It seems fitting that as Washington revs up for another avoidable military confrontation, we remind you all of the increased militarization of police forces around the country. And like Chekhov’s gun, if a weapon is introduced in the first act of a play, you know it’s going to be used by the third.
Salon offers a chilling roundup of “11 over-the-top U.S. police raids that victimized innocents,” detailing moments in recent years in which police departments geared up for war stomped all over Americans’ civil liberties. Despite the “Keystone Kops” feel of some of the incidents, these were very real and very dangerous actions instigated by police, most without what a reasonable person would consider even minimal cause. For example:
In Indiana, a SWAT team raided an 18-year-old girl’s house smashing her windows and throwing flashbangs inside, despite the fact that the girl had her front door open and was just watching TV. In a case of mistaken identity, someone else in the street had signed onto the girl’s open WiFi network and was making threats about police. Once the police realized their error, they advised the girl to secure her WiFi account.
Their target was actually a teenage boy who admitted he had a “smart mouth” and a dislike for cops but denied making any threats. According to Gizmodo, the boy had posted a message that read, “Cops Beware! I’m proud of my country but I hate police of any kind. I have explosives made in America. Evansville will feel my pain.”
Note the lack of a specific threat, or even a clear path of information to the person posting the message. The 18-year-old girl was lucky; a SWAT raid on a Detroit house ended with the shooting death of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who was sleeping on a couch. The militarized cops had the wrong address of a murder suspect. And they also had a television crew in tow, making the increased militarization of American police part of your nightly entertainment package.
The American Civil Liberties Union has been investigating the arming of the country’s police, and offers its own roundup, including the killing of Stanley-Jones in Detroit. The officer who fired the fatal shot, Joseph Weekley, faces retrial in December on involuntary manslaughter charges after a trial this summer ended with a hung jury.
The ACLU has filed Freedom of Information requests in 23 states seeking details on the kinds of weapons—including armored vehicles—and body armor with which police have been outfitting themselves at a public cost of untold millions of dollars. It’s unclear when the civil rights advocates will finish their expected report.
“Equipping state and local law enforcement with military weapons and vehicles, military tactical training, and actual military assistance to conduct traditional law enforcement erodes civil liberties and encourages increasingly aggressive policing, particularly in poor neighborhoods and communities of color,” Kara Dansky, senior counsel for the ACLU’s Center for Justice, said when the investigation was announced in March. “We’ve seen examples of this in several localities, but we don’t know the dimensions of the problem.”
Of course, measuring the problem is one thing. Demilitarizing the police will be another thing entirely.
—Posted by Scott Martelle.
OregonDOT (CC BY 2.0)
SWAT Team members prepare for an exercise in Oregon.