The Widdershins

Remain Calm, Etc: American the Beautiful

Posted on: June 26, 2014

Good Thursday, Widdershins.  Allow me to begin this post my stating that I do not dislike police.  I am related to any number on my mother’s side, my father’s grandfather was an officer, I count many as my friends, and I dated my fair share between spouses.  I was raised to believe that the policeman was my friends – children in the Fifties were taught that they should seek out a police officer if they were lost or if something frightened them and no parent or teacher was available.  I also get the fact that all police officers really want to go home at the end of their shifts, rather than to the ER or the morgue.

Then came the Sixties, and Officer Friendly took a hit right on the old image.  While I cannot state that all students protested peacefully, I can say that there were any number of less than stellar over-reactions by law enforcement – think the Chicago convention in 1968.  Law enforcement overreach continued through the Seventies and early Eighties, then gradually settled down – until recently.

I realize that both my age and geographical location gives me a somewhat skewed perspective.  I came of age during turbulent times, and have lived in the Miami area during some of the worst riots in American history.  I have stood in the ER ambulance ramp and watched the city burn during some godawful events.  Miami leads the nation in riot control.  Our officers discovered that if they could hold a perimeter for 24 hours, a riot would more or less burn itself out.  Still, we have an unacceptable rate of officer-involved shootings and have attracted the attention of DOJ on more than one occasion, and it seems that we are not alone.  Albuquerque hosted DOJ after a measly 5 shootings in as many years; Miami can outdo that in six months.  And yes, I do know that there is a hard-core criminal element out there.  After all, I was here for the Cocaine Wars of the Eighties.

I’ve touched on my concern for the hypermilitarization of American police forces before, but I was shocked to read a new report published by the ACLU.  In just shy of 100 pages, the ACLU summarizes 818 SWAT operations in 20 cities, and their findings are appalling.  RT USA does a nice job of summarizing in a single page, and I highly recommend that you start with this.  Here are some of the salient features of the article:

The tragic story of Jose Guerena, 26, who served as a Marine in the Iraq War, only to be killed by ‘friendly fire’ at his home in Tucson, Arizona, is becoming a disturbingly familiar one across the country.
On the morning of May 5, 2011, Guerena’s wife alerted him when she heard strange sounds and the silhouette of a man standing outside their home. Guerena got his wife and child into a closet, grabbed his rifle, and went to investigate. This proved to be a deadly mistake. A SWAT team opened fire on Guerena, who died on his kitchen floor with multiple wounds and without medical attention.  As it later emerged, the SWAT unit raided a number of residences in the neighborhood, turning up nothing more than a small bag of marijuana. No drugs were found in the Guerenas’ home.

And this:

In early June, for example, a toddler was severely burned and left unable to breathe on his own when a Georgia SWAT team tossed a flashbang grenade in his crib during a drug raid – over a single meth sale of $50. Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh, a 19-month-old, was asleep in his portable crib in the same room as his parents and three older sisters, when police opened the door to the converted garage and threw the stun grenade in.In the ACLU’s study, SWAT units forced entry into a person’s home using a battering ram or other breaching device in 65 percent of drug searches.

(The meth sale was made by a family member who did not live at the address.)

And this:

The survey discovered that 62 percent of SWAT missions were for drug searches. Some 79 percent involved raids on private homes, and a similar proportion were carried out with warrants authorizing searches. However, just 7 percent of the incidents fell into those categories for which SWAT was originally designed to handle, such as hostage situations or shootings.

It’s not just about drugs and SWAT teams, either.  Approximately 500 municipalities have obtained grants of roughly $250,000 each from DHS to purchase Armored Personnel Carriers for civilian  use.  Columbus Ohio purchased one in order to provide a “presence” on football game days, and Keene, N.H. grabbed one in order to discourage terrorists from targeting the annual pumpkin festival.  Now, I ask you – what would put you in a party spirit more than an APC at the big game or while you are  nibbling away on a pumpkin cupcake?

There is no doubt that there are dangerous situations for police officers.  That’s why they have kevlar vests, guns, and compensation in the form of salary and, in many cases, extremely generous pension plans.  Somehow, the specter of uparmored police forces is terrifying.  What the heck ever happened to community-based policing?  My area even has drones.

Believe me, I am not against SWAT teams per se.  There are legitimate reasons for deployment of SWAT teams, such as hostage situations or active shooter scenarios.  In those instances, the use of force would seem to be justifiable, likely in the 7% range identified by the ACLU study.  However, a neighborhood pot sweep just does not buy SWAT the rights to maim the citizens that it purports to protect and serve.  The War on Drugs (and pumpkins and football games) seems to have gone a bit awry here.  Some things, such as toddlers,  are not acceptable collateral damages.

This is an open thread.






11 Responses to "Remain Calm, Etc: American the Beautiful"

The local gendarmeries do all seem hell bent on getting those armored assault things and it appears that DHS is more than happy to provide the grants for them to get them. I believe the two local burgs here each have one and I’m damned if I know what they’ll do with them other than to dispel unruly crowds at the local Walmart or Target. My home parish has one too and at least there it makes a spiffy “float” in the Mardi Gras/Carnival, St. Patrick’s and other parades.

I concede the obviously non-violent use as a float in parades.

@2: Well they have to get some use out of them. 😆

Better that than the intended purpose of terrorizing the pumpkin festival.

Well, well, well…look who’s around and running his ignorant mouth again. “Re-education” camps.

Thirteen years of unfettered ability to purchase the newest and bestest toys for boys courtesy of Homeland Security. Lots of these police departments, especially the ones out in the hinterlands, getting all this military gear is crazy — everyone and their dogs have guns already. I think when they were praying or saying grace, because of their accent, “better say thanks,” turned into “better say tanks!” Prayers answered.

Prolix said: I think when they were praying or saying grace, because of their accent, “better say thanks,” turned into “better say tanks!” Prayers answered.


Absolutely. Get you some.

On a less tragic, actually on a pretty ridiculous note, I was a witness to the activities of our new and improved Imperial Stormtroopers about a mile away from my window here north of Los Angeles. I even blogged about it. Multiple helicopters. Over a dozen cop cars. All going hell-bent after nothing.

A single vehicle traffic stop required a field force worthy of John Dillinger? Your conclusions are quite correct.

Oh good grief quixote!

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