|Cartoon by Dan Nott from the Daily Kos|
Originally published in Conscious Objector section of Ignoring Occupation updated
Until 1960s, American police officers and vehicles were lightly armed. Police officers were respected by American society for keeping the peace with the least amount of violence or excessive use of force. The reoccurring gun violence, massacres, beatings of men, women and children and violent stand offs between police and disgruntled Americans that seem to happen at least once every month in modern America were uncommon events in the country prior to the mid 1960s. Even legendary mobsters and gunmen that predated the SWAT team's creations were seen as overtly violent anomalies in society. Riots from Newark to Watts (See also Felicia: Growing Up Young and Black in 1964 Watts) in the mid-1960s gradually changed police perception of managing protests. Charles Whitman, an ex Marine who gunned students from the University of Texas' clock tower in Austin in 1966 then regarded as the most deadliest school shooting in the United States history, was universally condemned. Even the cultural images of the fearless cowboy and gunslinger were brought into question in the aftermath of Whitman's death to fully understand the event and how to prevent another violent outburst. It was from clock tower shooting and the antiwar, student protests that the creation of SWAT to handle similar situations became top priority for many police forces around the country. Today's continual militarization of police forces in both small towns and large cities have caused alarm across the United States. At least once a month, police across the country are involved in death squad like shootings that leave innocent bystanders injured or dead. The argument given by police is that their suspect either fired first so a hail of bullets was necessary or the officers felt threatened. Shooting deaths are justified by various police departments in the cities and towns all the way down to the village level. Everyday, police officers confront violence that is unusual in other countries save for countries experiencing war. Some people provoke police into firefights but most of the time, the officers take it upon themselves to pacify suspects either with weapons, dogs or a tense standoff. Many Americans have been beaten severely or sometimes to death while detained by police officers violating local state and town laws or ignoring the standard protocols to deal with citizens. In the last two decades, American police have been trained by Israeli police in anti terrorism tactics and military style tactics for controlling crowds and arresting people. The supreme Court recently backed police in warrantless searches even if it terrifies the families and residences receiving the search. See police brutality in the United States for the metamorphosis of the police force since the 1960s.
Radley Balko Rise of the Warrior Cop and militarized police
Police began receiving military surplus supplies in the form of uniforms, weapons and even armored personal vehicles in the late 1960s at the beginning of late President Richard Nixon's War on Drugs Policy and the constant riots by Americans and hostage taking by revolutionary groups. It wasn't until the Drug War gave birth to the SWAT teams beginning in Los Angeles and spreading to other major cities and smaller towns. The drug war especially in the late 1970s-80s gave police power to not only carry out aggressive raids across the country to bust drug trade and Americans suspected of using or trading drugs on the streets but use their new found weapons to disregard local laws when catching drug criminals or wanted fugitives unrelated to drugs. Prison sentencing for drug offenses have grown harsher since the SWATs first deployment. The role of SWAT and excessive force by the police has been expended from drugs to intervening in hostage situations and rescue, taking down gunmen and local terrorists or threats to a city or town's security in general. Even the FBI, which is known more for its agents in suits and jackets has also deployed armed police officers (resembling soldiers like their civilian counterparts) in hostage situations or security measures. The friendly neighborhood cops that baby boomers had grown up with and police forces that are idealized in movies have changed significantly as a result of the Drug Wars and War on terrorism.
Beatings, provocations and confrontations between the police and ordinary Americans is a dangerous problem that has been featured in the media and culture going back decades. When city and town police use excessive force that result in serious bodily harm or even death, officers are often blamed but their actions are backed by media pundits and sometimes legal professionals who regard the officers' actions as justified to defend themselves against so called threats by citizens. Even when the said perpetrator/victim is unarmed or not even resisting arrest. Such force is a violation of human rights both local and international.
Every 28 hours: Police Brutality against African Americans
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement's magnum opus on detailed reportings of police brutality and killings of African American men and youth every 28 hours. The report is avaliable for download free of charge.
How Cops became Soldiers
Privatization of War: Mercenaries, Private Military and Security Companies
Police Brutality in United States
NYPD Officer Risks his job to speak out on Stop and Frisk Part 1
From Democracy Now