The Pathos of Politics (112-5) Militarization


The pervasive culture of militarism in domestic law enforcement is largely the result of the militarization of local police forces, which are increasingly militaristic in their uniforms, weaponry, language, training, and tactics. ~ American attorney John Whitehead

American police have been endowed with Pentagon-supplied hand-me-downs for decades: the tools of war delivered for application on the local citizenry.

The Posse Comitatus Act became law in 1878 and is still in force. (Posse comitatus is Latin for “force of the county.”) The law prohibits the nation’s armed forces from being used as a police force within the country. Police departments are so heavily armed that the principle behind the Posse Comitatus Act has been eviscerated.

In 1964, Philadelphia had a rash of bank robberies. The police department there responded by forming a 100-man squad to react quickly with superior firepower. SWAT was born. (SWAT is an acronym for Special Weapons And Tactics.)

On 11 August 1965, a black motorist was arrested for drunk driving in Watts, a predominantly black neighborhood of Los Angeles. A minor roadside argument set off 6 days of looting and arson. Local police had to call in the National Guard to restore order.

The tinder for the rioting that ensued had been laid by oppression of minorities (black and Hispanic), which included regular police harassment and brutality. Like much of the country, the Los Angeles area had a history of discrimination in every way, including education, employment, and housing.

The Los Angeles police militarized for crowd control in the wake of the Watts riots. SWAT teams soon became de rigueur in urban police departments across the country. The 1996 sniper murders by Charles Whitman in Austin, Texas were catalytic to militarization, as the police in Austin found themselves poorly equipped to deal with the situation.

After World War 2, federal military assets were transferred to police and other government departments until 1949. On the heels of the Cold War ending, a 1990 federal law revived the practice, which expanded in 1997.

Billions of dollars in military hardware were given for domestic law enforcement. The practice continues. For “security reasons,” the program “is not subject to public review.”

This is kind of a secret world within a secret world. ~ American criminologist Tom Nolan

Concerns grew as militarized policing became the norm, to no avail. In the wake of 9/11, the government seemed less bothered about civil rights or civilian deaths than it was about its own sense of security. This was not a change of mind; it was instead having been handed an improved excuse.

There’s a pattern of excess in the ways search warrants are executed. ~ American attorney Michael Trost

Drug raids have been a popular pastime for SWAT teams, affording both asset seizure and recreational ultraviolence. As with other police violence, raids are largely conducted on minorities and supposed miscreants in the lower ranks of the underclass.

As a small example, in 2014, a Georgia infant was seriously injured when an invading SWAT team fired an explosive stun grenade into his crib. Alas, the police raided the wrong house. As usual, the cops were not held accountable for the incident. Meanwhile, the family of the wounded toddler incurred $1 million in medical bills. This is just one of innumerable such stories of wanton disregard for safety by marauding police.

It’s intoxicating, a rush. Dressing up in body armor and provocative face coverings and enhanced-hearing sets, a cyborg 21st-century kind of appeal. And instead of sitting around and waiting for something to happen twice or 3 times a year, you can go out and generate it. ~ American criminologist Peter Kraska

In 2014, Maryland was the only state that require law enforcement agencies to track their activity. Its data (2009–2014) showed 4.5 SWAT raids per day in the state; 90% of the them to serve search warrants. 67% of the raids used forced entry. Half of the raids were for nonviolent crimes. Something was seized 85% of the time (that is, police looting almost always occurred), but no arrests were made in 1/3rd of the raids. Of those arrested, only a miniscule percent involved felony charges.

(The Maryland law expired in 2014. As of 2018, only Utah requires annual SWAT statistics. Utah’s numbers align with Maryland’s earlier stats.)

There’s a real misimpression by the public that aggressive police actions are only used against hardened criminals. But there are many cases where a no-knock warrant is used against somebody who’s totally innocent. ~ American attorney Cary Hansel