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The frightening militarization of law enforcement

By Scott Tibbs, June 16, 2014

After years of working on alerting the public to the militarization of law enforcement, Radley Balko is no longer alone. (See Balko's archives at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Reason magazine, TheAgitator.com and The Cato Institute.) The mainstream media is finally highlighting this dangerous trend. Take special note of paramilitary SWAT raids being used for regulatory enforcement, which is really disturbing:

Police SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times each year, increasingly for routine jobs. Masked, heavily armed police officers in Louisiana raided a nightclub in 2006 as part of a liquor inspection. In Florida in 2010, officers in SWAT gear and with guns drawn carried out raids on barbershops that mostly led only to charges of "barbering without a license."

Source: The New York Times.

Local media is doing some investigative reporting on this issue as well. This from an article about how law enforcement in rural Indiana are getting armored Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles more suited for fighting militants on a battlefield than for domestic law enforcement:

"The United States of America has become a war zone," (Pulaski County Sheriff Michael Gayer) said. "There's violence in the workplace, there's violence in schools and there's violence in the streets. You are seeing police departments going to a semi-military format because of the threats we have to counteract. If driving a military vehicle is going to protect officers, then that's what I'm going to do."

Source: The Indianapolis Star.

A war zone? Really? How can any rational person look at modern-day America and see a "war zone" comparable to Europe during World War II or Syria today - especially given that violent crime has been dropping for twenty years? If Gayer actually believes that the USA "has become a war zone," then he is too mentally unstable to be a sheriff. Violent crime in the USA is nowhere near a "war zone" and it is just this sort of paranoid militaristic mentality that leads to flash-bang grenades exploding in toddlers' faces.

The United States has a long history of wariness about using the military as a law enforcement agency - a practice that is common in totalitarian regimes. Who can forget liberty activists facing down tanks in Red China in 1989? In fact, former US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned Latin America against using the military as a police force: "The use of the military to perform civil law enforcement cannot be a long-term solution... ultimately civilian authorities must be able to shoulder this burden on their own."

The warning is ironic, given the militarization of our own law enforcement, especially in the War on Drugs.

It is good that we are finally waking up to the real dangers presented by militarizing the police - or worse, using the military itself for domestic law enforcement. Hopefully, we have calmed down after the paranoia-fueled days of the 1980's and 1990's served as a way to convince us to surrender our civil liberties to "more effectively fight crime" or execute the failed War on Drugs. We have much more reason to fear a government that does not respect civil liberties or the rule of law than we will ever have to fear criminals.