It looks like that’s what I’m going to get, though. Mother Jones sent a reporter to the Urban Shield conference, a gathering of cops and their new toys. It’s chilling.
This summer, images of armored vehicles and police pointing semi-automatic rifles at demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri, set off a debate over what journalist Radley Balko has termed the “rise of the warrior cop.” A National Public Radio analysis found that since 2006, the Pentagon has given local cops some $1.9 billion worth of equipment—including 600 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs), 80,000 assault rifles, 200 grenade launchers, and 12,000 bayonets (yes, bayonets). But those totals pale in comparison to the amount of gear purchased from private companies. The Ferguson Police Department, for example, received some computers, utility trucks, and blankets from the military—but all that battle gear you saw on TV was bought from corporations like the ones pitching their wares at Urban Shield. Outfitting America’s warrior cops, it turns out, is a major business, and one fueled in large part by the federal Department of Homeland Security. The Department of Defense has given $5.1 billion worth of equipment to state and local police departments since 1997, with even rural counties acquiring things like grenade launchers and armored personnel carriers. But Homeland Security has handed out grants worth eight times as much—$41 billion since 2002. The money is earmarked for counterterrorism, but DHS specifies that once acquired, the equipment can be used for any other law-enforcement purpose, from shutting down protests to serving warrants and executing home searches.
These over-equipped paramilitary police squads are taking over — not only are they hauling around enough firepower to take down a small nation, it’s almost entirely superfluous…so they’re using excessive force for mundane tasks. You better pay your traffic tickets, or a tank will roll up to your door and armored thugs with AR-15s and grenade launchers will leap out to get your compliance.
Today, 85 percent of SWAT operations are for “choice-driven raids on people’s private residences,” Peter Kraska, an Eastern Kentucky University researcher who studies tactical policing, said in a recent Senate hearing. According to a study released by the American Civil Liberties Union earlier this year, 62 percent of SWAT deployments were for drug raids. The study found that in these raids, drugs were found only half of the time. When weapons were “believed to be present,” they were not found in half of the cases for which the outcome was known.
Oh, wait, no, I can relax. I’m white. They’re only going to bully black people with these tactics.
The study also found that while white people were more likely to be involved in the types of scenarios SWAT teams were intended for—like hostage or active-shooter situations—71 percent of today’s SWAT raids (when race was known) target people of color. The racial disparity can be much higher in some places: In Burlington, North Carolina, the study notes, African Americans are 47 times more likely to be affected by SWAT raids than whites.
It’s interesting that while universities are being starved for revenue by the state, the state is pouring cash into beefing up police forces into utterly useless and damaging urban assault teams.