Is the militarization of the police all of our fault, left and right?

Radley Balko at Huffington Post:

America’s police departments have been moving toward more aggressive, force-first, militaristic tactics and their accompanying mindset for 30 years. It’s just that, with the exception of protests at the occasional free trade or World Bank summit, the tactics haven’t generally been used on mostly white, mostly college-educated kids armed with cellphone cameras and a media platform.

Police militarization is now an ingrained part of American culture. SWAT teams are featured in countless cop reality shows, and wrong-door raids are the subject of ‘The Simpsons’ bits and search engine commercials. Tough-on-crime sheriffs now sport tanks and hardware more equipped for battle in a war zone than policing city streets. Seemingly benign agencies such as state alcohol control boards and the federal Department of Education can now enforce laws and regulations not with fines and clipboards, but with volatile raids by paramilitary police teams.

Part of the trend can be attributed to the broader tough-on-crime and drug war policies pushed by politicians of both parties since at least the early 1980s, but part of the problem also lies with America’s political culture. Public officials’ decisions today to use force and the amount of force are as governed by political factors as by an honest assessment of the threat a suspect or group may pose. Over the years, both liberals and conservatives have periodically raised alarms over the government’s increasing willingness to use disproportionately aggressive force. And over the years, both sides have tended to hush up when the force is applied by political allies, directed at political opponents, or is used to enforce the sorts of laws they favor.

I know from my experience working on local police issues that politicians at the local level are as afraid of taking on the local police as Democrats are afraid of taking on the US military. No one wants to seem “un-American” by questioning police wrongdoing. Even politicians who first would express concerns about a particularly police action, or overall crime problem, would later back down when push came to shove.  Not all of them, but far too many.

And look at the recent police over-reaction, in city after city, to the Occupy protests.  The violence, not just disproportionate but gratuitous at times, first resonated with progressives, then the media, but then it seemed to fall on deaf ears with the public at large and especially with our politicians.  Sure, the public supported the Occupy protests overall in the polls, but where was the outrage over what the police did to those women in NYC who were pepper-sprayed in the face for no reason?  Or the outrage over Scott Olsen’s skull being fractured by a tear gas canister, and †hen the Oakland cops attacking the people giving Olsen first aid?  Or the UC Davis police, at least that one cop, who thought it would be a neat idea to pepper spray university students who were just sitting on the ground, rather than simply arrest them?

Yes, each story got out there, thanks to the media, but then each faded away.  In part I think that’s due to our politicians in Washington.  Where are they?  Where are the hearings over the way the police, and local mayors, are handling these protests?  What the Occupy protests uncovered were some serious problems with militarization of our local police, who apparently don’t understand the difference between peaceful civil disobedience and Al Qaeda. (Hint: The former is the better one.)  And Democrats in Washington are silent, in the same way that conservatives put their love of the Constitution on hold for 8 years while a Republican held the presidency.

It’s an interesting question as to whether both parties have conveniently looked the other way when the other guy’s rights have were being violated.  Though I still think Democrats look the other way because they’re afraid of the police, while Republicans look the other way because, secretly (and not so), they approve.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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