Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Can You Tell Ferguson from Fallujah? These Guys Sure Can't.


The over-militarization of the police in many American jurisdictions, egged on by Dept. of Homeland Security grants and the Pentagon's 1033 program that gifts (taxpayer funded) surplus military equipment to police departments, is coming home to roost in excesses of violence and Constitutional infringements. SWAT teams are no longer small elite units dedicated to potentially high violence situations, but are the go-to units for a wide variety of mundane jobs as discussed in The Economist (i.e., checking barber shops for licenses, raiding low-stakes poker games, raiding homes for a thousand bucks worth of stolen clothes, checking bars for underage drinking, etc, etc).  Regulatory inspections have become no-knock, warrantless searches and mistakes are being made as trigger happy cops are shooting innocent people (and occasionally being shot themselves) as citizens, er, I mean enemies, wonder who the hell is breaking down their door.

As Radley Balco (book author, Washington Post writer) has said quite eloquently, this has gone too far.  The only beneficiary is the bloated military industrial complex, where arms suppliers can keep building and selling stuff like MRAPs to the military, which can then pawn the stuff off on the police, making it look like there is not as much waste. Meanwhile, the waste continues, in the form of  the people wasted by militarized cops, and the deluge of your tax dollars continuing to fall into a Federal black hole. Indeed, some of these police forces seem to have fallen victim to Maslow's Hammer, i.e., when all you have are warfighters and MRAPs, everything looks like a war.

Data on Transfer of Military Gear to Police Departments (NY Times)


"...Make no mistake, I don’t want to see operators in MRAPs smashing through a front door to serve a No Garage Sale Permit warrant. But I also don’t want an innocent victim to bleed out in front of a house where a lunatic is firing an AK. If an MRAP can be used to rescue that victim, I’m all for it...."  --Chris Hernandez, police officer and army vet writing "Cops, MRAPs, and the Heartbreak of Police Operator Syndrome"
 I find it rather predictable that nowhere in this latest confrontation between citizens and police who have been over-militarized by the Dept of Defense's Excess Property Program has there been a hue and cry from the militia and Tea Party types who love to rail against how Big Government has intruded on our freedoms and Constitutional rights.  I am sure the folks in Ferguson would agree, if they were asked. I wonder where those militia types who rallied behind deadbeat rancher Cliven Bundy are right now. Would they give a rat's ass about these people?  Sure is quiet out there.

There was a mythical time long ago where Hill Street Precinct Captain Frank Furillo kept SWAT Team Leader Lt. Howard Hunter under a tight leash, only letting the team loose as an absolute last resort; there are times you damn well need them. But it seems to me that old Howard "never saw a situation he couldn't use to deploy a SWAT team" is now running the show. Of course, fiction preceded fact. Recall that episode when Hunter buys the flamethrowing tank?

"...Why armored vehicles in a Midwestern inner suburb? Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors? Why are the authorities in Ferguson, Mo. so given to quasi-martial crowd control methods (such as bans on walking on the street) and, per the reporting of Riverfront Times, the firing of tear gas at people in their own yards? (“‘This my property!’ he shouted, prompting police to fire a tear gas canister directly at his face.”) Why would someone identifying himself as an 82nd Airborne Army veteran, observing the Ferguson police scene, comment that “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone”?