Posts Tagged ‘police militarization’

If you dress police officers up as soldiers and you put them in military vehicles and you give them military weapons, they adopt a warrior mentality. We fight wars against enemies, and the enemies are the people who live in our cities—particularly in communities of color.—Thomas Nolan, criminology professor and former police officer

Should police officer Darren Wilson be held accountable for the shooting death of unarmed citizen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014?

That the police officer was white and his victim black should make no difference. In a perfect world, it would not matter. In an imperfect world such as ours, however, racism is an effective propaganda tool used by the government and the media to distract us from the real issues.

As a result, the national dialogue about the dangers of militarized, weaponized police officers being trained to act like soldiers on the battlefield, shooting first and asking questions later, has shifted into a largely unspoken debate over race wars, class perceptions and longstanding, deep-seated notions of who deserves our unquestioning loyalty and who does not.

Putting aside our prejudices, however, let’s not overlook the importance of Ferguson and this grand jury verdict. Tasked with determining whether Wilson should stand trial for Brown’s shooting, the grand jury ruled that the police officer will not face charges for the fatal shooting.

However, the greater question—whether anything will really change to rein in militarized police, police shootings, lack of accountability and oversight, and a military industrial complex with a vested interest in turning America into a war zone—remains unanswered.

Ferguson matters because it provides us with a foretaste of what is to come. It is the shot across the bow, so to speak, a warning that this is how we will all be treated if we do not tread cautiously in challenging the police state, and it won’t matter whether we’re black or white, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat. In the eyes of the corporate state, we are all the enemy.

This is the lesson of Ferguson.

Remember that in the wake of the shooting, Ferguson police officers clad in body armor, their faces covered with masks, equipped with assault rifles and snipers and riding armored vehicles, showed up in force to deal with protesters. Describing that show of force by police in Ferguson, Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, stated, “This was a military force, and they were facing down an enemy.”

A Government of Wolves book coverYes, we are the enemy. As I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, since those first towers fell on 9/11, the American people have been treated like enemy combatants, to be spied on, tracked, scanned, frisked, searched, subjected to all manner of intrusions, intimidated, invaded, raided, manhandled, censored, silenced, shot at, locked up, and denied due process.

There was a moment of hope after Ferguson that perhaps things might change. Perhaps the balance would be restored between the citizenry and their supposed guardians, the police. Perhaps our elected officials would take our side for a change and oppose the militarization of the police. Perhaps warfare would take a backseat to more pressing national concerns.

That hope was short-lived.

It wasn’t long before the media moved on to other, more titillating stories. The disappearance of a University of Virginia college student and the search for her alleged abductor, the weeks-long man-hunt for an accused cop killer, the Republican electoral upset, a Rolling Stone expose on gang rapes at fraternity parties, Obama’s immigration amnesty plan, and the rape charges against Bill Cosby are just a few of the stories that have dominated the news cycle since the Ferguson standoff between police and protesters.

It wasn’t long before the American public, easily acclimated to news of government wrongdoing (case in point: the national yawn over the NSA’s ongoing domestic surveillance), ceased to be shocked, outraged or alarmed by reports of police shootings. In fact, the issue was nowhere to be found in this year’s run-up to Election Day, which was largely devoid of any pressing matters of national concern.

And with nary a hiccup, the police state marched steadily forth. In fact, aided and abetted by the citizenry’s short attention span, its easily distracted nature, and its desensitization to anything that occupies the news cycle for too long, it has been business as usual in terms of police shootings, the amassing of military weapons, and the government’s sanctioning of police misconduct. Most recently, Ohio police shot and killed a 12-year-old boy who was seen waving a toy gun at a playground.

Rubbing salt in our wounds, in the wake of Ferguson, police agencies not only continued to ramp up their military arsenals but have used them whenever possible. In fact, in anticipation of the grand jury’s ruling, St. Louis police actually purchased more equipment for its officers, including “civil disobedience equipment.”

Just a few weeks after the Ferguson showdown, law enforcement agencies took part in an $11 million manhunt in Pennsylvania for alleged cop killer Eric Frein. Without batting an eye, the news media switched from outraged “shock” over the military arsenal employed by police in Ferguson to respectful “awe” of the 48-day operation that cost taxpayers $1.4 million per week in order to carry out a round-the-clock dragnet search of an area with a 5-mile-radius.

The Frein operation brought together 1,000 officers from local, state and federal law enforcement, as well as SWAT teams and cutting edge military equipment (high-powered rifles, body armor, infrared sensors, armored trucks, helicopters and unmanned, silent surveillance blimps)—some of the very same weapons and tactics employed in Ferguson and, a year earlier, in Boston in the wake of the marathon bombing.

The manhunt was a well-timed, perfectly choreographed exercise in why Americans should welcome the police state: for our safety, of course, and to save the lives of police officers.

Opposed to any attempt to demilitarize America’s police forces, the Dept. of Homeland Security has been chanting this safety mantra in testimony before Congress: Remember 9/11. Remember Boston. Remember how unsafe the world was before police were equipped with automatic weapons, heavily armored trucks, night-vision goggles, and aircraft donated by the DHS.

Contrary to DHS rhetoric, however, militarized police—twitchy over perceived dangers, hyped up on their authority, and protected by their agencies, the legislatures and the courts—have actually made communities less safe at a time when violent crime is at an all-time low and lumberjacks, fishermen, airline pilots, roofers, construction workers, trash collectors, electricians and truck drivers all have a higher risk of on-the-job fatalities than police officers.

Moreover, as Senator Tom Coburn points out, the militarization of America’s police forces has actually “created some problems that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.” Among those problems: a rise in the use of SWAT team raids for routine law enforcement activities (averaging 80,000 a year), a rise in the use and abuse of asset forfeiture laws by police agencies, a profit-driven incentive to criminalize lawful activities and treat Americans as suspects, and a transformation of the nation’s citizenry into suspects.

Ferguson provided us with an opportunity to engage in a much-needed national dialogue over how police are trained, what authority they are given, what weaponry they are provided, and how they treat those whom they are entrusted with protecting.

Caught up in our personal politics, prejudices and class warfare, we have failed to answer that call. In so doing, we have played right into the hands of all those corporations who profit from turning America into a battlefield by selling the government mine-resistant vehicles, assault rifles, grenade launchers, and drones.

As long as we remain steeped in ignorance, there will be no reform.

As long as we remain divided by our irrational fear of each other, there will be no overhaul in the nation’s law enforcement system or institution of an oversight process whereby communities can ensure that local police departments are acting in accordance with their wishes and values.

And as long as we remain distracted by misguided loyalties to military operatives who are paid to play the part of the government’s henchmen, there will be no saving us when the events of Ferguson unfold in our own backyards.

When all is said and done, it doesn’t matter whose “side” you’re on as far as what transpired in Ferguson, whether you believe that Michael Brown was a victim or that Darren Wilson was justified in shooting first and asking questions later.

What matters is that we not allow politics and deep-rooted prejudices of any sort to divert our efforts to restore some level of safety, sanity and constitutional balance to the role that police officers play in our communities. If we fail to do so, we will have done a disservice to ourselves and every man, woman and child in this country who have become casualties of the American police state.

Advertisements

Direct Action Against War

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”―Edward Abbey, American author

There’s a lot to love about America and its people: their pioneering spirit, their entrepreneurship, their ability to think outside the box, their passion for the arts, etc. Increasingly, however, as time goes by, I find the things I don’t like about living in a nation that has long since ceased to be a sanctuary for freedom are beginning to outnumber the things I love.

Here’s what I don’t like about living in the American police state: I don’t like being treated as if my only value to the government is as a source of labor and funds. I don’t like being viewed as a consumer and bits of data. I don’t like being spied on and treated as if I have no right to privacy, especially in my own home.

I don’t like government officials who lobby for my vote only to ignore me once elected. I don’t like having representatives incapable of and unwilling to represent me. I don’t like taxation without representation.

I don’t like being bullied by government bureaucrats, vigilantes masquerading as cops, or faceless technicians. I don’t like being railroaded into financing government programs whose only purpose is to increase the power and wealth of the corporate elite. I don’t like being forced to pay for wars abroad that serve no other purpose except to expand the reach of the military industrial complex.

I don’t like being subjected to scans, searches, pat downs and other indignities by the TSA. I don’t like VIPR raids on so-called “soft” targets like shopping malls and bus depots by black-clad, Darth Vader look-alikes. I don’t like fusion centers, which represent the combined surveillance efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement.

I don’t like being treated like an underling by government agents who are supposed to be working for me. I don’t like being threatened, intimidated, bribed, beaten and robbed by individuals entrusted with safeguarding my rights. I don’t like being silenced, censored and marginalized. I don’t like my movements being tracked, my conversations being recorded, and my transactions being catalogued.

I don’t like how the presidency has developed into a neo-monarchy replete with all the luxury and lasciviousness of the feudal lords of old.

I don’t like politicians who spend most of their time running for office, fundraising and enjoying being feted by lobbyists and corporations alike. I don’t like being kept at a distance from my elected representatives, including the president (a.k.a. the Emperor). I don’t like free speech zones, roving bubble zones and trespass laws that restrict Americans’ First Amendment rights.

I don’t like laws that criminalize Americans for otherwise lawful activities such as holding religious studies at home, growing vegetables in their yard, and collecting rainwater. I don’t like the NDAA, which allows the president and the military to arrest and detain American citizens indefinitely. I don’t like the Patriot Act, which opened the door to all manner of government abuses and intrusions on our privacy.

I don’t like the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which has become America’s standing army in direct opposition to the dire warnings of those who founded our country. I don’t like military weapons such as armored vehicles, sound cannons and the like being used against the American citizens. I don’t like government agencies such as the DHS, Post Office, Social Security Administration and Wildlife stocking up on hollow-point bullets. And I definitely don’t like the implications of detention centers being built that could house American citizens.

I don’t like the fact that since President Obama took office, police departments across the country “have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.”

I don’t like America’s infatuation with locking people up for life for non-violent crimes. There are over 3,000 people in America serving life sentences for non-violent crimes, including theft of a jacket, siphoning gasoline from a truck, stealing tools, and attempting to cash a stolen check. I don’t like paying roughly $29,000 a year per inmate just to keep these nonviolent offenders in prison.

I don’t like having my hard-earned taxpayer dollars used against me.

I don’t like the partisan nature of politics today, which has so polarized Americans that they are incapable of standing in unity against the government’s abuses. I don’t like the entertainment drivel that passes for news coverage today.

I don’t like the fact that those within a 25-mile range of the border are getting a front row seat to the American police state, as Border Patrol agents are now allowed to search people’s homes, intimately probe their bodies, and rifle through their belongings, all without a warrant.

I don’t like public schools that treat students as if they were prison inmates. I don’t like zero tolerance laws that criminalize childish behavior. I don’t like a public educational system that emphasizes rote memorization and test-taking over learning, synthesizing and critical thinking.

I don’t like police precincts whose primary purpose—whether through the use of asset forfeiture laws, speed traps, or red light cameras—is making a profit at the expense of those they have sworn to protect. I don’t like militarized police and their onerous SWAT team raids.

I don’t like Department of Defense and DHS programs that transfer surplus military hardware to local and state police. I don’t like government programs that reward cops for raiding homes and terrorizing homeowners. I don’t like local police dressing and acting as if they were the military while viewing me as an enemy combatant.

I don’t like being treated as if I have no rights.

I don’t like cash-strapped states cutting deals with private corporations to run the prisons in exchange for maintaining 90% occupancy rates for at least 20 years. I don’t like the fact that American prisons have become the source of cheap labor for Corporate America.

I don’t like feeling as if we’ve come full circle back to a pre-Revolutionary era.

I don’t like answering to an imperial president, who operates above the law. I don’t like the injustice that passes for justice in the courts. I don’t like prosecutors so hell bent on winning that they allow innocent people to suffer for crimes they didn’t commit.

I don’t like the double standards that allow government officials to break laws with immunity, while average Americans get the book thrown at them. I don’t like cops who shoot first and ask questions later. I don’t like police dogs being treated with more respect and afforded more rights than American citizens.

I don’t like living in a suspect society. I don’t like Americans being assumed guilty until they prove their innocence. I don’t like the fact that 38 states require that a property owner prove his innocence when police have laid claim to it in a civil forfeiture proceeding, whether or not that individual has done anything wrong.

I don’t like technology being used as a double-edged sword against us. I don’t like agencies like DARPA developing weapons for the battlefield that get used against Americans back at home. I don’t like the fact that drones will be deployed domestically in 2015, yet the government has yet to establish any civil liberties protocols to prevent them from being used against the citizenry.

Most of all, I don’t like feeling as if there’s no hope for turning things around.

Now there are those who would suggest that if I don’t like things about this country, I should leave and go elsewhere. And there are certainly those among my fellow citizens who are leaving for friendlier shores. However, I happen to come from a long line of people who believe in the virtue of hard work and perseverance and in the principle that nothing worthwhile comes without effort.

So I’m not giving up, at least not anytime soon. But I’m also not waiting around for the government to clean up its act. I’m not making any deals with politicians who care nothing about me and mine. To quote Number Six, the character in the British television series The Prisoner: “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own!”

I plan to keep fighting, writing, speaking up, speaking out, shouting if necessary, filing lawsuits, challenging the status quo, writing letters to the editor, holding my representatives accountable, thinking nationally but acting locally, and generally raising a ruckus anytime the government attempts to undermine the Constitution and ride roughshod over the rights of the citizenry.

As I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, we’re at a crisis point in American history. If we don’t get up off our duffs and get involved in the fight for freedom, then up ahead the graveyard beckons. As Martin Luther King Jr. warned, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality.”

declaration

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”–Patrick Henry

Imagine living in a country where armed soldiers crash through doors to arrest and imprison citizens merely for criticizing government officials. Imagine that in this very same country, you’re watched all the time, and if you look even a little bit suspicious, the police stop and frisk you or pull you over to search you on the off chance you’re doing something illegal. Keep in mind that if you have a firearm of any kind while in this country, it may get you arrested and, in some circumstances, shot by police.

If you’re thinking this sounds like America today, you wouldn’t be far wrong. However, the scenario described above took place more than 200 years ago, when American colonists suffered under Great Britain’s version of an early police state. It was only when the colonists finally got fed up with being silenced, censored, searched, frisked, threatened, and arrested that they finally revolted against the tyrant’s fetters.

No document better states their grievances than the Declaration of Independence. A document seething with outrage over a government which had betrayed its citizens, the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, by 56 men who laid everything on the line, pledged it all–“our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor”–because they believed in a radical idea: that all people are created to be free.

Labeled traitors, these men were charged with treason, a crime punishable by death. For some, their acts of rebellion would cost them their homes and their fortunes. For others, it would be the ultimate price–their lives. Yet even knowing the heavy price they might have to pay, these men dared to speak up when silence could not be tolerated. Even after they had won their independence from Great Britain, these new Americans worked to ensure that the rights they had risked their lives to secure would remain secure for future generations. The result: our Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

Imagine the shock and outrage these 56 men would feel were they to discover that 238 years later, the government they had risked their lives to create has been transformed into a militaristic police state in which exercising one’s freedoms is often viewed as a flagrant act of defiance. Indeed, had the Declaration of Independence been written today, it would have rendered its signers terrorists, resulting in them being placed on a government watch list, targeted for surveillance of their activities and correspondence, and potentially arrested, held indefinitely, stripped of their rights and labeled enemy combatants.

Indeed, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, a cursory review of the true state of our freedoms as outlined in the Bill of Rights shows exactly how dismal things have become:

The First Amendment is supposed to protect the freedom to speak your mind and protest in peace without being bridled by the government. It also protects the freedom of the media, as well as the right to worship and pray without interference. In other words, Americans cannot be silenced by the government. Yet despite the clear protections found in the First Amendment, the freedoms described therein are under constant assault. Whether it’s a Marine detained for criticizing the government on Facebook, a reporter persecuted for refusing to reveal his sources, or a protester arrested for standing silently in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, these are dangerous times for those who choose to exercise their rights.

The Second Amendment was intended to guarantee “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Yet while gun ownership has been recognized as an individual citizen right, Americans continue to face an uphill battle in the courts when it comes to defending themselves against militarized, weaponized government agents armed to the hilt. In fact, court rulings in recent years have affirmed that citizens don’t have the right to resist police officers who enter their homes illegally, mistakenly or otherwise.

The Third Amendment reinforces the principle that civilian-elected officials are superior to the military by prohibiting the military from entering any citizen’s home without “the consent of the owner.” Unfortunately, the wall of separation between civilian and military policing has been torn down in recent years, as militarized SWAT teams are now allowed to burst into homes unannounced in order to investigate minor crimes such as marijuana possession and credit card fraud. With domestic police increasingly posing as military forces–complete with weapons, uniforms, assault vehicles, etc.–a good case could be made for the fact that SWAT team raids constitute the forced quartering of soldiers within the private home, which the Third Amendment was written to prevent.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits government agents from touching you or placing you under surveillance or entering your property without probable cause and even then, only with a court-sanctioned warrant. Unfortunately, the Fourth Amendment has been all but eviscerated in recent years by court rulings and government programs that sanction all manner of intrusions, including giving police carte blanche authority to break into homes or apartments without a warrant, conduct roadside strip searches, and generally manhandle any person in manner they see fit. Moreover, in the so-called name of national security, intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency now have the ability to conduct mass unwarranted electronic intrusions into the personal and private transactions of all Americans, including phone, mail, computer and medical records. All of this data is available to other government agencies, including local police.

The Fifth Amendment is supposed to ensure that you are innocent until proven guilty, and government authorities cannot deprive you of your life, your liberty or your property without following strict legal guidelines. Unfortunately, those protections have been largely extinguished in recent years, especially in the wake of Congress’ passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows the president and the military to arrest and detain Americans indefinitely without due process.

The Sixth Amendment was intended to not only ensure a “speedy and public trial,” but it was supposed to prevent the government from keeping someone in jail for unspecified offenses. That too has been a casualty of the so-called war on terror. Between the NDAA’s indefinite detention clause and the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) legislation, which has been used as justification for using drones to kill American citizens in the absence of a court trial, the Sixth Amendment’s guarantees become meaningless.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees citizens the right to a jury trial. However, when the populace has no idea of what’s in the Constitution–civic education has virtually disappeared from most school curriculums–that inevitably translates to an ignorant jury incapable of distinguishing justice and the law from their own preconceived notions and fears.

The Eighth Amendment is similar to the Sixth in that it is supposed to protect the rights of the accused and forbid the use of cruel and unusual punishment. However, the Supreme Court’s determination that what constitutes “cruel and unusual” should be dependent on the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society” leaves us with little protection in the face of a society lacking in morals altogether. America’s continued reliance on the death penalty, which has been shown to be flawed in its application and execution, is a perfect example of this.

The Ninth Amendment provides that other rights not enumerated in the Constitution are nonetheless retained by the people. Popular sovereignty–the belief that the power to govern flows upward from the people rather than downward from the rulers–is clearly evident in this amendment. However, it has since been turned on its head by a centralized federal government that sees itself as supreme and which continues to pass more and more laws that restrict our freedoms under the pretext that it has an “important government interest” in doing so. Thus, once the government began violating the non-enumerated rights granted in the Ninth Amendment, it was only a matter of time before it began to trample the enumerated rights of the people, as explicitly spelled out in the rest of the Bill of Rights.

As for the Tenth Amendment‘s reminder that the people and the states retain every authority that is not otherwise mentioned in the Constitution, that assurance of a system of government in which power is divided among local, state and national entities has long since been rendered moot by the centralized Washington, DC power elite–the president, Congress and the courts. Indeed, the federal governmental bureaucracy has grown so large that it has made local and state legislatures relatively irrelevant. Through its many agencies, the federal government has stripped states of the right to regulate countless issues that were originally governed at the local level.

Thus, even on those rare occasions when the courts provide us with a slight glimmer of hope that all may not be lost, those brief reprieves of judicial sensibility are quickly overwhelmed by a bureaucratic machine that continues to march relentlessly in lockstep with the police state.

This brings me back to those 56 men who risked everything–their fortunes and their lives–to speak truth to power in that sweltering Philadelphia heat 238 summers ago. Of those 56 signers, 9 died during the Revolution, 5 were captured by British soldiers, 18 had their homes looted and burned by the Red Coats, 2 were wounded in battle and 2 lost their sons during the war. Remarkably, these men–who were community leaders, business owners, judges, lawyers and inventors–sacrificed their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor so that you and I could live freely in a nation where we have the right to stand up and speak out against tyrannical government. In the face of torture and even death, they did not waver.

The choice before us is clear. In the words of Patrick Henry, will we choose dangerous freedom or peaceful slavery?

police-militarization

 “Why should anyone trust a government that has condoned torture, spied on at least 35 world leaders, supports indefinite detention, places bugs in thousands of computers all over the world, kills innocent people with drone attacks, promotes the post office to log mail for law enforcement agencies and arbitrarily authorizes targeted assassinations? Or, for that matter, a president that instituted the Insider Threat Program, which was designed to get government employees to spy on each other and ‘turn themselves and others in for failing to report breaches,’ which includes ‘any unauthorized disclosure of anything, not just classified materials.’” — Professor Henry Giroux

Why should anyone trust a government that kills, maims, tortures, lies, spies, cheats, and treats its own citizens like criminals? For that matter, why should anyone trust a government utterly lacking in transparency, whose actions give rise to more troubling questions than satisfactory answers, and whose domestic policies are dictated more by paranoia than need?

Unfortunately, “we the people” have become so trusting, so gullible, so easily distracted, so out-of-touch, so compliant and so indoctrinated on the idea that our government will always do the right thing by us that we have ignored the warning signs all around us, or at least failed to recognize them as potential red flags.

As I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, the consequences of this failure on both our parts—the citizenry’s and the government’s—to do our due diligence in asking the right questions, demanding satisfactory answers, and holding our government officials accountable to respecting our rights and abiding by the rule of law has pushed us to the brink of a nearly intolerable state of affairs. Intolerable, at least, to those who remember what it was like to live in a place where freedom, due process and representative government actually meant something. (Remember that the people of Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany also failed to ask questions, demand answers, and hold their government officials accountable until it was too late, and we know how that turned out.)

There’s certainly no shortage of issues about which we should be asking questions of our government representatives, demanding truthful answers, and subsequently insisting on changes within our government. Keep in mind, however, that the government has mastered the art of evasion. Thus, it’s not enough to ask the questions. We need to demand answers, and when those answers aren’t forthcoming—either because a government official claims to not “know” or because it’s outside his or her jurisdiction—we need to demand that they find out.

To get the ball rolling, here are just a few dozen of the questions that require honest answers by those individuals and agencies that are supposed to be answering to us. For my part, I’m going to send this exact list of questions to my government representatives and see how responsive they are. I’d suggest you do the same.

To start with, what’s the rationale behind turning government agencies into military outposts? There has been a notable buildup in recent years of SWAT teams within non-security-related federal agencies such as Department of Agriculture, the Railroad Retirement Board, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Office of Personnel Management, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Education Department. As of 2008, “73 federal law enforcement agencies… [employ] approximately 120,000 armed full-time on-duty officers with arrest authority.” Four-fifths of those officers are under the command of either the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or the Department of Justice.

What’s with all of the government agencies stockpiling hollow point bullets? For example, why does the Department of Agriculture need .40 caliber semiautomatic submachine guns and 320,000 rounds of hollow point bullets? For that matter, why do its agents need ballistic vests and body armor?

Why does the Postal Service need “assorted small arms ammunition”? Why did the DHS purchase “1.6 billion rounds of hollow-point ammunition, along with 7,000 fully-automatic 5.56x45mm NATO ‘personal defense weapons’ plus a huge stash of 30-round high-capacity magazines”? That’s in addition to the FBI’s request for 100 million hollow-point rounds. The Department of Education, IRS, the Social Security Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the National Weather Service, are also among the federal agencies which have taken to purchasing ammunition and weaponry in bulk.

Why is the federal government distributing obscene amounts of military equipment, weapons and ammunition to police departments around the country? And why is DHS acquiring more than 2,500 Mine-Resistant Armored Protection (MRAP) vehicles, only to pass them around to local police departments across the country? According to the New York Times:

[A]s President Obama ushers in the end of what he called America’s “long season of war,” the former tools of combat — M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and more — are ending up in local police departments, often with little public notice. During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft. The equipment has been added to the armories of police departments that already look and act like military units.

Why is the military partnering with local police to conduct training drills around the country? And what exactly are they training for? In Richland South Carolina, for instance, U.S. army special forces are participating in joint and secretive exercises and training with local deputies. The public has been disallowed from obtaining any information about the purpose of the drills, other than that they might be loud and to not be alarmed. The Army and DHS also carried out similar drills and maneuvers involving Black Hawk helicopters in Texas, Florida, and other locations throughout the U.S., ostensibly in order to provide officers with realistic urban training.

What is being done to protect the American populace from the threat of military arms and forces, including unarmed drones, being used against them? Policy analysts point to Directive No. 3025.18, “Defense Support of Civil Authorities” (issued on Dec. 29, 2010), as justification for the government’s use of military force to put down civil unrest within the United States.

Why is FEMA stockpiling massive quantities of emergency supplies? On January 10, 2014, FEMA made a statement enlisting the service of contractors who could “supply medical biohazard disposal capabilities and 40 yard dumpsters to 1,000 tent hospitals across the United States; all required on 24-48 hour notice.” This coincides with other medical requests seeking massive amounts of supplies, such as “31,000,000 flu vaccinations,” “100,000 each of winter shirts and pants and the same for summer” and other goods and services requests as well like tarps, manufactured housing units, and beverages. And why does the TSA need $21,000 worth of potassium chlorate, a chemical compound often used in explosives?

Why is the Pentagon continuing to purchase mass amounts of ammunition while at the same time preparing to destroy more than $1 billion worth of bullets and missiles that are still viable?

Moreover, what is really being done to hold the Pentagon accountable for its doctored ledgers, fraud, waste and mismanagement, which has cost the taxpayer trillions of dollars? According to Reuters, “The Pentagon is the only federal agency that has not complied with a law that requires annual audits of all government departments. That means that the $8.5 trillion in taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996, the first year it was supposed to be audited, has never been accounted for. That sum exceeds the value of China’s economic output last year.”

Given the similarities between the government’s Live Active Shooter Drill training exercises, carried out at schools, in shopping malls, and on public transit, which can and do fool law enforcement officials, students, teachers and bystanders into thinking it’s a real crisis, how much of what is being passed off as real is, in fact, being staged by DHS for the “benefit” of training law enforcement, leaving us none the wiser? These training exercises come complete with their own set of professionally trained Crisis Actors playing the parts of shooters, bystanders and victims in order to help “schools and first responders create realistic drills, full-scale exercises, high-fidelity simulations, and interactive 3D films.”

Given that Americans are 110 times more likely to die of foodborne illness than in a terrorist attack, why is the government spending trillions of dollars on “national security”? How exactly is the $75 billion given to 15 intelligence agencies annually to keep us “safe” being spent? And why is the DHS giving away millions of dollars’ worth of federal security grants to states that federal intelligence agencies ruled have “no specific foreign or domestic terrorism threat”?

Why is the government amassing names and information on Americans considered to be threats to the nation, and what criteria is the government using for this database? Keep in mind that this personal information is being acquired and kept without warrant or court order. It’s been suggested that in the event of nuclear war, the destruction of the US Government, and the declaration of martial law, this Main Core database, which as of 2008 contained some 8 million names of Americans, would be used by military officials to locate and round up Americans seen as threats to national security, a program to be carried about by the Army and FEMA.

Taken individually, these questions are alarming enough. However, when viewed collectively, they leave one wondering what exactly the U.S. government is preparing for and whether American citizens shouldn’t be preparing, as well, for that eventuality when our so-called “government of the people, by the people, for the people” is no longer answerable to “we the people.”

SWAT-team

“A government which will turn its tanks upon its people, for any reason, is a government with a taste of blood and a thirst for power and must either be smartly rebuked, or blindly obeyed in deadly fear.”–John Salter

How many children, old people, and law-abiding citizens have to be injured, terrorized or killed before we call a halt to the growing rash of police violence that is wracking the country? How many family pets have to be gunned down in cold blood by marauding SWAT teams before we declare such tactics off limits? And how many communities have to be transformed into military outposts, complete with heavily armed police, military tanks, and “safety” checkpoints before we draw that line in the sand that says “not in our town”?

The latest incident comes out of Atlanta, Georgia, where a SWAT team, attempting to execute a no-knock drug warrant in the middle of the night, launched a flash bang grenade into the targeted home, only to have it land in a crib where a 19-month-old baby lay sleeping. The grenade exploded in the baby’s face, burning his face, lacerating his chest, and leaving him paralyzed. He is currently in the hospital in a medically induced coma.

If this were the first instance of police overkill, if it were even the fifth, there might be hope of reforming our system of law enforcement. But what happened to this baby, whose life will never be the same, has become par for the course in a society that glorifies violence, turns a blind eye to government wrongdoing, and sanctions any act by law enforcement, no matter how misguided or wrong. Indeed, as I detail in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, this state-sponsored violence is a necessary ingredient in any totalitarian regime to ensure a compliant, cowed and fearful populace.

Thus, each time we as a rational, reasoning, free-minded people fail to be outraged by government wrongdoing–whether it’s the SWAT team raids that go awry, the senseless shootings of unarmed citizens, the stockpiling of military weapons and ammunition by government agencies (including small-town police), the unapologetic misuse of our taxpayer dollars for graft and pork, the incarceration of our fellow citizens in forced labor prisons, etc.–we become accomplices in bringing about our own downfall.

There’s certainly no shortage of things to be outraged about, starting with this dangerous mindset that has come to dominate law enforcement and the courts that protecting the lives and safety of police officers (of all stripes) is more important than the lives and safety of the citizenry. This is true even if it means that greater numbers of innocent civilians will get hurt or killed (police kill roughly five times more often than they are killed), police might become laws unto themselves, and the Constitution will be sidestepped, or worse disregarded, at every turn.

For example, where was the outrage when a Minnesota SWAT team raided the wrong house in the middle of the night, handcuffed the three young children, held the mother on the floor at gunpoint, shot the family dog, and then “forced the handcuffed children to sit next to the carcass of their dead pet and bloody pet for more than an hour” while they searched the home?

Or what about the SWAT team that drove an armored Lenco Bearcat into Roger Serrato’s yard, surrounded his home with paramilitary troops wearing face masks, threw a fire-starting flashbang grenade into the house in order, then when Serrato appeared at a window, unarmed and wearing only his shorts, held him at bay with rifles? Serrato died of asphyxiation from being trapped in the flame-filled house, and the county was ordered to pay $2.6 million to Serrato’s family. It turns out the father of four had done nothing wrong; the SWAT team had misidentified him as someone involved in a shooting. Even so, the police admitted no wrongdoing.

And then there was the police officer who tripped and “accidentally” shot and killed Eurie Stamps, who had been forced to the floor of his home at gunpoint while a SWAT team attempted to execute a search warrant against his stepson. Equally outrageous was the recent four-hour SWAT team raid on a California high school, where students were locked down in classrooms, forced to urinate in overturned desks and generally terrorized by heavily armed, masked gunmen searching for possible weapons that were never found.

The problem with all of these incidents, as one reporter rightly concluded, is “not that life has gotten that much more dangerous, it’s that authorities have chosen to respond to even innocent situations as if they were in a warzone.”

This battlefield mindset has so corrupted our law enforcement agencies that the most routine tasks, such as serving a search warrant–intended to uncover evidence of a suspected crime–becomes a death warrant for the alleged “suspect,” his family members and his pets once a SWAT team, trained to kill, is involved.

Unfortunately, SWAT teams are no longer reserved exclusively for deadly situations. Owing to the militarization of the nation’s police forces, SWAT teams are now increasingly being deployed for relatively routine police matters, with some SWAT teams being sent out as much as five times a day. For example, police in both Baltimore and Dallas have used SWAT teams to bust up poker games. A Connecticut SWAT team was sent into a bar that was believed to be serving alcohol to underage individuals. In Arizona, a SWAT team was used to break up an alleged cockfighting ring. An Atlanta SWAT team raided a music studio, allegedly out of a concern that it might have been involved in illegal music piracy.

Yet the tension inherent in most civilian-police encounter these days can’t be blamed exclusively on law enforcement’s growing reliance on SWAT teams. It goes far deeper, to a transformation in the way police view themselves and their line of duty. Specifically, what we’re dealing with today is a skewed shoot-to-kill mindset in which police, trained to view themselves as warriors or soldiers in a war, whether against drugs, or terror, or crime, must “get” the bad guys–i.e., anyone who is a potential target–before the bad guys get them. The result is a spike in the number of incidents in which police shoot first, and ask questions later.

Who could forget what happened to 13-year-old Andy Lopez? The teenager was shot seven times and killed after two sheriff’s deputies, a mere 20 feet away, saw him carrying a toy BB gun in public.

Then there was the time two Cleveland police officers mistook the sounds of a backfiring car for gunfire and immediately began pursuing the car and its two occupants. Within 20 minutes, more than 60 police cars, some unmarked, and 115 officers had joined the pursuit, which ended in a middle school parking lot with more than 140 bullets fired by police in less than 30 seconds. The “suspects”–dead from countless bullet wounds–were unarmed.

Miriam Carey’s family still can’t get past the shock of her death. Police in Washington, DC, shot and killed the 34-year-old woman after she collided with a barrier leading to the White House, then fled when pursued by a phalanx of gun-wielding police and cop cars. Carey’s 1-year-old daughter was in the backseat. Seventeen gun shots later, Carey was dead and her toddler motherless.

Just as troubling as this “shoot first, ask questions later” mindset is what investigative journalist Katie Rucke uncovered about how police are being trained to use force without hesitation and report their shootings in such a way as to legally justify a shot. Rucke reports the findings of one concerned citizen, “Jack,” who went undercover in order to attend 24 hours of law enforcement training classes organized by the private, for-profit law enforcement training organization Calibre Press.

“Jack says it was troubling to witness hundreds of SWAT team officers and supervisors who seemed unfazed by being instructed to not hesitate when it comes to using excessive, and even deadly, force,” writes Rucke. “‘From my personal experience, these trainers consistently promote more aggression and criticize hesitation to use force,’ Jack said. ‘They argue that the risk of making a mistake is worth it to absolutely minimize risk to the officer. And they teach officers how to use the law to minimize legal repercussions in almost any scenario. All this is, of course, done behind the scenes, with no oversight from police administrators, much less the public.'”

Rucke continues:

According to the learning materials, ” there isn’t time for logic and analysis, encouraging officers to fire multiple rounds at subjects because “two shots rarely stops ’em,” and outlines seven reasons why “excessive use of force” is a myth. Other lessons Jack learned from the “Anatomy of Force Incidents” training in January include a need to over-analyze one’s environment for deadly threats by using one’s imagination to create “targets of the day” who could be “reasonably” shot, to view racial profiling as a legitimate policing technique, even if the person is a child, pregnant woman or elderly person, and to use the law to one’s advantage to avoid culpability.

What we’re dealing with is what author Kristian Williams describes as the dual myths of heroism and danger: “The overblown image of police heroism, and the ‘obsession’ with officer safety, do not only serve to justify police violence after the fact; by providing such justification, they legitimize violence, and thus make it more likely.”

If ever there were a time to de-militarize and de-weaponize police forces, it’s now, starting at the local level, with local governments and citizens reining in local police. The same goes for scaling back on the mindset adopted by cops that they are the law and should be revered, feared and obeyed.

Police have been insulated from accusations of wrongdoing for too long and allowed to operate in an environment in which whatever a cop says, goes. The current practice is to let the police deal with these transgressions internally by suspending the officer involved with administrative pay, dragging out the investigation until the public forgets about the incident, and then eventually declaring the shooting incident justified based on the officer’s fear for his safety, and allowing him to go back to work as usual. And if, on the off chance, a shooting incident goes before the courts, the judiciary defers to police authority in almost all instances. Just recently, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that police officers who used deadly force to terminate a car chase were immune from a lawsuit. The officers were accused of needlessly resorting to deadly force by shooting multiple times at a man and his passenger in a stopped car, killing both individuals.

Meanwhile, the epidemic of police violence continues to escalate while fear of the police increases and the police state, with all its surveillance gear and military weaponry, expands around us.