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Our Domestic Military


Balko is terrific on the militarization of local police forces.

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  • CashandCable

    People never believe me when I say this, but I now believe that some police units are more stereotypically “militaristic” than actual military units conducting COIN in Afghanistan. I’ve speculated before that US police are stuck where the US military was in 2005 – relying on brute force in an attempt to deal with a widely dispersed and deeply entrenched problem in a post 9/11 world. The answers to those problems are the same – 1)work within the community and limit “kinetic” engagement to specific situations 2) Pick your battles – avoid putting yourself in a situation where you have to engage in COIN/Drug War Ops in the first place.

    Of course, the big difference is that when we went Neanderthal in Iraq, our mistakes put a lot of All-American kids in body bags. This kind of crap fills body bags, too, but we don’t care about that “riff-raff” and so there’s been no demand for a policy shift. Maybe the spread of videos will change that equation, but I’m not holding my breath. As long as SWAT stays out of the nice neighborhoods, they’ll be okay.

  • Richard

    The problem with the article is that it assumes, if not states, that all police forces are using military tactics and reliance on SWAT teams, etc. This is not a universal trend. LAPD recently evicted the Occupy LA people with almost no use of force. They didn’t use new weapons, didn’t use tazers and pepper spray. Instead they used smart policing techniques – deploying police in such a way as to break up the Occupiers into small groups, established relationships with some of the Occupy “leaders”, etc. No claims of police brutality. Even the ACLU and the Lawyer’s Guild applauded the police behavior.

    And most of the tactics used in NYC (with the exception,, or course, of the dickhead cop who used pepper spray on the line of protestors) was restrained and effective.

    • Jim Lynch

      Balko might well agree with you. But big picture-wise, he is spot on.

      I first became aware of cop departments being militarized compliments of former San Jose police chief (and currently Hoover fellow, last I heard anyway). That was back in the late ’80’s. McNamara was the first person I ever heard who explained the inherent contradiction, and foreseeable repercussions, in the phrase “the war on drugs”.

      The Occupy Wall Street thing isn’t going away. For good or bad, by this time next year, an entirely new chapter on the policing history in 21st century America will have been written.

    • DocAmazing

      No claims of police brutality.


      Many, many credible reports indicate that LAPD behaved in an appalling manner. That’s not surprising, given their history; what is surprising is how many people are willing to overlook that history and give them the benefit of the doubt.

      • Furious Jorge

        Yeah, I was going to point to that Levine piece too. The LAPD knows to commit its brutality away from the prying eyes of the public. They’re some of the most experienced thugs in the country, but they’re not stupid.

    • Murc

      You have a point to a certain extent, Richard, but there’s sort of a Catch-22 involved in writing an article like this.

      If you use a long list of specific examples, people can claim “Well, we live in a country filled with 300+ million people with a large number of varied police forces, of course there will be individual instances of horrific abuse.” If you focus on broad national trendlines and the big picture, people can say “If this is such a big deal, why can’t you cite more specific examples of abuse?”

      Now, I personally prefer the big-picture approach to the specific-example one, because I distrust cherry picking, but its a legitimate rhetorical bind people end up in.

  • That is a terrific piece, but shame on Balko for trying to slip this bit of propaganda in:

    Last August, gun-toting federal marshals raided the Gibson Guitar factory in Nashville, Tenn. The reason? The company is under investigation for importing wood that wasn’t properly treated.

    Not a SWAT raid. Not even close to a SWAT raid. “Armed,” as in, carrying sidearms. Like every other non-militarized cop in America for the past 150 years.

    • Radley does great work on criminal justice/policing/drug war issues, but it’s best to watch out for and avoid anything involving any sort of government regulation/taxes/etc.

      Plus it’s at least mildy amusing to see him criticizing the OWS protests for things he supported the Tea Partiers doing.

      • Indeed.

        But he’s still a treasure. His work on the travesty of Mississippi’s forensic system is God’s work.

      • Murc

        This is true, but Balko is pure gold on things that actually relate to his area of expertise. Yeah, this article had some annoying false equivalencies in it, but the meat of the piece was important, spot-on, and its in an area that far, far too few people are devoting time and effort to these days.

        Balko is a legitimate investigative journalist. If the records are out there, he’ll find them. If they’re NOT out there, he’ll find out why. This is a rare and a valuable skill in a day and age when ‘investigative journalism’ usually means ‘we’re gonna go check the press releases.’

    • BradP

      I don’t think that is particularly fair, Joe. Swat teams weren’t involved in the raid on the barber shop or the gay bar in Atlanta but Balko brought them up.

      You may disagree with Balko’s thoughts on environmental regulation, but I think there is a proportionality argument to Balko’s piece and that was not a disingenuous inclusion.

      • Murc

        That’s true, Brad, but the gay bar and the raid on the barber shop, while not involving SWAT teams, were, if I recall correct, guns-drawn, door-kicking, “Get down on the ground, hands behind the head! DO IT NOW!” affairs. They just didn’t involve SWAT teams.

        The Gibson thing, by contrast, was simply a bunch of cops showing up with a warrant as part of an investigation. They were armed, because cops are armed (and even I don’t have an issue with that) but not, you know… brandishing. It was a raid, in the common sense of the term, but… well, my mom’s second husband, who does consulting work, was once at a company that was raided by the feds due to certain, shall we say, financial irregularities. The agents in question were armed, and they moved fast and with purpose to seize control of the server room and other relevant sources of documentation, but there was no actual force involved.

        • BKP

          Let me start by saying that, at this point, I am far more concerned by vice cops busting into (often minority) establishments, cuffing people and then searching for evidence of wrongdoing than I do environmental regulators showing up and clearing out a stockpile of wood.

          However, the NPR peice Balko linked to did note that the agents evacuated the factory and sent the employees home, and this New York Times peice doesn’t make things all that much better. Tidbits:

          The raid on Aug. 24 disrupted production at two Gibson factories and an Epiphone plant in Nashville, wreaking havoc with supply lines and crimping production, Mr. Juszkiewicz said. The plants produce hundreds of guitars a day, and rosewood and ebony fingerboards, mostly imported from India, are essential components.

          It was not the first time the federal government scrutinized the woods being used at Gibson plants. In 2009, more than a dozen agents with automatic weapons burst into a Gibson factory in Nashville and seized pallets of ebony fingerboards from Madagascar. Since then, the company has been fighting the seizure in court, arguing that the wood was exported legally from that African country. No one has been charged with criminal wrongdoing in connection with that raid.

          The affidavit maintains that unfinished fingerboard blanks that are more than a centimeter thick cannot be exported under Indian law; only finished pieces of veneer, about half as thick can be exported. The intent of the law is to protect woodworking jobs in India.

          So basically, twice, armed federal agents have shut down factories to gather evidence that Gibson violated a law enacted to protect Indian woodworking jobs.

          So I certainly wouldn’t say there was no force involved, and I would tend to believe that the situation was does not belong in this article.

          I’ll finish by putting it another way: If you have strong feelings about its inclusion either way (calling it shameful propaganda would count) has more to do with your desire to defend the enforcement of environmental regulation than with the way this case was handled.

          • If you have strong feelings about its inclusion either way (calling it shameful propaganda would count) has more to do with your desire to defend the enforcement of environmental regulation than with the way this case was handled.

            Let me get this straight: you acknowledge that this raid has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic of the militarization of policing.

            But both people who think it does belong in a column about the militarization of policing, and those who think it does not, must only be viewing it as a proxy for their opinions about environmental regulation.

            Have I got that right?

      • Swat teams weren’t involved in the raid on the barber shop or the gay bar in Atlanta but Balko brought them up.

        From my comment:

        Not even close to a SWAT raid. “Armed,” as in, carrying sidearms.

        I don’t know whether your libertoid tribalism is leading you to disingenuousness or ignorance, but the facts of those raids – the drawn weapons, the people held on the floor – are not remotely comparable.

  • Nathan of Perth

    You know, I’m sure we were supposed to have *zero* standing armies, not TWO standing armies.

  • Pingback: More on Militarization : Lawyers, Guns & Money()

  • DocAmazing

    Interestingly, one of the first articles I read about the over-proliferation of SWAT teams was in a magazine called Eagle, which was a Soldier of Fortune knock-off, back in the ’80s. Seems even the paramilitary types were concerned.

    • Murc

      There was, once upon a time, a certain amount of sensibility running through the black-helicopter set. While many of their concerns over the use of state power were… dubious, at best (these were guys who’d give a serious hearing to things like mind-control satellites and fluoride in the water making us docile) they did get one important thing right; they were scared of the state because they understand that civilians had no way in hell of standing up to well-equipped, well-trained, militarized police forces, to say nothing at all of actual military units. They’d get vaporized.

      This is in contrast to the guys with Minutemen fantasies who think that the oil drum full of military surplus assault rifles from the cold war they have buried out back and their totally awesome survive training means they could repel the 82nd Airborne from their compound single-handedly.

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