Benefits from Militarized Police?
by Jeremiah Bourque
Although there are many worthy news items, few of them tend
to rise above the specter of partisan warfare. Only one I
will mention in passing: the painting of the Canadian figure
skating pair as being base politicians grubbing for support
and tarnishing the good name of other athletes. The writer
of this drivel on foxsports.com is a truly small, nasty man
for writing this, if he has, as I have, actually seen the
graciousness, sportsmanship, and the total lack of pettiness
of that wronged skating pair. This is the sort of Republican
trash that confuses a class act with public urination on the
true victims, the victors, in the spirit (so he wrote) of
Even for the American media, this was low.
Anyway, that's not enough to write an article on, so my real
subject is on something that has been argued among intellectuals
for the last decade or so: the militarization of police. Also
related to it is the policization (if there is such a word)
of the military.
While the Drug War had been the main subject regarding this
effect, everything has been pushed into overdrive as a result
of the War on Terror. Now, ordinary drug users are being seen
as accomplices of terrorists, let alone those involved in
the distribution and sale of narcotics.
Also, cyber-terror has been lumped into the mix, leading
to the specter of a SEAL raid on Hong Kong or Taiwanese hackers,
leaving nerds with their brains splattered all over their
computer monitors from the fire of milled, not stamped, Heckler
& Koch submachine guns from a distance of 3 feet, shot in
the back of the head. Grenades would be used to destroy those
who flee, any women in the premises would be shot or severely
beaten, and the 'evil mastermind' in the basement who defaced
whitehouse.gov would have a masked man come up to him, let
him know "This one's straight from Dick Cheney," and then
riddle his body with buckshot from a double-barreled shotgun,
unloading both loads.
Hey, they're military targets now. This isn't all that far
See, a military target can be killed without compunction
or remorse. A military target has no rights. He is the moral
equivalent of Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden, to be given
no quarter, to be taken out by any means necessary, with the
survival of friendlies being given a much higher priority
than the survival of innocents who may be caught in the crossfire.
(After all, they are "collateral damage," or, better, "were
being used as 'human shields'.")
From here on, the oath to guard America from enemies both
foreign, and domestic, trumps all law established to restrain
police, since the police are the military, and the military
is the police. Terrorists, and accomplices of terrorists,
might be killed, if desirable, on the spot, without benefit
of a trial, evidence, or the opportunity for a defense before
a jury of one's peers. Any number of propagandist slogans
can be used to cover for such actions, such as, "He had it
coming," "His peers are scum," and "He's not One Of Us."
So, obviously, the police, which has been militarized on
purpose over the course of the War on Drugs, can now be used
in a paramilitary role. The military, which has been used
in interdiction for years, and which is increasingly involved
in drug hotspots after something of a lull since Vietnam,
not counting Afghanistan (that is, against the Soviets) since
that was a CIA gig, is becoming more and more involved in
Columbia. Where simple drug politics have been insufficient
to justify intervention, oil has been cited as a sufficient
reason to act.
Studies have shown for years that treatment of addiction
is more effective than police action, interdiction, and foreign
military entanglement. Even so, I was rather amazed to learn
recently that scientific knowledge about the process by which
cocaine addicts the brain is essentially unchanged from the
early 1970's. It seems that around the time that Nixon resigned,
all inquiry essentially ceased. There are only three drugs
used to treat addiction, two of them from the 1960's. With
such (cough) extensive research, those who argue that "Treatment
doesn't work!" may have a little bit of a point.
It doesn't work as well as it could... but that's because
we aren't trying very hard.
The Noam Chomskys of the world will argue that the reason
that drugs are a target of society is as a form of social
control. (I am making that statement without his usual intellectual
context.) This, at least, is an idea worth looking at seriously.
A militarized police is a police force that is better able
to handle anti-globalization riots, combat gang wars, and
crush peaceful protests. Militarized police forces are also
better able (in theory) to be able to protect themselves against
schoolground killers, terrorists, and other undesirables.
All in theory, of course.
There is a fair argument about the arming of the civilian
population to be made. The confiscation of firearms in the
United Kingdom has, to some extent, coincided with a dramatic
rise in street crime. However, London's number of police,
however they are armed, is at least 25% less than the number
of police in New York City, adjusting for population differences.
(Depending on what counts as London, supposedly the difference
isn't so great.) Thus, there is something of a chicken and
the egg effect: once police lose credibility on the streets,
gang wars are inevitable as criminal organizations seek to
pick up the slack. Thus, an ambition of militarized police
is to essentially rule the streets unchallenged, even if the
number of police is insufficient. (NRA adherents tend to oversimplify
the issue, though, ignoring the many other factors that have
contributed to the current crime waves in certain western
The problem is, the whole direction this is taking is like
a bad science fiction movie. The blurring of the line between
police and military organizations, the concentration of power
into the hands of corporations, the stagnation of the underclass,
and great difficulties for the broad middle class, seems to
create a pot pourri of issues that the top few percentage
points of the wealthy may view as answerable with an overly
robust police presence to let people know that no matter what
they do, their political system belongs to others.
Now, admittedly, it's not totally beyond repair at this point.
It also is not at the point where police actually need to
be that tough with Americans. However, the whole Gore vs.
Bush election issue, including the Supreme Court's role, if
allowed to become part of a nasty trend, could result, at
some point, in widespread civil disobedience. If that is to
happen, then the police seem to have been groomed by those
who pay the bills to be able to respond, even without military
assistance, in a particularly brutal and irresponsible manner,
and, shielded by the Giuliani genre of "Cops Can Do No Wrong"
politicians, increasingly disconnected from accountability.
All this, of course, circles back into our larger problem,
the oath to fight domestic enemies of the United States. To
a cop under stress, the next terrorist may be a 5 year old
playing with a toy gun. It could be a pregnant woman, an old
lady, or you. When one sees enemies all around, what is one
to do, when the pressure's on?
Somewhat worse, the speeches coming from the Justice Department
about, "If you so much spit on the sidewalk..." Well, you
know what? Laws have proliferated to the point where just
about anyone can be found guilty of something. Was that the
point all along? To make it so that everyone's guilty of something,
so that those that we arbitrarily decide are "suspicious"
can be hauled in on the slightest of offenses?
Before we complete turning our civilian police forces into
a branch office of the military hierarchy, maybe it's time
to have a debate on if this is desirable, and where we want
to be with this in another ten years. Do we want a civil society
that embraces the cities themselves, or do we want a nation
of gated communities where the mission of police is to protect
the few against the many?
As much as small communities can be nice, I must express
my concern about the future of civilization in America, if
the cities are to be treated as hostile territory, and our
guns turned against each other.
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