|The cancer of militarized policing has long been metastasizing in the body politic. It has been growing ever stronger since the first Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams were born in the 1960s in response to that decade’s turbulent mix of riots, disturbances, and senseless violence like Charles Whitman’s infamous clock-tower rampage in Austin, Texas.
While SWAT isn’t the only indicator that the militarization of American policing is increasing, it is the most recognizable. The proliferation of SWAT teams across the country and their paramilitary tactics have spread a violent form of policing designed for the extraordinary but in these years made ordinary. When the concept of SWAT arose out of the Philadelphia and Los Angeles Police Departments, it was quickly picked up by big city police officials nationwide. Initially, however, it was an elite force reserved for uniquely dangerous incidents, such as active shooters, hostage situations, or large-scale disturbances.
Nearly a half-century later, that’s no longer true.
In 1984, according to Radley Balko's Rise of the Warrior Cop, about 26% of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 had SWAT teams. By 2005, that number had soared to 80% and it’s still rising, though SWAT statistics are notoriously hard to come by.
In a recently released report, “War Comes Home,” the American Civil Liberties Union (my employer) discovered that nearly 80% of all SWAT raids it reviewed between 2011 and 2012 were deployed to execute a search warrant.
Pause here a moment and consider that these violent home invasions are routinely used against people who are only suspected of a crime. Up-armored paramilitary teams now regularly bash down doors in search of evidence of a possible crime. In other words, police departments increasingly choose a tactic that often results in injury and property damage as its first option, not the one of last resort. In more than 60% of the raids the ACLU investigated, SWAT members rammed down doors in search of possible drugs, not to save a hostage, respond to a barricade situation, or neutralize an active shooter.
On the other side of that broken-down door, more often than not, are blacks and Latinos. When the ACLU could identify the race of the person or people whose home was being broken into, 68% of the SWAT raids against minorities were for the purpose of executing a warrant in search of drugs. When it came to whites, that figure dropped to 38%, despite the well-known fact that blacks, whites, and Latinos all use drugs at roughly the same rates. SWAT teams, it seems, have a disturbing record of disproportionately applying their specialized skill set within communities of color.
Think of this as racial profiling on steroids in which the humiliation of stop and frisk is raised to a terrifying new level.
Don’t think, however, that the military mentality and equipment associated with SWAT operations are confined to those elite units. Increasingly, they’re permeating all forms of policing.
This authoritarian streak runs counter to the core philosophy that supposedly dominates twenty-first-century American thinking: community policing. Its emphasis is on a mission of “keeping the peace” by creating and maintaining partnerships of trust with and in the communities served. Under the community model, which happens to be the official policing philosophy of the U.S. government, officers are protectors but also problem solvers who are supposed to care, first and foremost, about how their communities see them. They don’t command respect, the theory goes: they earn it. Fear isn’t supposed to be their currency. Trust is. […]
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2005—The Many Democratic Parties:
|It is no secret that I am a proponent of a politics of contrast for Dems, a Lincoln 1860 strategy. I am also a proponent of a Big Tent Dem Party. Are these two ideas mutually exclusive? I think not.
For example, while I am skeptical of a short term strategy that can deliver significant wins for Dems in the South, the medium and long term offer opportunities. But I think they come from the devolution strategy that Howard Dean is trying to execute, creating strong state Democratic parties that control their own local message. National branding still requires a national message and, more importantly, negative branding of the Republicans. […]
[W]e can win in PURPLE states. We can find a message that works in purple AND blue. And, to be frank, it is basically a negative message about the extremists that run the GOP. It is Lincoln 1860.
But that is not to say that multiple local messages are not also necessary.
On today's Kagro in the Morning show, Greg Dworkin's back, but it's all about Ferguson, police militarization and political theory today. Reporters are getting arrested. Once (presumably, generously) cautious libertarians are finally beginning to issue statements. And we awaited the same from MO's governor. Meanwhile, should we expect a bolder Ferguson response during the "libertarian moment"? Or is that not a real thing? But the bulk of the show is given over to a discussion of the political dynamics of police militarization, how it happens, and why. I think we hit some points that aren't getting serious discussion elsewhere, if I do say so myself. And I just did.