Don't Call It a Curfew:
Martial Law in the United States
By Shahid Buttar, Truthout | Op-Ed
Enforcing a 10 p.m. curfew, police officers in riot gear cross the intersection of North and Pennsylvania Avenues, a hot spot during the week's unrest in Baltimore, May 1, 2015. Baltimore's chief prosecutor charged six police officers on Friday with a range of crimes including murder and manslaughter in the arrest and fatal injury of Freddie Gray. (Photo: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)
The only things that could make worse the martial law effectively imposed in Baltimore recently were the discrimination and bias apparent in its enforcement. Being Black in Baltimore in recent days meant being imprisoned in your home. And beyond Baltimore, the city's "curfew" neatly encapsulated much of what is wrong in the United States.
Driving to City Hall on May 2, I passed a staging area for the National Guard and armored vehicles from police departments across the state of Maryland. The scene resembled an invasion by an armored tank column.
The grim presence of military vehicles on a civilian street contrasted sharply with the ebullient mood of the rally and march in which we participated. Drawing over 5,000 people, the May 2 event included large numbers of children and a diverse representation of local communities.
The crowd was celebrating with good reason: City prosecutor Marilyn Mosby made international news the day before, on May 1, by announcing the seemingly unthinkable prosecution of six Baltimore police officers for murder and other criminal charges.
On the other hand, the armored invasion we witnessed proved an appropriate metaphor for what befell Baltimore that night: effective martial law and blatant racial bias.
Uprisings in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, may have seemed like "riots" to those observing without a lifetime of arbitrary treatment by brutal police. Many Americans - often those insulated from the policing crisis by living in suburban or rural settings - blindly praise our country as the "land of the free."
But freedom is something that most Americans have few opportunities to experience. A sign on May 2 declared, "These aren't riots. You are watching an unjust system be dismantled" - by people unwilling to tolerate it any longer.
We are all constantly monitored, to a greater extent than any people, anywhere, ever in the history of our species. We reward officials complicit in torture with power and prestige.
And most horrifically, the United States imprisons a quarter of humankind's prisoners in a nation claiming only 2 percent of the world's population. More Americans rot in prison - where slavery remains legal under the terms of the 13th Amendment - than were formally enslaved before the Civil War.
During the May 2 rally, several speakers publicly hoped that authorities would lift the curfew. After all, the prosecution of officers who killed Freddie Gray addressed a central demand of residents who had taken to the streets. Not since the Ferguson uprising began nearly a year ago had there been such an opportunity to build goodwill between authorities and low-income communities of color enduring their abuses.
Those hopes were dashed within hours, though authorities thankfully found sanity in ending the curfew on May 3.
As a civil liberties lawyer, I often address people who justify state surveillance by thinking that "if I have nothing to hide, I have nothing to fear." My first rejoinder to such unfortunate ignorance entails recalling US history, and our government's recurring pattern of violently targeting marginal political groups to prevent the rest of us from hearing from them.
Next, I sometimes tell a joke: We could easily achieve security in the United States, were we willing to embrace the obviously authoritarian decision to lock everyone in their homes. The suggestion meets with laughter because it is preposterous, not because it is something that authorities in a society hailing itself as the leader of the free world should ever contemplate.
Across Baltimore on May 2, White residents celebrated their ability to conduct their lives as usual. Meanwhile, their darker skinned neighbors were violently assaulted, simply for the act of walking home, by police demonstrating the audacity to smile on camera while gripping the limp body of someone they had just maced and dragged across a street in retaliation for literally doing nothing at all.
The vastly unequal and separate systems of justice in Baltimore reflect the bias pervading our criminal "justice" system generally.
In every major US city, police operate not as public servants charged with the duty "to protect and serve," but rather as paramilitary agents of armed occupation, protecting property more vigilantly than people, closing ranks to protect fellow officers from the truth when they commit abuses, and selectively moving from one jurisdiction to another on the rare instance that any do face justice for committing crimes while wearing a badge.
The impunity widely enjoyed by police officers mirrors that of national security officials who stand above the law despite committing grave crimes against the United States, our fundamental freedoms and humanity.
CIA and US Defense Department employees who tortured and even murdered detainees have escaped prosecution for their human rights abuses. Even repeat offenders are walking free with government pensions and lifetime appellate judicial appointments.
Earlier this year, I was arrested in the Senate simply for asking questions about our separate and unequal systems of justice. As the director of National Intelligence left a Senate hearing, I asked (here's video) how he justified evading prosecution for lying to the Senate under oath about mass ongoing constitutional crimes, when Eric Garner was killed without trial, based on mere suspicion of a "crime" as innocuous as selling cigarettes.
Our communities are subject to arbitrary state violence, orchestrated by perpetrators who have stood blithely above the law - until now.
Marilyn Mosby is a national hero, and a principled public servant conscientiously applying the law fairly and equally. It's a shame that her fellow prosecutors in Ferguson, at the US Justice Department and across the United States haven't yet done the same.
Shahid Buttar is a constitutional lawyer, electronic musician, grassroots organizer and executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.
The Baltimore Rebellion and Newton's Third Law of Motion
By Wilmer J. Leon III, Ph.D., SpeakOut | Op-Ed
On Freddie Gray and the Baltimore Uprising
By Bruno Gullì, Truthout | Op-Ed
Baltimore, Country at a Critical Juncture
By Staff, National Domestic Workers Alliance | Press Release
THE MILITARIZATION OF U.S. POLICE: FINALLY DRAGGED INTO THE LIGHT BY THE HORRORS OF FERGUSON
BY GLENN GREENWALD @ggreenwald
The intensive militarization of America’s police forces is a serious menace about which a small number of people have been loudly warning for years, with little attention or traction. In a 2007 paper on “the blurring distinctions between the police and military institutions and between war and law enforcement,” the criminal justice professor Peter Kraska defined “police militarization” as “the process whereby civilian police increasingly draw from, and pattern themselves around, the tenets of militarism and the military model.”
The harrowing events of the last week in Ferguson, Missouri – the fatal police shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager, Mike Brown, and the blatantly excessive and thuggish response to ensuing community protests from a police force that resembles an occupying army – have shocked the U.S. media class and millions of Americans. But none of this is aberrational.
It is the destructive by-product of several decades of deliberate militarization of American policing, a trend that received a sustained (and ongoing) steroid injection in the form of a still-flowing, post-9/11 federal funding bonanza, all justified in the name of “homeland security.” This has resulted in a domestic police force that looks, thinks, and acts more like an invading and occupying military than a community-based force to protect the public.
As is true for most issues of excessive and abusive policing, police militarization is overwhelmingly and disproportionately directed at minorities and poor communities, ensuring that the problem largely festers in the dark. Americans are now so accustomed to seeing police officers decked in camouflage and Robocop-style costumes, riding in armored vehicles and carrying automatic weapons first introduced during the U.S. occupation of Baghdad, that it has become normalized. But those who bear the brunt of this transformation are those who lack loud megaphones; their complaints of the inevitable and severe abuse that results have largely been met with indifference.
If anything positive can come from the Ferguson travesties, it is that the completely out-of-control orgy of domestic police militarization receives long-overdue attention and reining in.
Last night, two reporters, The Washington Post‘s Wesley Lowery and The Huffington Post‘s Ryan Reilly, were arrested and assaulted while working from a McDonald’s in Ferguson. The arrests were arbitrary and abusive, and received substantial attention — only because of their prominent platforms, not, as they both quickly pointed out upon being released, because there was anything unusual about this police behavior.
Reilly, on Facebook, recounted how he was arrested by “a Saint Louis County police officer in full riot gear, who refused to identify himself despite my repeated requests, purposefully banged my head against the window on the way out and sarcastically apologized.” He wrote: “I’m fine. But if this is the way these officers treat a white reporter working on a laptop who moved a little too slowly for their liking, I can’t imagine how horribly they treat others.” He added: “And if anyone thinks that the militarization of our police force isn’t a huge issue in this country, I’ve got a story to tell you.”
Lowery, who is African-American, tweeted a summary of an interview he gave on MSNBC: “If I didn’t work for the Washington Post and were just another Black man in Ferguson, I’d still be in a cell now.” He added: “I knew I was going to be fine. But the thing is, so many people here in Ferguson don’t have as many Twitter followers as I have and don’t have Jeff Bezos or whoever to call and bail them out of jail.”
The best and most comprehensive account of the dangers of police militarization is the 2013 book by the libertarian Washington Post journalist Radley Balko, entitled “Rise of the Warrior Cops: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.” Balko, who has devoted his career to documenting and battling the worst abuses of the U.S. criminal justice system, traces the history and underlying mentality that has given rise to all of this: the “law-and-order” obsessions that grew out of the social instability of the 1960s, the War on Drugs that has made law enforcement agencies view Americans as an enemy population, the Reagan-era “War on Poverty” (which was more aptly described as a war on America’s poor), the aggressive Clinton-era expansions of domestic policing, all topped off by the massively funded, rights-destroying, post-9/11 security state of the Bush and Obama years. All of this, he documents, has infused America’s police forces with “a creeping battlefield mentality.”
I read Balko’s book prior to publication in order to blurb it, and after I was done, immediately wrote what struck me most about it: “There is no vital trend in American society more overlooked than the militarization of our domestic police forces.” The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim, in the outlet’s official statement about Reilly’s arrest, made the same point: “Police militarization has been among the most consequential and unnoticed developments of our time.”
In June, the ACLU published a crucial 96-page report on this problem, entitled “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing.” Its central point: “the United States today has become excessively militarized, mainly through federal programs that create incentives for state and local police to use unnecessarily aggressive weapons and tactics designed for the battlefield.”
The report documents how the Drug War and (Clinton/Biden) 1990s crime bills laid the groundwork for police militarization, but the virtually unlimited flow of “homeland security” money after 9/11 all but forced police departments to purchase battlefield equipment and other military paraphernalia whether they wanted them or not. Unsurprisingly, like the War on Drugs and police abuse generally, “the use of paramilitary weapons and tactics primarily impacted people of color.”
Some police departments eagerly militarize, but many recognize the dangers. Salt Lake City police chief Chris Burbank is quoted in the ACLU report: “We’re not the military. Nor should we look like an invading force coming in.” A 2011 Los Angeles Times article, noting that “federal and state governments are spending about $75 billion a year on domestic security,” described how local police departments receive so much homeland security money from the U.S. government that they end up forced to buy battlefield equipment they know they do not need: from armored vehicles to Zodiac boats with side-scan sonar.
The trend long pre-dates 9/11, as this 1997 Christian Science Monitor article by Jonathan Landay about growing police militarization and its resulting abuses (“Police Tap High-Tech Tools of Military to Fight Crime”) makes clear. Landay, in that 17-year-old article, described “an infrared scanner mounted on [a police officer’s] car [that] is the same one used by US troops to hunt Iraqi forces in the Gulf war,” and wrote: “it is symbolic of an increasing use by police of some of the advanced technologies that make the US military the world’s mightiest.”
But the security-über-alles fixation of the 9/11 era is now the driving force. A June article in the New York Times by Matt Apuzzo (“War Gear Flows to Police Departments”) reported that “during the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.” He added: “The equipment has been added to the armories of police departments that already look and act like military units.”
All of this has become such big business, and is grounded in such politically entrenched bureaucratic power, that it is difficult to imagine how it can be uprooted. As the LA Times explained:
An entire industry has sprung up to sell an array of products, including high-tech motion sensors and fully outfitted emergency operations trailers. The market is expected to grow to $31 billion by 2014.
Like the military-industrial complex that became a permanent and powerful part of the American landscape during the Cold War, the vast network of Homeland Security spyware, concrete barricades and high-tech identity screening is here to stay. The Department of Homeland Security, a collection of agencies ranging from border control to airport security sewn quickly together after Sept. 11, is the third-largest Cabinet department and — with almost no lawmaker willing to render the U.S. less prepared for a terrorist attack — one of those least to fall victim to budget cuts.
The dangers of domestic militarization are both numerous and manifest. To begin with, as the nation is seeing in Ferguson, it degrades the mentality of police forces in virtually every negative way and subjects their targeted communities to rampant brutality and unaccountable abuse. The ACLU report summarized: “excessive militarism in policing, particularly through the use of paramilitary policing teams, escalates the risk of violence, threatens individual liberties, and unfairly impacts people of color.”
Police militarization also poses grave and direct dangers to basic political liberties, including rights of free speech, press and assembly. The first time I wrote about this issue was back in 2008 when I covered the protests outside the GOP national convention in St. Paul for Salon, and was truly amazed by the war-zone atmosphere deliberately created by the police:
St. Paul was the most militarized I have ever seen an American city be, even more so than Manhattan in the week of 9/11 — with troops of federal, state and local law enforcement agents marching around with riot gear, machine guns, and tear gas cannisters, shouting military chants and marching in military formations. Humvees and law enforcement officers with rifles were posted on various buildings and balconies. Numerous protesters and observers were tear gassed and injured.
The same thing happened during the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011: the police response was so excessive, and so clearly modeled after battlefield tactics, that there was no doubt that deterring domestic dissent is one of the primary aims of police militarization. About that police response, I wrote at the time:
Law enforcement officials and policy-makers in America know full well that serious protests — and more — are inevitable given the economic tumult and suffering the U.S. has seen over the last three years (and will continue to see for the foreseeable future). . . .
The reason the U.S. has para-militarized its police forces is precisely to control this type of domestic unrest, and it’s simply impossible to imagine its not being deployed in full against a growing protest movement aimed at grossly and corruptly unequal resource distribution. As Madeleine Albright said when arguing for U.S. military intervention in the Balkans: “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” That’s obviously how governors, big-city Mayors and Police Chiefs feel about the stockpiles of assault rifles, SWAT gear, hi-tech helicopters, and the coming-soon drone technology lavished on them in the wake of the post/9-11 Security State explosion, to say nothing of the enormous federal law enforcement apparatus that, more than anything else, resembles a standing army which is increasingly directed inward.
Most of this militarization has been justified by invoking Scary Foreign Threats — primarily the Terrorist — but its prime purpose is domestic.
Police militarization is increasingly aimed at stifling journalism as well. Like the arrests of Lowery and Reilly last night, Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman and two of her colleagues were arrested while covering the 2008 St. Paul protests. As Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation (on whose board I sit) explained yesterday, militarization tactics “don’t just affect protesters, but also affect those who cover the protest. It creates an environment where police think they can disregard the law and tell reporters to stop filming, despite their legal right to do so, or fire tear gas directly at them to prevent them from doing their job. And if the rights of journalists are being trampled on, you can almost guarantee it’s even worse for those who don’t have such a platform to protect themselves.”
Tanks? Grenade launchers? Police stocking up on military's gear giveaway
August 16, 2014 FoxNews.com
Militarization of police force a problem in the US?
WASHINGTON – From California to Connecticut and several states in between, local police departments have been steadily arming themselves over the years with billions of dollars' worth of military-grade equipment -- including grenade launchers, helicopters and machine guns.
The materiel comes from a U.S. military program that, until this week, received little public attention. But after St. Louis police used heavy-duty equipment in putting down riots and protests following the shooting death of an unarmed teen, new questions have been raised about where this gear is coming from.
The flood of equipment being funneled from the Department of Defense to local police departments traces back to a program created in the 1990s. The excess property program, known as 1033, was initially created to help state and local authorities in the war against drugs, and help unused military equipment find a home -- as opposed to being needlessly destroyed.
But the flow of equipment from the military to towns across America has spiked since the 9/11 attacks. And it's become a thorny topic among critics who say local authorities shouldn’t be outfitted with heavy machinery originally bought by the government to fight actual wars and track terrorists overseas.
In Missouri, police used some of this gear to respond to looters and protesters following Saturday’s police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Missouri public safety officials confirmed that six .45-caliber pistols, 12 rifles, one helicopter, one explosive ordinance disposal robot, one industrial-strength face shield and two night-vision goggles were among the items local law enforcement agencies received from the feds.
On the surface, the program is a good deal for cash-strapped local governments and one the Pentagon calls "useful." The 1033 program allows the secretary of Defense to “transfer, without charge, excess U.S. Department of Defense personal property (supplies and equipment) to state and local law enforcement agencies,” according to the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center.
Local enforcement agencies can look through an online catalog to purchase items like small arms and tents. Getting a tank or military aircraft requires a small amount of extra work -- authorities need to fill out a one-page request form, specifying if they prefer the vehicle with wheels or tank tracks.
Delivery can take up to 14 days.
In its first year, the military transferred about $1 million worth of equipment. Since then, the 1033 program has transferred more than $4.3 billion in equipment. Last year, it gave away close to a half-billion dollars' worth of equipment to local law enforcement, according to a June report from the American Civil Liberties Union.
While some say the program helps cash-strapped local forces, others argue that sending small communities a cache of weapons may not be the best idea.
The police chief in Keene, N.H., for example, requested an armored vehicle to patrol the town’s “Pumpkin Festival and other dangerous situations,” according to a report in The Economist. Keene has a population of around 23,000.
Authorities in Fargo, N.D., asked the government for, and received, an armored personnel-carrier with a rotating turret.
The sheriff’s department in Montgomery County, Texas, owns a pilotless surveillance drone similar to the kind the military uses to track terrorists in the tribal regions of Pakistan.
According to the ACLU report, Arizona has received the largest collection of weapons to date. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was gifted 10 helicopters, five armored vehicles and 120 assault rifles, according to the ACLU report.
Police Tap High-Tech
Tools Of Military to Fight Crime
GUNS THAT SHOOT NETS
By Jonathan S. Landay --- The Christian Science Monitor
WASHINGTON — US Park Police Sgt. Walter Sherba peers at a monitor glowing in his car's dark interior, his face bathed in spectral sheen. "Someone complained that kids were having a party," says Sergeant Sherba. Nothing is visible through the car's night-shrouded windscreen. But etched on the monitor are the deserted woods of a Washington park. It's a false alarm, he says, but "if someone was in front of us, they would really glow."
US Has been
America into a
From the Rodney King riots to unannounced "training" exercises over American cities, the US military is being trained to turn the United States into a dictatorship.
U.S. MILITARY CIVIL DISTURBANCE PLANNING: THE WAR AT HOME
By Frank Morales ---- Read More
Read about the
War on the American People,
also read about the
and read more on
American police ‘excessively militarized'
ACLU study -- June 24, 2014 12:50
Inheriting both the weapons and the mindset of the US military, police are becoming militarized and ‘hyper aggressive’ in their approach to maintaining security on the streets of America. New study calls on police not to treat people as ‘wartime enemies’.
The tragic story of Jose Guerena, 26, who served as a Marine in the Iraq War, only to be killed by ‘friendly fire’ at his home in Tucson, Arizona, is becoming a disturbingly familiar one across the country.
On the morning of May 5, 2011, Guerena’s wife alerted him when she heard strange sounds and the silhouette of a man standing outside their home. Guerena got his wife and child into a closet, grabbed his rifle, and went to investigate. This proved to be a deadly mistake. A SWAT team opened fire on Guerena, who died on his kitchen floor with multiple wounds and without medical attention.
As it later emerged, the SWAT unit raided a number of residences in the neighborhood, turning up nothing more than a small bag of marijuana. No drugs were found in the Guerenas’ home.
Created in the late 1960s as “quasi-militaristic” units designed to handle emergency situations such as riots, hostage scenarios, and active shooter situations, the number of SWAT squads have since surged, and are “used with greater frequency and, increasingly, for purposes for which they were not originally intended—overwhelmingly to serve search warrants in drug investigations,” according to an ACLU report, entitled ‘War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing.’
The report examines 818 SWAT operations from July 2010 to last October, which were conducted by more than 20 law enforcement agencies in 11 states.
Today, paramilitary squads are better equipped to fight terrorists in foreign lands than serve and protect US civilians at home, and are becoming a dark chapter to America’s newfound capacity for “needless violence” and treating its citizens like “wartime enemies,” it said.
The 98-page document details the militarization of state and local law enforcement agencies, courtesy of expensive federal programs, which are dispensing “weapons and tactics of war, with almost no public discussion or oversight.” Although explicitly aimed at fighting drugs, the strategy is backfiring, sowing fear and discord among citizens, many of whom are starting to fear police as much as criminals.
As the United States winds down its military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, local police forces are getting the used ‘hand-me-downs’ from the US military. This makes some American communities resemble the latest occupied zones with police dressed in combat fatigues and driving MRAPs and carrying AR-15s down Main Street.
“Using these federal funds, state and local law enforcement agencies have amassed military arsenals purportedly to wage the failed War on Drugs…But these arsenals are by no means free of cost for communities. Instead, the use of hyper aggressive tools and tactics results in tragedy for civilians and police officers, escalates the risk of needless violence, destroys property, and undermines individual liberties,” according to the report.
One bit of curious hardware being distributed to local police forces from the government’s military closet is the MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle, which gives troops protection from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Using media sources, ACLU put the number of towns that now possess the armored carriers at around 500. Among the lucky recipients, Dallas, Texas, has one, as does Salinas, California and even the Utah Highway Patrol.
The report noted that even Ohio State University Police owns one of the MRAPs in order to give a sense of “presence” on big football game days.
The results of the report revealed a worrying trend: “If the federal government gives the police a huge cache of military-style weaponry, they are highly likely to use it, even if they do not really need to.”
Case in point: Gwinnett County, Georgia, which received at least 57 semi-automatic rifles, mostly M-16s and M-14s. One-third of the county’s SWAT deployments dealt with drug investigations; in half of them, the SWAT team broke down the door to get inside, “and there was no record in any of the reports that weapons were found.”
Other examples were provided in Concord, Keene, and Manchester, quaint New Hampshire towns in close proximity to each other, yet each took advantage of DHS grants to buy the military-grade armored BearCat (the amount of grants received by these agencies ranged from $215,000 to $286,000). Justifications for the need to acquire such vehicles pointed to weapons of mass destruction and the threat of terrorism.
The Keene police department, for example, cites in its application (which trumps Ohio State University’s need for armored vehicles to provide “presence” at big football games), the annual pumpkin festival as a potential terrorism target that requires the assistance of an APC.
Military-style mentality invades policeAnother leftover from America’s military adventures abroad is the peculiar military mindset that allows US personnel to survive in hostile lands. Equally unsettling as spotting armored vehicles winding through the tree-lined streets of otherwise quiet American neighborhoods is the spectacle of local police officers receiving military-style combat training.
The US Department of Justice described the boot-camp conditions being used to train new police recruits.
According to a Bureau of Justice Report, “the majority of police recruits receive their training in academies with a stress-based military orientation. This begs the question: is this military model—designed to prepare young recruits for combat—the appropriate mechanism for teaching our police trainees how to garner community trust and partner with citizens to solve crime and public order problems?”
As a result, a so-called “warrior” mentality inside local police forces is “pervasive and extends well beyond hostage situations and school shootings, seeping into officers’ everyday interactions with their communities,” the report said.
The report describes a PowerPoint presentation that was delivered to Cary, North Carolina, SWAT team members entitled “Warrior Mindset/Chemical Munitions” for all Emergency Response Team personnel.
The National Tactical Officers Association (according to its website, the NTOA “strives to provide our members with the tools they need to protect an increasingly dangerous society”) urges trainees to “Steel Your Battlemind” and defines “battlemind” as “a warrior’s inner strength to face fear and adversity during combat with courage. It is the will to persevere and win. It is resilience.”
The question, however, is whether such an approach to policing is conducive to creating peace on the streets of America? An escalation of police operations going awry are growing cause for concern among civil rights groups.
In early June, for example, a toddler was severely burned and left unable to breathe on his own when a Georgia SWAT team tossed a flashbang grenade in his crib during a drug raid - over a single meth sale of $50. Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh, a 19-month-old, was asleep in his portable crib in the same room as his parents and three older sisters, when police opened the door to the converted garage and threw the stun grenade in.
In the ACLU’s study, SWAT units forced entry into a person’s home using a battering ram or other breaching device in 65 percent of drug searches.
As the report emphasizes, the training documents do not suggest that SWAT teams “should constrain their soldier-like tactics to terrorism situations.”Moreover, the majority of SWAT raids examined for the report “took place in the context of serving search warrants at people’s homes—not in response to school shootings or bombings.”
'It's a war zone in the US' - Interview with Indiana sheriff
The survey discovered that 62 percent of SWAT missions were for drug searches. Some 79 percent involved raids on private homes, and a similar proportion were carried out with warrants authorizing searches. However, just 7 percent of the incidents fell into those categories for which SWAT was originally designed to handle, such as hostage situations or shootings.
It is this type of military mindset, compounded with excessive firepower, which is turning many American communities into veritable tinderboxes, which only requires the slightest provocation to spiral into senseless violence and death.
The survey, which provided a small picture of the overall trend, reported seven cases where civilians died in connection with the deployment of SWAT units, two of which appeared to be suicides. Another 46 individuals were injured, often as the result of physical force by officers.
America's Militarized Police Forces
The militarization of police is harming civil liberties, impacting children, and transforming neighborhoods into war zones.
By Alex Kane / AlterNet
June 27, 2014
The “war on terror” has come home--and it’s wreaking havoc on innocent American lives. The culprit is the militarization of the police.
The weapons used in the “war on terror” that destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq have made their way to local law enforcement. While police forces across the country began a process of militarization complete with SWAT teams and flash-bang grenades when President Reagan intensified the “war on drugs,” the post-9/11 “war on terror” has added fuel to the fire.
Through laws and regulations like a provision in defense budgets that authorize the Pentagon to transfer surplus military gear to police forces, local law enforcement are using weapons found on the battlefields of South Asia and the Middle East.
A recent New York Times article by Matt Apuzzo reported that in the Obama era, “police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.” The result is that police agencies around the nation possess military-grade equipment, turning officers who are supposed to fight crime and protect communities into what look like invading forces from an army. And military-style police raids have increased in recent years, with one count putting the number at 80,000 such raids last year.
In June, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought more attention to police militarization when it issued a comprehensive, nearly 100-page (appendix and endnotes included) report titled, “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing.” Based on public records requests to more than 260 law enforcement agencies in 26 states, the ACLU concluded that “American policing has become excessively militarized through the use of weapons and tactics designed for the battlefield” and that this militarization “unfairly impacts people of color and undermines individual liberties, and it has been allowed to happen in the absence of any meaningful public discussion.”
The information contained in the ACLU report, and in other investigations into the phenomenon, is sobering. From the killing of innocent people to the lack of debate on the issue, police militarization has turned into a key issue for Americans. It is harming civil liberties, ramping up the “war on drugs,” impacting the most marginalized members of society and transforming neighborhoods into war zones. Here are 11 important--and horrifying--things you should know about the militarization of police.
1. It harms, and sometimes kills, innocent people. When you have heavily armed police officers using flash-bang grenades and armored personnel carriers, innocent people are bound to be hurt. The likelihood of people being killed is raised by the practice of SWAT teams busting down doors with no warning, which leads some people to think it may be a burglary, who could in turn try to defend themselves. The ACLU documented seven cases of civilians dying, and 46 people being injured. That’s only in the cases the civil liberties group looked at, so the number is actually higher.
Take the case of Tarika Wilson, which the ACLU summarizes. The 26-year-old biracial mother lived in Lima, Ohio. Her boyfriend, Anthony Terry, was wanted by the police on suspicion of drug dealing. So on January 4, 2008, a SWAT team busted down Wilson’s door and opened fire. A SWAT officer killed Wilson and injured her one-year-old baby, Sincere Wilson. The killing sparked rage in Lima and accusations of a racist police department, but the officer who shot Wilson, Sgt. Joe Chavalia, was found not guilty on all charges.
2. Children are impacted. As the case of Wilson shows, the police busting down doors care little about whether there’s a child in the home. Another case profiled by the ACLU shows how children are caught up the crossfire--with devastating consequences.
In May, after their Wisconsin home had burned down, the Phonesavanh family was staying with relatives in Georgia. One night, a SWAT team with assault rifles invaded the home and threw a flashbang grenade--despite the presence of kids’ toys in the front yard. The police were looking for the father’s nephew on drug charges. He wasn’t there. But a 19-month-old named Bou Bou was--and the grenade landed in his crib.
Bou Bou was wounded in the chest and had third-degree burns. He was put in a medically induced coma.
Another high-profile instance of a child being killed by paramilitary police tactics occurred in 2010, when seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was killed in Detroit. The city’s Special Response Team (Detroit’s SWAT) was looking for Chauncey Owens, a suspect in the killing of a teenager who lived on the second floor of the apartment Jones lived in.
Officers raided the home, threw a flash-bang grenade, and fired one shot that struck Jones in the head. The police agent who fired the fatal shot, Joseph Weekley, has so far gotten off easy: a jury trial ended in deadlock last year, though he will face charges of involuntary manslaughter in September. As The Nation’s Mychal Denzel Smith wrote last year after Weekley was acquitted: “What happened to Aiyana is the result of the militarization of police in this country...Part of what it means to be black in America now is watching your neighborhood become the training ground for our increasingly militarized police units.”
Bou Bou and Jones aren’t the only case of children being impacted.
According to the ACLU, “of the 818 deployments studied, 14 percent involved the presence of children and 13 percent did not.”
3. The use of SWAT teams is unnecessary. In many cases, using militarized teams of police is not needed. The ACLU report notes that the vast majority of cases where SWAT teams are deployed are in situations where a search warrant is being executed to just look for drugs. In other words, it’s not even 100% clear whether there are drugs at the place the police are going to. These situations are not why SWAT was created.
Furthermore, even when SWAT teams think there are weapons, they are often wrong. The ACLU report shows that in the cases where police thought weapons would be there, they were right only a third of the time.
4. The “war on terror” is fueling militarization. It was the “war on drugs” that introduced militarized policing to the U.S. But the “war on terror” has accelerated it.
A growing number of agencies have taken advantage of the Department of Defense’s “1033” program, which is passed every year as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, the budget for the Pentagon. The number of police agencies obtaining military equipment like mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles has increased since 2009, according to USA Today, which notes that this “surplus military equipment” is “left over from U.S. military campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.” This equipment is largely cost-free for the police agencies who receive them.
In addition to the Pentagon budget provision, another agency created in the aftermath of 9/11 is helping militarize the police. The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) own grants funnel military-style equipment to local police departments nationwide. According to a 2011 Center for Investigative Reporting story published by The Daily Beast, at least $34 billion in DHS grants have gone to police agencies to buy military-style equipment. This money has gone to purchase drones, tactical vests, bomb-disarming robots, tanks and more.
5. It’s a boon to contractor profits. The trend towards police militarization has given military contractors another lucrative market where they can shop their products. Companies like Lockheed Martin and Blackhawk Industries are making big bucks by selling their equipment to agencies flush with Department of Homeland Security grants.
In addition to the actual selling of equipment, contractors also sponsor training events for SWAT teams, like Urban Shield, a major arms expo that has attracted increasing attention from activists in recent years. SWAT teams, police agencies and military contractors converge on Urban Shield, which was held in California last year, to train and to promote equipment to buy.
6. Border militarization and police militarization go hand in hand. The “war on terror” and “war on drugs” aren’t the only wars helping police militarization. There’s also the war on undocumented immigrants.
The notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio, infamous for brutal crackdowns on undocumented immigrants, is the paradigmatic example of this trend. According to the ACLU, Arpaio’s Maricopa County department has acquired a machine gun so powerful it could tear through buildings on multiple city blocks. In addition, he has 120 assault rifles, five armored vehicles and ten helicopters. Other law enforcement agencies in Arizona have obtained equipment like bomb suits and night-vision goggles.
Then there’s a non-local law enforcement agency on the border: the Border Patrol, which has obtained drones and attack helicopters. And Border Patrol agents are acting like they’re at war. A recent Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that law enforcement experts had found that that the Border Patrol has killed 19 people from January 2010-October 2012, including some of whom when the agents were under no lethal, direct threat.
7. Police are cracking down on dissent. In 1999, massive protests rocked Seattle during the World Trade Organization meeting. The police cracked down hard on the demonstrators using paramilitary tactics. Police fired tear gas at protesters, causing all hell to break loose.
Norm Stamper, the Seattle police chief at the time, criticized the militarized policing he presided over in a Nation article in 2011. “Rocks, bottles and newspaper racks went flying. Windows were smashed, stores were looted, fires lighted; and more gas filled the streets, with some cops clearly overreacting, escalating and prolonging the conflict,” wrote Stamper.
More than a decade after the Seattle protests, militarized policing to crack down on dissent returned with a vengeance during the wave of Occupy protests in 2011. Tear gas and rubber bullets were used to break up protests in Oakland. Scott Olsen, an Occupy Oakland protester and war veteran, was struck in the head by a police projectile, causing a fractured skull, broken neck vertebrae and brain swelling.
8. Asset forfeitures are funding police militarization. In June, AlterNet’s Aaron Cantu outlined how civil asset forfeiture laws work.
“It’s a legal fiction spun up hundreds of years ago to give the state the power to convict a person’s property of a crime, or at least, implicate its involvement in the committing of a crime. When that happened, the property was to be legally seized by the state,” wrote Cantu. He went on to explain that law enforcement justifies the seizing of property and cash as a way to break up narcotics rings’ infrastructure. But it can also be used in cases where a person is not convicted, or even charged with, a crime.
Asset forfeitures bring in millions of dollars for police agencies, who then spend the money for their own uses. And for some police departments, it goes to militarizing their police force.
New Yorker reporter Sarah Stillman, who penned a deeply reported piece on asset forfeitures,wrote in August 2013 that “thousands of police departments nationwide have recently acquired stun grenades, armored tanks, counterattack vehicles, and other paramilitary equipment, much of it purchased with asset-forfeiture funds.” So SWAT teams have an incentive to conduct raids where they seize property and cash. That money can then go into their budgets for more weapons.
9. Dubious informants are used for raids. As the New Yorker’s Stillman wrote in another piece, informants are “the foot soldiers in the government’s war on drugs. By some estimates, up to eighty per cent of all drug cases in America involve them.” Given SWAT teams’ focus on finding drugs, it’s no surprise that informants are used to gather information that lead to military-style police raids.
A 2006 policy paper by investigative journalist Radley Balko, who has done the most reporting on militarized policing, highlighted the negative impact using informants for these raids have. Most often, informants are “people who regularly seek out drug users and dealers and tip off the police in exchange for cash rewards” and other drug dealers, who inform to gain leniency or cash from the police. But these informants are quite unreliable--and the wrong information can lead to tragic consequences.
10. There’s been little debate and oversight. Despite the galloping march towards militarization, there is little public debate or oversight of the trend. The ACLU report notes that “there does not appear to be much, if any, local oversight of law enforcement agency receipt of equipment transfers.” One of the group’s recommendations to change that is for states and local municipalities to enact laws encouraging transparency and oversight of SWAT teams.
11. Communities of color bear the brunt. Across the country, communities of color are the people most targeted by police practices. In recent years, the abuse of “stop and frisk” tactics has attracted widespread attention because of the racially discriminatory way it has been applied.
Militarized policing has also targeted communities of color. According to the ACLU report, “of all the incidents studied where the number and race of the people impacted were known, 39 percent were Black, 11 percent were Latino, 20 were white.” The majority of raids that targeted blacks and Latinos were related to drugs--another metric exposing how the “war on drugs” is racist to the core.
Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.
But civil-liberties defenders warn that such high-tech tools could increasingly be used by police to invade personal privacy. "In terms of civil liberties implications, bells should be going off," says David Harris, a professor at the University of Toledo Law School in Toledo, Ohio.
As the use of these technologies increases, courts will likely confront new cases requiring them to reexamine the legal barriers designed to protect Americans' constitutional privacy rights.
But police say that because of the increasing sophistication and violence of criminals they need such tools.
*Dallas police have tested a system called SECURES that pinpoints the location of gunfire. With microphones mounted on buildings and street lights in high-crime areas, SECURES detects the source and lights up a map at police headquarters. The system, was developed by Minneapolis-based Alliant Techsystems, which makes submarine-detection systems for the Navy.
A variation designed by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif. - a nuclear weapons research center - actually tracks bullets in flight, pinpoints the shooter's location, and can return fire.
*In Redondo Beach, Calif., police have tested a system that uses the military's Global Positioning Satellite network to keep track of its patrol cars. It even tells headquarters when officers turn on their sirens.
Hughes Aircraft Company, a defense contractor based in Arlington, Va., is going a step further: It is trying to interest police in its systems for the 21st-century soldier. These include a helmet-mounted video display in which the officer sees either a night-vision display or maps beamed down from satellites; mounted on a gun are a camera, a night-vision scope, and a laser sight.
*Lockheed-Martin Corp, the aerospace giant based in Bethesda, Md., and Deerfield, Mass.-based Millitech Corp. are developing systems that are essentially portable versions of airport metal detectors. By measuring differences in electromagnetic radiation emitted from the human body and solid objects these systems allow police to scan people for concealed weapons or other contraband - even without them knowing.
The main reason new technologies aren't in widespread use is their price tags. Most of the nation's 17,300 police and sheriff departments prefer to devote any extra funds to hiring additional officers.
But making such technologies available and affordable is one facet of the Clinton administration's anticrime efforts.
Under a five-year, $37.5 million program, the Justice Department, working with the Pentagon, began in 1994 to fund adaptation of military systems for law enforcement.
The work is going on at both military labs and research centers that design the US nuclear arsenal. The government is also awarding grants to defense firms eager to find new markets to stem slumping post-cold-war weapons sales.
The impetus for the program came with the end of the cold war, which saw US troops embarking on peacekeeping operations that included tasks similar to those faced by civilian police.
By underwriting such "dual use" technologies, the administration decided it could bolster the war on crime, while saving money and preserving defense jobs.
Some technologies being explored are: "smart" guns that can be fired only by their owners, thereby protecting officers from being shot with their own weapons; lighter and stronger body armor; guns that fire nets to capture or subdue suspects; a thermal gun that disables a suspect by temporarily boosting body temperature; and nausea-inducing strobe lights.
One tool that was designed to fire an electromagnetic pulse that would disable a fleeing vehicle by "frying" its electrical system had to be stopped because of liability considerations.
There's one class of new tool that has enormous potential for aiding police - and has civil-liberties experts most alarmed: systems that will allow police to conduct searches without subjects ever knowing.
Prototypes have been developed that can "see" any objects - legal or illegal - through clothing.
In addition to replacing metal detectors in airports and public buildings, these systems may also come in hand-held or vehicle-mounted versions than could be used to scan crowds or people from afar.
Work is also under way on systems that use infrared technology to produce precise images of what's happening on the other side of walls.
"If I have a hostage barricaded in a room and I have to figure out a way to rescue the hostage and capture the hostage-taker, I'd like to know what's happening in that room," says David Boyd, director of the Office of Science and Technology at the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice.
But without some controls on the use of such instruments, some legal experts fear citizens could face an erosion of their constitutional right to privacy.
"As good as these machines are now, they are only going to get better and more stealthy and better able to do things without you knowing it," says Toledo law school's Dr. Harris. "It should concern everybody who wants to live in a society where people have a zone of privacy."
Advocates of spinning off military systems argue that while the majority of US police are using technologies that are decades old, they are increasingly finding themselves facing heavily armed criminals in combat-like clashes.
They cite the Feb. 28 battle between police and two body-armor-clad gunmen that turned a part of Los Angeles into a war zone.
"We have a battle going on in the streets of the United States every day," asserts Capt. Gary Van Horn, a US Park Police officer in Washington. "Let's give the police the technology we are giving the military. Eventually, courts are going to make a decision as to what is intrusive."
Judges have generally held that if searches are not physically intrusive and are accurate - such as those conducted by drug-sniffing dogs - they do not have to meet the legal requirements of "probable cause" or "reasonable suspicion."
Such searches, therefore, do not require warrants or violate the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches.
Relying partly on those criteria, several courts have ruled in favor of police who ferreted out indoor marijuana gardens by beaming infrared devices at homes to see the excess heat emitted by lamps used for growing the plant. Other courts have declared such searches illegal.
The US Supreme Court appears to be leaning toward allowing the searches, declining last year to hear a challenge to the legality of the technique.
The questions that these kind of devices raise were illustrated by the system mounted in Sherba's vehicle.
During an overnight shift last month, Sherba parked near two parks and scanned the undergrowth for muggers who frequently ambush gay men who rendezvous in the locations.
While no attackers were evident, the scanner clearly showed the bright outlines of liaisons amongst the trees.
Another concern of legal experts is that giving military technologies to law-enforcement officials will further blur the legal divide between soldiers and civilian police.
"You have a blending of purposes here," warns Mark Keppelhoff of the American Civil Liberties Union.
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* Remote-control aircraft: BAI Aerosystems Corp., which manufactures unmanned spy planes for the military, has a law-enforcement model, one of which was bought by the FBI after the siege at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.
Known as the Javelin, the 15-pound remote-controlled aircraft can be carried in the trunk of a car and launched by hand. It carries video cameras that instantly relay pictures to ground controllers.
The firm has also worked on an unmanned aircraft designed for crowd control. In tests conducted by the US Marine Corps last year, the aircraft deployed debilitating rocket-powered whistles, pepper spray, tear gas, and objects that puncture car tires.
* Finding hidden gunmen: The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in Livermore, Calif., one of the nation's nuclear-weapons research centers, has designed a system for use against concealed gunmen. Known as Lifeguard, it tracks bullets in flight, pinpoints the shooter's location, and then relays it to either a camera or to a weapon that returns fire.
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