Rise of the warrior cop

This Wall Street Jour­nal essay high­lights dis­turb­ing facts about the aggres­sive mil­i­ta­riza­tion of U.S. police forces. Financed by Fed­er­al grants, police depart­ments and gov­ern­ment agen­cies are cre­at­ing SWAT teams with weapons and capa­bil­i­ties equiv­a­lent to spe­cial mil­i­tary forces. They have so far mur­dered at least 50 inno­cent Amer­i­cans either by mis­take or by acci­dent.

Cit­i­zen tax­es are financ­ing the acqui­si­tion of over­whelm­ing pow­er to be used against the cit­i­zens. The police offi­cials will of course say that they need this pow­er to com­bat the “threat” posed by the cit­i­zens, with­out ever ask­ing why there is so much dis­con­tent, hos­til­i­ty and “law­less­ness” in the pop­u­la­tion at large. (The essay makes clear that much of the law­less­ness is in fact con­sen­su­al adult activ­i­ty with no vic­tim, such as minor recre­ation­al drug use and gam­bling.)

But even if nor­mal police forces did face cit­i­zen threats that jus­ti­fied such heavy weapons and tac­tics, why do the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, NASA, and the Depart­ment of the Inte­ri­or all have SWAT teams? The answer is that “this is the way we do things now.” As with the ram­pant pur­chase of unmanned sur­veil­lance drones at all lev­els of polic­ing, down to small munic­i­pal­i­ties, the pet­ty author­i­tar­i­ans of our soci­ety want tools of repres­sion because it’s the order of the day, because every­body else has them, and the Fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is lib­er­al­ly dis­pens­ing pub­lic mon­ey to pay for it.

Radley Balko, the author of the essay, believes that this trend will be dif­fi­cult if not impos­si­ble to reverse, but that an obvi­ous first step is to end the Fed­er­al grants.

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