Ever since the over-the-top manhunt targeting Terry Porter in Sharpsburg last November, I’ve been interested in the militarization of the police. Through various programs and means, police forces have acquired a lot of military equipment, and with that change seems to come a jackbooted-thug mentality. It’s human nature, I guess: When you have something cool, you want to use it. And SWAT teams, camo uniforms, and scary-looking guns seem to be cool, so they’re used all the time for things a couple of police officers used to be capable of, like knocking on a door and asking a question.
Radley Balko has a piece at Salon, “Why did you shoot me? I was reading a book”: The new warrior cop is out of control. The stories he relates are horrendous. People terrorized and even killed for small-time gambling. Raids on barber shops holding customers and employees at gunpoint allegedly for drugs, but charging people only for “barbering without a license.” A SWAT team lining up people at gunpoint and taking their IDs and cell phones in an “investigation” of underage drinkers. Police shooting people’s dogs for no reason. On and on and on: this kind of stuff is becoming commonplace. And courts go along with these tactics surprisingly often.
The Salon piece is an excerpt from Balko’s recent book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.
I’d like to give you more examples from the article, but I don’t have time. Read it yourself. But I do want to repeat a point Balko makes: The left cheers when right-wingers are the victims of these tactics and the right is gleeful or indifferent when the left is targeted. That’s wrong. We do not want our constitutional rights trampled, whether it’s by Eric Holder’s agents, a Department of Agriculture SWAT team (yes, there is such a thing!) or by cousin Billy the selectively friendly local policeman who now drives an armored vehicle around town.
This is not to tar all law enforcement, by any means. But we’ve all got to speak out against the militarization of the police and the growing brownshirt mentality, no matter whom it’s directed against. It would be useful if police and their organizations started speaking out against it too.