Militarization of Police

Could More Fergusons Happen?

This is a country that calls out SWAT for charges of "barbering without a license."



Could something like Ferguson happen in Virginia? Probably, sadly, yes.

Michael Brown isn't the first unarmed young black man to be shot by a police officer, and he won't be the last. Some people seem to think Brown had it coming, because he might have been involved in a convenience-store robbery. Well, the courts are the proper venue to decide guilt—and they usually don't sentence first-time offenders to summary execution. But you can find coverage of many other incidents involving young men who were guilty of absolutely nothing.

Still can't work up any empathy for a young black male? How about a young white female? Virginia recently reached a $212,500 settlement with Elizabeth Daly, the U.Va. student who was attacked by plainclothes ABC agents after she bought a case of bottled water. (They thought it was beer.) The ABC itself concedes one agent drew his gun and another tried to smash her car's window with a flashlight. You can imagine how that situation could have turned tragic in an instant.

It's hard to see any good in the death of Brown at the hands of a Ferguson, Mo., police officer, or in the ensuing civil disturbances. But the episode may have two small silver linings. The first is a national conscience-elevating about the peril faced by young black men. The second is an awakening to the danger posed by militarized police forces—an issue that, before Ferguson, was mostly discussed only in libertarian and civil-libertarian circles.

Many Americans have been stunned by the scenes of Ferguson officers in military combat gear, atop military combat vehicles, pointing military combat arms at unarmed civilians. But the development is not new. Over the past couple of decades local police departments have been loading up on surplus Pentagon materiel such as MRAPs (mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored vehicles), machine guns, silencers, flashbang grenades, and even grenade launchers. Through its LESO—law enforcement support office—and related programs, the Pentagon has handed out more than $5 billion worth of such gear to local agencies.

The handouts began as part of the war on drugs. After 9/11, the rationale shifted—with sometimes comical results. In the small Indianapolis suburb of Morgan County, a police sergeant explained the need for an MRAP this way: "You have a lot of people who are coming out of the military that have the ability and knowledge to build IEDs and to defeat law-enforcement techniques." So the military is handing out military gear to protect the police from … the military?

But wait, there's more. Currituck County, N.C., (pop. 24,000; its last homicide was more than two years ago) is now the proud owner of an MRAP—even though, at 18 tons, the vehicle weighs too much to cross some of the county's bridges. In those cases the sheriff says he'll use Humvees instead. Currituck's is one of more than 160 MRAPs handed out just between August and December of last year.

When localities can't get their hands on military surplus, they often go out and buy war materiel on their own. As reported in this column three years ago, Warren County, Va., bought an 8-ton, steel-plated Lenco BearCat with chemical, biological, and radiological sensors. Bucolic Warren County has a population of 40,000 and a homicide about once every three years.

At the State Fair of Virginia last year, Caroline County—population 22,000—showed off its own armored personnel carrier. "Until recently," a county information sheet explained, "the Caroline County Sheriff's Office was one of the few remaining localities in the region without some sort of armored personnel carrier." Got to keep up with the Joneses.

Along with military equipment, local police departments also have adopted military tactics such as no-knock, dynamic-entry raids by SWAT teams. In 1981 there were 3,000 such raids. Now there are more than 80,000 a year.

Has a profusion of drug lords and terrorist masterminds across the U.S. driven that growth? Not exactly. One review of cases from 2011-2012 in which SWAT teams were dispatched found that in 79 percent of them, the teams were deployed simply to execute a search warrant. And as The New York Times reported in June: "Masked, heavily armed police officers in Louisiana raided a nightclub in 2006 as part of a liquor inspection. In Florida in 2010, officers in SWAT gear and with guns drawn carried out raids on barbershops that mostly led only to charges of 'barbering without a license.' "

Claire Gastañaga, head of the Virginia ACLU, notes that police departments are supposedly civilian agencies. But if they are going to act like military units, then they need the sort of civilian oversight the U.S. military is subjected to. Yet at present, Virginia has nothing like Maryland's requirement that law-enforcement agencies report statistics about how often they deploy SWAT teams. The commonwealth should correct that deficiency. 

The state also should require that the purchase and acquisition of surplus military equipment receive authorization from civilian authorities, such as city councils or boards of supervisors, which could ask for justifications stronger than the supposed threat from IEDs—or renegade hairstylists. Virginia's barbers, after all, tend to be quite well-behaved.

NEXT: Another Black Man Killed by St. Louis Cops, Pentagon Defends Police Militarization, U.S. Journalist Beheaded by ISIS: A.M. Links

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  1. Ponch and John sure look like vicious fucks in that picture. I always hated CHiPs, even if it had a Klingon cop.

    1. They’ve really let themselves go.

    2. Thats hilarious. I think they are doing a remake.

  2. ISIS has been tweeting non-stop threats.
    Are you going to ignore those Hinkle?
    Beheadings! Coming to a small town near you.
    Any second now!…

    1. They certainly aren’t doing this right. Enough scaring of THE WORLD”S ONLY SUPERPOWER has unpleasant results for the scarers.

    2. Don’t you know you are living in the POST 911 WORLD? Everything changed that day. Liberty is a small price to pay for security. Think of the children, man!

    3. Fear porn.

  3. And this is what nearly all the furor about Michael Brown and Ferguson is missing. This is a systemic problem. But nobody will get it and nothing will change, because all this case has become is an excuse for Team Red and Team Blue to advance their own goals, neither of which involves toning down police militarization.

    If the anti-police militarization bill that failed miserably recently were to be reintroduced today… it would still fail miserably.

    1. What bothers me is that the problem of cops being too prone to use violence is very real, and whether this cop was justified or not, that problem remains. As does our permanent and violent black underclass (to be sure, a minority of all blacks in the U.S. and hardly the only ones exhibiting violent tendencies), which is a gift of the welfare state that keeps on giving.

      1. ^THIS

        It is becoming increasingly likely that the shot was indeed a “good” shot. Wilson suffered a fractured eye socket according to multiple reports now, and in light of Brown falling forward after having sustained six bullet wounds from a 9mm, that is consistent with the account that Brown was in fact advancing on the officer at the time of the shots.

        I was weary about the initial reactions by libertarians to make this the hill our police critiques would die on precisely because I’m keenly aware of the potential dysfunction of black youth and the reality that this may have been a legitimate use of force.

        By adopting this incident as symptomatic of a larger narrative that is correct, that larger narrative gets refuted in the eyes of the public if this incident turns out to be a legit shot.

        Add to that the riots and lawlessness of the community in response, and not only do you have excuse making for cops shooting civilians but you also have legions of people seeing the militarization of police as a begrudging necessity to pacify unruly minority communities prone to violent fits of rage to the slightest perception of racial injustice.

        1. One thing this should do is help advance the movement to record everything the cops do.

          1. Yep, I believe that is the only portion that is considered agreeable to both sides. Until of course the next one of these incidents where there is video evidence, then whichever side’s narrative is blown to shit will claim it’s a deep violation of privacy.

    2. The Dems are still haunted by Willie Horton. So they’ll be in a race to see who’s “tougher on crime” for the foreseeable future.

  4. Sometimes you jsut have to roll with it. Thats all

  5. There’s less Fergusons than in past decades. Will people riot again? yes. Can we stop it? No.

    1. WTF does this even mean?

      1. What laws do you propse to stop police shooting people or lift people out of pverty?

        1. We don’t need new laws. We need to get rid of bad laws.

          Want to stop police from shooting people? Get rid of laws that grant them immunity. Let them be responsible for their actions like anyone else.

          Want to lift people out of poverty? Get rid of laws that prevent economic activity. Allow them to lift themselves out of poverty by engaging in economic activity without needing to ask permission and obey orders from government assholes.

          1. The reaction is always to demand more laws. It never works.
            Nobody is going to get rid of any laws either because racism.

        2. It’s not about poverty. Give them a path they can see and they will strive towards it. Block that path with regulations, crony bureaucrats and a clusterfuck of a judicial system and people rebel. Fucking progs took away their hope and this is what you get. Dead enders with a fuck everyone attitude.

        3. What laws do I propose? None. Negative laws. Repeal drug prohibition at the federal, state and local levels, stop the DoD giveaways, get rid of most business regulation, end the federal reserve, etc. In short, go full libertarian. Prosperity increases, violence decreases, stability increases. And you still haven’t been able to write a coherent sentence.

  6. It’s too bad this dick swinging contest between the cop and thugs (redundant, I know) leaves the rest of us with mushroom tattoos.

    1. clap, clap, clap! Very nice!

  7. “The first is a national conscience-elevating about the peril faced by young black men”

    Lost in the alarums and excursions is any conscience-elevating about the peril faced by small, South-Asian appearing convenience store clerks at the hands of young black men.

    1. Biggest threat to young black men in America is other young black men, fact.

      1. That’s a pithy cliche. But the biggest threat to young black men in America is the government.

        1. Without question.

        2. Brandon, does the government kill young black men more than young black men kill each other? If not, what do you mean?

          1. The government gives them the incentive.

    2. Yep, and that national conscience-elevating about the peril faced by young black men appears that it will only increase that peril by failing to hold them accountable for their actions.

      The most sinister racism of all this is the denial of a young man human agency and responsibility for his actions. Should a cop have bothered interrogating him for fucking jaywalking? No. But there are productive ways of blowing a cop off, and picking a goddamn fight with an armed agent of the state is lunacy.

      1. I hate to keep sounding like a dickhole here, but it wasn’t jaywalking. They weren’t recklessly crossing a road, but using the center line as a sidewalk. After robbing a store, but before breaking the officer’s face. Please quit minimizing with this ‘jaywalking’ nonsense.

        1. The officer, by the Ferguson PD’s own accounts, was not aware of the robbery nor attempting to apprehend Brown for that. And if some punk kid is walking in the middle of the street, just roll down the window and say, “hey you, don’t walk in the middle of the street or you’ll end up with a Darwin award.” It need not be considered an opportunity to exit the vehicle and interrogate a person.

          1. Everything I’ve read says he got the radio call about the robbery with their descriptions right after addressing the yoots. Even if this turns out to be false (should be easy to verify), it’s logical to assume Brown believed the cop was after him for that crime.

            1. I concur that Brown thought it was his commission of robbery that was the reason he was being interrogated, but the cop wasn’t aware of that when initially telling them to get out of the street. Had he merely rolled his window down and politely informed Brown and his accomplice of the idiocy of walking in the center of the street, maybe young master Brown is still threatening Nepalese shopkeeps.

              1. So either he did politely inform them, or he just told them to get the fuck out of the road.
                Only the second scenario justifies punching the LEO in the head and trying to grab his gun.

                1. Who said justifies? Simply because an action can reasonably be considered to lead to a certain result doesn’t mean that result is justified.

                  If A, then B doesn’t make any moral judgements, good or bad, about B. It merely insists that B will occur.

                  1. Not sure which action and what result you are referring to.
                    What do these have in common:
                    1. GZ should have just stayed in his truck. He should have known a black male would be likely to sucker punch him and bash his head on concrete.
                    2. Officer W should have stayed in his car. He should have realized a black male would be likely to sucker punch him and try to take his gun.

                    Two implicit arguments I’ve heard many times from folks who really, really hate teh racists.

            2. Based on reading the police report, it looks like roughly 2 hrs and 15 minutes passed between police responding to scene of robbery and Brown being shot. Seems like a hell of a coincidence that the police officer gets a call with description of suspects at this exact moment.

              Still, it remains logical to assume Brown thought that’s why cop was approaching.

    3. Someone told me that caring about the victims of looting is racist. No, really.

  8. “It’s hard to see any good in the death of Brown at the hands of a Ferguson, Mo., police officer”

    Not hard to see at all. A police officer defended himself against a dangerous thug, and walked away with just a crushed eye socket.

    I love Reason, but the collective hatred of all cops being projected on this individual policeman is sick. I thought libertarians were individualists, not collectivists.

    1. Needs more “hth”.

      1. And smooches. Not enough smooches.

        1. it’s possible this was a justified shoot. It is not the “execution” that was initially portrayed.

          1. By the way, how fucking retarded do ‘eyewitnesses’ have to be lying about him being shot in the back? Didn’t they realize this was perhaps the ONE THING that could easily and quickly be checked?

            1. I don’t recall anyone saying he was shot in the back. I recall them saying he turned around, put his hands up, said “Don’t shoot,” and was then shot.

              1. His partner in crime said “He fires a shot and hits Big Mike in the back.” Naturally his story is the one everyone is running with.

            2. Eyewitness accounts are notoriously inaccurate. Remember that if you’re on jury duty.

              1. So are forensic reports. The only thing you can actually trust is video.

                1. Unless the video shows a cop doing something illegal. Then it’s probably being interfered with by swamp gas, and you should trust the LEO’s unbiased testimony.

            3. I don’t think the gunshots to the arm are conclusive in terms of coming from his front or back. Depends entirely on how his arms were positioned.

              Either way, bullet wounds don’t tell whether or not cop shot at him from behind. It seems pretty conclusive that he was hit with 6 bullets. I’ve ready nothing at all that discusses how many bullets were fired.

    2. I thought libertarians were individualists, not collectivists.

      I remember thinking this initially as well. I was practically accused of Klan membership for saying “hey now, hold on, young Mr. Brown happens to fall within an age, racial, and socioeconomic demographic that commits a significant portion of violent crime.” I had the temerity to suggest that, while police all too often are quick to the trigger, we have countless examples of that where video evidence exists or the accounts are plain-as-day abuses of police power. I always viewed this incident with skepticism.

      But we have plenty here whose contempt for law enforcement as a whole (largely and rightly stemming from the countless incidents referenced above), has clouded their ability to fairly judge instances where the discharging of a service pistol may have actually been warranted.

    3. I don’t think it’s hate. It’s more contempt and distrust. After you see cops lie enough times, even about mundane shit, it becomes difficult to believe them. Even when they’re telling the truth. Boy who cried wolf and all that.

      Take my last speeding ticket for example. I was speeding. He caught me. OK, that’s fine. But then when I read the ticket I see it says I was traveling five mph faster than I was actually traveling, and it says he caught me three miles back where the speed limit was lower. This is flatly impossible since he was traveling towards me when he got me. But he had to lie to bump up the fine.

      I’ve never seen anything written down by a cop of something I witnessed that wasn’t a lie. No exceptions.

      So I reflexively assume they’re lying. Doesn’t matter what it is.

      1. Conversely, after enough accounts of black kids between ages 16-18 violently assaulting people, you tend towards a degree of skepticism when they’re granted sainthood following an incident in which they are gunned down, whether by citizen or cop.

        The problem here is that many reason readers allowed their justified skepticism of police to completely eclipse a justifiable skepticism of accounts painting a 6’4″ 300 lbs violent thug as some sort of delightful Rhodes scholar because he was a few days away from attending community college.

        The truth always lies in between. The problem here is that too many reflexively bought the line being fed to them by the party that wasn’t the cop instead of insisting that the reality could be cloudier than initial reports suggest.

        1. “He was turning his life around!”

          Yeah. I know what you mean.

        2. Guilty as charged. When this story first broke, I immediately bought the whole “unjustified shooting angle.” There is wisdom in withholding judgement until the facts are all in.
          As to the rest, can we agree that both unrestrained LE AND an appalling thug culture within many communities are abominations, and that both can be fairly laid at the feet of Big Government?

      2. Right, “them”. It’s not a collection of individuals, but a aggregate called “law enforcement” that lies and desires to bash heads and destroy things.
        Kind of like speaking of the ‘desires’ of society, eh? ‘Will of the People’ ring a bell? What site is this again??

        1. One time a cop gave me a ride home. That’s all he did. He didn’t ask me a bunch of questions, demand ID, run me for warrants, and then assure me that he’ll get me someday like my usual encounters with the police. He just patted me down for his own safety, opened the door for me, dropped me off in front of my apartment, and drove away.

          I was flabbergasted. Nothing like that had ever happened before, nor has it happened since.

          I believe met the mythical “good cop.”

      3. I assume they’re lying when they wait 9 days to release blatantly contradictory “evidence” that would have avoided the whole problem in the first place if it had been released 9 days ago. But either they like having the excuse for these shows of force and tear gassing people, or the evidence they released wasn’t extant until very recently.

        1. They reportedly were asked by the US DoJ to withhold the store video so as not to fan the flames. Even though that logic seems exactly backwards to me.

        2. I assume they’re lying when they wait 9 days to release blatantly contradictory “evidence” that would have avoided the whole problem in the first place if it had been released 9 days ago.

          ding, ding, ding

          Their job is to protect and serve us. WE are the masters here. Their reluctance to give a factual account of events implies they think the opposite and they are not accountable to us. They are under the misconception that their job is to force us to obey.

          There seems to be a bit of confusion as to who serves whom.

          1. They are under the misconception that their job is to force us to obey.

            As a practical matter, that is their job. And that’s why they kill people. For failure to obey.

  9. when the police dress like the military, drive military equipment and act like the military I don’t care what anyone says they are no longer the police there to protect and serve but are now an occupying force that is not interest in the laws of the land but instead there to enforce their power over others.

    You can quote me on that Ron Bryant Jr.

    1. While this is true, Darren Wilson wasn’t decked out in the sartorial brilliance of Seal Team 6 at the time of the inciting incident.

      1. Don’t you know this wouldn’t have happened if Wilson hadn’t pulled up in a Bradley tank wearing full camo and waving around his M60 at these two jaywalking gentlemen.

        Why does everyone here connect the two issues?

      2. Yes but the police showed up in full military stance for the first protest before any rioting began and many myself included believe that if they had shown up in normal attire with maybe some on horse back the riots would have never started. If you treat people like the enemy then there is a social need, maybe even a unwritten requirement to push back.

  10. Some people seem to think Brown had it coming, because he might have been involved in a convenience-store robbery.

    And some people seem to get paid to knock down straw-men!

    1. “We all got it coming.”

    2. Some people in my Twitter feed have used just that argument.

      1. I tend to agree with them, only insofar as he had it coming from a the oompa-loompa who ran the store he strongarm robbed.

        I also think he may have had it coming from the cop, not because of the robbery, but because of the reality that he appears to have attacked and injured Wilson and may indeed have been charging him at the time the fatal six shots were discharged.

        1. That’s an interesting question–what if the store owner had been the one to fatally shoot Brown? Same reaction? Different? One key difference, of course, would be the videotape.

  11. What a fuckin mess.

  12. *Michael Brown isn’t the first unarmed young black man to be shot by a police officer*

    He’s probably not the first one foolish enough to attack a guy with to a gun either.

  13. If the policeman had a camera on his chest and one in the car recording everything, and if he did his job correctly this whole event would be a non-event.

    1. …sorry…if he had done his job correctly. I didn’t mean to imply he hadn’t.

  14. Michael Brown isn’t the first unarmed young black man to be shot by a police officer, and he won’t be the last. Some people seem to think Brown had it coming, because he might have been involved in a convenience-store robbery.

    The point is, Brown was sanctified in various liberal media as an aspiring college student/rapper. As if the police are coldbloodedly executing blacks who try to rise to better lives. That’s the liberal narrative. They try to make incidents like this into morality plays to justify their ideology.

    The reality is that Brown was a violent criminal. That does not mean the police have a right to gun him down on the street. It does mean the liberal narrative is full of holes. And if the narrative is full of holes in Ferguson, where else are the liberals lying to us?

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