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Who Benefits from Militarized Police?
February 19, 2002
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 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 Al Gore.

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 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 from reality.

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 nations.)

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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