Saturday, February 21, 2015

War And Peace War And Police

I promise this post is shorter than the first proposed title would indicate. But the subject it addresses - the military-style up-armoring and officer training of America's police departments - is already underway and growing rapidly. Tom Engelhardt has the basics in his article at The Nation, What Does the Future Hold for a Country Forever at War? — The domestic arms race in America is a one-way street—and the question is what awaits us up the road. Two paragraphs out of the middle should crystallize what concerns me... and of course Engelhardt himself... so much:

Reminder to officers:
Don't be a cartoon!
The occasion for such reflections: machine guns in my hometown. To be specific, several weeks ago, New York Police Commissioner William J. Bratton announced the formation of a new 350-officer Special Response Group (SRG). Keep in mind that New York City already has a police force of more than 34,000—bigger, that is, than the active militaries of Austria, Bulgaria, Chad, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kenya, Laos, Switzerland or Zimbabwe—as well as its own “navy,” including six submersible drones. Just another drop in an ocean of blue, the SRG will nonetheless be a squad for our times, trained in what Bratton referred to as “advanced disorder control and counterterror.” It will also, he announced, be equipped with “extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and machine guns—unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances.” And here’s where he created a little controversy in my hometown. The squad would, Bratton added, be “designed for dealing with events like our recent protests or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris.”

Now, that was an embarrassment in liberal New York. By mixing the recent demonstrations over the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others into the same sentence with the assault on Mumbai and the Charlie Hebdo affair in France, he seemed to be equating civil protest in the Big Apple with acts of terrorism. Perhaps you won’t be surprised then that the very next day the police department started walking back the idea that the unit would be toting its machine guns not just to possible terror incidents but to local protests. A day later, Bratton himself walked his comments back even further. (“I may have in my remarks or in your interpretation of my remarks confused you or confused the issue.”) Now, it seems there will be two separate units, the SRG for counterterror patrols and a different, assumedly machine-gun-less crew for protests.


The cop to viewer left
does not give me confidence...
In America, the police should emphatically not be viewed as a branch of the military, or as a separate military entity for domestic use. That way lies the demise of our freedom, probably quickly and certainly not cheaply in money or lives. The situation is not mitigated by the obvious readiness with which grand juries nationwide are willing to no‑bill law enforcement officers who may have committed crimes in performance of their purported duties. (We'll never know, will we, if no trials ever take place.). The people who put these institutions in place in virtually every big city in America (and not a few smaller ones) need to read their goddamned history! And they need to do it before we find ourselves living in pre‑W.W. II Germany. (Yeah, I know; that knocks on the door of Godwin's Law. Better that than a no‑knock raid...)

The other great loss, of course, is that of the wisdom conveyed by active public protest. (If you think there is no such wisdom, you've probably ended up on the wrong blog; maybe you need something more toward the right.) In my younger, healthier days, I felt confident in standing in the Main Street esplanade traffic circle in Houston, holding my own handmade sign or one end of a banner, with people of similar mind, demonstrating (word chosen advisedly) the nonviolent alternative to conventional wisdom to a public that might otherwise never give it a thought... the conventional wisdom always being "go to war, America!". For better or worse (I can see it either way), the groups I participated with were always orderly, never violent and on the rare occasions a permit was required (usually when we anticipated blocking traffic), duly filed for one. That was enough to keep us out of jail, though that was not a primary goal.

Today, literally any protest, however orderly, would be deemed "terrorism," and paddy-wagons full of protesters would promptly be on the way to jail or, worse, to a hospital to be patched up after they were beaten. Yes, by cops, drunk on the power conferred by all their new equipment and (inadequate) military training.

Do we want to have and keep the freedoms talked about by our nation's founders and fleshed out by many of our forebears since the founding? This is sure as Hell not the way to get to them!

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