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Friday, July 05, 2013

Who needs Posse Comitatus?

by digby

Radley Balko has written a must-read for anyone who cares about civil liberties Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces.

Here,  the ABA Journal features a lengthy excerpt about our long and illustrious history in this regard. The following charts accompany the piece.

None of that will come as a surprise to anyone who read Rick Perlstein's Nixonland.For every step forward there is a backlash, something that liberals often ignore in the ecstasy of their victory dances. The "law and order" backlash that came as a result of the civil rights revolution of the 60s never totally abated and one of the places where it's really taken hold is in our police apparatus at every level of government. 9/11 simply put the program on steroids.

The ABA Journal, wrote this as an editors note:
In a remarkable speech at the National Defense University in May, President Barack Obama signaled an end to the war on terrorism; maybe not an end, it turns out, but a winding down of the costly deployments, the wholesale use of drone warfare, and even the very rhetoric of war.

Prompted by the odious attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., in 2001, he said, we took the battle, for better or worse, to Afghanistan and to Iraq and, surreptitiously, to Pakistan to punish those deemed responsible. We moved on the home front, as well; perhaps too quickly, some would argue—“hardening targets, tightening transportation security, giving law enforcement new tools to prevent terror,” as the president described the domestic defense agenda.

Some of this hardening and tightening was obvious. Surveillance cameras became as ubiquitous as concrete barriers. Office buildings tightened security. Passengers were screened for weapons before boarding planes. But in local law enforcement some of the “new tools” made available to even the smallest police departments helped accelerate changes in policing, changes that some say altered the way police departments behave.

Today, police departments—or some of their key enforcement operations—appear to be on a war footing. Many dress in commando black, instead of the traditional blue. They own military-grade weapons, armored personnel carriers, helicopters and Humvees. Their training is military. Their approach is military. They are in a war against crime and violence and terror that they argue never ends. Just ask those at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15.

In his new book, Rise of the Warrior Cop, journalist Radley Balko points out that this militarization of police departments had taken hold several decades before 9/11. He argues, in the following excerpt, that a few appropriate applications of those tactics and weaponry have obscured their routine use each day, against U.S. citizens accused of ordinary crimes, in ways that would have been repugnant to the nation’s founders. “To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance,” the president noted in his recent speech. “For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power—or risk abusing it.”

Whether or not you agree with him, it is an issue that Balko has been chronicling for years at the local and national levels. And in this particular moment of national introspection about the efficacy of traditional warfare against the threat of determined terrorists, Balko poses the question about its efficacy against common crime.
That piece says they are in a war against "crime and violence" but that's obscurely abstract. It's a war against people --- also known as citizens of the United States. And as with our foreign adventures, much of it, in my opinion, is driven by a zeal to deploy new technology.

I've been following this story for some time and always quote Balko's work liberally. His insights on this are required reading for anyone who's concerned about this issue of creeping authoritarianism.