The war on drugs and terrorism has blurred the boundary between the police and the soldier. The result of the federal government’s takeover of the states has been the creation of a militarized police that is composed by heavily armed agents who carry semiautomatic rifles for routine work. These new breed of military thugs have the power and the will to ransack health food stores, farms and homes for reasons that are simply unexplainable.
The consumption of raw milk, the possession of a vegetable garden or a simple report from a neighbor can unleash a nightmare scenario for any American in any city or town in the U.S.. A man’s dog was recently shot several times after the animal began barking at police agents, who had detained its owner. The man was detained and hand-cuffed for no reason.
The image of the police that people knew in almost every neighborhood has been displaced in much of the United States by armed agents who do not hesitate to put 10 or more bullets into anyone who doesn’t do what they say. There is no tolerance for dialog or the citation of constitutional rights. Armed with rifles and moving in armored vehicles the police agents surround houses and public property with an impregnated war mentality that is difficult to erase. These men are prepared to face urban combat as supposed to lending a hand to the people who pay their salaries.
They are the agents of an often lethal special force known as SWAT. They are trained to act by military men, as part of the increasing takeover of police departments in the United States. They are prepared to raid, confiscate and detain without asking one single question. Most of their victims are unarmed, inoffensive citizens who are far from being the threat they are taught to fight during their training for high-risk operations. Many of the police agents are former Iraq troops who have been given a lobotomy in preparation to travel to war zones and who are not able to detach that scenario from their minds.
“They are called ‘special’ and not supposed to be used constantly. The problem is that their use is not special, but routine,” says Arthur Rizer, a former police officer and former soldier who has observed for years the increasing militarization of local police departments. Much of this militarization is attached to local towns by means of federal financing of police. Failure to comply with new federal guidelines results in the immediate defunding of those police departments by the federal government. Occasionally, when sheriffs decide to opose the militarization of their agents, they are persecuted by the government, who make up accussations of abuse of power and inhumane treatment of prisoners.
“If they train as soldiers and equipped as soldiers, we should not be surprised when they act like soldiers. And the mission of a soldier is to kill the enemy,” said Rizer, now a professor of law at Georgetown University. Radley Balko, an investigative journalist, recently released a book in which he describes how the police is equipped with military means and how they have come to be used almost daily in raids against people suspected of possessing drugs or betting, planting a fruit or vegetable garden, selling raw milk from their small farm or homeschooling their children. Sometimes, says Radley, with fatal consequences for the citizens.
His book “Rise of the Police Warrior” tells, for example, the “absurd” arrest of Tibetan monks by SWAT teams after overstaying their visa in 2006, or the case of Alberto Sepulveda, the 11 year old who died in 2000 after being shot by mistake during a narcotics raid in California.
What many Americans have come to know a SWAT was born in the 1960s, shortly before disgraced president Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs. Coincidence? Since then, their size and force have grown disproportionally, under the excuse that it is necessary to protect the police in the fight against drug cartels,” which are usually heavily armed,” explains Rizer. Nowadays, it is difficult to see SWAT teams posted at the US border with Mexico or Canada, which are the two main entry points for drug dealers.
Despite the fact that a 1878 law prevents the use of the military and law enforcement agencies in the U.S., the Government made “a mix” between the two styles to supposedly combat drug trafficking, adds Rizer.
“The war on drugs began by equipping the police and soldiers, and the so-called war against terrorism led the militarization of police to a whole new level,” said Rizer. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Government increased its funding for equipment in an endless effort to fight terrorism in the country, while military technologies became more accessible to local police departments..
According to the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), the Department of Homeland Security has spent $35 billion since 2002 to strengthen national forces, especially to buy military equipment, while the Pentagon spent another 500 million to militarize police only in 2011.
Meanwhile, the SWAT teams have been deployed to thousands of raids since its inception. By 2005, there had been some 50,000 deployments, according to Professor and researcher Peter Kraska, of the University of Kentucky.
This trend caught the attention of Rizer in 2006, when he came home after two years serving in the Iraq war and saw “a policeman at the airport in the city of Minneapolis carrying an M4, exactly the same rifle” that he used “when patrolling (the Iraqi city of) Fallujah”. In countries like the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, it is now normal to see heavily armed military police in airports, train stations, ports and other points of access. The number of these agents increases radically every time the governments of those countries claim there is a threat against their homelands, in which case it is common to see black uniformed, high on steroids cops patrolling city streets in places like New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago.
“One M4 is a long distance weapon. If the police need to kill someone who is far away, that does not fit the concept of protecting and serving your community. So I began to investigate the militarization of the police in the U.S.” said Rizer. Now, the expert believes that “police in the United States has become just a force with a mindset where looking tough and breaking down doors is the main goal.” This behavior is often celebrated across the US by people who do not have a clue about what police has turned into. The latest example is the search for a supposed terrorism suspect in Boston, where police deployed SWAT teams in neighborhoods where they thought the suspect could be hiding. After finding him, the police force paraded around to the cheers of a few people who seemed to love the idea of “jack boot” thugs stepping on their noses.
In his book, Mr. Balko also speaks of a “culture of militarization” which has been enhanced by the stimuli fed to people in videos, movies and news channels where police thugs are recruited to carry out missions and who are praised every time they disobey the Constitution in order to “save the city” from American Al Qaeda.
The research completed by Rizer, Balko and Kraska will be strong additions to a study conducted by the ACLU, an organization for the defense of civil rights, which evaluated the phenomenon known as the militarization of police in the United States. The study will be based on data obtained from 255 police departments in 25 American states.
Kara Dansky, who heads the investigation of the ACLU, told has said that it was her experience reading disturbing reports such as the ones cited by Balko, what prompted her to investigate “if there was indeed a move to militarize police” nationwide.