Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Who can it be, knocking at my door?

When even the Consumer Products 'Safety' Commission can dispatch armed agents on a no-knock raid, you have to wonder what's happened to America.  As a nation, we've tended to downplay the 'collateral damage' of our actions abroad, cloaking ourselves in the perceived righteousness of our cause. 

But more Americans are waking up to the fact we have just an aggressive force at home -- an 'occupying army,' if you will, of militarized police forces that have long since moved past the days of being 'peace officers.'  Radley Balko traces the history of how we got to the point where even innocent 88-year olds have reason to wonder if armed intruders might burst through the doors of their home... all with government sanction:

America's police departments have been moving toward more aggressive, force-first, militaristic tactics and their accompanying mindset for 30 years. It's just that, with the exception of protests at the occasional free trade or World Bank summit, the tactics haven't generally been used on mostly white, mostly college-educated kids armed with cellphone cameras and a media platform.

Police militarization is now an ingrained part of American culture. SWAT teams are featured in countless cop reality shows, and wrong-door raids are the subject of "The Simpsons" bits and search engine commercials.

Tough-on-crime sheriffs now sport tanks and hardware more equipped for battle in a war zone than policing city streets. Seemingly benign agencies such as state alcohol control boards and the federal Department of Education can now enforce laws and regulations not with fines and clipboards, but with volatile raids by paramilitary police teams.

Outraged by the Occupy crackdowns, some pundits and political commentators who paid little heed to these issues in the past are now calling for a national discussion on the use of force. That's a welcome development, but it's helpful to review how we got here in order to have an honest discussion.

Part of the trend can be attributed to the broader tough-on-crime and drug war policies pushed by politicians of both parties since at least the early 1980s, but part of the problem also lies with America's political culture.

Public officials' decisions today to use force and the amount of force are as governed by political factors as by an honest assessment of the threat a suspect or group may pose. Over the years, both liberals and conservatives have periodically raised alarms over the government's increasing willingness to use disproportionately aggressive force. And over the years, both sides have tended to hush up when the force is applied by political allies, directed at political opponents, or is used to enforce the sorts of laws they favor.

Read the whole thing...

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