Great article on the 'Militarization of America' and our current police state

01/19/2014 - 00:00

Remember last year? Edward Snowden! NSA! Shock! Horror! Dismay!

Looking back I’m amazed we all seemed so surprised. Over the last decade, pretty much every arm of American authority invoked “homeland security” as an excuse to acquire boatloads of new technology, and used it to help expand their power and authority to unprecedented levels. There is nothing at all exceptional about the NSA’s massive overreach. It was only keeping up with the Joneses — FBI, DEA, Border Patrol, police forces everywhere — who have all been busy doing exactly the same thing.

The impoverished city of Oakland is spending more than $10 million on a “Domain Awareness Center” surveillance hub for its cops, and cameras that track every license platethey see. Baltimore and NYC track license plates, too. Meanwhile, according to the LA Times, “Unmanned aircraft from an Air Force base in North Dakota help local police with surveillance,” and Motherboard reports: The Border Patrol’s fleet of Predator drones were loaned out 248 times in 2012, to “unnamed sheriff’s departments, the Department of Defense, the DEA, the Texas Rangers, and even the Bureaus of Land Management and Indian Affairs.”

Drones are just the tip of the hardware iceberg. Local police are now, as The Verge mordantlyobserved, “fighting crime with 18-ton military vehicles.” That’s just one example of the billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment given to police over the last few decades; and“a disproportionate share … has been obtained by police and sheriff’s departments in rural areas with few officers and little crime.” As Business Insider put it:

We produce so much military equipment that inventories of military robots, M-16 assault rifles, helicopters, armored vehicles, and grenade launchers eventually start to pile up and it turns out a lot of these weapons are going straight to American police forces to be used against US citizens.

A few choice examples from The Daily:

Cops in Cobb County, Ga. — one of the wealthiest and most educated counties in the U.S. — now have an amphibious tank. The sheriff of Richland County, S.C., proudly acquired a machine-gun-equipped armored personnel carrier that he nicknamed “The Peacemaker.”

And it’s not just equipment. It’s ethos and attitude. Police across America have increasingly begun to apply the military doctrine of using overwhelming force whenever possible. So SWAT raids rose over two decades from 3,000 a year to 50,000, including SWAT raids on illegal gambling, underage drinking, and Tibetan monks who overstayed their visas. Seven-year-olds are handcuffed and interrogated for hours over a missing five dollars (which they did not steal).