Sunday, December 02, 2007

A modest question

When I was a kid, I ran around the neighborhood (and not a good neighborhood either) without an issue. Cops back then were armed with .38 revolvers and tactical batons. There were no paramilitary SWAT teams. If the .38 revolvers weren't good enough, they had pump-action shotguns. If they needed to serve a warrant on someone dangerous, they took a couple of cop cars, one for the back door and one for the front door, and a cop walked up to the front door and knocked on it while his buddy covered him from behind the car. Body armor was unheard of, Vietnam-era flak jackets were the best available and were considered too heavy and cumbersome for the limited protection they provided. There was no such thing as a "no-knock" warrant, and a couple of cops did get off'ed during my childhood but that was back when men were men and cops shrugged off the risk as just part of the job. All in all, our police force was pretty lame, more adept at handling drunks at the local bars than anything serious. But I was safe to roam my neighborhood. Indeed, murders were extremely rare -- I think that a dozen people were murdered in that mid-sized city during my entire childhood, and each time it was a major front-page story in the local news rags.

Today, cops in that town are outfitted like a paramilitary force, with automatic weapons, tasers, body armor, pepper spray, the works. They clank like freakin' robo-cops when they walk down the streets, they have so much shit hanging off of them. Routine traffic stops often turn into alarming confrontations as hyped up cops under loosened rules of engagement (under the mantra "force protection") end up pulling down on people they stop for driving while black. If you call them on it, they insist that force protection requires that cops act like a bunch of thugs -- in other words, compared to the cops of my childhood, they're all a bunch of cowards who apparently think that the point of being a cop is to keep themselves safe, rather than to keep the general public safe. Cops routinely kill several unarmed people per year and nothing ever happens because the cop says "I thought he had a gun" and of course the life of a cop is more important than the life of an innocent man. When warrants are served on someone suspected of being dangerous, entire city blocks are shot off and dozens of cops armed with automatic weapons burst through the doors after firing stun grenades through the windows in order to terrorize innocent women and children who had the misfortune of living at the wrong address, and there is never an apology or any compensation, "ve must haff order!" is the order of the day and if you question these tactics you must be a criminal.

The population of this city has remained pretty much constant over the past 40 years, but the murder rate has soared. They now have over a hundred murders per year in this city. And that's not counting all the lesser crimes. There are neighborhoods where I would have cheerfully roamed as a child, where I wouldn't dare go today, even though they weren't "good" neighborhoods when I was a child either.

So here's my question: What has all this militarization of our police forces in pursuit of the "war on drugs" gotten us? Other than a steadily increasing body count, that is? Curious penguins want to know!

-- Badtux the Unmilitarized Penguin
Cross-posted at The Medley


  1. Taser is now a party of our vocabulary.

  2. Take T.V away from a kid and he's gonna wanna watch it even more.

    Thats how I think of the whole 'war on drugs' shit.

    It's a fucking joke.

  3. Interesting Rolling Stone article: How America Lost The War On Drugs

    I reference it because it has some discussion of the sort of policing strategies that actually work against drug-related violence. Largely, according to the article, they involve using social pressures to shift the drug markets in a region -- carefully studying the people who are dealing and then not arresting them, but rather showing them your evidence, having community leaders and their family talk to them, and asking them to stop.

    I'm from merry olde England; moved to LA four years ago. It was surreal seeing cops carrying guns as a matter of course over here.

    In other news: the police here don't make me feel safe.

  4. One note about choice of weapons. The bad guys have MUCH more powerful weapons today. Automatic weapons, large magazine handguns, and 30 round assault rifle clips were hardly common 40 years ago.

    I imagine many (most?) of the changes to how the police arm themselves were made in reaction to what they were facing, causing a kind of urban arms race.

  5. LFC, 40 years ago kids couldn't *afford* heavy weaponry. They could afford maybe a smuggled Mexican switchblade (switchblades were illegal in our state) or a .32 caliber Saturday Night Special revolver more likely to blow up in their hands than kill someone.

    So what's different today? Well, money. And why do these kids have money to buy heavy weaponry today? One guess. The War On Drugs. You try to prohibit sale of something that people want, all it does is raise the price and result in very unsavory people moving into the business and arming themselves heavily using those profits in order to protect their "territory".

    In short, a decision to outlaw substances that people want to buy (rather than heavily regulate them) caused an arms race between two groups of heavily-armed thugs (and yes, cops are paid to be thugs, but supposedly *our* thugs, to take care of the other thugs out there who want to deprive us of life and/or property). This proliferation of heavily-armed thugs on the streets is supposed to make me feel safer?!

  6. The War On Drugs.

    I have mixed feeling on what should or shouldn't be legalized. On the extreme, it's moronic to illegalize marijuana. (It also prevents the U.S. from having a hemp industry, which would greatly reduce the environmental impact of the raw materials needed to make paper, but that's just a supporting reason.)

    Other drugs that are highly addictive are a bit trickier, but by and large I agree that the "War on Drugs" has been a failure and has done more harm than good.

    One other item I'd like to toss into this mix, though, is the gun lobby and the NRA. They've fought proposed laws like registration and tracking tooth and nail. If you sell a gun to a felon without the due diligence of a background check, why shouldn't you be held responsible? The NRA goes well beyond defending a guaranteed right to own arms into the illogical conclusion of guaranteed anonymity. It's a responsibility dodge, plain and simple.

  7. Gun laws don not work. Period. Criminals are called criminals because they break the law, therefore, why would anyone think they would obey a law forbidding them from owning weapons?

    The only thing gun laws do is restrict the law-abiding population from protecting themselves. Let's face it, with the rise in home invasions and street crime, the only thing the cops can do is show up and make a report - after someone has been brutalized, robbed, raped and/or murdered.

    I don't need "justice", I need protection. Yes, the world has changed, and not for the better. As for me, I don't call myself an "armed and dangerous" liberal for the fun of it. I would rather be tried by 12 than carried by 6.


  8. Oh, and as for the war on drugs? Horseshit! It's a personal morality issue, not a legal one. You cannot legislate morality. One man's nectar is another man's poison. Legalize all of it and let folks make their own decisions. If you don't do coke or smoke pot, you probably never will. By legalizing it you take the dealers off the streets and into the local MickeyD's.

    I've always been affronted by martini swilling legislators who frown on my pot smoking.



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