Radley Balko at a debate with Bill Mongomery, an attorney from Maricopa County, Arizona.
I'm posting this partly because there's a handy summary of the history of the militarization of American police, and partly because it's interesting to watch Montgomery try to retreat to abstractions when the issue is considerable fear, damage, and death caused by excessive use of force by police.
The summary is from 4:40 to 24:00 on the video. here are some high points. A detailed pdf on the subject.
SWAT teams were developed under Darryl Gates around 1966 after the Watts riots, and the idea was to have highly trained armed and armored police units to deal with situations which were already very violent.
Until the 80s, SWAT teams were pretty much used as intended. Reagan's expansion of the war on drugs led to erosion of Posse Commitatus (the principle that the military should not be deployed on American soil) by giving military weapons and training to police departments. The actual military refused to take part in the war on drugs.
As time has gone on, SWAT teams are being used for more and more minor offenses, including regulatory violations (long grass, dubious car parts) and less and less potentially violent situations, even threatened suicides.
In the Clinton administration and thereafter, SWAT teams have been used against medical marijuana dispensaries. Originally, the idea was that drug dealers were dangerous criminals, and the police had to protect themselves. This argument doesn't make sense in regards to fully legal (under state law) and publicly known organizations run by ordinary people.
The castle doctrine is that people have a right to be safe in their own homes, and SWAT teams destroy the property and peace of mind of people who are merely suspects. Sometimes SWAT teams abuse or kill innocent people by either shooting or medical neglect. Flashbang grenades are real weapons.
And to finish, a quote which may have been from Churchill: "Democracy means that when there's a knock on the door at 2AM, it's probably the milkman."
Part 2 of the debate Part 3.
Balko's Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces.
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