aNewDomain — Here’s the latest Ted Rall cartoon. Find Ted’s commentary on falling crime in California and surplus military hardware there below the fold.
California’s police agencies have one of the highest concentrations of surplus military hardware in the United States. But the crime rate is falling in the Golden State.
In the wake of racially charged clashes between demonstrators and heavily armed police in Ferguson, Missouri, you’ve got people paying a lot more attention to a post-9/11 Defense Department program that transfers military gear used against Afghanistan and Iraq to civilian police departments in the U.S.
After a February 1997 shootout between overwhelmed cops and bank roppers in North Hollywood, CA., the state’s law enforcement agencies started jonesing for military style hardware.
It’s a departure. Typically, in most places and at most times, police rarely used such high powered weaponry to confront alleged criminals. That’s why California Police Chiefs Association president Christopher Boyd’s claim that “all of this equipment is needed (because) police departments cannot afford to buy them” argument is kind of over the top.
Think about it.
Going back nearly two decades to justify a need is more like a reaction to a quantum singularity than an actual necessity. And considering what’s happened in Ferguson, you can see why the militarization of the police just makes the chasm of trust between law enforcement and the communities they supposedly serve even wider.
It’s hard to blame the cops for this. Of course they want the most powerful weapons they can get in order to protect officers.
But this is about politics, too. Policing always is. There’s always a tense relationship between tax-paying, law-abiding free citizens and municipal employees who are supposed to be more concerned about protecting the public than themselves.
But are they?
After Ferguson, many of my white friends defended the police’s use of military style hardware. They said it was just good sense considering the dangers cops faces in that St. Louis suburb’s streets.
But if you trust the police, you’re not afraid of them, right? I asked those friends how they feel when they see flashing lights in their rearview mirrors? Happy and completely unafraid. Not a one could honestly answer yes.
This a case where civilian oversight necessitates protecting the police from themselves by prohibiting them from protecting themselves too much. It’s counterintuitive, but there it is.
In today’s cartoon, I push the “what if this trend continues?” envelope.
If you’d told me, when I was 21, that the United States would become a country whose government and law enforcement officials were terrified of their own citizens — that they would treat us like surly victims of a foreign occupation army –I would have rolled my eyes. I was a cynical punk rocker back then, but things have gotten worse than I ever imagined.
I’m 51 now and I’m convinced we’re not all that far away from the dystopian nightmares portrayed by countless science-fiction novels and films.