From Mayberry R.F.D. to “Kill the Enemy”

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This is a nice, short article in The Atlantic on turning Mayberry R.F.D into a total police state. The authors have done a stellar job of describing how 9/11 provided the impetus for moving counterterrorism efforts from a national strategy for combating terrorism on U.S. soil to a strategy for moving military deployments into our neighborhoods and homes.

Why has it become routine for police departments to deploy black-garbed, body-armored S.W.A.T. teams for routine domestic police work? The answer to this question requires a closer examination of post-9/11 U.S. foreign policy and the War on Terror.

Local police departments have become occupying forces in cities, towns, and villages where the enemy is the civilian and routine traffic stops have become shakedowns.

Originally, only the largest of America’s big-city police departments maintained S.W.A.T. teams, and they were called upon only when no other peaceful option was available and a truly military-level response was necessary. Today, virtually every police department in the nation has one or more S.W.A.T. teams, the members of whom are often trained by and with United States special operations commandos. Furthermore, with the safety of their officers in mind, these departments now habitually deploy their S.W.A.T. teams for minor operations such as serving warrants. In short, “special” has quietly become “routine.”

To add an anecdotal thought, my childhood memories of cops remind me of the stark contrast between the old “peace officers” and today’s militarized, hyper-aggressive, thuggish cops. My Dad was a firefighter, and accordingly, he had many police officer friends, many of whom were customers of his home business. So I had a lot of contact with police officers in my youth. They came to our house, in uniform, all the time. Mostly, to me, they looked and acted like “Dads” – pleasant, smiling, good-looking guys who were approachable and never soldierlike. Routine calls didn’t bring forth SWAT teams and assault rifles and the combat mentality. Now, the majority of cops I see, whether in the big city, small towns, or the suburbs, always look and act like warrior wannabes – military-style brush cuts, unsmiling, and carrying a mean and nasty demeanor.

It is especially amusing when they walk around with the bodybuilder walk, with their arms hanging way out to the side and slightly forward, as if their biceps and lats are so big that can’t keep their arms down. In the Powerhouse gym where I used to work out, many of the local cops worked out there. Every single one of them would work out only the “tough guy tools” – the arms, shoulders, and chest. They do this because they think that it makes them more representative of their real role, which is to look like big, bad warriors whose job is to prey on the scores of subordinate citizens. As the authors of the piece remind us,

Americans should remain mindful bringing military-style training to domestic law enforcement has real consequences. When police officers are dressed like soldiers, armed like soldiers, and trained like soldiers, it’s not surprising that they are beginning to act like soldiers. And remember: a soldier’s main objective is to kill the enemy.

11:20 am on January 1, 2012