When we questioned the District Attorney about the decision to use a SWAT team that night, a “small army,” as one of the journalists characterized it, the DA said that overwhelming force generally encourages submission. Research shows that, he said. At one time, not too long ago, a SWAT team was called in only in rare cases: when hostages had been taken or if there was a mass shooting, but now they are used for common crimes. They are used to help serve search warrants. Now our police are militarized. There is no longer a clear line between our police force – whose job it is to protect us—and the military – whose mission is to annihilate the enemy.
According to Radley Balko, writing in the Huffington Post, since the 1994, it has been legal for the Pentagon to donate its surplus weapons to the police.
In the 17 years since, literally millions of pieces of equipment designed for use on a foreign battlefield have been handed over for use on U.S. streets, against U.S. citizens. Another law passed in 1997 further streamlined the process. As National Journal reported in 2000, in the first three years after the 1994 law alone, the Pentagon distributed 3,800 M-16s, 2,185 M-14s, 73 grenade launchers, and 112 armored personnel carriers to civilian police agencies across America. Domestic police agencies also got bayonets, tanks, helicopters and even airplanes.
At the end of the 1968 zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead, the police show up. Zombies, they have realized, can be destroyed if you shoot them in the head. They are shooting zombies. Looking up they see a black man, the movie’s hero, at the window of a house, and he is not a zombie, but they quickly shoot him and move on. He is clearly not a zombie, but he is not part of their group either. Like the zombies, he is part of the “other,” and this is what disturbs me about the increasing militarization of the police, that with it comes also an increasing dehumanization, that we all become the enemy, the other.
~this is an excerpt of the book I’m currently writing. Non-fiction, for a change.