This is part of a new campaign by the ACLU: War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing
All across the country, heavily armed SWAT teams are raiding peopleâ€™s homes in the middle of the night, often just to search for drugs. It should enrage us that people have needlessly died during these raids, that pets have been shot, and that homes have been ravaged.
Our neighborhoods are not warzones, and police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies. Any yet, every year, billions of dollarsâ€™ worth of military equipment flows from the federal government to state and local police departments. Departments use these wartime weapons in everyday policing, especially to fight the wasteful and failed drug war, which has unfairly targeted people of color.
As our new report makes clear, itâ€™s time for American police to remember that they are supposed to protect and serve our communities, not wage war on the people who live in them.
Even the Los Angeles Times (which has historically been a bit of a drug war cheerleader) thinks it’s out of control —
The ACLU rightly urges the federal government to scale back its program of military hand-me-downs to civilian agencies, and suggests that the Department of Justice require data collection on SWAT deployments. Local and state governments also need to standardize criteria and oversight for when the units are used, and insist that they be deployed only when necessary, and proportionate to the situation. Together, those steps would help restore the notion that police exist to protect and serve, not conquer.
Of course, awareness on this issue owes a huge debt of gratitude to Radley Balko, who has been at the very front line of talking about the militarization of the drug war.
He has another article today:
Some of these LECs [Law Enforcement Councils] have also apparently incorporated as 501(c)(3) organizations. And itâ€™s here that we run into problems. According to the ACLU, the LECs are claiming that the 501(c)(3) status means that theyâ€™re private corporations, not government agencies. And therefore, they say theyâ€™re immune from open records requests. Letâ€™s be clear. These agencies oversee police activities. They employ cops who carry guns, wear badges, collect paychecks provided by taxpayers and have the power to detain, arrest, injure and kill. They operate SWAT teams, which conduct raids on private residences. And yet they say that because theyâ€™ve incorporated, theyâ€™re immune to Massachusetts open records laws. The stateâ€™s residents arenâ€™t permitted to know how often the SWAT teams are used, what theyâ€™re used for, what sort of training they get or who theyâ€™re primarily used against.
A police state happens when the people fail to stop it from developing (or even actively encourage it through succumbing to fear). It is up to us to insure that the public knows the warning signs (and that we’ve already reached the point of urgency).