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The Way SWAT Does Business

An article on Wikipedia — usually, if not always, a fair source of reliable information — notes:

The establishment of a standing army in Britain in 1685 by King James II and the later assumption of control over the British colonies in America by the British Army were controversial, leading to distrust of peacetime armies too much under the power of the head of state, versus civilian control of the military, resulting in tyranny.

Thomas M. Cooley, a Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court and the Jay Professor of Law at the University of Michigan, complained in his book, first published in 1868, that for those employed in such armies, “insult and outrage may appear quite in the line of duty.”[1]

Today, few consider such namby-pamby concerns, fewer still even remember that the concerns were once prevalent amongst Americans, nor why.

This “advertisement” for the Lenco Bearcat G3 provides a hint into one of the reasons why we should still be concerned:

When Peter Sean Bradley posted the video up on his Facebook “wall,” he almost certainly had never read[2] Cooley’s words. Yet he echoed them quite well:

The militarization of the police is a problem. It seems to have fostered the attitude among the police that they are a kind of occupying power in a conquered nation of people who are criminals who have just not been caught yet.

The Founders of the United States of America were well aware of this tendency. Not long before our founding, the English Kings had increasingly come to rely upon mercenary soldiers.

[M]ercenary armies were made up largely of tramps, beggars, criminals and other persons “pressed” into military service by local officials.

Whereas the People had come to hate mercenaries, their historical appreciation for the Saxon militia, on the other hand, inspired more trust.

The experience instilled in the common people a hatred and distrust of those same soldiers whom they viewed as their oppressors and not their protectors. It also instilled in them a corresponding fondness for their native Saxon institution the militia.

The militia was made up of the citizens themselves, and was only called upon when the country was under attack. It was more similar to our National Guard, which traces its history to these militias, than to a standing army.

Today, we are too far removed and too uneducated to remember the failings of standing armies.

Unsurprisingly, this has consequences. The majority of Americans have yet to realize the threat we face from the transformation of local police departments into the equivalent of standing armies which share the vices of standing armies of old. Whereas standing armies were often comprised “largely of tramps, beggars, [and] criminals,” most “modern” police departments are like the Fresno Police Department: applicants must have attained the lofty position of high school graduate.

As you might expect — and as can readily be proven by selecting almost any police report at random — this does not mean they will be educated, or even capable of reading.

The power these uneducated and under-educated officers wield, as the video above implies, continues to grow. Increasingly, they have access to military-grade weapons, including tanks. They use them even for low-level arrests. Or to control those who attempt to exercise their First Amendment rights.

And police departments around the United States are busily “devising scenarios for when it would be useful” to have more tanks.

Not even chickens are safe these days.

Trying to police a small county of 37,575 people and only one small town? No problem.

“If somebody looks out and sees a Ford Crown Victoria sitting out there, they may not take you very seriously,” Warren County, Va., Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron told a local newspaper in October, “but if they look out the window and see this thing sitting there, they’re going to know you’re serious.” Added another officer: “It’s big enough to go through a house if it had to.”

It’s the gang mentality, cursed when citizens hold it, but somehow cleansed by government blessing when embraced by the police.

Police and their supporters will tell you there’s a reason for this: police officers sometimes get shot. We have to do everything possible to prevent this from happening. Everything.

[T]here is no price tag you can put on the life of a police officer who is out there protecting you.

None. Do you understand?

If not, well, not to worry: the police have a tank to handle you.

The trouble with standing armies today remains the same as it has always been. There is no doubt that we need police and that, appropriately trained and maintained, a police force is not the equivalent of a standing army so feared by Americans before the 1830s. The problem is that while the costs of maintaining a police force have increased, this is largely based on out of control salaries, militarization, and the belief epitomized above that “there is no price tag you can put on the life of a police officer who is out there protecting you.”

This just isn’t true.

There will be those — those who are still here have been foaming at the mouth and gnashing their teeth through this whole blog article — who will vehemently disagree, but it just isn’t true. I mean, if you dump enough money into it — by which I mean tax us to death — you can make sure no police officer isever going to be easy to kill. But you can’t prevent it even then. Would you agree to a tax rate of 50 or 75% if you knew the money would go towards officer safety? I’m saying if you knew that’s where it would go. Would you give up one-half to three-quarters of your salary for that?

I didn’t think so.

What about a curfew on all Americans? Checkpoints throughout the city where, for the safety of officers and the general public, you were put through TSA-style searches to ensure a weapon-free citizenry?

That might seem extreme, but we seem to be headed in that direction. The fact that there is no official curfew — officers merely use as one excuse for stopping people that they are out after dark, which makes them look suspicious — or that the checkpoints are roaming and don’t often detain and illegally-search white people doesn’t mean we aren’t.

And as time goes on, as Peter Sean Bradley put it, the increasing militarization of police — aided by the increasing acquiescence to it by most citizens — “seems to have fostered the attitude among the police that they are a kind of occupying power in a conquered nation of people who are criminals who have just not been caught yet.” Just ask Idalia Morgutia-Johnson.

If you think anyone is safe from this attitude, just spend some time in an American courthouse. Many people may mistakenly believe that judges rule the roost there. They most certainly do not. (Nor is the courtroom the only place where law enforcement ignores judges.)

It is this increasing sense amongst police officers that points to the great problem of our time.

When a person gains power over other persons–political power to force other persons to do his bidding when they do not believe it right to do so–it seems inevitable that a moral weakness develops in the person who exercises that power. It may take time for this weakness to become visible. In fact, its full extent is frequently left to the historians to record, but we eventually learn of it. It was Lord Acton, the British historian, who said: “All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Please do not misunderstand me. These persons who are corrupted by the process of ruling over their fellow men are not innately evil. They begin as honest men. Their motives for wanting to direct the actions of others may be purely patriotic and altruistic. Indeed, they may wish only “to do good for the people.”

All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. I know and — believe it or not, despite what you might think based on my writings — respect some police officers. As Ben Morell, quoted immediately above said, “[t]hese persons who are corrupted by the process of ruling over their fellow men are not innately evil.” Nevertheless, they are human beings. If history teaches one thing, it teaches that human beings are susceptible to the corrupting influence of power.

It is for this reason that our systems have been developed to ensure that power is diffused. No branch of the government — particularly the executive branch to which the police belong — is to harbor it all. Ultimately, the true power is to be held by we, the People.

But if we do not remember that our Founders deliberately intended to limit the power of our government and maintain those limits ourselves, it will be too late.

That’s just the way SWAT does business.

  1. Thomas M. Cooley, A Treatise on the Constitutional Limitations which rest upon the Legislative Power of the States of the American Union 309 (7th ed. 1903).