Take a pot of cool water and a pot of boiling water.
We’ve all heard the analogy…….
Place a frog in the boiling water, and he’ll jump right out. But place him in the cool water and slowly bring the water to boil, the frog won’t know he’s boiling till it’s too late.
This in a nutshell is modern American policing. It’s how things take a turn from a police department invented for the protection of community to an intensively militarised police system.
A series of major historical events transpired. Laws were passed and decades of slow cultural shift brought the USA to this boiling point.
And now that when you are in the hot water, the question is, how do you jump out?
Professor Peter B. Kraska, who wrote one of the most popular incited studies on police militarization says,”Militarism is basically at its heart, a problem-solving ideology. It says that the best way to solve problems that you have in front of you is to use violence and military-type weaponry and the threat of that violence to solve the problem and that’s what we’re saying in today’s police institution.”
Generally speaking, police militarization has been seen as a problem in developing nations, but concern has increasingly turned to the United States on both sides of the aisle.
But this is not an exclusively modern problem. Its roots can be traced all the way back to the original colonies.
The earliest form of policing in America was slave patrols. The first of which was established in 1704.
Historian and author, professor Sally Hadden says, “The slave patrols are what we might think of as pre-policing. Their job was a combination of social control and racial control, to try to enforce the norms that the white community wanted to see in place.
They were created to try to restrain slaves from behaviors that the white community did not approve of. They had guns, they had dogs they had whips.”
Once slavery was ended across the South, slave patrols were effectively replaced by white community leaders with either police forces or a little bit later with the vigilante groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan. Northern troops were often tasked with policing Southern states during the Reconstruction Era and US president, Rutherford B. Hayes was accused of using the military as a political tool, to bust unions, sway elections and quell civil unrest.
Scores of protestors were killed and injured during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.
The following year Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act, making it illegal to use any part of the US military for law enforcement.
How many people are talking about Posse Comitatus anymore? It’s very irrelevant.
If someone cares about, one of the key tenets of democratic governance is a clear distinction between the military, which focuses on external threats, and the police, which serves the democratic citizenry and they have a bright clear line between those.
That bright clear line blurred gradually over the course of three American Wars:
The first point of the frog being boiled was the social unrest of the 1960s.
As a response to growing inner-city violence, President Lyndon Johnson declared a war on crime and signed the Law Enforcement Assistance Act in 1965, a $30 million program, provided police departments across the country with bulletproof vests, helicopters, tanks, rifles, gas masks, and other tactical gear.
Less than one month later, the Watts riots shocked America and left 34 people dead.
Los Angeles Police, chief William H. Parker characterized the riots as an insurgency, and to create a paramilitary response to the disorder, 14,000 national guardsmen joined the police in trying to maintain order on the streets.
Three years later, the country was in as of complete turmoil. Martin Luther King was shot and killed. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. triggered riots across major cities in America, especially in Chicago.
The show of force was staggering, 10,500 police, over 6,700 national guard troops, and 5,000 soldiers from the 1st Armored and 5th Infantry divisions patrolled the streets.
President Jonathan declared a state of emergency. That declaration resulted in the virtually unthinkable act of regular army troops deployed to protect the Capital and the White House.
Just a few months later, after the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, protestors clashed violently with police forces during the Democratic National Convention, and all of it was televised.
It was over this tumultuous period that SWAT teams were first formed as part of a larger police effort to militarize responses to riots and other types of civil unrest.
Even though that was its genesis, the real cause of today’s police militarization in the US was the Reagan, Bush and then Clinton drug wars.
In 1981, president Ronald Reagan signed the military cooperation with the Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies Act. The line between the military and law enforcement continued to blur as police forces received increasing monetary and tactical assistance, and for the first time, SWAT teams became a regular part of law enforcement operations.
A decade later, as the drug wars dragged on with no victory in sight, president George Walker Bush launched the 1033 Program.
This cleared a frictionless path for the Department of Defense to issue massive amounts of military gear and battlefield weaponry to local law enforcement.
It’s worth noting that all this gear was and remains to this day free to any police department that takes part in the program.
All they have to do is pay for shipping costs. The Clinton administration expanded the 1033 Program after a North Hollywood bank robbery in 1997.
The two bank robbers dressed in heavy body armor and carrying automatic assault rifles simply outgunned the LAPD.
This coupled with incidents like the Columbine shooting and escalated gun violence all around, made it painfully clear that the police needed to be better prepared for the type of arms that the general public had easy access to.
We have seen in the US in the last 25 years, an internal arms race. We’ve seen the police arming themselves and the people arming themselves at an unprecedented level. The war on terror really created a new environment for policing, where there was this tangible threat that they had to be aware of. And so under the auspices of preparing for terrorism, we saw a real acceleration of police militarization.
Since 1990, law enforcement agencies have received over $6 billion in military hardware from the Department of Defense.
Between 2006 and 2014 alone, the DOD transferred 600 mine-resistant armored vehicles, 79,288 assault rifles, 205 grenade launchers, almost 12,000 bayonets, 50 airplanes, 422 helicopters, and $3.6 million with tactical clothing to 80% of all the nation’s local law enforcement offices.
Much of this arsenal was transferred directly from the Middle East into us police precincts, especially after 2011, when President Barack Obama began pulling troops out of Iraq.
“Now one may see in the US, police to wear full battle dress utilities, to pursue problems with the militaristic approach, go into neighborhoods and occupy them as if they’re doing some sort of counterinsurgency and fully embrace the military model.
This brings us to an element perhaps even more important than the gear, it’s best understood by applying a classic psychological term called the law of the instrument.
If you have a hammer in your hand, everything begins to look like a nail.”
“Police departments have the technology of a SWAT team. They have the armament of the military. You’re gonna want to use this stuff.
It plays into warrior fantasies, it gives it imagery that’s really intoxicating to a segment of the police institution. What little data there is supports these claims.”, some scholars point out.
SWAT-style, no-knock raids, have increased by 1400% since 1980. This is partly because SWAT raids on low-level offenders are actually used as training exercises.
“But the key thing to remember, it’s not the SWAT teams anymore, it’s how the ideology and the armament and the tactical approach has now dispersed throughout the entire police institution.
It wasn’t until Ferguson that the rest of the United States of America finally woke up to the kinds of things that were going on at police.”
So it came to a boiling point.
In response to Ferguson, President Barack Obama issued an audit of American policing signing executive orders scaling back the 1033 Program.
“We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them.”, some scholars point out.
However Obama’s actions did nothing to curb the myriad other means of acquiring tactical gear, nor did it address the larger problem of militarized police culture, and what little Obama may have accomplished was reversed two years later when attorney general Jeff Sessions on behalf of President Donald Trump lifted the executive order.
Calls for reform from reducing police funding to disbanding precincts altogether have become rallying cries nationwide in the US.
Public pressure has moved the needle on this issue, and cities like Camden, New Jersey have become representative of a new community-focused policing model.
But across the nation, the dice remains cast, and president Trump has taken a decidedly divisive approach on the matter.
June 1st finally gave a hallmark moment to really demonstrate the unequivocal support Trump has been giving police militarization. Tensions only escalated after Trump’s follow up and the assault by soldiers on peaceful protestors.
Lawsuits have already been filed over these arguably shocking acts of violence by federal agents against American citizens. But that hasn’t stopped President Trump from threatening further federal deployments to other major cities, escalating tensions between police forces and the citizens they’re supposed to serve.
“The frog is boiled, it’s not even noticed, the police wouldn’t even recognize the word police militarization, because it’s just something they are part of and live with, and they really do scratch their head oftentimes as to where this critical thinking is coming from.”, say some scholars.
(With inputs from Bloomberg)…