Militarization of Police

Policing a Protest Like an Occupying Army

If authorities arm cops like soldiers, they may begin to think like soldiers-and see the public as the enemy.


Ryan J. Reilly/Twitter

Libertarians warned for years that government is force, that government always grows, and that America's police have become too much like an occupying army. We get accused of being paranoid, but we look less paranoid after heavily armed police in Ferguson, Missouri, tear gassed peaceful protesters, arrested journalists, and stopped some journalists from entering the town.

One week before the rioting began, Fox News aired my documentary on the militarization of law enforcement, Policing America. That show didn't stop some left-wing commentators from making the bizarre claim that libertarians like me have been silent about Ferguson.

I can't force them to read my columns, or Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) article titled "We Must Demilitarize the Police," or Rep. Justin Amash's (R-Mich.) condemnation of the police for "escalating" tensions with "military equipment."

Although it was government police and government-supplied military equipment that provoked the conflict (plus property-rights-violating looters), leftists still found ways to blame libertarians and advocates of private gun ownership.

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Tom Toles depicted a sarcastic TV viewer watching news from Ferguson and sniping that "I'm sure the NRA has an interesting solution for this"—as if overzealous police are the fault of people who believe in individuals' right to defend themselves.

Other pro-big government commentators just questioned the sincerity of libertarians, saying that if we were in power, we would become authoritarians and defend the police.

It's true that once people are in power, they often grow fond of authority and less interested in liberty. But I don't see why this is an argument against libertarians—who warn about this problem all the time—instead of an argument against all those who are actually in power and shameless about wielding that power.

But since leftists are so easily confused, and since there's plenty of blame to go around, let's list who's to blame for what:

The police do not have the right to execute suspects, unless there is no other way of stopping them and they pose an immediate threat to the safety of others.

Michael Brown, assuming current interpretations of security footage are correct, robbed and bullied a store clerk right before he was killed by police. That may well mean he was violent and dangerous, but even violent people should be brought to trial, not gunned down.

Individual cops may feel threatened—and may be threatened in the course of doing their jobs—but they still do not have the right to use more force than is necessary. Too often, panicked or angry cops pump multiple rounds into already-wounded suspects, as appears to have happened to Michael Brown.

Yes, centuries of white people abusing the civil liberties of blacks have left many blacks resentful of police power, and in recent years, white police officers have shot, on average, two young black men every week. But none of that justifies violence and looting like that which followed Michael Brown's death. Criminals who ransack stores are always wrong to violate the rights of innocent third parties.

Peaceful protestors should not be lumped in with looters and subject to curfews by police. Most looters are opportunists, not people making a political statement. Police and angry citizens alike have a duty to distinguish between protesters and criminals.

The Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security and opportunistic politicians all pushed the idea of heavily arming local cops, even in places more rural than Ferguson.

"Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors?" wonders the Cato Institute's Walter Olson. He notes that a man identifying himself as a veteran from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division reacted to video of police in Ferguson by tweeting, "We rolled lighter than that in an actual war zone."

If authorities arm cops like soldiers, they may begin to think like soldiers—and see the public as the enemy. That makes violent confrontations more likely.

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  1. “they may begin to think like soldiers?and see the public as the enemy.”

    I’m afraid we’re well past that point, John.

  2. Sounds very sensible. Is there a common-sense potion in his moustache which protects him from some of the more retarded interpretations of events?

  3. If authorities arm cops like soldiers, they may begin to think like soldiers?and see the public as the enemy.


  4. See, this is what I was talking about in the comments of the other post. Stossel gets the job done while Tucille falls on his face.

  5. Cops are extensions of a larger social impetus. They are distinct while similar. I don’t see autocratic governance within the walls of purported civilized society (non-militant Islamic, for example) as entirely alien to the overall temperament of American (in this case) social collectives.

    Name any small town or sizable city in America and for the most part the culture is one that embraces harsh or unnecessary penalties on deviation. There is no draconian penalty without the enforcement component which is readily supported and hailed by the largest social set.

    1. There’s a difference between social penalties and criminal penalties. For example, the Amish do not generally shoot those they choose to ostracize.

      1. “For example, the Amish do not generally shoot those they choose to ostracize.”

        Correct, but the Amish are still totalitarians.

        1. Law enforcement should look more like Andy of Mayberry, and respect the Amish beliefs.

          An armed society is a polite society. Law enforcement should only come from a locally elected sheriff that reflects the views of any particular location.

          Segregation is good. Think about it. Birds of a feather flock together. As soon as we get over our Jewish owned media, peace will ensue.

          You do realize Israel was the ringleader of the 9/11/2001 ‘inside job’ right? When you consider this reality, it turns a lot of things on it’s ear.

          This whole thing boils down to what happens when government doesn’t leave us alone.

          Ironically, the folks upset in Missouri are largely on the dole, and the establishment has turned it into a ‘us vs. them’ mentality. Especially with those earning the government paychecks.

          Those spending government paychecks are no more a productive member of society than the welfare people they gun down.

          Folks don’t grow their own food anymore, look around. Freedom and independence has been all but obliterated in America’s cities.

          Sadly, getting any government job, is not what America was about. You were allowed the liberty to work hard and flourish or starve. Back in the day there was no “Social Security”. There was a church house and that was about it.

          The “us vs. them” mentality is wrong.

          Ron Paul was right. End the Fed.

          We’re all in this together, and I’m pullin’ for ya.

  6. “Cops are extensions of a larger social impetus.”

    This tactic is often applied by statists when attempting to justify their love of the leviathan.

  7. I dunno, if my FB feed is a clue, people are starting to wake up to the fact that “peaceful” protesters get harrassed, long-arm carrying protesters get left the hell alone. I’m pretty sure one friend’s head exploded when they posted (facetiously) “Where is the NRA to advocate for more 2A rights to resist these government forces?” and I responded (honestly) “And this is why I refuse to join the NRA.”

  8. “…even in places more rural than Ferguson.”

    It sounds as though John is implying that Ferguson is rural. Pretty much any place that isn’t in the middle of a large metropolitan area is more rural than Ferguson.

    “Individual cops may feel threatened?and may be threatened in the course of doing their jobs?but they still do not have the right to use more force than is necessary. Too often, panicked or angry cops pump multiple rounds into already-wounded suspects, as appears to have happened to Michael Brown.”

    John is certainly entitled to his opinions on this, but I don’t believe anything can be definitively deduced from the number and placement of bullet wounds suffered by Michael Brown about his reaction to being wounded. There are many examples of “wounded” attackers fulfilling their intent to kill their assailants.

    “Force” is a continuum, with “deadly force” at one end. There are no degrees of deadly force. Once an individual decides the use of deadly force is required the number shots fired is irrelevant, unless you’re a lawyer seeking “justice.”

    1. You don’t think, just maybe, that a police culture where questionable uses of force have too often been ignored that a legitimate use of force might be the straw that broke the camel’s back? The response by the police to anger is as much or more of a problem than the initial use of force. Its like saying that the Berlin Wall falling is wrong because the proximate cause cited didn’t justify the response.

      1. I thought David Hasselhoff brought down the Berlin Wall…

        1. See! There’s no way hair — even the perfect hair of the Hoff in the 80s — justifies the fall of East Germany.

    2. Pretty much any place that isn’t in the middle of a large metropolitan area is more rural than Ferguson

      It may not be “rural” but from Stossel’s (and my) NYC perspective, it might as well be. There’s nowhere around here with that much empty space.

    3. Force is a continuum, but it’s not a one-way street. When an individual is using deadly force, number of bullets required to eliminate the threat that necessitated deadly is irrelevant. But, once that threat stops, it becomes relevant again. You can’t empty your magazine into a dead body. You can’t execute someone who has surrendered.

      I’m not saying those examples apply to this case. But if Brown attacked the cop, deadly force may have been justified. If he ran/surrendered it may no longer have been justified. If he turned and charged the cop, it may have once again been justified. Once we was down on the ground, it was probably no longer justified.

      Without video, we’re at the mercy of witness testimony and various interpretations of forensic evidence (wounds, location & number of bullet casings, etc.).

    4. Proportionate force should be at play as well (we used to call it ‘training.’)

      “In 2011 the German police fired 85 bullets. That’s all of them. The entire police force. The whole country. Eighty-five bullets in one year. That’s seven bullets per month. One bullet for every million German citizens.”

      In contrast the DEA pumped 314 rounds into a single house the same year.

      A little less trigger happiness might just be a good thing.

    5. So. . . let’s reframe it.

      Panicked, angry cops fired over 100 rounds into a blue Toyota Pickup with 2 Hispanic women in it because they were too busy pissing themselves to realize that it wasn’t a black guy in a gray Nissan.
      100+ rounds more than necessary. . .

      Oh, yeah – shitty-diapered pigs also fired on a white guy in a black Honda pickup, thinking he was a black man in a gray Nissan.

      If the cops have so little control over their bowels. . . maybe police work isn’t the right job for them. . .

  9. Huh? John, don’t you realize that these heroes are here to protect and serve? And if you’re not doing anything wrong, why are you worried? E.g.

  10. OT:…..rker-naps/

    The Los Angeles City Council has finalized a $26 million payment to settle a lawsuit over a ban on lunchtime naps by garbage-truck drivers.

    The Los Angeles Times reports Tuesday’s 9-2 vote resolves a class-action suit involving nearly 1,100 sanitation workers who said they were improperly barred from sleeping and engaging in other activities during their meal breaks.

  11. Who’s to blame? Maybe every police department, mayor, city council and citizen jury who didn’t convict the countless previous cops who shot and killed or beat and killed unarmed suspects.

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  14. Too late. That police started treating us like the enemy about 15 years ago.

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