Police Militarization Escalates Even As Violence Declines -- And There's A Good Chance It's Going To Get Worse

from the a-mess dept

We've been writing about the militarization of police, and why it's problematic, for years -- but the events of the last week in Ferguson, Missouri, have really shone a (rather bright) light on what happens when you militarize the police. Annie Lowrey, over at New York Magazine, highlights what may be most disturbing about all of it: all of this has happened while violence has been on a rapid decline, and, no it's not because your local suburban police force now has a SWAT team and decommissioned military equipment from the Defense Department:
Since 1990, according to Department of Justice statistics, the United States has become a vastly safer place, at least in terms of violent crime. (Drug crime follows somewhat different trends, though drug use has been dropping over the same time period.) The number of murders dropped to 14,827 in 2012 from 23,438 in 1990. The number of rapes has plummeted to 84,376 from 102,555. The number of robberies, motor-vehicle thefts, assaults — all have seen similarly large declines. And the number of incidents has dropped even though the country has grown.

[....]

And there’s no evidence that giving police officers the weapons of war has had anything to do with that decline in crime, either, with researchers pegging it to a combination of factors, among them the removal of lead from paint and gasoline, an increase in abortion rates, and improved policing methods.
So, instead, we get a very militarized police -- and tons of cases where it is being used in cases that absolutely don't warrant it. At all.

And here's the really disturbing thing. It may get a lot worse. As Vanity Fair notes, on June 19th, Rep. Alan Grayson had offered up an amendment on the Defense Appropriations bill, which would have limited the militarization of police. And it failed by a wide margin. Included in those voting against it? The guy who represents Ferguson.
The amendment attracted the support of only 62 members, while 355 voted against it (14 didn’t vote). Included among those voting against it was Rep. William Lacy Clay (D), who represents Ferguson. Clay was joined by every senior member of the Democratic Party leadership team, including Reps. Nancy Pelosi (CA), Steny Hoyer (MD), and Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (SC). Democrats did form the bulk of support for the amendment (with 43 votes in favor), with 19 Republicans supporting as well—led by libertarian-conservative Rep. Justin Amash (MI), who lamented that “military-grade equipment . . . shouldn’t be used on the street by state and local police” on his Facebook page.
Apparently, arming the police with military equipment has powerful lobbying support. Because why expect people to think about what actually makes sense when there's money and FUD on the line:

Why was there such tremendous opposition to the Grayson-Amash effort? Two very powerful constituencies in Congress may be to blame: the defense industry, and the police lobby.

Take Rep. Clay. He has been all over the news media calling for justice in his district, and demanding an investigation of Brown’s death. Yet like every House member, he is up for re-election every two years, and his fourth-largest donor is the political action committee of the weapons maker Boeing.

So there's that. And then, let's take things up a notch. Scott Greenfield alerts us to the news that a judge over in Colorado has determined that the Cinemark Theater where James Holmes opened fired on the opening night of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises" may have some responsibility because it should have known that such an attack might happen. Despite the fact that there has never been such a shooting in a theater, the judge says that the theater should have been prepared for such a possibility:

Noting "the grim history of mass shootings and mass killings that have occurred in more recent times," U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson ruled that Cinemark — owner of the Century Aurora 16 theater — could have predicted that movie patrons might be targeted for an attack. Jackson's ruling allows 20 lawsuits filed by survivors of the attack or relatives of those killed to proceed toward trial.

"Although theaters had theretofore been spared a mass shooting incident, the patrons of a movie theater are, perhaps even more than students in a school or shoppers in a mall, 'sitting ducks,' " Jackson wrote.

That makes absolutely no sense. But the inevitable result, as Greenfield notes, seems to be a lot more militarized police -- and now, private security guards... everywhere. Just in case.
Consider, if what happened in Aurora, the duty of businesses to be prepared for the act of a one-in-a-million crazy. The biggest growth job in America will be armed guard. Every theater will require its own SWAT team, perhaps a MRAP or Bearcat. Office buildings, parks, skating rinks, pretty much anywhere more than three people gather, could be the next target of a madman. They will all need security, armed with the weapons needed to take out any crazy.

Don’t blame the businesses. They’re just trying to cover their foreseeable obligations. Sure, there is almost no chance, almost no possibility whatsoever, that they will be the target of the next insane shooter, but Judge Jackson says it’s still foreseeable. In fact, that no one has ever shot up a skating rink makes it even more foreseeable, by his rationale.
It is difficult to comprehend how profoundly screwed up all of this is.

Filed Under: crime, militarization, police, violence


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2014 @ 11:34am

    I think the rich are afraid and have had their congress critters do something. I'll tell you why.

    We've had this extended depression which has over and over again been called a recession that is going to end any day now. Yet it is still going on with tons of people giving up any hope of finding any meaningful work at a living wage pay. It's not going to get better. The boomer age was blessed with lots of jobs for lots of people. The job part is disappearing through automation and foreign labor and jobs aren't coming back.

    Everything around us is going up due to inflation and corporate gouging for that next profit quarter. Wages are not following. At some point we will reach the choice of food or roof, many are already there. Minimum wage will not get you a 2 bedroom apt if you have a child.

    I suspect that the think tanks have come up with the idea we are facing rioting/arab spring/uprising in our future as all this makes the perfect storm.

    That's why the military grade hardware is doing at your local cop shop.

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