Wednesday June 20, 2012
Police Militarization and the War on the American Citizen
by Michael Chapdelaine
The War on Terror following the attacks of September 11th 2001 has been accompanied with an accelerated war on the American citizen. The public suffers pervasive and persistent abuse and brutalization as misguided, overzealous, thuggish police officers eagerly act as enforcers in America’s emerging totalitarian democracy. The War on Terror fosters the psychological intoxication police have with the special operations forces of the military; fantasies of being an elite soldier but lacking the right stuff to cut it as an Army Ranger or Navy SEAL. Paramilitary police imperil the general populace and it further erodes the Republic set by the Constitution; they have become agents of oppression and perpetrators of injustice. As the Executive of the Federal Government has usurped power from the Legislative and Judicial branches, police have likewise assumed roles on the street of legislator, judge, jury, and executioner.
Law enforcement today uses very misleading language that distorts their position, purpose and boundaries, in particular, referring to others as “civilians” but not themselves. Properly, police are civilians empowered to enforce civilian law, receive direction from civil authorities and are subject to civilian law. They are meant to investigate crimes, maintain order and ensure civility among the populace; they are domestic peace officers, not soldiers. Police are supposed to uphold the law in accordance with the Constitution; not infringe upon and blatantly disregard civil rights in order to “get their man.”
Soldiers, by contrast, are trained and tasked with waging war on and destroying the organized armed forces of foreign countries. The conduct and actions of soldiers is adjudicated in military courts, not civilian.
Some members of law enforcement clearly recognize the problem. Joseph McNamara, former police chief of Kansas City, Missouri from 1973-1976 and San Jose, California from 1976-1991 and now research fellow at the Hoover Institute told the Chicago-based Emergency Response and Research Institute (ERRI) in 1997:
It’s a very dangerous thing when you’re telling cops they’re soldiers and there’s an enemy out there. I don’t like it all.
Despite the conventional wisdom that community policing is sweeping the nation, the exact opposite is happening. The police and their communities ought to think seriously about this. Is there a need for SWAT teams? Yes, for highly specialized functions. But the police love these units, and this is a disastrous image to project.
Police departments across the country emphasize and encourage high aggression and domineering dispositions in their training and indoctrination. Deference given by some members of the public in conjunction with a failing judiciary leads them to believe that they may engage in verbal attacks and physical violence on the individual citizen without consequence – so far, this arrogant assumption holds absent greater public scrutiny and outrage.
A mindset among many officers is that they are performing a “duty” that “protects America” and anyone opposing their actions is an “enemy” – radicals, dissenters, agitators, subversives, undesirables, and terrorists lurk around every corner. Increasing numbers of police manuals and government advisory papers – like the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the Alabama Department of Homeland Security, and the State of Virginia – even indicate that they should closely watch
These remarkable and frightening lists of enemies of the state encompass a broad spectrum of adherents to the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
An FBI List of Potential Domestic Terrorists
All too often, police frame the issue of civil rights in terms of the left-right paradigm, i.e., an outspoken and assertive believer in liberty and their Constitutional rights is a “lefty” or “liberal” troublemaker. They are oblivious to the fact that their actions are an assault on the freedom that is the core of America’s founding vision. The Founding Fathers abhorred complacency, ignorance, unchecked power, and unquestioned acceptance of government dictates. Citizens of the United States of America should make no mistake: dissent is patriotic!
The deference and power given to police only encourages them to overstep and abuse their authority, invent charges against innocent and peaceable citizens, and intimidate the public. Fortunately, the increase in the number of small, portable, audio and video recording devices in the hands of the public is revealing this epidemic of police impropriety. Cases of excessive force on those not physically resisting arrest and threats and actions against citizens asserting their civil rights are beyond any reasonable justification. Beatings on innocent people have even perversely resulted in charging those helpless citizens with assault. This shatters the trust and reduces the cooperation of the communities in which they operate.
One terrifying recent case occurred on the morning of July 25, 2007 in Asheville, North Carolina. Acting on a call from a staff sergeant in the local National Guard, Buncombe County Sheriff’s deputy Brian Scarborough went to “deal with” Mark and Deborah Kuhn. In the backyard of their home, the couple had been flying an American flag upside down, a distress signal as recognized by the United States Flag Code. The highly patriotic Kuhns were expressing their belief that the Republic suffers from a variety of socio-political ailments.
Scarborough arrived at the Kuhn residence, telling them they were in violation of a statute for “desecration of the flag” – state law prohibits anyone from knowingly mutilating, defiling, defacing or trampling the U.S. or North Carolina flags. Mr. Kuhn informed the officer that desecration was not the intent and, in fact, it represented a signal that the country was in danger. Nevertheless, the intimidated and accommodating Kuhn went out back, took down the flag, and returned to the waiting deputy. Scarborough persisted in his hunt, demanding the couple show identification so he could issue a citation. The Kuhns refused so deputy Scarborough told them they were to put their hand behind their backs as he intended to arrest them. Astonished and repulsed by this absurdity, the couple quickly shut their door and locked it.
Scarborough went into a fury and began kicking the door. The Kuhns said in an interview a week later on the Alex Jones Show, “And the next thing we know, the glass is flying, he unlocks the deadbolt and he comes into our house after us.” Scarborough pursued the terrified couple through the house, eventually trapping Mr. Kuhn in the kitchen where he applied a chokehold. His wife desperately dialed 911 to report that an officer had broken into the home and was assaulting her husband. Scarborough pulled out pepper spray and Kuhn asked, “Are you going to spray me in my house?” Scarborough moved to switch to his club and Mr. Kuhn then managed to break loose and run with his wife out of the house into the street, crying for help from their neighbors.
Nine police cars quickly showed up. These officers pulled out their tasers (electrical shock weapons), ordered the couple to the ground, put them in handcuffs, and packed them in the back of a squad car. Meanwhile, a gathering crowd demanded an explanation for the treatment of the helpless Kuhns. Officers told them to leave.
Incredibly, police charged the couple on two counts of assault on a government employee, resisting arrest, and desecrating an American flag, all misdemeanors. Police reports indicated that the Kuhns slammed the front door on deputy Scarborough’s hand. Deborah Kuhn and three other eyewitnesses, one of which appeared on television attesting to the fact, point out that the cuts to his hand were a consequence of the deputy punching through the door’s glass with his bare fist. Moreover, an audio record of that emergency call did not corroborate Scarborough’s claim that Mrs. Kuhn slapped him while she was on the phone.
This case illustrates four traits in today’s police conduct:
Certainly not all police are problematic but it may not be a stretch to assert that half of all officers are nasty, abusive, unscrupulous, corrupt, or otherwise unfit for public service. Major shortcomings in these officers of the law are their character and education. Law enforcement attracts a large number of people raised on television police dramas. They spend their youth dreaming about an action-packed career with a daily rush of adrenaline.
David Doddridge, a former narcotics officer with a 21-year career with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) who now speaks on behalf on the organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), confirmed the mentality for police researcher Radley Balko in an August 2007 interview:
Balko: One aspect of the drug war I've spent quite a bit of time researching is the militarization of police, the increasing use of SWAT teams. A common response I get from cops is that SWAT teams make warrant service safer. Do you agree with that?
Doddridge: Oh, no. Of course not. SWAT teams are trained to deal with dangerous people. When you bring a SWAT team to serve a drug warrant, a drug offender, you're escalating the situation, not de-escalating it. One thing you have to understand: Cops love action. They crave action. You have thousands of these SWAT teams across the country, now. You've got these guys in some small town in Idaho with nothing better to do just looking at each other. “What do we do with this warrant? Well, might as well give it to the SWAT team.” It isn't necessary.
As well, police work seems to act as a magnet for no small number of high-school bullies and/or those who were bullied in their formative years. The attraction to law enforcement is then a continuation of a pursuit for dominance or revenge for being beaten, dominated, disrespected, and/or overshadowed by others; they draw satisfaction when people cower to them in the face of a ticket, jail threat, or gun barrel. While there are exceptions, they generally lack the intellectual and physical attributes as well as the discipline and disposition for other pursuits. A dirty little “secret” of law enforcement is that many policemen, for instance, use anabolic steroids to achieve levels of strength beyond their mediocre, natural athletic potential and work ethic. Yet, minus the badge, gun, baton, fatigues, body armor, and buzz hair cut, these are people who would otherwise not command a great deal of, if any, public respect. Fire departments, by contrast, draw many courageous, self assured, athletic, and civic minded individuals. The humble fireman “is” while the insecure policeman feels the compulsion to “act as if.”
Recruitment and acceptance of police officers may not be explicitly predicated on low intelligence, explosive temperament, and/or a lust for control but many stumble through high school, attend community college to study criminal justice, and then move on to the police academy. Generally, these are not standout scholars at either the high school or collegiate level. Intellectually incurious officers routinely demonstrate ignorance of the Constitution and the utmost contempt for the civil liberties that are the bedrock of American society. These essential matters are perhaps considered “unmanly” or “soft” or “gay” to an individual in the macho culture of law enforcement who has their whole life struggled for the respect of others. The field of law enforcement conveniently puts them in a position where others must respect them and the War on Terror only inflates their sense of importance.
An article titled, “Meet the New Supercops” written by Brad Reagan appearing in the June 2006 issue of Popular Mechanics inadvertently chronicles this inflation. It begins with the following text:
No one sees them coming. There are no flashing lights, no sirens. The black Suburban simply glides out of Fifth Avenue traffic and pulls into a no-parking zone in front of the Empire State Building. Moments later, four men spill out in combat helmets and heavy body armor: Two carry submachine guns; the others, snub-nosed shotguns.
Camera-toting tourists stop jabbering and stare at this intimidating new presence, their faces a mixture of curiosity and fear. Even jaded New Yorkers, many of whom work inside the midtown Manhattan landmark, look impressed.
A stone’s throw down the sidewalk, Abad Nieves watches the scene unfold. Nieves is a detective with the Intelligence Division of the New York Police Department (NYPD). Casually clad in slacks and a black leather jacket, he monitors the response of people loitering in the area. Is anyone making notes or videotaping? Does anyone seem especially startled by the out-of-the-blue appearance of a heavily armed NYPD squad?
On this day, Nieves doesn’t see anything overly suspicious, but he is pleased that the deployment created a strong impression. Known as a Hercules team, it makes multiple appearances around the city each day. The locations are chosen either in response to specific intelligence or simply to provide a show of force at high-profile sites.
“The response we usually get is, ‘Holy s---!’” Nieves says. “That’s the reaction we want. We are in the business of scaring people--we just want to scare the right people.”
Of course, the preceding paragraphs may seem to be a stereotypical, cruel, and scathing indictment of all police officers. It is not. It is, however, a realistic generalization and important critique of a good many of them. Law enforcement is a serious endeavor; the potential for abuse of authority is high and the consequences for the citizenry too great to ignore. A cult of personality or idealized notion of the benevolent, noble, selfless, and righteous policeman should not prevent deserved criticism and intense scrutiny. Deferential members of the public make many seemingly sensible apologies for police excess and impropriety:
The abundant evidence (recorded and anecdotal) and historical trends does not support the blindly hopeful idea that “most police” are acting in the interest of justice and serving the greater good. Simply accepting “most police” are not menacing avoids facing the serious and glaring problems with the direction and conduct of American law enforcement. Any American who knows police officers, observes their actions first hand, speaks with them privately and off the record, and follows their exploits in the news can attest that many of them are the worst kind of person to give any power or authority.
Media outlets feed into police militarization. For example, the article titled “Law Enforcement Muscles Up” by Brian McCombie appearing in the August 2007 issue of Guns & Ammo. According to the magazine’s editor, Richard Venola, in response to a critique I wrote to him, over 25 percent of Guns & Ammo readers are in law enforcement. Mixed with American hubris, it is easy to understand (though hard to approve of) the publication pandering.
A large image accompanies the text of “Law Enforcement Muscles Up”: two officers outfitted with battle fatigues and Kevlar helmets playing soldier like little boys. The author goes on to foolishly knock the “venerable” shotgun in subtle favor of weaponry more typical to an infantryman in the Army. His article directly feeds into the burgeoning police state by quietly necessitating, justifying, and glorifying the militarization of police. The case is not made for a bunch of benign, well-meaning deputies toting a handy, lever-action rifle in their pickup within a rural community. Rather, the case is made for putting a broad swath of American police in the martial law frame-of-mind and outfitting them for war; the mindset of “us” versus “them” or the police officer versus the public (they are supposed to serve and protect).
Mr. McCombie’s quote of police Sergeant Lamar Jaggears captures the mentality. Jaggears says, “With the AR system, you don’t have to reload as much. With a 30-round magazine in the rifle and another 30-rounder in your belt, you’d be able to fight a lot longer without backup than with a shotgun.”
Jaggears refers to the AR-15 family of assault rifles – selective fire carbines with detachable, high-capacity magazines – with language endemic in the military, i.e., acronym laden, pseudo-technical jargon. It is language used by those attempting to sound technically savvy and professional. He postulates about a military style, small-unit engagement but one should wonder about the last sustained firefight he engaged in while on duty as a police officer. Was the enemy advancing on his position? Was he in danger of being overrun such that he needed over a hundred rounds of ammo between his rifle and pistol? What about fire discipline? It would be comical if it were not so outrageous.
Another quote from the Guns & Ammo article, this from Sheriff Michael DeLeo, unsurprisingly rationalizes paramilitary police, “We know from past experience… it’s absolutely necessary to have heavy duty weapons.” Proponents – like retired officer Scott Furr mentioned in McCombie’s article – point to the infamous 1997 North Hollywood bank robbery or the 1986 FBI Miami shootout. Of course, one could cite a number of other occasions, but these dramatic and bloody shootouts are few-and-far between, the extraordinary and not the ordinary event. Neither the severity nor frequency of these shootouts warrant troops on the streets, effectively how increasing numbers of regular officers are outfitted and dispositioned today. Radley Balko’s 2007 interview with LEAP’s David Doddridge also counters the need for heavily armed officers:
Balko: Police groups say that drug dealers are armed to the teeth. Heavily-armed, military-style SWAT teams are necessary to counter this high-powered weaponry.
Doddridge: I've heard that. And it's just not true. In 21 years at LAPD, I never once saw any assault weapons on a drug raid. Drug dealers prefer handguns, which are easier to conceal. Occasionally you'll find a shotgun. But having a bunch of high-powered weaponry around is just too much trouble for them. It's too much for them to worry about.
The reality is that most police special weapons and tactics (SWAT) teams will simply end up rolling around in a 20 ton, blast resistant, armored car serving search and arrest warrants as part of the ridiculous War on Drugs, another Constitutional abomination and practical failure rooted in hypocrisy. Far more likely and far more common than any exotic hostage rescue or bank heist is the situation in which they end up ravaging or killing peaceable and decent citizens in a frenzy of enthusiasm to “eliminate” criminals while serving a so-called high-risk warrant. In fact, research by Radley Balko, author of the Cato Institute paper Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids has found a SWAT team assaults or kills an innocent American at least once a week. Some recent examples:
Peter Kraska, a criminologist and professor of police studies at Eastern Kentucky University, has found a rocketing rise in SWAT use in standard police work. The 1997 ERRI report quotes Kraska as saying:
Where the SWAT teams were once deployed a few times a year, they are now used for all kinds of police work – dozens of calls, hundreds of calls a year. In SWAT units formed since 1980, their use has increased by 538 percent.
The drug war created the atmosphere for this kind of pro-active policing. We have never seen this kind of policing, where SWAT teams routinely break through a door, subdue all the occupants and search the premises for drugs, cash and weapons.
Kraska estimates that America has seen a 1,500 percent increase in the use of SWAT teams from the early 1980s until the early 2000s. According to Kraska’s research, between 1980 and 1995, SWAT teams were employed time wise:
These thugs, exactly what the SWAT teams amount to as they enthusiastically perform these home invasions, need to have ingrained in their minds the difference between soldiering in a war and police work in a domestic community. Again, police are civilians empowered to enforce civilian law, receive direction from civil authorities and are subject to civilian law. These domestic peace officers are meant to investigate crimes, maintain order and ensure civility among the populace. Soldiers, by contrast, are trained and tasked with waging war on and destroying the organized armed forces of foreign countries. Military courts adjudicate the conduct and actions of soldiers.
In war, one expects necessary violence, and as the situation is already hostile, the margin for error (i.e., the possibility of innocent civilians suffering and dying) is much broader. However, police frequently enter situations they orchestrate, with more firepower than they actually have any practical use for, while lacking discipline or sound judgment, and having a posture to provoke confrontation. It is an unabashed violation of the Fourth Amendment, i.e., these raids are unreasonable.
Despite the hysteria spread by advocates of the War on Terror, the reality is
If any of these conditions were a reality, America would be in a state of severe civil unrest, at which point martial law would be in effect and Congress would likely authorize sending proper soldiers into the fray. Response to such conditions is neither the role nor domain of police. A police department can make no legitimate case for acquiring a .50 caliber anti-materiel/sniper rifle. How many thousand-yard shots (ranging from about 5 to 10 city blocks or over 8 football fields) are police taking at “enemies” behind serious cover or in light-armored vehicles? None, it is pure fantasy on the part of the police.
Conversely, an American citizen need not (but does) have justification for all manner of weapons. The Constitution acknowledges the right to keep and bear arms (primarily as a counter to tyranny but if a citizen just wants to blow the hell out of a soda can, that is reason enough).
McCombie’s article in Guns & Ammo also admits that most of the military hardware police are getting comes as a gift from the Federal Government via military surplus programs or a multi-million-dollar grant from the Department of Homeland Security. This is nothing more than a convenient way to get Federal control strings tied to the local level – enticing commando daydreamers with military hardware. Aside from the fact that the overwhelming majority of police does not need military equipment and should not have military equipment, it is a total waste of taxpayer money.
Pouring the proverbial gas on the fire, former military personnel – like Erik Prince, founder of the mercenary outfit Blackwater USA – have set up or are in the employ of businesses offering loads of training courses for eager police; Prince has made an extremely lucrative, commercial, post-military living on the SEAL name. While not exclusively, their usual clientele is over-funded and anxious police SWAT teams; they wish they were, so they sign up to play the part. Police officers who could barely make their high school’s junior varsity football team worship at the feet of these legitimate, high-octane warriors. They walk away feeling ready and foaming at the mouth for the next “tactical response” scenario.
So, not only are SWAT members eager for action but the teams are expensive to train and equip. Politicians and bureaucrats at the city and county level cannot rationalize either budget or existence if they simply sit around waiting for a genuine crisis.
SWAT teams are one of the earlier steps toward the militarization of American police. LAPD officer John Nelson proposed forming a specially trained and equipped unit to Inspector Daryl Gates (later Chief of the LAPD from 1978 to 1992) in 1965. According to Gates’ writing, he liked the idea and gave his approval and support; a group of volunteers formed that he wanted to call the “Special Weapons Attack Team.” Gates’ original name was rejected by his superior, Deputy Chief Ed Davis, but it reveals a great deal amount the mentality behind it. The organization reveals even more: it was constituted in 1967 as 15 teams of 4 four men in “D Platoon”. The first big deployment of LAPD’s SWAT team was on December 9th 1969 in a four-hour confrontation with Black Panthers. They surrendered with only three of their members and three officers injured.
The LAPD thoroughly detailed the motives behind SWAT in a report following the May 1974 standoff and shootout with the Symbionese Liberation Army, a 13-member criminal and leftist revolutionary group. Page 100 of The Symbionese Liberation Army in Los Angeles cites four trends:
The report states:
The unpredictability of the sniper and his anticipation of normal police response increases the chances of death or injury to officers. To commit conventionally trained officers to a confrontation with a guerilla-trained militant group would likely result in a high number of casualties among the officers and the escape of the guerillas.
Page 101 of the report states:
In general, the purpose of SWAT is to provide protection, support, security, firepower, and rescue to police operations in high personal risk situations where specialized tactics are necessary to minimize casualties.
While the events of the time make it sound reasonable at face value, paranoid government at various levels responded to public dissatisfaction over the war in Vietnam, desegregation and the Civil Rights movement, the possibility of communist sympathizers in American neighborhoods, counterculture, and other “threats” with, among other measures, police militarization. SWAT teams sprung up across the country following the LAPD’s lead. The subsequent War on Drugs gave SWAT teams their own injection of adrenaline but the commencement of the War on Terror has put virtually all police into overdrive.
However, one could conclude from a statistical examination that the supposed war zone prompting the creation of SWAT apparently no longer exists, at least in the City of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Police Department Statistical Digest for the years 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004, respectively, shows during those years:
This is in stark contrast to the ongoing war in Iraq which is characterized by urban engagements with assorted enemies primarily equipped with small arms and improvised explosive devices. Since the U.S. invasion in 2002, deaths of American soldiers and mercenaries have collectively exceeded several thousand, while the injury count is in the tens of thousands. Iraqi soldiers and police have fared even worse with their figures of dead and injured dwarfing the Americans.
American police agencies seem disinterested in and undeterred by reality. A study by Eastern Kentucky University’s Peter Kraska indicates that in a nationwide survey of 690 law enforcement agencies in cities with populations of 50,000 or more, 90 percent of them have an active SWAT team compared to 60 percent in the 1980s. Even rural communities and small towns – two out of three agencies – have SWAT teams. Kraska refers to the phenomena as the “militarizing of Mayberry.” It is a humorous play on the American television series The Andy Griffith Show, airing from 1960 to 1968, about an easygoing sheriff in rural North Carolina who rarely carried a gun.
Is Their Purpose to Protect and Serve or to Punish and Enslave?
Government bureaucrats and politicians continue to this day to ignore and dismiss their culpability in past and present social unrest and turbulence, only reactionary methods to crush it and advance their own interests and the agendas of their benefactors. For example, the 2005 documentary Bastards of the Party, directed by former gang member Cle “Bone” Sloan, explores the rise and transformation of black street gangs in the 1980s and the correlation to Government decapitation of the leadership of black self-defense, communist and nationalist groups in the preceding decade.
The Black Panthers were just one of the groups who saw their leaders incarcerated and killed in part from the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) to “neutralize” dissident groups. A second catalyst may have been revealed by LAPD narcotics investigator Michael Ruppert. He went on record in 1977 as having discovered an extensive drug trafficking operation run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Despite earning the highest rating reports possible and having no pending disciplinary actions, Ruppert was booted from the department in 1978.
The phenomena of police militarization is but one of many steps since the early 20th Century, indeed since the Civil War, breaking down the framework of the Constitution, established checks and balances, and the Bill of Rights. This is the War on the American Citizen.
Ron Paul 2008
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