Civil defense

photo: Two cops hunker down with tactical gear and assault rifles

Hello, we’re the cops, and we’re here to keep you safe!

(Minor update 2004-11-15: Typos fixed.)

Michael Pate has pointed out a blurb from L.A. Observed clarifying that the tanks (Marine Armored Personnel Carriers, actually, for what that’s worth) deployed at a peaceful anti-war demonstration in Los Angeles had just gotten lost on their way from Camp Pendleton to the nearby National Guard Armory in preparation for the Veteran’s Day parade the following day.

Fair enough; I don’t see any reason not to accept that this was a silly mistake on the part of the Marines coupled with a firestorm of hasty reaction from Internet cranks such as myself. But it is indicative of something—and that something is not (or, at least, not just) Leftist paranoia in these times. The fact is that using tanks would, at this point, be not at all out of character for L.A. riot cops. Nor would it be beyond the means of most large urban police departments. The combined effects of the War on Drugs, the increasingly militant police reaction to mass demonstrations, and now the mass recruitment of all civil police into paramilitary units for Homeland Security have meant that any vestiges of a notion of proportionality have been completely and systematically obliterated. I see no reason whatever to doubt that cops would have any principled objection to sending out tanks to help with crowd control at an anti-war demonstration. They exist in an institutional culture in which there is apparently no inhibition at all against using any kind of force whatever in order to maintain control and enforce obedience.

Don’t believe me? Here’s how a peace officer in Miami decided to handle a tipsy 12 year old girl trying to play hooky:

(Link nabbed from Austro-Athenian Empire 2004/11/13.)

MIAMI (AP) - Police have acknowledged using a stun gun to immobilize a 12-year-old girl just weeks after an officer jolted a six-year-old with 50,000 volts.

According to the incident report, officer William Nelson responded to a complaint that children were swimming in a pool, drinking alcohol and smoking cigars on the morning of Nov. 5.

Nelson said he noticed the girl was intoxicated and was walking her to his car to take her back to school when she ran away through a parking lot.

Nelson, 38, said he chased her and yelled several times for her to stop before firing the Taser when she began to run into traffic. The electric probes hit the girl in the neck and lower back, immobilizing her.

— CBC News 2004/11/13: Police reviewing use of stun guns after second child shocked with taser

Ah, but you see, it was necessary to electrocute the girl in order to save her:

Nelson said he fired for my safety along with (the girl’s) safety. Paramedics treated the girl, who went home with her mother.

Because, you know, she might have gotten away, and then not gone to school or something.

Police director Bobby Parker defended the decision to use a Taser stun gun on the six-year-old boy last month because he was threatening to injure himself with a shard of glass. But Parker said Friday he could not defend the decision to shock the fleeing girl, who was skipping school and apparently drunk.

So if the decision is indefensible, why isn’t Officer Nelson in jail on charges of assault and battery? Why isn’t there any official reaction at all other than some hand-wringing about whether officers should have tasers or not—as if the equipment were the problem here? The problem is not how police are equipped, but rather the lack of accountability for disproportionate force and the belligerent posture that permeates cops’ training and daily working lives. You know, the sort of attitude that would make someone think it’s okay to respond to the incredibly dangerous immediate threat of a tipsy 12 year old disobeying orders by using an extremely painful electric shock that necessitates immediate medical attention. Or the kind of attitude that would make someone think of the incident as a P.R. problem instead of a criminal assault. Most major American cities effectively no longer have civil policing; they are occupied by federally-trained and supported paramilitary forces. The free-wheeling use of electrocution on anyone and everyone in Miami is a case in point (and this ain’t exactly the first time they’ve have problems there, either).

Is this as bad as, say, martial law in Iraq? No, of course it’s not. But it is brutal, and it’s becoming more clear every day that the difference in posture and attitude is only one of degree, not of kind. That goes to show how important differences of degree can be—but also how alarming and unreliable.

Update 2004-11-14: Some more on public outcry in Miami over the taser attacks, courtesy of to the barricades 2004-11-14.

Further reading

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14 replies to Civil defense Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Anonymous

    Hey you forgot to mention Sky net and the Pentagon trying to spy on all its own citizens, the Shotgun carrying robots, airborne laser weapons, and antimatter bombs (God knows what else) that our military is doing behind our backs with a half trillion dollars of American tax dollars each year.

    Yay for freedom everybody!!

  2. jomama

    Thanks for bringing this up.

    Most people just don’t care so it’s good you keep pushing in their face.

— 2005 —

  1. Discussed at www.radgeek.com

    Geekery Today:

    Peace Officers, redux

    (Link thanks to Lew Rockwell [2005-03-02].) I’ve commented on the obliteration of any notion of proportionality in modern police forces before (in GT 2005-04-26: Peace…

  2. Discussed at www.radgeek.com

    Geekery Today:

    Bolts from the Blue

    (Links thanks to Marian Douglas [2005-06-07], Lew Rockwell [2005-06-06], and Edmund Burke [1757].) Cops in America are heavily armed and trained to be bullies, and…

  3. AD-ZE

    This shouldn’t supprise anyone police a dogs, ‘ere in australia once a coppa gets his/her badge they go insane with power and will break whatever rules at the end of the day, Take schoolies for example ( like your amercian’s cancoon ) if you so mutch as look at an officer the wrong way your likely to have him and his fellow offices on you with a night stick in secconds, they walk around with bullet proof vest on and armed with mp5’s are they going to use them on drunk teenagers, we have a problem ‘ere with the citizens no really paying any attention to the police cause everyone fucking hates them, many police get bashed every weekend on the gold coast,either way, in this day and age nothing is supprising, at least the police officer fired a taser, around ‘ere you are likely to get a bullet. ONE DAY WE WILL RISE !!!!!!!! AND ATTTACK !!!!

— 2007 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2005-04-26 – Peace Officers:

    […] already knew that Florida cops were willing to electrify a 6 year old boy and a 12 year old girl with a 50,000 volt bl…. The 6 year old was distraught and threatening to hurt himself (after all, why hurt yourself when […]

  2. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2007-10-11 – Law and Orders #2: Florida cop was “within bounds” when he punched and pepper-sprayed a 15-year-old girl for breaking curfew:

    […] in order to make sure that they stay in control of the situation. They have no trouble electrifying small children, alleged salad-bar thieves, pregnant women possibly guilty of a minor traffic violation, or […]

  3. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2007-11-09 – You got served and protected.:

    […] unnecessary goal. In order to stay in control of the situation, they have no trouble electrifying small children, alleged salad-bar thieves, pregnant women possibly guilty of a minor traffic violation, or an […]

  4. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2007-11-27 – Law and Orders #3: John Gardner of the Utah Highway Patrol tasers Jared Massey in front of his family for questioning why he was pulled over:

    […] unnecessary goal. In order to stay in control of the situation, they have no trouble electrifying small children, alleged salad-bar thieves, pregnant women possibly guilty of a minor traffic violation, or an […]

  5. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2007-12-01 – What a shock.:

    […] unnecessary goal. In order to stay in control of the situation, they have no trouble electrifying small children, alleged salad-bar thieves, pregnant women possibly guilty of a minor traffic violation, or an […]

  6. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2007-12-07 – Law and Orders #4: Wichita cops take control by shocking a deaf man for not following orders he couldn’t hear:

    […] goal. In order to coerce compliance with their arbitrary orders, they have no trouble electrifying small children, alleged salad-bar thieves, pregnant women, or an already prone and helpless student who may have […]

  7. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2007-12-23 – Law and Orders #5: Daytona Beach cop takes control at Best Buy by shocking an unarmed, “retreating” woman:

    […] In order to to coerce compliance with their arbitrary commands, they have no trouble electrifying small children, 82 year old women on a care check, alleged salad-bar thieves, pregnant women, or an already prone […]

— 2008 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2008-02-03 – You got served and protected #2: Halifax cops tackle a 17 year old girl and taser her while she lies helpless in her own bed:

    […] the world of rampaging statist power-trips. We already know that cops have no problem electrifying prepubescent children and alleged salad-bar thieves; no problem serving and protecting the hell out of 82-year-old women […]

  2. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2008-05-10 – Cops are here to protect you. (#3):

    […] In order to to coerce compliance with their arbitrary commands, they have no trouble electrifying small children, pregnant women, 82 year old women who just want their social workers to leave them alone, alleged […]

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