Ferguson and beyond – the reality of a militarised police force

 “The United States today has become excessively militarized, mainly through federal programs that create incentives for state and local police to use unnecessarily aggressive weapons and tactics designed for the battlefield.”

(See the ACLU‘s June report here.)

And these are cops...Cops on patrol or troops in a combat situation? What do they look like to you?

In fact they’re one and the same. As far as I can make out, these guys are from the Highway Patrol which has taken over policing of the Fergason riots after the regular cops made such a balls-up of it. Now apparently the HP in turn is to be replaced by the National Guard, so at least we’ll know that those soldier lookalikes really are soldiers.

The riots didn’t start out as such of course. Peaceful protest was met by clumsy, confrontational policing and human nature did the rest. Not far down the road I can imagine someone changing the vocabulary again and calling the riots, optimistically, an “uprising”. Optimistically because no one should think even for one minute that the forces of so-called law and order are going to let that happen.

The Guardian’s coverage of events in Ferguson has been extensive. But this story needs to be read and evaluated against the background of rampant militarisation of the US police, as detailed in this article by Glenn Greenwald on his new blog, The Intercept.

Greenwald read Radley Balko’s “Rise of The Warrior Cop” before publication in order to write the blurb:

“There is no vital trend in American society more overlooked than the militarization of our domestic police forces.” The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim, in the outlet’s official statement about Reilly’s arrest, made the same point: “Police militarization has been among the most consequential and unnoticed developments of our time.”

As a trend, the militarisation of the police pre-dates 9/11, with the Pentagon off-loading hardware because it could no longer find enough wars to fight. It accelerated under Bush and Obama appears to have nothing to stop  it:

June article in the New York Times by Matt Apuzzo (“War Gear Flows to Police Departments”) reported that “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.” He added: “The equipment has been added to the armories of police departments that already look and act like military units.”

As a phenomenon, the militarisation of the police is now so deeply entrenched as to be virtually irreversible. Homeland Security, that sprawling mess of an organisation thrown together in the aftermath of 9/11, is the third biggest Cabinet department, so jobs and prestige are at stake. So too — inevitably — is money, big money.

All of this has become such big business, and is grounded in such politically entrenched bureaucratic power, that it is difficult to imagine how it can be uprooted. As the LA Times explained:

“An entire industry has sprung up to sell an array of products, including high-tech motion sensors and fully outfitted emergency operations trailers. The market is expected to grow to $31 billion by 2014.”

In an echo of Chomsky’s reminder that the first enemy of government is always the people, Greenwald concludes:

The reason the U.S. has para-militarized its police forces is precisely to control this type of domestic unrest, and it’s simply impossible to imagine its not being deployed in full against a growing protest movement aimed at grossly and corruptly unequal resource distribution.

So think again about those water canon Boris wants in London. There’s no doubt in my mind that they are but the thin end of the wedge. Let’s try, just for once, to learn something from the Americans instead of blindly copying them.

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