Friday, August 15, 2014

The Blurred Line

The consensus among conservative pundits is that the police in Ferguson, Missouri have conducted themselves abysmally since the shooting by an officer of an unarmed black teenager. I don't know the facts on the shooting, so I have no opinion on it.

The point is that no one else in the country knows the facts either, including the African American community in Ferguson, which makes the violent disturbances there, as opposed to the peaceful demonstrations, intolerably thuggish.

I do agree, however, with the column in Time written by Rand Paul, the Republican junior senator from Kentucky, in which he raises a very disquieting concern. He (and many others) are very troubled about the increasing militarization of our local police forces. Police are not supposed to be military units, and as they evolve into that the specter of a tyrannical, totalitarian police state looms more ominously in our future.

Here are some excerpts from Paul's column:
The outrage in Ferguson is understandable—though there is never an excuse for rioting or looting. There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace, but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response. The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action.

The Cato Institute’s Walter Olson observed this week how the rising militarization of law enforcement is currently playing out in Ferguson:
Why armored vehicles in a Midwestern inner suburb? Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors? Why are the authorities in Ferguson, Mo. so given to quasi-martial crowd control methods (such as bans on walking on the street) and, per the reporting of Riverfront Times, the firing of tear gas at people in their own yards? (“‘This my property!’ he shouted, prompting police to fire a tear gas canister directly at his face.”) Why would someone identifying himself as an 82nd Airborne Army veteran, observing the Ferguson police scene, comment that “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone”?
Olson added, “the dominant visual aspect of the story, however, has been the sight of overpowering police forces confronting unarmed protesters who are seen waving signs or just their hands.”

How did this happen?

Not surprisingly, big government has been at the heart of the problem. Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies—where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement.

This is usually done in the name of fighting the war on drugs or terrorism. The Heritage Foundation’s Evan Bernick wrote in 2013 that, “the Department of Homeland Security has handed out anti-terrorism grants to cities and towns across the country, enabling them to buy armored vehicles, guns, armor, aircraft, and other equipment.”

When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury—national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture—we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands.

The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm. It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime. It is quite another for them to subsidize it.
Hot Air also has a good piece on this topic which can be read here. Burgeoning government such as is envisioned by liberals need not necessarily entail militarized police forces, I suppose, but it certainly seems that as our government becomes increasingly more expansive, our police are becoming increasingly more like our Marines and the line between them has been blurred. I don't think that's good for communities nor for the relationship of the police to the citizenry. It's certainly not good for our liberties and rights.