I find myself bombarded by images and news stories of police committing what can only be called atrocities on American citizens. I’ve struggled with this for the past few weeks, because we’ve talked before—on this site—about the dangers of militarization of the police. Recently, our publisher asked me to do a research piece based on a simple question. Are police abuses of power actually increasing, or are we seeing them more, because people are recording them on cell-phone cameras?
The ’50s and ’60s were rife with cases of police brutality. Prior to Miranda in 1966, interrogations were commonly brutal, and in many cases actual torture. It wasn’t uncommon in those days, for police with no warrant to enter one’s home and search. Traffic stops—same thing. And of course, any of us who were involved in the counterculture movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s remember well, being stopped and carded on the streets. It actually became habit to reach for one’s wallet, upon seeing a cop.
But I never felt the animosity, the vitriol, the general ill will, that I’m feeling today. And that, on both sides of the equation. Growing up, we certainly were no fans of the police, but there was a tenuous mutual respect—not for each other, so much as for the game. We were the gazelles. Minding our own business, eating our leaves in peace. They were the cougars, slavering and slobbering to rend our flesh from our bones. But gazelles and cougars both, know the rules of engagement—the law of nature. They understand the life they have chosen, or should I say the hand they’ve been dealt. And if nothing else, we both understood the hands we’d been dealt.
I even developed strong and lasting friendships with many cops, during those tumultuous years. On duty, these men and women had a job to do. Off duty, they were just people—no different from you and me.
The difference, nowadays, is that cops are being armed like soldiers and trained to fight citizens—even perhaps, criminal citizens but citizens nonetheless—as insurrectionists. I hold two important milestones in our history as responsible for this paradigm shift. September 11th, and a program that began in 1997, known as the 1033 Program. Section 1208 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1990 allowed transfer of military hardware from the Department of Defense to law enforcement agencies, as an aid in prosecuting the War on Drugs. By ’97, the law had undergone a retrofit and became the 1033 program. Under this program, law enforcement agencies, regardless of size or jurisdiction, can obtain full scale military hardware. Everything from fighter jets to tanks to flack jackets.
What they aren’t getting however, is training. In the old days, cops were judiciously issued a .38, and taught to rarely—if ever—use it. Nowadays they’re handed an AR-15, and told that everybody out there is either a dope dealer or a terrorist. They used to get a Plymouth Fury with a Slant-6, now they get a Halftrack with a Gatling Cannon.
Retired cops have told me that in 20 years on the force, they never once drew their guns.
Today, you can’t open a paper or log-on to a website without reading about another shooting of an innocent civilian. Add to that the beatings, the wrongful enforcement of warrants, the over use of SWAT teams—and the staggering number of dogs shot by officers, and you have a climate of outright warfare.
Number of SWAT deployments nationwide in 1974–300. In 2014–50,000 (and the year isn’t over yet.) There are currently over 100 SWAT Team raids, in America, every day.
5,000 individuals have been killed by law enforcement officers since 9/11.
Between 2005 and 2012, a White officer used deadly force against a Black person 1.85 times per week. 20% of those cases involve juveniles. White juveniles killed by police, amount to 0.125% of the total number of interactions.
Number of justified police killing (not just shooting, but killing) of civilians in the U.S. in 2012–409. Number of justified police killing of civilians in Britain in 2012–1.
The above are just some of the many facts I have discovered, researching this post. I have become convinced that I can answer our venerable publisher’s query, with an undeniable and unconditional yes. Absolutely. And staggeringly, mind-bogglingly so. It hasn’t been an increase, it’s been an exponential increase. An increase by orders of magnitude. In fact, it’s fair to say that the whole science of policing has undergone an evolutionary change. What was once a job done by members of your community—your neighbors and friends—have morphed into the forces of Xerxes writ with modern death-dealing technology. Welcome to the new Thermopylae. The new Gallipoli.
David Greenberg is a blogger who publishes under the name “BitcoDavid” and a blogsite consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher—even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity-related illness.
A valid question today is who the real “bad boys” are.
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