Author Topic: Playing Soldier in the Suburbs by Ross Douthat  (Read 425 times)

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Playing Soldier in the Suburbs by Ross Douthat
« on: August 16, 2014, 07:02:49 PM »
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/17/opinion/sunday/ross-douthat-playing-soldier-in-the-suburbs.html?ref=opinion

Playing Soldier in the Suburbs

AUG. 16, 2014


The police in Ferguson, Mo., last week in combat gear.

TO understand what’s been happening in Ferguson, Mo., where protests and violence following a cop’s shooting of an unarmed teenager summoned up a police response that looked more like a military invasion, it helps to flash back to the heyday of the Symbionese Liberation Army.

The S.L.A., one of the loopiest and most dangerous of the homegrown terrorist groups that flourished in the madhouse of the early 1970s, was already famous for kidnapping and “converting” Patty Hearst when its members engaged in a nationally televised shootout in Los Angeles in the spring of 1974.

The firefight, in which six terrorists died without injury to police or bystanders, helped publicize the innovations of a small group of Angeleno police officers. Eight years earlier, after the Watts riots, they began to develop the combat-ready police unit that played a central role in taking down the S.L.A. That unit was America’s first special weapons and tactics team, or SWAT.

In an era of riots and hijackings, the SWAT model understandably spread nationwide. But as the riots died away and the threat of domestic terror receded, SWAT tactics — helicopters, heavy weaponry, the works — became increasingly integrated into normal crime-fighting, and especially into the war on drugs.

This was phase one in the militarization of America’s police forces, as described in Radley Balko’s essential 2013 book on the subject, “The Rise of the Warrior Cop.” Phase two, in which the federal government began supplying local police with military hardware, began in the 1990s and accelerated after 9/11, under the theory that Islamic terrorists could strike anywhere, and that it might take a cop with a grenade launcher to stop them.

In the name of local preparedness, Washington has been bestowing antiterror grants and Pentagon surplus on communities barely touched by major crime, let alone by terrorism. Tanks and aircraft, helmets and armor, guns and grenade launchers have flowed to police departments from Des Moines (home of two $180,000 bomb-disarming robots) to Keene, N.H. (population 23,000, murder rate infinitesimal and the proud custodian of an armored BearCat).

Last week, The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis ran the numbers for Missouri and found that the state’s Department of Public Safety received about $69 million from the Department of Homeland Security in the past five years alone. Which helps explain why the streets of a St. Louis suburb flooded so quickly with cops in gas masks and camouflage, driving armored cars and brandishing rifles like an occupying army. It’s our antiterror policies made manifest, our tax dollars at work.

And it’s a path to potential disaster, for cops and citizens alike. The “S” in SWAT was there for a reason: Militarized tactics that are potentially useful in specialized circumstances — like firefights with suicidal terrorist groups — can be counterproductive when employed for crowd-control purposes by rank-and-file cops. (The only recent calm on Ferguson’s streets came after state cops started walking through the crowds in blue uniforms, behaving like police instead of storm troopers.)

To many critics of police militarization, of course, the helmets and heavy weaponry are just symptoms. The disease is the entire range of aggressive police tactics (from no-knock raids to stop-and-frisk), the racial disparities they help perpetuate and our society’s drug laws and extraordinary incarceration rate.

Well before Ferguson, this broad critique — long pressed by a mix of libertarians like Balko and left-wingers — was gaining traction in the political mainstream. This is why sentencing reform has a growing number of Republican champions, and why Rand Paul’s critique of the Ferguson police was more pointed and sweeping than President Obama’s.

The argument for broad reform is appealing; it might also be overly optimistic. To be clear: I cheered Paul’s comments, I support most of the reforms under consideration, I want lower incarceration rates and fewer people dying when a no-knock raid goes wrong. But there may be trade-offs here: In an era of atomization, distrust and economic stress, our punitive system may be a big part of what’s keeping crime rates as low as they are now, making criminal justice reform more complicated than a simple pro-liberty free lunch.

But the military hardware issue, the Bobcats and grenade launchers and what we’ve seen unfold in Ferguson — that does seem easy, uncomplicated, clear. Crime rates rise and fall, but crime-fighting is a constant for police; dealing with terrorism and insurrection, however, decidedly is not. Yet for decades we’ve been equipping our cops as though the Symbionese Liberation Army were about to come out of retirement, as if every burst of opportunistic lawlessness could become another Watts, as though the Qaeda sleeper cells we feared after 9/11 were as pervasive in life as they are on “24” or “Homeland.”

And this is where it’s ended: with a bunch of tomfool police playing soldier, tear-gassing protesters, arresting journalists and turning Ferguson into a watchword for policing at its worst.

Time to take their toys away.

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Offline MACVSOG68

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Re: Playing Soldier in the Suburbs by Ross Douthat
« Reply #1 on: August 16, 2014, 07:11:12 PM »
Quote
Time to take their toys away.

It's funny (not really), but when the left says the same thing about guns in the hands of citizens, we push back with a vengeance, telling them its not the guns, but going after those who misuse them.  And I agree with that completely.  Yet we seem to say that it's the 'toys' that are causing all the chaos with respect to the police.  Why don't we use the same logic?
 
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Offline Oceander

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Re: Playing Soldier in the Suburbs by Ross Douthat
« Reply #2 on: August 16, 2014, 07:17:17 PM »
It's funny (not really), but when the left says the same thing about guns in the hands of citizens, we push back with a vengeance, telling them its not the guns, but going after those who misuse them.  And I agree with that completely.  Yet we seem to say that it's the 'toys' that are causing all the chaos with respect to the police.  Why don't we use the same logic?
 


Actually, the same logic can be applied:  those with known issues, like a record of violent criminal conduct, should have their right to own/possess firearms restricted.  Cops clearly have "issues" with using military-grade weaponry; accordingly, their right to own/possess that weaponry should be restricted.  It isn't political bias to recognize that Sheriff Taylor had a very good reason for limiting Deputy Barney Fife to one bullet that he had to carry in his pocket, not in his revolver.

Offline MACVSOG68

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Re: Playing Soldier in the Suburbs by Ross Douthat
« Reply #3 on: August 16, 2014, 07:38:58 PM »

Actually, the same logic can be applied:  those with known issues, like a record of violent criminal conduct, should have their right to own/possess firearms restricted.  Cops clearly have "issues" with using military-grade weaponry; accordingly, their right to own/possess that weaponry should be restricted.  It isn't political bias to recognize that Sheriff Taylor had a very good reason for limiting Deputy Barney Fife to one bullet that he had to carry in his pocket, not in his revolver.

Some cops, just like some people.  Point is when guns are abused, the left fights to have all of them restricted.  Perhaps some of the military equipment is going overboard, but I believe a police force needs at least the same level of weaponry as the bad guys, and any abuse by the police should be prosecuted to the fullest.  Training is essential no less than it is in the military, and good leadership is even more necessary.
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Re: Playing Soldier in the Suburbs by Ross Douthat
« Reply #4 on: August 16, 2014, 10:11:00 PM »
Some cops, just like some people.  Point is when guns are abused, the left fights to have all of them restricted.  Perhaps some of the military equipment is going overboard, but I believe a police force needs at least the same level of weaponry as the bad guys, and any abuse by the police should be prosecuted to the fullest.  Training is essential no less than it is in the military, and good leadership is even more necessary.

Here's the trouble:  abuse by the police is almost never prosecuted, it is the exception to the rule, the vanishingly small exception, to the rule that cops don't get prosecuted for abuse.  Neither do ADAs.  The watchmen cannot be trusted beyond a certain point; that is simply a fact of life.

Offline olde north church

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Re: Playing Soldier in the Suburbs by Ross Douthat
« Reply #5 on: August 16, 2014, 10:38:54 PM »
Did you ever wonder why members of the military are generally respected while LEOs are generally despised?
Why?  Well, because I'm a bastard, that's why.

Offline MACVSOG68

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Re: Playing Soldier in the Suburbs by Ross Douthat
« Reply #6 on: August 16, 2014, 10:56:19 PM »
Here's the trouble:  abuse by the police is almost never prosecuted, it is the exception to the rule, the vanishingly small exception, to the rule that cops don't get prosecuted for abuse.  Neither do ADAs.  The watchmen cannot be trusted beyond a certain point; that is simply a fact of life.

As I said, abuse should be prosecuted.  And, there should be effective civilian oversight.  But when the bad guys are better armed than the police, who do the citizens look to?  Violent crime in the country has been decreasing each year.  I can't link cause and effect, but two things have increased during that same period, private gun ownership and better armed and trained police.
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Offline MACVSOG68

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Re: Playing Soldier in the Suburbs by Ross Douthat
« Reply #7 on: August 16, 2014, 11:17:32 PM »
Did you ever wonder why members of the military are generally respected while LEOs are generally despised?

There are around 12 million arrests and 41million traffic citations annually in the US.  Add to that interaction the publicity associated with police abuse allegations and it wouldn't surprise me.  And I think abuses in the military aren't as quickly 'broad brushed' over the entire military as police abuses.  Perhaps one other characteristic is that like other public services, the police are simply taken for granted while military operations aren't.  But I continue to insist that LEOs have a higher standard to uphold the laws in spite of the daily dangers associated with the job.
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Offline olde north church

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Re: Playing Soldier in the Suburbs by Ross Douthat
« Reply #8 on: August 17, 2014, 05:52:40 AM »
There are around 12 million arrests and 41million traffic citations annually in the US.  Add to that interaction the publicity associated with police abuse allegations and it wouldn't surprise me.  And I think abuses in the military aren't as quickly 'broad brushed' over the entire military as police abuses.  Perhaps one other characteristic is that like other public services, the police are simply taken for granted while military operations aren't.  But I continue to insist that LEOs have a higher standard to uphold the laws in spite of the daily dangers associated with the job.

I was just thinking people know when military "break rules" they are swiftly and justly punished.  LEOs are rarely.  The public perception, most get away with anything, from lifting apples on the beat to murdering wives.
Why?  Well, because I'm a bastard, that's why.

Offline MACVSOG68

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Re: Playing Soldier in the Suburbs by Ross Douthat
« Reply #9 on: August 17, 2014, 09:44:15 AM »
I was just thinking people know when military "break rules" they are swiftly and justly punished.  LEOs are rarely.  The public perception, most get away with anything, from lifting apples on the beat to murdering wives.

Remember, part of that public perception comes from Hollywood.  Police abuse has been a theme in numerous television shows and movies as far back as I can remember, which these days doesn't seem that long...

No doubt people have a more favorable view of the military (except when I came home), and the interaction here with military personnel is almost always favorable.  In Afghanistan today and Iraq earlier however, our military is not so favorably viewed.  One article describing Afghan attitudes toward our military concluded: "At best we have come to be seen as weak and incompetent, at worst, as enemies and invaders".

As for the police, we have to start with the proposition that an effective police force is an imperative not an option.  While little can be done to change the negative nature of most of the interaction between police and citizenry, some steps can and should be taken.  Always at the top of the list is an independent civilian review board whose members have no relationships within the force.  Then while ensuring no civil rights violations, a timely and effective investigation and prosecution if warranted of all complaints or other evidence of abuse.

Move the police around from shift to shift occasionally.  In larger jurisdictions move officers into other precincts.  Always follow up on complaints.  Ensure that press and those with cameras are permitted on the scene so long as they remain clear of a crime scene and do not interfere with officers.  But understand that clips and pictures can be edited.  Continual training is always essential, not only in tactics, but with emphasis on the concept of reasonable force.

Whenever possible, facilitate positive interaction, in schools, community events, playgrounds etc.

Rules of engagement are important but should always, within reason,  favor the law.
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