A Dangerous Game of Dress-Up

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This past weekend
found me in Natchitoches, Louisiana, the oldest permanent settlement
in the Louisiana Purchase and the home of Lasyone's, the restaurant
which makes the world's greatest meat pies. The residents of Natchitoches
were having yet another music festival (there are more festivals
than work days in Natchitoches) and revelers had arrived from all
over.

Lined up along
one side of the ancient, brick street was an immense gathering of
motorcycles and their owners. Nearer to Cane River Lake were several
horses accompanied by riders. Looking from the motorcyclists covered
in leather, fringe, appropriately logo-ed tee shirts and bandanas,
to the horsemen wearing hats, boots, buckles and spurs, it suddenly
dawned on me why both motorcycling and horseback riding are so popular:
both activities allow grown men to play dress-up.

When I was
young, Harley riders were a hard lot. Tattooed, dirty, often possessing
a criminal record a mile long, they were people to be avoided at
all costs. Today, most Harley riders you see are professionals with
a career, a mortgage and 2.6 kids. Riding a Harley and wearing the
officially licensed merchandise allows them to pretend to be something
they are not; a gang member, feared by decent folk. A desperado
of the open road; an easy rider.

Weekend cowboys
are no different. If a person honestly loved to be on the back of
a horse and that was all there was to it, there would be no reason
to spend $100 on a Stetson and a giant belt buckle. Those accoutrements
allow the rider to escape reality and assume a new identity; a lone
cowboy riding the trail, looking for doggies lost from the herd.
Weathered, grizzled. A dangerous hombre.

See? Playing
dress-up.

I imagine that
many a modern day Heck's Angel would throw his palm pilot down in
complete disgust were he to hear me say such a thing. "Just
wait until I finish the Davidson account," he would roar, "and
then we'll see who's playing dress-up!" Vroom! Vroom!

There is nothing
wrong with playing dress-up. If you want to dress like a Confederate
soldier and march around a field all weekend, go ahead. There is
absolutely no harm in doing so.

My great fear
is that there is another group playing dress-up today, and their
actions do cause harm.

 

 
Source
of picture: St.
Petersburg Times.

 
 

The militarization
of the police

How many of
you remember the TV show SWAT from the mid 70's? Robert Urich and
his team would roll into a dangerous situation in their big, blue
van with the
best theme music
this side of Peter Gunn blaring in the background.
As a child, I loved it. It appears that many other people my age
also loved it. Since the early 80's, the number of SWAT team deployments
have increased from approximately 3,000 per year to more than 40,000
every year.

40,000. Really.
A 13-fold increase in 25 years. Why?

SWAT teams
are now used by police departments to perform jobs that normal,
uniformed officers once handled.

  • Illegal
    gambling? People voluntarily coming together and playing Texas
    Hold-em? Send in SWAT! (see the video here)
  • Suspect
    that a high school student might have marijuana in his locker?
    Send in SWAT and terrorize all of the students! [The school's]
    surveillance cameras and a police camera…  show students
    as young as 14 forced to the ground in handcuffs as officers in
    SWAT team uniforms and bulletproof vests aim guns at their heads
    and lead a drug dog to tear through their book bags… No drugs
    or weapons were found during the raid and no charges were filed.
    (Source: ACLU)
  • Elderly
    women in their homes minding their own business? Send in SWAT!

    Ms. [Kathryn] Johnston, who was at least 88 years
    old, was killed in a barrage of gunfire after narcotics officers
    burst through the front door of her home without warning last
    Nov. 21. Apparently fearing for her life, Ms. Johnston, who lived
    in a high-crime neighborhood, met the officers with a gun.
    (Source: NYT)

  • Heck, let's
    just send in SWAT now and ask questions later! The CATO Institute
    maintains an interactive map tracking and documenting dozens of
    botched paramilitary
    raids
    throughout the U.S.

But it doesn't
stop there. Once a police department forms a SWAT team, the military
attitude is adopted by the other members of the force. Today, we
see not just SWAT members, but patrolmen moving about our towns
wearing jump boots and flak jackets… just like the military. Unfortunately,
once a person adopts the military mindset, the focus is no longer
to assist, to help and to be the peacemaker, but rather to intimidate,
to force and to destroy.

Look at what
happened in MacArthur Park this past Monday. Police in riot gear
(read: military garb) decided to disperse an overwhelmingly peaceful
demonstration and assaulted with batons and rubber bullets everyone
who did not cower and flee at their coming, including
the female reporters attempting to film the despicable scene
.
Watch this video until the end and you will be reminded of China's
Tiananmen Square as paramilitary-police batter a man attempting
to support an American flag while another policeman uses his baton
on a woman splayed in the dirt.

I fear things
will become even worse in the future. The paramilitary-police are
now being glamorized on TV once again. But this time the shows are
not fiction as they were in the 70's but real life episodes. Dallas
SWAT
on A&E TV follows the (surprise) Dallas SWAT team as
they carry out no-knock warrants on unsuspecting bad guys. The videos
provided in the preceding link allow the viewer to watch the SWAT
team pump themselves up, destroy private property and drag dangerous
perps from their homes. I'm still trying to understand why the police
have a tank… probably to protect us from drug-dealing Soviets.

Nothing good
can come of having the military patrolling our streets, and make
no mistake, the police are becoming militarized, and doing so with
the help of the Federal
Government
. How long before our towns are nothing more than
caricatures of old Nazi movies where citizens rush home lest they
be approached by soldiers asking for identification? ("Papers
please!" But it must be spoken with a German accent. Also,
any movie with "papers please," must also have the line,
"You are veak, Fader, Veeeak!")

Maybe I'm overreacting.
But I don't think so. Since the Supreme
Court threw out the "knock and announce" rule
concerning
police who serve warrants, there is nothing to stop SWAT teams from
tearing
off the side of your home
, dragging
you and your family out of your beds, seizing your belongings and
shooting your pets
while giving you little or no notice as to
these invaders' identity. Amusingly (or not), several newspaper
investigations have shown that less than half of all no-knock warrants
have resulted in contraband or arrests. I'm sure that fact is comforting
to people who have watched helplessly as their
small children were seized and handcuffed by armed men wearing black
hoods.

Until we, the
honest citizens, say "no more!" to an armed military in
our streets, things will only get worse. How long before we are
the occupied territory? How long before we are the ones trapped
behind the "blue" curtain? How long before our neighbors
are "disappeared" in the night?

Maybe I'm overreacting.
But I don't think so.

May
4, 2007

Rob
Blackstock [send him mail]
teaches economics at Louisiana Tech University and is the Senior
Economist for American Economic Services.

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