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The Militarization of Local Police Forces

While I do believe that the repression of public Occupy protests has historical underpinnings, that doesn’t mean that what has happened in the streets should cause no concern. In fact, technology has advanced beyond the billy clubs and paddy wagons of the past, to include LRAD sound cannons, pepper spray, bean-bag projectiles, stun guns, and a host of other suppressive techniques. Radley Balko takes a look at the increasing militarization of local police raids, which have their roots in drug busts:

In February of last year, video surfaced of a marijuana raid in Columbia, Mo. During the raid on Jonathan Whitworth and his family, police took down the door with a battering ram, then within seconds shot and killed one of Whitworth’s dogs and wounded the other. They didn’t find enough pot in the house to charge Whitworth with even a misdemeanor. (He was, however, charged with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia when police found a pipe.) The disturbing video went viral in May 2010, triggering outrage around the world […]

In fact, very little about the raid that was isolated or unusual. For the most part, it was carried out the same way drug warrants are served some 150 times per day in the United States. The battering ram, the execution of Whitworth’s dog, the fact that police weren’t aware Whitworth’s 7-year-old child was in the home before they riddled the place with bullets, the fact that they found only a small amount of pot, likely for personal use — all are common in drug raids. The only thing unusual was that the raid was recorded by police, then released to the public after an open records request by the Columbia Daily Tribune. It was as if much of the country was seeing for the first time the violence with which the drug war is actually fought. And they didn’t like what they saw.

This disproportionate use of force has simply extended to the suppression of Occupy protests. This is how the police deals with things these days.

If anything, the Occupy protests have shined a new light on these tactics. It’s not what the protests were set up to denounce, but in a way, it is. The Occupy movement believes that the country has abandoned the rights and needs of the vast majority of people in servitude to the top 1%. Using disproportionate police force on college students and activists while allowing those who robbed the entire nation and broke the economy to go about their business is a powerful reminder of that.

Read the entire Balko article. This has been a slow but insistent move over the past couple decades. The war on drugs has now transformed into a war on everything. And as you’ll see, it has caused actual casualties, innocent victims of militarized police tactics caught in the crossfire. That mentality needs to stop.

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David Dayen

David Dayen