One Nation Under SWAT: The Militarization of U.S.’s Police

Topic: Civil Liberties

 

Micheal Brown

18 yr-old Micheal Brown

The man who squeezed multiple deadly shots into 18-year-old Michael Brown last Saturday is police officer Darren Wilson, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said at a press conference Friday morning.

Officer Wilson, who has been with the force for six years, was responding to an armed robbery at a convenience store before his encounter with Brown, Chief Jackson said. Wilson is on paid administrative leave. The FBI and the Justice Department have begun independent investigations into Brown’s shooting.

Brown was walking home when when he was shot last weekend. Refusal to release the officer’s name earlier sparked frustration in the St. Louis suburb, leading to protests and distruction of property.

But law enforcement’s reaction to the unrest reflected a military response similar to that of a war zone. Police used armored vehicles and officers with crowd control dogs confronted the peaceful protesters, until Governor Jay Nixon ordered the Missouri Highway Patrol to take over security. Almost immediatedly, the situation became calmer, the New York Times reports.

What was disturbing about the press conference was how the police took the opportunity to criminalize Brown. According to a police report tweeted by Huffington Post reporter Ryan J. Reilly, Brown allegedly stole a pack of Swisher Sweet cigars at a store. Dorian Johnson, Brown’s friend and witness to his fatal shooting, is also suspected of helping in the alleged robbery. Police also released photos of a large man at the store where a robbery took place. It is not confirmed if that man was the 18-year-old Brown.

Johnson has said neither he nor Brown committed any crime.According to several journalists reporting from Ferguson, no information in the report deals with the shooting or Wilson’s interaction with Brown.

Though it is hard to believe that a teenager who was set to start college in a few days would steal cigars, it really doesn’t matter if he did. Cops are suppose to use deadly force only when lives are in danger. No one should lose their life for being a robbery suspect.

The only thing that is suspect so far is the withholding of information being released about Wilson’s final interaction with Brown before the shooting. And instead of releasing a photo of Wilson, police released photos of a large black man allegedly assaulting someone at a store.

A Google search of “Darren Wilson” shows the photos of the man who supposedly committed a robbery.

That is not a coincidence.

 

Amidst the outrageous police presence in Ferguson, a look at how local law enforcement is turning communities into war zones.

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.

The only thing newsworthy in the Bergen story is that  someone complained.  To be exact, Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan spoke up in opposition to the transfer of the equipment.  “I think,” she  said, “we have lost our way if you start talking about military vehicles on the streets of Bergen County.”  And she bluntly criticized the decision to accept the MRAPs as the “absolute wrong thing to do in Bergen County to try to militarize our county.”  Her chief of staff offered a similar comment: “They are combat vehicles. Why do we need a combat vehicle on the streets of Bergen County?”

Sheriff Michael Saudino, on the other hand,  insists that the MRAPs aren’t “combat vehicles” at all.  Forget the fact that they were developed for and used in combat situations.  He suggests instead that one good reason for having them — other than the fact that they are free (except for postage, gas, and upkeep) — is essentially to keep up with the Joneses.  As he pointed out, the Bergen County police already have two MRAPs, and his department has none and, hey, self-respect matters!  (“Should our SWAT guys be any less protected than the county guys?” he asked in a debate with Donovan.)

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 

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.