been blurred, as indeed the line between the DEA and the Military has also been blurred. Finally, the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act has made the separation between Federal and local law enforcement almost nil.
Traditionally in this country Police Officers were seen as members of the community and most felt that way. Thus policing, with exceptions of course, was more about maintaining public peace rather than frightening, disabling and punishing citizens. From a military perspective though, especially in occupying other countries, the idea is that all the populace are possible enemies not to be trusted and with whom harsh treatment is needed to instill fear and submission. When you begin to train police officers in those same tactics, then the citizens they deal with suddenly become “the other” in their minds, to be harshly repressed, frightened and dominated. It is this mindset that has become all too prevalent today and it has come into being via the SWAT concept.
A second problem with the SWAT teams and with the largesse of supplying localities with military equipment, structure and training is that “cool” stuff when available will be used and “overused”. To local police officers, indeed to many ordinary people, this equipment is “cool” stuff and its’ availability makes its usage much more likely. That is how a SWAT Team can be sent to deal with a delinquent Department of Education Student Loan. The human “need” to use the “team” and the equipment leads to rationalizing its use in instances that in the past were dealt with without the need for overwhelming firepower. While any situation where police must go to a house on official business can turn deadly for the police, this is generally not true in the overwhelming majority of cases. In fact in these days where 300 million firearms are owned by our citizens, sudden massive confrontation can exacerbate violence.
Beyond the lack of Constitutionality, the unneeded expense of manpower and the plethora of tragic happenstance is the bald fact that for us average citizens these SWAT actions are terrifying and have a “chilling” effect on even our legal activities. This to me is the essence of a Police State and a close harbinger of the imposition of Martial Law upon us. The word “martial” itself means military, or warlike.
Since this is the essence of the over proliferation of SWAT teams, to me at least, it seems that what is being rapidly imposed on Americans is Martial Law. Before you decide to agree, or disagree with me I would humbly request that you don’t take my word for what it happening. Below I’ve supplied 3 sources that detail copious proof of my allegations and a thorough discussion of what is happening to America due to the SWAT team craze.
The first is from one of the most popular (definitely centrist for financial reasons) and iconic magazines in the United States Popular Mechanics. It is written by Law Professor Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.com
“SWAT Overkill: The Danger of a Paramilitary Police Force
“In a guest editorial, law professor and instapundit.com blogger Glenn Reynolds argues that over aggressive tactics and surplus military gear have turned some police units into a dangerous menace. SOLDIERS AND POLICE are supposed to be different. Soldiers are aimed at enemies from outside the country. They are trained to kill those enemies, and their supporters. In fact, “killing people and breaking things” are their main reasons for existence.
Police look inward. They’re supposed to protect their fellow citizens from criminals, and to maintain order with a minimum of force. It’s the difference between Audie Murphy and Andy Griffith. But nowadays, police are looking, and acting, more like soldiers than cops, with bad consequences. And those who suffer the consequences are usually innocent civilians.” Read more: http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/military/4203345
The second source consists of a paper written for The Cato Institute by Radley Balko, who is a well-known libertarian journalist:
“CATO Paper: Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America: (published in 2006)
Americans have long maintained that a man’s home is his castle and that he has the right to defend it from unlawful intruders. Unfortunately, that right may be disappearing. Over the last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law enforcement, along with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of paramilitary police units (most commonly called Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT) for routine police work. The most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home.
These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they’re sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers. These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors. The raids terrorize innocents when police mistakenly target the wrong residence. And they have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries, not only of drug offenders, but also of police officers, children, bystanders, and innocent suspects. This paper presents a history and overview of the issue of paramilitary drug raids, provides an extensive catalogue of abuses and mistaken raids, and offers recommendations for reform.”http://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/balko_whitepaper_2006.pdf
Included with the paper that you might profit from seeing is an interactive map of the U.S. showing the huge amount of botched SWAT teams’ raids across the country and their results. This map alone is worth looking at to get an idea of the extent of the problem, with the understanding that it was created in 2006 and so it omits the increasing SWAT usage of the last seven years. http://www.cato.org/raidmap
Finally, my evidence comes from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) an organization I’ve supported since my teens. The ACLU to me has proved that it will fight for any civil liberties cause, without judging the politics of the people it fights for. The ACLU has just launched a nationwide program to investigate the abuses of SWAT Teams and the militarization of police enforcement in the U.S.
“American neighborhoods are increasingly being policed by cops armed with the weapons and tactics of war. Federal funding in the billions of dollars has allowed state and local police departments to gain access to weapons and tactics created for overseas combat theaters – and yet very little is known about exactly how many police departments have military weapons and training, how militarized the police have become, and how extensively federal money is incentivizing this trend.
It’s time to understand the true scope of the militarization of policing in America and the impact it is having in our neighborhoods. On March 6th, ACLU affiliates in 23 states filed over 255 public records requests with law enforcement agencies and National Guard offices to determine the extent to which federal funding and support has fueled the militarization of state and local police departments. Stay tuned as this project develops.
Consider these ten chilling stories. If the anecdotal evidence is any indication, use of military machinery such as tanks and grenades, as well as counter-terrorism tactics, encourage overly aggressive policing – too often with devastating consequences:
1. Confused after throwing a deafening and blinding “flashbang” into a home, police mistakenly shot and killed a sleeping nine-year-old.
Read more »
2. A county sheriff’s department in South Carolina has an armored personnel carrier dubbed “The Peacemaker,” which can shoot weapons that the U.S. military specifically refrains from using on people.
Read more »
3. New Hampshire police received federal funds for a counter-attack vehicle, asking “what red-blooded American cop isn’t going to be excited about getting a toy like this?”
Read more »
4. Two SWAT Teams shut down a neighborhood in Colorado for four hours to search for a man suspected of stealing a bicycle and merchandise from Wal-Mart. Read more »
5. A company in Arizona submitted a patent for shock cuffs, which can be used by cops to remotely administer a Taser-like shock to detainees.
Read more »
6. Police in North Dakota borrowed a $154 million Predator drone from Homeland Security to arrest a family who refused to return six cows that wandered onto their farm. Read more »
7. Police in Arkansas announced plans to patrol streets wearing full SWAT gear and carrying AR-15 assault rifles. Read more »
8. Drone manufacturers may offer police remote controlled drones with weapons like rubber bullets, Tasers, and tear gas. Read more »
9. An Arizona SWAT team defended shooting an Iraq War veteran 60 times during a drug raid, but had to retract its claim that the veteran shot first.
Read more »
10. The New York City Police Department disclosed that it deployed “counter-terror” measures against Occupy Movement protesters.
I think that these articles and the information they supply has proven my case, with solid evidence, that our country is fast becoming a police state under martial law. Finally though, observe these American police officers pictured below an explain to me why they have the look of invading soldiers, rather that peace officers dedicated to protecting and serving our American communities.
Do you think I’m wrong, if so how?