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:
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.
Ah, but you see, it was necessary to electrocute the girl in order to save her:
Nelson said he firedfor 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.