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Monday, July 8, 2013

More on the Militarization of the Police

Another article from Radley Balko, this time at Salon magazine, describing the how trivial the offenses for which SWAT teams are used, including for what police and administrative agencies describe as health and safety inspections for which warrants aren't needed. Balko then goes on to describe the trend and culture underlying police killing dogs, often on a seeming whim. Balko then warns how this excessive show of force is used to stifle political dissent:

This is how the country that gave the world the First Amendment now handles protest. There’s a disquieting ease now with which authorities are willing to crush dissent—and at the very sorts of events where the right to dissent is the entire purpose of protecting free speech—that is, events where influential policymakers meet to make high-level decisions with far-reaching consequences. In fact, the more important the policymakers and the more consequential the decisions they’ll be making, the more likely it is that police will use more force to keep protesters as far away as possible. As Norm Stamper said, this unfortunately was the lesson the country’s law enforcement agencies took from the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle.

A number of police departments from across the country had sent officers to Pittsburgh to help police the 2009 summit. Nearly all were dressed in similar paramilitary garb. In one widely circulated video from the summit, several police officers dressed entirely in camouflage emerged from an unmarked car, apprehended a young backpack-toting protester, stuffed him into the car, then drove off. It evoked the sort of “disappearance” you might envision happening in a Latin American country headed by a junta, or one of the countries of the Soviet bloc. Matt Drudge linked to the video with a headline describing the officers in it as members of the military. They weren’t, though it’s certainly easy to understand how someone might make that mistake.

Another video showed a police unit with a handcuffed protester. Officers surrounded the protester, propped him up, then posed with him while another officer snapped a trophy photo. (YouTube later removed the video, citing a terms of use violation.) It was later revealed that the police unit was from Chicago. They had taken vacation time to come to Pittsburgh to provide “freelance security” for the G-20 summit.


As the summit went on, Twitter feeds and uploaded photos and videos claimed (and sometimes provided some evidence to prove) that police fired tear-gas canisters into dorm rooms, used sound cannons, and fired bean bags and rubber bullets. One man was arrested for posting the locations of riot police to his Twitter feed. The charges were later dropped.

Emily Tanner, a grad student at the University of Pittsburgh who described herself as a “capitalist” who didn’t agree with the general philosophy of the antiglobalization protesters, covered the summit, the protests, and the fallout on her blog. The most egregious police actions seemed to take place on the Friday evening before the summit, around the university, when police began ordering students who were in public spaces to disperse, despite the fact that they had broken no laws. Students who moved too slowly were arrested, as were students who were standing in front of the dormitories where they lived.

. . . At the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, police conducted peremptory raids on the homes of protesters before the convention had even started. Police broke into the homes of people known to be activist rabble-rousers before they had any evidence of any actual crime. Journalists who inquired about the legitimacy of the raids and arrests made during the convention were also arrested. In all, 672 people were put in handcuffs. The arrest of Democracy Now journalist Amy Goodman was captured on a widely viewed video. She was charged with “conspiracy to riot.” That charge against Goodman was later dropped. So were the charges against most of the others arrested. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported the following February that charges were dropped or dismissed for 442 of the 672 people arrested.

There were similar problems at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Police in Denver showed up for the protests decked out in full riot gear. One particularly striking photo from Denver showed a sea of cops in shiny black armor, batons in hand, surrounding a small, vastly outnumbered group of protesters. The most volatile night of the convention featured one incident in which Jefferson County, Colorado, deputies unknowingly clashed with and then pepper-sprayed undercover Denver cops posing as violent protesters. The city later paid out $200,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that a Denver SWAT team was making indiscriminate arrests, rounding up protesters and bystanders alike.
Balko raises an important point. Because many conservatives didn't like the Occupy protesters, they (the conservatives) overlooked the policy response. This is a mistake. These same tactics could be deployed against other groups under other conditions--including conservative, libertarian, or religious groups.

Anyway, read the whole thing.

(H/t Instapundit)

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