Walt is a year older. [Than what? Dirt? Ed.] I'll answer that... I'm so old I can remember when people could write and speak grammatical English. I can remember when popular music had melodies you could hum and lyrics you could sing in decent company. And I can remember when children were taught that policemen -- there were no policewomen or policepersons in those days -- were our friends, human and caring people, the sort who would take a runaway kid back home. [Remember the kindly beat cop in Going My Way? Ed.
But times have changed. Cops have changed. Now, whether as a result of the War on Drugs or the War on Terror -- or the War on Poverty ?? -- North American police see themselves as warriors, "serving and protecting" by keeping "law and order" in our cities by using deadly force against terrorists, criminals and, errr, the rest of us... whenever and wherever they feel like it.
Why do they do that? For the same reason a dog licks his balls. Because they can! Police in the Paranoid States of America [Canada too! Ed.] have been thoroughly militarized. What the lamestream media are now calling the "unrest" in Ferguson MO is just the latest example of how that militarization can play out in city streets.
The cops occupying the St. Louis suburb are -- like most state and local police forces -— outfitted with the armoured vehicles, battering rams and flashbang grenades once reserved for troops. Police and "protesters" have clashed every day and every night since Michael Brown, an apparently unarmed black kid, was shot by an as-yet-unnamed policeman on Saturday. Vandalism and looting broke out the next day. A store was set on fire. Al Sharpton arrived.
As noted here two days ago, police responded in full riot gear. Yesterday, the Federal Aviation Administration briefly shut down the airspace above Ferguson as a precautionary measure. Against what, for heaven's sake?! You'd think war had been declared. Oh, wait... Surely a more appropriate response to riots -- for that's what they are -- would be officers armed with pistols and billy clubs, not M-16s and grenade launchers.
Writing in Business Insider, Paul Szoldra, asks "Why do these cops need MARPAT camo pants?", referring to the pattern designed for the US Marine Corps, or MARine PATtern. When he was serving in Afghanistan, Szoldra says, they used big trucks and uniforms intended to project an image as occupiers. When, he asks, did this became OK on domestic soil?
As Walt told you last spring in "SWAT teams abuse your right -- 1000s of times a year!", studies by Prof. Peter Kraska, of Eastern Kentucky University, show that between the mid-1980s and late 1990s, the percentage of cities of 50,000 or more, like St. Louis, with a paramilitary unit almost doubled to 89 per cent.
Smaller cities, with populations of 25-50,000, saw an even greater jump –- from 20 per cent to 80 per cent. "These trends would mean little if these teams were relatively inactive," he wrote, "This was not the case."
Once the police are equipped and trained in the ways of the military -- the art of war -- they naturally want to put all that training and all those big-boy toys to use. Cops like bullying people! Cops like shooting people! It is their nature... like the dog mentioned above...
Prof. Kraska found that between 1980 and 2000, there was a 1,400% increase (!!) in police "paramilitary deployments". The majority of the deployments were for drug raids in private homes, not the intended goal of a SWAT team, which is emergency situations like hostage takings and shooter scenarios where the extra weaponry might be required.
Two months ago, the American Civil Liberties Union released a report ominously titled "War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing". Their statistics for the years 2011-2012 confirm the trend identified by Prof. Kraska.
Of more than 800 SWAT deployments in those two years, 79% were to search the homes of private citizens, largely in drug probes. If it hadn't been the police carrying out these operations, we'd call them "home invasions", for that's what they are -- "legalized" home invasions.
The ACLU criticizes US policing for becoming unnecessarily and dangerously militarized. "Neighbourhoods are not war zones, and our police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies," said the report. Any further comment from Walt would be superfluous.