What’s Next, Police With Tanks?

Photo Credit: National Review Barney Fife Meets Delta Force

By Charles C. W. Cooke.

Nestled awkwardly among the usual guff, the outrage website Salon this week took a welcome flyer and accorded space to something genuinely alarming. “A SWAT team,” the headline screamed, “blew a hole in my 2-year-old son.” For once, this wasn’t hyperbole.

The piece’s author, Alecia Phonesavanh, described what it felt like to be on the business end of an attack that was launched in error by police who believed a drug dealer to be living and operating in her house. They “threw a flashbang grenade inside,” she reported. It “landed in my son’s crib.” Now, her son is “covered in burns” and has “a hole in his chest that exposes his ribs.” So badly injured was he by the raid that he was “placed into a medically induced coma.” “They searched for drugs,” Phonesavanh confirmed, but they “never found any.” Nor, for that matter, did they find the person they were looking for. He doesn’t live there. “All of this,” she asks, “to find a small amount of drugs?”

Historians looking back at this period in America’s development will consider it to be profoundly odd that at the exact moment when violent crime hit a 50-year low, the nation’s police departments began to gear up as if the country were expecting invasion — and, on occasion, to behave as if one were underway. The ACLU reported recently that SWAT teams in the United States conduct around 45,000 raids each year, only 7 percent of which have anything whatsoever to do with the hostage situations with which those teams were assembled to contend. Paramilitary operations, the ACLU concluded, are “happening in about 124 homes every day — or more likely every night” — and four in five of those are performed in order that authorities might “search homes, usually for drugs.” Such raids routinely involve “armored personnel carriers,” “military equipment like battering rams,” and “flashbang grenades.”

Were the military being used in such a manner, we would be rightly outraged. Why not here? Certainly this is not a legal matter. The principle of posse comitatus draws a valuable distinction between the national armed forces and parochial law enforcement, and one that all free people should greatly cherish. Still, it seems plain that the potential threat posed by a domestic standing army is not entirely blunted just because its units are controlled locally. To add the prefix “para” to a problem is not to make it go away, nor do legal distinctions change the nature of power. Over the past two decades, the federal government has happily sent weapons of war to local law enforcement, with nary a squeak from anyone involved with either political party. Are we comfortable with this?

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Phtoo Credit: Jessica Rinaldi / ReutersWhat’s Next, Police With Tanks?

By James Poulos.

In the classic television series The A-Team, the eponymous heroes spend much of their time evading or thwarting the show’s stock adversaries, the ineffective Military Police. In a show notable for its lack of blood and gore, the MPs are waylaid by many a car crash, explosion, and unluckily placed boat pier.

How quaint that all seems today, when the creeping militarization of American law enforcement has at last begun to shock the conscience. Although many of us endure perennial mourning and outrage over the “senseless” acts of school shooters, most of us have more or less ignored the routine, all-too-logical bloodshed and injustice perpetrated by out of control SWAT teams, police forces equipped like armies, and cities and towns clamoring for materiel designed for military occupation, not public safety.

Talking heads and professional activists never tire of asking how many children must die before Washington imposes yet another round of constraints on the Second Amendment. But which leading voices wonder how many children must bleed in their own homes before Americans take action to constrain our officials from adopting a war footing in our neighborhoods?

At Salon, Alecia Phonesavanh recounts the latest gut-wrenching iteration of the pattern. “I heard my baby wailing and asked one of the officers to let me hold him,” she writes. “He screamed at me to sit down and shut up and blocked my view, so I couldn’t see my son. I could see a singed crib. And I could see a pool of blood. The officers yelled at me to calm down and told me my son was fine, that he’d just lost a tooth. It was only hours later when they finally let us drive to the hospital that we found out Bou Bou was in the intensive burn unit and that he’d been placed into a medically induced coma.”

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