Saturday, August 16, 2014
Militarized police tactics incite fear, then anger, then violence in terrorized U.S. communities
The government may think twice about arming radical militias in the Middle East, but when it comes to distributing weapons within our own shores, we seeming to be willing to arm the forces of terror to the teeth. According to the Defense Logistics Agency, a federal program called 1033 delivers surplus military equipment to civilian police forces across the Unite States: pistols, automatic rifles, armored vehicles, some capable of surviving blasts from land mines. While MRAPs may have utility in Afghanistan and Iraq, if land mines become a problem in the U.S., it's unlikely, in the social disorder, that civilian police departments will do much to protect anyone. But hey, they are great toys, right? What can be more "peace officer" than an urban assault vehicle crashing through your porch and into your living room? That is certainly the cumulative effect for Americans, on either the right or the left, when such images march into your home on the television screen.
This is what it can be like in certain segments of America. In the poor neighborhoods, in those places where the communities aren't gated, the power dogs rage. The police are running hot. Their violence is unrestrained. There will be a knock on your door. Maybe. More likely they will burst in. With more force and menace than any street gang might dare. What the hell, after all, Team Swat in America is above the law. They will shout something at you, the precursor for what's to come. They will drag you out of your car. You might say, "What? Why?"
By that point you are the criminal. Ask one question and you are resisting arrest. Next thing you know eight soldier looking dudes in Desert Storm gear are slamming your face into the sidewalk, the door, hood of your car. They are in bullet-proof vests. Wearing khaki. Not much use in an urban landscape, but certainly intimidating. They point a Taser gun at your chest. They want to know, where's so and so, who you have never heard of. They want your identification. If you refuse in any way, their aggression only gets worse. You stutter, stumble with your thoughts, wondering how this could be. A citizen, on the street? No. No. No. The guns are pointed at you, potentially, any moment of the day, as the overwhelming force overcomes you.
Now, if we break this behavior down, we have to get back to the dogs again. Anyone who has been around them much knows that if you get three or more swirling around in a group, their mood switches into something more aggressive. Doesn't take much to get them barking and nipping at each other. This is the problem with overwhelming force. Maybe they are in a line, dressed in riot gear for a peaceful protest: The more you get, the more likely something bad is going to happen. Call it pack behavior.
And now they are armed like the military, all dressed up in hand me downs from various Gulf wars, Middle-Eastern interventions, and the overall look is that of an occupying force. This has been the kick-ass first, ask questions later policy of law enforcement since 9/11.
But, in the social media environment, with tactics and agent overkill exposed before a national audience of people outraged by the war zone presentation in Ferguson, Missouri, maybe something good can come of it? Maybe in the shrill mechanical noise of the First Amendment being cancelled by the St. Louis County army bullhorn telling protestors to go home, maybe in the pyrotechnics of anti-crowd devices, in the ghostly images of shadows running through smoke, of television camera crews running from tear gas canisters, maybe in all of that dystopian detail, maybe out of all that the media-military-industrial complex might start asking more questions. Maybe, after many dozens of them are spread around in a viral revelation of what's really going on, these videoed instances of police brutality and anti-protest overreach will get the attention of the silent majorities of citizens tired of watching the U.S. Constitution going down the drain. Maybe someone will try to restrict the hand-me-down policy. This is being called for by U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), who is seeking to restrict the Pentagon's "1033 program"
Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Well, actually, it's pretty unlikely. As long as the culture of violence is the unchecked feature of law enforcement, riots in the wake of police shootings will continue to be a symptom.
There certainly were some firsts in the Ferguson case. After the worst night this week, Aug. 13, 2014, President Barack Obama spoke out, the governor of Missouri decried this vision of a "war scene," the state police took over the situation, and the next thing you know, white-shirted officers are walking in front of the daylight marchers as if they are protecting them, and the Missouri statie in charge, Ron Johnson, is giving streams of people in the street hugs. It was quite a reversal. Until the next night. After police had released a video of the slain teen, Michael Brown, robbing a local market, the community reaction seemed to indicate the police was trying to send out signals to assassinate the memory of someone they had killed, that the punishment did not fit the crime. More than anything else, since small markets and convenience stores have been targeted by looters; it all seems to say that the citizenry's sentiment over the daunting power structures of police and property, in an age of increasing economic disparity, has reached the tipping point.
How the repositioning of force across the country might occur over the long term is anybody's guess. But a paradigm shift is needed. Perhaps state and local politicians might heed the call to resist accepting armaments more suitable for World War III into their arsenals. Might good a good place to start. The heavily armed lines of police-soldiers in the streets may be an organic outgrowth of life during wartime, but it certainly gives the appearance of an a yet another reactionary elitist put down. Perhaps if the powers-that-be put more thought in the kinds of images they are projecting, seeking alternatives to violence. After all, the best way to invite an attack is to build a fort. Open your fist, and extend your hand in peace.