One Nation Under SWAT

Published on TomDispatch, by Matthew Harwood, Aug 14, 2014.

Think of it as a different kind of blowback. Even when you fight wars in countries thousands of miles distant, they still have an eerie way of making the long trip home.

Take the latest news from Bergen County, New Jersey, one of the richest counties in the country. Its sheriff’s department is getting two mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs — 15 tons of protective equipment — for a song from the Pentagon. And there’s nothing special in that. The Pentagon has handed out 600 of them for nothing since 2013, with plenty more to come. They’re surplus equipment, mostly from our recent wars, and perhaps they will indeed prove handy for a sheriff fretting about insurgent IEDs (roadside bombs) in New Jersey or elsewhere in the country.
When it comes to the up-armoring and militarization of America’s police forces, this is completely run-of-the-mill stuff … //

… A striking recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union indicates that, as in Bergen County, policing is being militarized nationwide in all sorts of unsettling ways. It is, more precisely, being SWATified (a word that doesn’t yet exist, but certainly should). Matthew Harwood, senior writer and editor for the ACLU, as well as TomDispatch regular, offers a graphic look at just where policing in America is heading. Welcome to Kabul, USA.

To Terrify and Occupy
How the Excessive Militarization of the Police is Turning Cops Into Counterinsurgents , By Matthew Harwood

Jason Westcott was afraid.

One night last fall, he discovered via Facebook that a friend of a friend was planning with some co-conspirators to break in to his home. They were intent on stealing Wescott’s handgun and a couple of TV sets. According to the Facebook message, the suspect was planning on “burning” Westcott, who promptly called the Tampa Bay police and reported the plot.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the investigating officers responding to Westcott’s call had a simple message for him: “If anyone breaks into this house, grab your gun and shoot to kill.”

Around 7:30 pm on May 27th, the intruders arrived. Westcott followed the officers’ advice, grabbed his gun to defend his home, and died pointing it at the intruders. They used a semiautomatic shotgun and handgun to shoot down the 29-year-old motorcycle mechanic. He was hit three times, once in the arm and twice in his side, and pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

The intruders, however, weren’t small-time crooks looking to make a small score. Rather they were members of the Tampa Bay Police Department’s SWAT team, which was executing a search warrant on suspicion that Westcott and his partner were marijuana dealers. They had been tipped off by a confidential informant, whom they drove to Westcott’s home four times between February and May to purchase small amounts of marijuana, at $20-$60 a pop. The informer notified police that he saw two handguns in the home, which was why the Tampa Bay police deployed a SWAT team to execute the search warrant … //

…The War on Your Doorstep: … //
… Upping the Racial Profiling Ante: … //
… Everyday Militarization: … //
… Where Do They Get Those Wonderful Toys? … //
… How the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice Are Up-Armoring the Police: … //
… Being the Police Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry: … //

… Voices in the Wilderness:

The militarization of the police shouldn’t be surprising. As Hubert Williams, a former police director of Newark, New Jersey, and Patrick V. Murphy, former commissioner of the New York City Police Department, put it nearly 25 years ago, police are “barometers of the society in which they operate.” In post-9/11 America, that means police forces imbued with the “hooah” mentality of soldiers and acting as if they are fighting an insurgency in their own backyard.

While the pace of police militarization has quickened, there has at least been some pushback from current and former police officials who see the trend for what it is: the destruction of community policing. In Spokane, Washington, Councilman Mike Fagan, a former police detective, is pushing back against police officers wearing BDUs, calling the get-up “intimidating” to citizens. In Utah, the legislature passed a bill requiring probable cause before police could execute a no-knock raid. Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank has been a vocal critic of militarization, telling the local paper, “We’re not the military. Nor should we look like an invading force coming in.” Just recently, Chief Charlie Beck of the Los Angeles Police Department agreed with the ACLU and the Los Angeles Times editorial board that “the lines between municipal law enforcement and the U.S. military cannot be blurred.”

Retired Seattle police chief Norm Stamper has also become an outspoken critic of militarizing police forces, noting “most of what police are called upon to do, day in and day out, requires patience, diplomacy, and interpersonal skills.” In other words, community policing. Stamper is the chief who green-lighted a militarized response to World Trade Organization protests in his city in 1999 (“The Battle in Seattle”). It’s a decision he would like to take back. “My support for a militaristic solution caused all hell to break loose,” he wrote in the Nation. “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.”

These former policemen and law enforcement officials understand that police officers shouldn’t be breaking down any citizen’s door at 3 a.m. armed with AR-15s and flashbang grenades in search of a small amount of drugs, while an MRAP idles in the driveway. The anti-militarists, however, are in the minority right now. And until that changes, violent paramilitary police raids will continue to break down the doors of nearly 1,000 American households a week.

War, once started, can rarely be contained.
(full long text).

(Matthew Harwood is senior writer/editor at the American Civil Liberties Union and a TomDispatch regular. You can follow him on Twitter @mharwood31.
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Related Links:

  • Special Weapons And Tactics SWAT on en.wikipedia is a commonly used proper name for law enforcement units, which use military-style light weapons and specialized tactics in high-risk operations that fall outside of the capabilities of regular, uniformed police.[1] “SWAT” is commonly used internationally, as a colloquial, generic term for these units …;
  • Demonstrations in the St Louis suburb were sparked by police, on Daily Mail, Aug 14, 2014: A city ripped apart: Heavily-armed SWAT teams fire tear gas on demonstrators and arrest two journalists in FOURTH night of clashes over the shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown …;
  • The Watch: The Georgia police department SWAT video, 1.16 min, on Washington Post, by Radley Balko, August 13, 2014: The continuing crisis in Ferguson, Mo., has everyone talking about police militarization again …;
  • More on Google News-search;
  • Rise of the Warrior Cop: Is it time to reconsider the militarization of American policing? on Wall Street Journal, by Radley Balko, Aug 7, 2014;
  • 11 chilling facts about America’s militarized police force, on SALON, by ALEX KANE, Alternet, July 4, 2014: The war on terror has come home – and it’s wreaking havoc on innocent American lives;
  • War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing, on, by JENNIFER LEVITZ, June 23, 2014;
  • Towns Say ‘No Tanks’ to Militarized Police: Growing Unease Over Departments’ Use Of Vehicles and Gear Designed for Battle, on Wall Street Journal, Feb 7, 2014;
  • America’s police are looking more and more like the military, on The Guardian, Oct 7, 2013: America’s streets are looking more and more like a war zone. Last week, in a small county in upstate New York with a population of roughly 120,000 people, county legislators approved the receipt of a 20-ton Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle, donated by the US Defense Department to the county sheriff …;

Other Links:

J.D. Alt: World Without Banks, on naked capitalism (first on New Economic Perspectives), by Yves Smith, August 14, 2014;

Robin Williams Had Parkinson’s Disease, 2.25 min, on SkyNews, Aug 14, 2014: The star’s widow says he was not ready to share with the world that he had the incurable illness as he also fought depression …;

Brave New Recycling Economy: Movement Turns Trash to Treasure, on Spiegel Online International, by Michaela Schiessl, Aug 14, 2014 (Photo Gallery): Every piece of garbage can be turned into raw material that can be used in future products. With his influential Cradle to Cradle movement, Germany’s Michael Braungart espouses a form of eco-hedonism that puts smart production before conservation …;

Bill Clinton’s three crucial neocon-inspired decisions that led to three major crises in our times, on Intrepid Report, by Rodrigue Tremblay, Aug 14, 2014;

Burger Blues: Ailing Fair a Measure of German-American Ties, on Spiegel Online International, by Simon Pfanzeit, Aug 14, 2014: Berlin is home to an annual fair dedicated to all things Americana. The recent decline of the carnival says a lot about the poor current state of German-American relations …;

New Orleans’ New Civil Rights Leaders, on Dissident Voice, by Bill Quigley, August 13, 2014;

The Top 10 Reasons to Hate Capitalism, on Dissident Voice, by Gary Engler, August 13, 2014;

Capitalism’s world war and the battle against it, on LINKS, July 28, 2014;

European Left Party on Ukraine: Ukraine, no more war, no more fascism, on LINKS, July 1, 2014;

… et encore:

… und noch dies:

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