Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Militarization of the Police

About 20 years ago in my hometown the police quietly and at night pulled up about 50 marijuana plants from a woman's backyard. They bagged them and disposed of them however the police dispose of such things.

The next morning an outraged elderly woman called the police and complained some hooligans had sneaked on her property the night before and pulled up every one of her okra plants. And then absconded with them!

The police were embarrassed, but came clean and admitted their mistake. They compensated her for her plants, the newspapers had a good laugh, and the whole thing was forgotten.

According to Google, marijuana and okra bear a strong resemblance to each other.

I assume the police were sending a message to whomever they thought was the grower: we know who you are, so quit what you are doing, or next time you will get in big trouble. Call if a friendly warning.

That common sense among the police is evaporating.

Now imagine how that raid might have gone down today: cops dressed in ninja-suits, with machine guns, crashing through the woman's doors and windows in a pre-dawn raid, throwing concussion grenades throughout the house and macing and tazering and cuffing the poor old lady after tossing her on her floor from her wheelchair, and shooting her incontinent Pomeranian as a potential threat. And maybe shooting her, too, if she didn't die from a stroke or heart attack.

My, how things have changed in 20 years. Officer Friendly has turned into the Gestapo pointing a submachine gun into the face of little kids. How can a man like that live with himself? The only way is if he rationalizes and deludes himself that what he did is honorable. Which it isn't, in no way. Obviously, self-delusion knows no bounds.

What the heck has happened here? Whatever happened to Mayberry and Andy and Barney asking for permission to put his one bullet in his revolver? How has the line between the police and the military become so blurred? Or better yet, degraded and eroded? There must be an explanation.

Could it have anything to do with the War on [Insert Whatever]? Whenever people say, "There ought to be a law" what they're saying, even though they rarely understand it, is that ultimately the police should be allowed to stick a gun in someone's face – or even kill them – to make them follow the law, no matter how stupid or immoral that law is. "Declaring war" on whatever is currently illegal means militarizing the police and demonizing lawbreakers. Unfortunately, that demonizing always slops over onto whatever innocent citizen who happens to get into the way. Everyone becomes guilty, no trial involved.

War always creates an "us versus them" mentality, always among soldiers, and now among the police, when we pretend government can declare "war" on domestic "problems." That's the price we are always going to pay with, "There ought to be a law": the "lawbreakers" are always the bad guys deserving of death, even if that "bad guy" is merely smoking a joint to overcome the nausea of chemotherapy.

Of course, brutality always follows this dehumanization. "The War on Drugs," or on obesity, or tobacco, or firearms, always involves dehumanizing the target. It's an unavoidable part of human nature.

Do we really want to create police who dehumanize and demonize the public? That's the path to creating better killers, not better police. When's the last time they were referred to as "peace officers"? And since when have "peace officers" been issued fully automatic M-16s? And bayonets?

This dehumanization and demonization will always happen when the line between the military and police disappear.

The problem has been going on for longer than it appears. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of On Killing: the Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, writes there is a powerful, innate resistance to the taking of human life. He claims in World War II, only one in five soldiers fired their rifles.

By the time of Vietnam, he says, this percentage had been raised to the point where only five percent didn't fire their weapons. Perhaps this is a good thing from a military point of view (and I'd argue this is debatable), but in the long run it is terrible for society.

This change was created by desensitizing soldiers to killing, by teaching them the enemy is not human, by teaching them to not think but instead follow orders without question. When the police become militarized, and are trained with modern military techniques, they're being taught the same thing: those defined as "perps" are not human. That's how a grown man can stick a machine gun in the face of a six-year-old boy. He's not thinking; he's just "following orders." And perhaps most of the time, people like that are sadists who enjoy the power. Perhaps they are even psychopaths.

Writes Grossman, "We are reaching that stage of desensitization at which the infliction of pain and suffering has become a source of entertainment: vicarious pleasure rather than revulsion. We are learning to kill, and we are learning to like it."

Militarizing the police, and the attendant dehumanization and demonization of the public, and "there ought to be a law," is not the path to a better society. It is the path to the public being the enemy, including those who say, "there ought to be a law" (and how shocked they will be when it comes their turn to be brutalized!). It is, ultimately, the path to tyranny.


sth_txs said...

I noticed here in Texas and even in the small rural communities that the county and city police are now a 'law enforcement center'. You still see the words police or sheriff on the glass doors but the signs with city or county of so and so law enforcement center are prominent.

Baloo said...

Beautifully expressed, as is always the case with Bob Wallace. Reblogged and quibcagged here:
The cop on the beat looks more and more like Judge Dredd....

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Here's a cop at that Columbia MD mall. Look at all that get-up. It had to have taken him at least 10 minutes just to suit up. Half the mall would be mowed down at this point and the cops are just cinching up their helmets, thigh-to-shoulder body armor, gas mask, helmet, etc.

Anonymous said...

Support for police miliatrization was the result of the crime wave that started around 1960 and peaked about 20 years ago. There is an interesting site called Dusk in Autumn which talks about it some, you may find it interesting.

Anonymous said...

My brother was in the army and he said that each soldier has a duty to disobey an order which they (the soldier) believe to be wrong.
As far as I know the police have no equivalent tenant.
Funny how the army is labeled a killing machine...