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The militarization of America's police forces that has been on full display in Ferguson, Missouri, this week didn't begin yesterday or with the Bush administration. It dates back decades. But it has, as Radley Balko has written in two books, gotten worse. Here's Susan Gardner, in a book review in 2006 of Balko's Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America:
This study traces the rise of infatuation with SWAT units, which today is largely used to serve drug warrants dozens of times a day across the USA, to L.A. police chief Daryl Gates' use of them and the Reagan administration's official declaration that the drug war was a part of "national security," thus opening the doors to Defense Department giveaways and discounts of weaponry to towns such as Jasper, Florida (population 2,000), which has a police force of seven and hasn't had a murder in 14 years.
And here's Glenn Greenwald at First Look, writing at The Intercept Thursday:
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 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.”

And here's Matt Apuzzo writing two months ago in the New York Times:
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.

The equipment has been added to the armories of police departments that already look and act like military units. 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.”

When cops treat people the way an occupying army would, the consequences for citizens, for constitutional protections, for the police themselves are exactly the opposite of what is needed in a civilized society. "Serve and protect" is transformed into a sick joke.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 10:04 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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