As the unfolding events in Ferguson, MO—a town of 21,000 outside of St. Louis—demonstrate, America’s domestic police forces have come to resemble the standing armies the Founders feared.
|A picture of modern day police tactics.|
“Why armored vehicles in a Midwestern inner suburb?,” asks Cato’s Walter Olson. Why fire tear gas canisters at people standing in their own yards? “Shock and awe” tactics are fast becoming the new normal as federal policy has fed an unhealthy warrior mentality among what used to be called “peace officers”—with federal subsidies and Pentagon giveaways of military ordnance.
The clampdown in Ferguson highlights the dangers of our drift toward paramilitary policing, as well as the broader trend of law-enforcement lawlessness documented by Cato’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project.It reminds me of the first street demonstration I walked in, at the University of Wisconsin, back in the day -- hob nail booted police and state troopers with billy clubs poised to strike, law enforcement reinforcements prowling in armed personnel carriers, locked and loaded national guard personnel at the ready, and tear gas canisters pointed our way and then exploding all around (it's nasty stuff). All hell broke lose.
|Madison, Wisconsin, Police Dept. breast/shoulder patch.|
I also remember the last student demonstration at the University of Wisconsin. The armored personnel carriers were locked away in storage. No tear gas canisters were in sight.The cops showed up jaunty in their polo shirts and powder blue blazers with a police department breast patch, razor haircuts, and smiles on their faces, uttering friendly hellos and engaging in banal conversation. When we started a bonfire in the street, a fire engine showed up to make sure it didn't get out of control. It was a party, not a war.
We have fallen so far, so fast.