Last time I blogged about the use of pepper spray at UC Davis and about how that fits into larger trends in the use of pain compliance techniques. After that, a friend sent me a great Huffington Post article framing these incidents in terms of related trends in the use of SWAT teams and in the militarization of police. In it, Balko discusses the wide and unnecessary use of SWAT teams in searching premises where non-violent suspects are thought to be, as well as the use of SWAT teams to apprehend non-violent suspects. The grisly details of the raids really bring home the power of the state. For instance, Balko notes that it is routine for SWAT teams to shoot and kill all dogs on a property they are raiding. Imagine having your house raided (for cause or because the cops got someone else’s address wrong) and they kill your dog while they are at it? He also discusses the use of tazer’s, which are often used when a firearm would never even be considered. He notes that a number of law-abiding citizens are killed each year when tazered. None of this even gets to the psychological damage of being held at gun point.
So, what do I make of this? I think it is another sign that we need to consider the actual punishment that is in practice handed out during policing. If we could not sentence someone to something after being convicted of a crime, it makes one wonder why we can take those actions against almost anyone whenever they interact with police. This is ever more important where protesters are concerned since until otherwise proven, they are engaged in protected first amendment activity.
One response to “On the militarization of policing”
Being from a country (Mexico) and region (Latin America) that has historically looked at its police and armed forces with a very critical eye (with good reasons, of course). I am always amazed at the very large slack that both laws and citizens cut the police in the U.S.
Killing dogs as a routine procedure? I understand that these SWAT team members might be occasionally harmed by vicious dogs in the pursuit of their jobs; but a routine procedure, really?
And using a taser to ‘subdue’ people has become a very common practice by police forces all around the country, too (see: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-57322664/taser-use-increases-questions-arise/). We know, due to Alpert and colleagues’ recent study that “nearly one and a half million suspects have been Tased by authorities and of that mount, 485 have died afterwards…”
I agree with Jenn that a review of the guidelines on the use of force and what constitutes excessive use of force by police forces is direly needed at both state and federal levels.
Here’s a link to the Alpert et al. study for those keen on reading more: http://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=254299 (gated)