Thursday, May 08, 2014

Occupation force

There's a lot of news about Russia invading the Urkraine, and what we should do about it. Well, closer to home...

Several issues:

i) Stories like this pop up every so often. But nothing changes. Like stories about young boys who are suspended from grade school because they made a gun gesture. It's reported, but nothing changes. That's because no one is fired. 

These are issues that GOP candidates could run on. Why don't they? Why do so many GOP candidates lack the popular imagination to run on issues like this? Some of these ought to be winning issues in red states. 

ii) I can't help thinking that some of the appeal of this paramilitary apparatus lies in giving police the chance to play soldier, feeling big and brave and tough, without assuming the same risks a real soldier on the battlefield. I'm not saying police work is a risk-free occupation, obviously. You have police shot and sometimes killed in the line of duty. 

Still, it's not like doing a tour of duty in Fallujah. So I think SWAT teams can foster a mock masculinity. And female officers also have a chance to get in on the act.

iii) Is there any real need for police to have this kind of firepower? Perhaps the excuse is that, in the "war on drugs," combating well-armed gangs, &c., the police will be outgunned unless they have this kind of firepower in reserve. 

If so, I find that excuse dubious. It's not as if the police actually wage all-out war on gangs. My impression is that the police have something of a gentleman's agreement with gangs. "If you don't do anything too provocative, we won't do anything too provocative." 

It's like the unspoken agreement between prisoners and prison guards. Because gang members greatly outnumber police, the police can't afford to get into an all-out confrontation with major gangs. You have occasional shootouts between some police and some gang-bangers, but It's not like police battalions going head-to-head with gang battalions. 

iv) In movies and police dramas, we're treated to bungled bank heists where a teller sets off the silent alarm and the building is surrounded by SWAT teams, choppers, sharpshooters, before the robbers can make their getaway. So they take hostages and make demands. 

But as a practical matter, do the police really need all that fire power in a hostage situation? The bank has only one entrance or exit. If you use too much force, you will kill the hostages as well as the robbers. So isn't that literally overkill?

iv) Another scenario is SWAT teams busting down the doors of "crack houses." But there are often complications. Even if it's a real crack house, there may be children inside.

Sometimes SWAT teams get the address wrong and barge into the wrong house. Or they get an "anonymous tip" from a neighbor. Turns out that was a false lead. But they only find out the hard way. 

Sometimes innocent people are shot to death inside the home because the SWAT team is making snap judgments. Is he pointing a gun or a TV remote? If you hesitate, you may be dead.

v) Apropos (iv), I have to wonder if the number of innocent people killed in botched drug raids isn't underreported. The blue code of silence. If police on the scene are the only witnesses, would it not be tempting to plant a gun on the victim to make it look like a justified homicide? 

I'm not saying police go inside with the intention of killing innocents. But given their hair-trigger reflexes, if they think they may be staring down the barrel of a gun the moment they open a bedroom door, there will be occasions when they make a slit-second decision that's terribly wrong. 

No doubt the usual procedure is to put the officier on administration leave pending an investigation by internal affairs. Even if he's cleared, that's in the record. He may be subject to a civi lawsuit by the family. 

Color me cynical, but I expect there are situations in which it's made to look like a justified homicide after the fact. 

vi) Increasingly, the police are acquiring the mindset and resources of an occupation force. They bully ordinary citizens because ordinary citizens are safer to pick on.

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