The Militarization of the Police
“We are a warlike people...easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel — ships, planes, missiles, fortifications — and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become anti-enemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan's counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior's teaching [to love your enemies]."
—LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball, 1976
(I understand you may not be religious, but the principle here is what is idealized, not the religion itself. - Chris)
The Militarization of the Police
By Chris Baker
It is 2014, and the news channels are awash with accounts of police brutality, murder trials for police officers, and a constant stream of debates regarding the justification for police killings. Although these debates are healthy, and very clearly need to happen, there are two aspects to this that are not being talked about much, if at all. One of those aspects relates to the training of police officers. It is scary enough that in America 2014, police officers and SWAT teams look more and more like seasoned soldiers, with the influx in machine guns, Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAP) and other military equipment. But more specifically, it is that these police officers are being trained in military tactics in order to accomplish their objectives. Gone are the days of knocking on a door, explaining that you have a warrant to search the premises, and conducting an investigation. America is now in a time of “no-knock raids,” in which without telling occupants that the police are entering, and dressed like SWAT teams, they break down doors, throw in flash-bang grenades, and start shooting – all over two dollars’ worth of marijuana. No, this is not hyperbole. It is America, circa 2014, and this story, as well as others will be discussed.
The second aspect, and perhaps the most troubling, is the context of liberty in relations these events. With the scandal surrounding Edward Snowden, and the NSA unwarranted spying and wiretapping, it has become clear and evident that the American government has reached unprecedented levels of paranoia and fear. The government’s seemingly only way to combat that paranoia and fear is through similarly warped responses, all in the name of security here in the homeland. This is why we are now seeing such egregious amounts of attacks on civil liberties, resulting in the deaths of thousands. This will be discussed in detail, with the idea of convincing the reader that a liberty based society must have some sort of mechanism in place for policing the police. One answer to that is filming all police encounters, and knowing important pieces of law that support the act.
Weapons, ammunition, and...tanks?
It seems like it is every day that more and more reports are coming out regarding the amount and worth of military grade equipment trickling down to local police departments. What is most shocking is that this is not a relatively new phenomenon. It has been going on for well over two decades. In what is called the Defense Department Surplus Equipment program, since 1990, over 5 billion dollars’ worth of equipment has made its way from the battle-fields in the Middle East to local P.D’s (Dance, Musgrave, Meagher, 2014). Much of it is in office supplies, but 1.4 billion dollars’ worth is in the form of weapons, ammunition, armored vehicles, and other, similar military equipment. Since the scandal in Ferguson, Missouri alone, this equates to 28 million dollars in “tactical equipment” in just the last three months (Dance, Musgrave, Meagher, 2014). What exactly are these police departments getting? Below is a small summary of examples of just some of the military equipment gained from the 1033 program.
Police in Johnston, R.I., with a population less than 29,000, acquired two bomb disposal robots, 10 tactical trucks, 35 assault rifles, more than 100 infrared gun sights and two pairs of footwear designed to protect against explosive mines. The Johnson police department has 67 sworn officers.
The parks division of Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources was given 20 M-16 rifles, while the fish and wildlife enforcement division obtained another 20 M-16s, plus eight M-14 rifles and ten .45-caliber automatic pistols.
Campus police at the University of Louisiana, Monroe, received 12 M-16s to help protect the 8,811 students there (or perhaps to keep them in line).
The warden service of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife received a small aircraft, 96 night vision goggles, 67 gun sights and seven M-14 rifles. (Dance, Musgrave, Meagher, 20014)
This graph contains the spread, in monetary worth, of the equipment in the last 25 years.
What is fascinating to note through all of this data is that local police departments are not just receiving ammunition, weapons, or extra magazines. Law enforcement agencies all across America are receiving drones, mine resistant armored vehicles, and other military vehicles. In fact, SWAT commander Captain E.M Marsh related that “500 similar vehicles had been distributed to law enforcement organizations across the country” (Harwood, 2014).
A Standing Army
“The liberties of a people are in danger from a large standing army, not only because the rulers may employ them for the purposes of supporting themselves in any usurpations of power, which they may see proper to exercise, but there is great hazard, that an army will subvert the forms of the government, under whose authority, they are raised, and establish one, according to the pleasure of their leader.” – Brutus Anti-Federalist Paper#10
The constitution grants the Federal Government the power to having a standing Navy, indefinitely, as well as to provide funds and raise taxes to this end. However, with a standing Army, there is no such provision. In fact, Article I, Section 8, Clause 12 of the Constitution specifically states that an army is to be funded, and provided for, for the space of two years at a time. Beyond that, there is to be a militia, made up of free-men who are able to bear arms. Despite this, and for virtually all of America’s history, there seems to have always been the “need” for an army, some new “war” to fight. Where has the gotten America, today? It is apparent now that local police departments are becoming almost indistinguishable from our armed forces. The lingo certainly gives credence to the idea as well. There is a “war on poverty.” A “war on drugs.” A “war on terrorism.” With all the things America is “at war” with, at home and abroad, is it any wonder that police start looking more and more like seasoned soldiers, instead of your friendly neighborhood cop? This is, of course, the very problem. Police become invading occupiers. They become, in effect, a standing army. James Madison described the problem in this way: “Oppressors can tyrannize only when they achieve a standing army, an enslaved press, and a disarmed populace” (Hunter, 2012). What does this mean for the people of America? It certainly cannot mean anything good.
A Sobering Statistic
Business Insider reports that since 2011, over 400 Americans have been killed by the police. That statistic should be haunting to any liberty minded individual. According to FBI reports from the same year, “police killed 404 suspects in acts of ‘justifiable homicide’" (Windsor, 2014). What is especially scary about this statistic is that these numbers do not actually reflect true numbers necessarily. What many people do not realize is that reporting statistics about police killings by law enforcement agencies is voluntary. It is not something that has to be done. Nor do these numbers include killings that aren’t justified, according to police criteria for determining a killing justified (Windsor, 2014). It gets worse, too. As of December of 2013, Americans killed in the Iraq war was 4489. Americans, here in America, killed by police numbers now over 5,000. And since then, that number has only increased. More Americans have been killed, here at home, by police, than by terrorists in Iraq. To put it another way, over three thousand people lost their lives in the atrocity that was 9/11. America went to war over that. Statistically speaking, Americans are now more likely to die in America from the police-related incidents, than by terrorism. That is a sobering statistic indeed.
With the American Government engaged in virtually every “war” imaginable, the existence of a standing Army now a reality, armed to the teeth, and ready to enforce the law of the government, what is the end result? Presented below are a few examples.
- In 2011, a Houston man, sleeping in his bathtub after a night on the town, was awoken by SWAT teams invading his home, due to a call from a neighbor who reported that he was “concerned with [Chadwick’s] (the victim) well-being.” Cops broke into his home, threw stun grenades at him, shot him multiple times, tased him, and beat him repeatedly. “Chadwick was then hauled off to Ft. Bend County Jail with a fractured nose, bruised ribs and what’s proven to be permanent hearing loss. He was kept in an isolation cell for two full days. Remember, Chadwick had never broken a law; he had committed no crime” (Agorist, 2014).
- In December of this month, protests at UC Berkley broke out in response to court rulings exonerating the Officer involved with the death of 19 year old in Ferguson, Missouri. Attending the protests were a group of Pastors and Seminary students. Pastor Cindy Pincus, 29, stopped to render aid to a hurt protestor, when she noticed “from the corner of her eye, ... an Officer swing a nightstick.” She said the blow sent her staggering. "I had a brief blackout in my vision. I saw stars," Pincus said. "I would say it’s an indiscriminate and disproportionate reaction to peaceful protests. It was completely, way out of line” (McLaughlin, 2014).
- Earlier this year, in La Puenta, California, a deputy with the Sherriff’s Department was responding to a domestic abuse call. Breaking into the wrong house, ignoring the “beware of dog” sign, the Officer pepper-sprayed, and summarily executed, with 3 shots to the head, Rosleen Banner’s pregnant dog. “One shot wasn’t enough? No they had to keep shooting her while she was down and crying in pain and trying to get to her human mommy for help. Deputies refused to allow Roxan (Rosleen’s nickname) to comfort or hold her while she died,” Banner wrote on the Justice 4 Tata Facebook page. The website, “The Free Thought Project,” chronicles what they are calling “puppycide.” “One only has to browse through our “puppycide” section to understand how wide spread this disturbing trend is. What makes this even more tragic is that not a single Officer has been killed by a dog in the past 50 years, yet police in the United States kill a dog on average of every 90 minutes” (Rules, 2014).
- In May of 2011, Bernard Bailey went to his town hall on behalf of his daughter to fight a traffic ticket she had received. Police Chief Richard Combs decided that was enough to have Mr. Bailey arrested, charging him with “obstruction of justice.” Mr. Bailey realized what he was being charged with was unlawful, and seeking to defuse the situation, went outside to his truck to leave and let the matter go. Combs followed Bailey outside, attempted to wrestle Mr. Bailey from his truck, and ended up shooting Mr. Bailey twice in the chest. Mr. Bailey died at the scene. (CCNews, 2014)
- “A 20 year veteran of the CSU Monterey Bay police force, was given a notice of termination this week for choosing not to immediately resort to violent escalation during a confrontation with a suicidal student. The unidentified Officer was the first one on the scene when responding to an incident involving a suicidal college student in his CSUMB dorm room in February of this year. The Officer showed a heartening level of restraint when dealing with a student, who was in his room with a knife and hammer, and was also threatening to light himself on fire. “He was clearly a danger to himself and he was in crisis,” Marina Police Chief Edmundo Rodriguez said. “We were trying to keep him from accessing the weapons or leave, to get him medical attention.” Instead of immediately resorting to violence, this Officer was talking the student down and de-escalating the situation. The Officer was successful in calming the student down and was going to get him a glass of water when the Marina police department showed up, and immediately began tasering the student.” The Officer who spent that time actually talking with the student, and not immediately attacking him? That Officer was later fired for “a failure to act.” Police murder people in the United States, and get paid leave and no trial. One Police Officer does their job, and does it well? You are repaid with a pink slip.
What these cases serve to illustrate is not just that there are bad cops in the system, or that some bad cops live under the radar. The problem is systemic. It is a part of the training of these police officers to be aggressive, to respond with little provocation with extreme prejudice and force, and to use military tactics to do so. These are not just some examples of a few bad eggs. This is a system-wide problem, and serves to underscore the point even further that the militarization of the police is a problem, not just for freedom in America, but for security as well.
Police Officers or Military Tacticians?
Two time Emmy Award and Edward R. Murrow award winning journalist Ben Swann has dedicated the vast majority of his career investigating stories, sides, and perspectives typically not covered by most media outlets. Much of his latest efforts revolve around police brutality, the militarization of the police, and other issues and controversies surrounding the police. In his latest video, “The Roots of Police Militarization,” Swann takes the viewer through various cities, courtrooms, political action committees, and interviews in an attempt to understand the roots of police militarization. In his video, Swann argues that although the weapons, the armored vehicles, the 1033 program, and others may be a part of the militarization of the police, but what really is fundamental to this new mindset in America is not that – it is the tactics being used by police officers. “What media has not helped the public understand is that the real problem with militarization is not military equipment,” said Swann. “It’s the use by police of military tactics.” Swann goes on to give 3 examples of cases where police used excessive force, as would be appropriate for the military to use in times of war, in order to describe exactly how these tactics play out in American homes. “The first example occurred in Detroit, Michigan, when 7-year-old girl Aiyana Jones was awakened in the middle of the night by a stun grenade developed for wartime raids, called a “flash bang,” which was thrown by a SWAT team, and immediately set fire to her blanket. Following the release of the grenade, the SWAT team stormed into the house, and mistakenly shot Jones through the neck, killing her. A second incident occurred in Tucson, Arizona, when a SWAT team attempted to serve a search warrant as part of a multi-house drug crackdown. Jose Guerena, an Iraq war veteran who lived in the house, instructed his family to hide while he got his gun, after his wife became alarmed at the sight of a shadowy figure standing in their front yard, holding a gun. Guerena retrieved his gun – leaving the safety on – and stepped into the living room. The SWAT team then entered the house and shot him 60 times. Swann noted that the police “have still never said whether they found drugs” in Guerena’s home. A third example occurred in Atlanta, Georgia, when a SWAT team visited a family’s home in search of a small amount of drugs they believed were in the possession of the family’s nephew.
The parents, three daughters, and a 19-month-old baby boy were asleep in a converted garage when police opened the door and threw a stun grenade in. The grenade landed in the 19-month-old baby’s crib. It blew a hole in his chest, and resulted in such severe burns that the baby was placed in a medically induced coma. Swann said that, according to author Radley Balkow, “The most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home” (Swann, 2014). 40,000 such “no-knock raids” happen every year in America. The family whose toddler had a hole blown through its chest is now facing over 1 million dollars in medical expenses. (Lynn, 2014) No indictments were filed against the Georgia SWAT team that caused the mess in the first place.
The Solution Is More Liberty
Benjamin Franklin said it best when he said “Those who would give up essential liberty for a little security deserve neither liberty, nor security.” If a society decides they will ere on the side of security, more often than not, they will wind up not only less free, but less secure as well. So what can the American public do in the face of such adversity? The answer to questions such as these has always been and will always be the wise application of knowledge. Education is the most important tool for defense in a free society. It is absolutely pivotal that people know their rights, and become familiar with court decisions regarding police actions. But one of the best lines of defense the American public has when dealing with law enforcement is to film the encounter.
The vast majority of cellular phones today come with video cameras built inside. When dealing with law enforcement, it is crucial that people learn to utilize this technology, for their safety and for others. Gizmodo, in conjunction with Reason Magazine, have compiled a list of the 7 rules they find most essential for recording the police. Let us discuss those rules.
1. Know the Law (wherever you are) – 38 states explicitly declare that, within state law, it is legal to film the police, so long as you do not physically hinder their ability to do their job. Gizmodo says “the First Circuit Court of Appeals covering Massachusetts declared the state's ban on recording police to be unconstitutional. In May, The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals covering Illinois also declared the state's harsh recording ban unconstitutional, ordering authorities to stop enforcing it. In November, The Supreme Court of the United States rejected Illinois' petition to appeal the Seventh Circuit Court's ruling” (Gizmodo, 2014). In other words, get those cameras out, and defend yourself!
2. Do Not Secretly Film the Police – 12 States have laws on the books that state that a person being filmed must first have given permission to be filmed. Illinois, an infamously well-known anti-filming state, has had its laws struck down as unconstitutional. Even still, to protect yourself, it is far better to announce your intent to film, if possible. Gizmodo’s recommendation is “If you want to limit your legal exposure and present a strong legal case, record police openly if possible. But if you videotape on-duty police from a distance, such an announcement might not be possible or appropriate unless police approach you” (Gizmodo, 2014).
3. Know How to Respond to Ignorant Cops – Do not respond in a hostile manner. Most people are not comfortable being filmed, much less the Officer with the gun on their hip. If the Officer comes up to you, and asks what you are doing, Gizmodo recommends answering in the following way: “Avoid saying things like "I'm recording you to make sure you're doing your job right" or "I don't trust you." Instead, say something like "Officer, I'm not interfering. I'm asserting my First Amendment rights. You're being documented and recorded offsite." Saying this while remaining calm and cool will likely put police on their best behavior” (Gizmodo, 2014).
4. Do Not Share Your Video With the Police – Gizmodo’s reason? “If you capture video of police misconduct or brutality, but otherwise avoid being identified yourself, you can anonymously upload it to YouTube. This seems to be the safest legal option. For example, a Massachusetts woman who videotaped a cop beating a motorist with a flashlight posted the video to the Internet. Afterwards, one of the cops caught at the scene filed criminal wiretapping charges against her. (As usual, the charges against her were later dropped.) On the other hand, an anonymous videographer uploaded footage of an NYPD Officer body-slamming a man on a bicycle to YouTube. Although the videographer was never revealed, the video went viral. Consequently, the manufactured assault charges against the bicyclist were dropped, the Officer was fired, and the bicyclist eventually sued the city and won a $65,000 settlement” (Gizmodo, 2014).
5. Prepare to Be Arrested – It is a sad state of affairs when simply recording in defense of your person and property is cause for arrest, but it is simply the truth. That said, you cannot let that deter you from exercising your 1st amendment rights. Gizmodo declares, “If you're rolling the camera, be very open and upfront about it. And look at it as a potential act of civil disobedience for which you could go to jail." It's indeed disturbing that citizens who are not breaking the law should prepare to be arrested, but in the current legal fog this is sage advice” (Gizmodo, 2014).
6. Master Your Technology – Understand how your phone works, and download any apps that will allow you to upload your video recording instantaneously. It is possible for cops to find and delete recorded video, which is why it is important to know which apps upload video while simultaneously recording it. Gizmodo recommends Bambuser. “The magic of Bambuser is that it can instantly store your video offsite. This is essential for preserving video in case police illegally destroy or confiscate your camera. But even with it installed, you'll want to make sure that your device is always passcode protected. If a cop snatches your camera, this will make it extremely difficult for her to simply delete your videos. (If a cop tries to trick you into revealing your passcode, never, never, never give it up!)” (Gizmodo, 2014).
7. Do Not Point Your Camera Like A Gun – This is a self-explanatory one. In this day and age, the most common excuse by law enforcement for justifying a police shooting is “fear for their life.” Filming police in a threatening manner, even if it is simply holding your phone in a way that might make the cop think you have a gun can turn into a nightmare real quick. “Obviously, those recording with a smartphone lack this angled viewfinder. But you can get a satisfactory shot while holding your device at waist level, tilting it upward a few degrees. This posture might feel awkward at first, but it's noticeably less confrontational than holding the camera between you and the Officer's face. Also try to be in control of your camera before an Officer approaches. You want to avoid suddenly grasping for it. If a cop thinks you're reaching for a gun, you could get shot” (Gizmodo, 2014).
It is important to understand that a society based on liberty is an informed and educated society. Liberty must be at the forefront of any controversy, any issue, and any topic, as it pertains to rights, life or death, or freedom or captivity. A liberty based society understands the role of police, the flaws in their tactics and line of thinking, and knows how to protect itself from egregious assaults on that liberty. It is vital to any healthy society, and it should not be intimidated out of existence due to the presence of a badge and gun.
2014 has been an interesting year. America has witnessed one of its bloodiest years, in terms of dealing with police. To be fair, it is essential that one does not walk away from this essay believing that all cops are bad. That is not the argument of this essay, nor its intent. Instead, it is to persuade people that the system itself is corrupt. The system itself purposefully teaches Law Enforcement officers to be explicitly suspicious of anyone and everyone. And in a world where you are taught to be paranoid, it is no real surprise when cops adopt a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality. It is also no surprise that in a world gripped with fear of terrorism that many well-intentioned people have clamored for more security to defend against terror. But what a liberty based society cannot do is give up liberty in order to feel good about increased security. To do so is to not truly understand the situation. It is to put power into the hands of people who are not supposed to have that power to begin with. And the results can be catastrophic.
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