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News Link • Police State

Turning Patrolmen Into Soldiers: How Did We Let This Happen?

• theatlantic.com
I'm chagrined not to have noted a great Atlantic item from two weeks ago, "How the War on Terror Has Militarized the Police." It covers systematically much of the terrain I've been going into episodically.

Nonetheless, let's move on! Following this item about the "up-armoring" of even small rural police forces, and the decking out of ordinary police patrol forces in heavy-weather militarized riot gear, Mike Lofgren, a former Republican Senate staffer whose name may ring a bell, writes to say:
Interesting series of posts. One further similarity to the military that the police have achieved is something not often remarked on and that goes beyond the physical substance of the militarization: a psychological distancing and de-humanization vis-à-vis the population. I noticed this beginning about 2004 as the insurgency began to heat up in the Iraqi towns. US troops, with full body armor, Buck Rogers-like M-4 carbines, grenade launchers and fancy commo gear, all topped off with helmet and tinted visors or wrap-around mirrored sunglasses, looked vaguely like space aliens, or even slightly insectoid. With the Blackwater and Dyncorp mercs, many of whom were 'roided up and scary-looking to begin with, the effect was even weirder.
 
Now domestic police are copying this look. It is intimidating, alienating, and de-humanizes the cops in the eyes of the citizenry. That's the polar opposite of what a "peace officer" in a community is supposed to represent to citizens. By the same token, the cops being suited up like that probably strips away some of their inhibition about using disproportionate force by the very same psychological distancing process.
 
This is not to criticize troops or cops as individuals, or to deny that they are, in the vast majority of cases, simply trying to do their jobs in difficult and dangerous situations. But leaders who make the policies the soldiers and police have to carry out should think harder about what they are trying to accomplish, and avoid employing equipment, tactics, and visuals that make violence more, not less likely, and alienate the population as well.
A reader with a military background says that he cannot personally vouch for the authenticity of photos like the ones below, of Tampa "police" vehicles (which have appeared online here and here), but at face value they are consistent with equipment showing up elsewhere [Update: here is a link from the Tampa police themselves showing the militarized equipment]:
 
 

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