Some Thoughts on "Police Militarization"
There's a lot of talk about the militarization of our police and what concerns me most about it is that it appears to be complete misdirection. The focus is on "gear." They look like soldiers. They get surplus weapons from the Department of Defense. They roll around in mine-resistant armored vehicles.
And it's all irrelevant.
Look at the picture above. Would it be easier to stomach if the officer had a pump shotgun instead of an AR15? What about this one -
Would it be less alarming to be the photographer if the officer was perched atop a pickup truck, pointing a lever-action rifle or an old-school .38 Special revolver at you? Would the door-to-door squad be "friendlier" if they were wearing street blues?
There is a larger issue here and I fear that we are being distracted from it by the red herring of "stuff." It's not about gear, it's about attitude. It's about an "us versus them" culture that has been cultivated and allowed to fester by those who make our laws. Citizens are called "civilians." Police are "the thin blue line." Rousing speeches are given and legal double standards are developed to reinforce the development of separate - and antagonistic - subcultures, alienating us from each other, all to keep us from focusing on the laws and the lawmakers as the source of our troubles.
Law enforcement officers are hired to enforce laws, regulations and code. If the only laws of the land were bans on murder, rape, kidnapping and arson, they would universally be seen as protectors and their use of violence would, for the most part, be welcomed. But we have allowed passage of laws and regulations that go far beyond that. As a result, we've ended up with a vicious cycle:
- police are used for enforcement of restrictive laws and begin to be perceived (accurately, in a literal sense) as little more than muscle for government, no matter what good they do;
- citizens chafe and begin to resist or evade those laws and begin to be perceived as "troublemakers" and (again, accurately, in a literal sense) criminals, no matter how correct they are in their objections;
- politicians pass more restrictions on both sides, painting each as victims of the other and fostering more resentment and division;
- citizens forget that they shirked their moral responsibility to choose wise representatives and that it is incumbent upon them to ensure laws are just and respectable;
- law enforcement agents forget that they are not absolved of the moral responsibility to judge the laws they are tasked with enforcing and that they are, in fact, our communities' front-line troops against tyranny.
This needs to stop and the drive to break that cycle must come from us because those currently in charge have no incentive to do so. It's been too successful and profitable of a strategy for them.
Here's a last thought:
In 1966, Charles Whitman snapped, climbing a University of Texas tower and opening fire on passers-by below. Within minutes, several citizens had acquired personal firearms from their vehicles and returned fire, working with police officers who arrived on the scene to keep Whitman pinned down in his sniper's nest. Both police officers and armed private citizens stormed the tower, ending the spree. Try to picture the result if a similar response took place now in, say, Los Angeles or New York City.
We - all of us - need to stop letting ourselves be distracted and to work to reverse this trend.