FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Empire Turns Its Guns on the Citizenry

by PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

 

In recent years American police forces have called out SWAT teams 40,000 or more times annually. Last year did you read in your newspaper or hear on TV news of 110 hostage or terrorist events each day? No. What then were the SWAT teams doing? They were serving routine warrants to people who posed no danger to the police or to the public.

Occasionally Washington think tanks produce reports that are not special pleading for donors. One such report is Radley Balko’s “Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America” (Cato Institute, 2006).

This 100-page report is extremely important and should have been published as a book. SWAT teams (Special Weapons and Tactics) were once rare and used only for very dangerous situations, often involving hostages held by armed criminals. Today SWAT teams are deployed for routine police duties. In the US today, 75-80% of SWAT deployments are for warrant service.

In a high percentage of the cases, the SWAT teams forcefully enter the wrong address, resulting in death, injury, and trauma to perfectly innocent people. Occasionally, highly keyed-up police kill one another in the confusion caused by their stun grenades.

Mr. Balko reports that the use of paramilitary police units began in Los Angeles in the 1960s. The militarization of local police forces got a big boost from Attorney General Ed Meese’s “war on drugs” during the Reagan administration. A National Security Decision Directive was issued that declared drugs to be a threat to US national security. In 1988 Congress ordered the National Guard into the domestic drug war. In 1994 the Department of Defense issued a memorandum authorizing the transfer of military equipment and technology to state and local police, and Congress created a program “to facilitate handing military gear over to civilian police agencies.”

Today 17,000 local police forces are equipped with such military equipment as Blackhawk helicopters, machine guns, grenade launchers, battering rams, explosives, chemical sprays, body armor, night vision, rappelling gear and armored vehicles. Some have tanks. In 1999, the New York Times reported that a retired police chief in New Haven, Connecticut, told the newspaper, “I was offered tanks, bazookas, anything I wanted.” Balklo reports that in 1997, for example, police departments received 1.2 million pieces of military equipment.

With local police forces now armed beyond the standard of US heavy infantry, police forces have been retrained “to vaporize, not Mirandize,” to use a phrase from Reagan administration defense official Lawrence Korb. This leaves the public at the mercy of brutal actions based on bad police information from paid informers.

SWAT team deployments received a huge boost from the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, which gave states federal money for drug enforcement. Balko explains that “the states then disbursed the money to local police departments on the basis of each department’s number of drug arrests.”

With financial incentives to maximize drug arrests and with idle SWAT teams due to a paucity of hostage or other dangerous situations, local police chiefs threw their SWAT teams into drug enforcement. In practice, this has meant using SWAT teams to serve warrants on drug users.

SWAT teams serve warrants by breaking into homes and apartments at night while people are sleeping, often using stun grenades and other devices to disorient the occupants. As much of the police’s drug information comes from professional informers known as “snitches” who tip off police for cash rewards, dropped charges, and reduced sentences, names and addresses are often pulled out of a hat. Balko provides details for 135 tragic cases of mistaken addresses.

SWAT teams are not held accountable for their tragic mistakes and gratuitous brutality. Police killings got so bad in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for example, that the city hired criminologist Sam Walker to conduct an investigation of police tactics. Killings by police were “off the charts,” Walker found, because the SWAT team “had an organizational culture that led them to escalate situations upward rather then de-escalating.”

The mind-set of militarized SWAT teams is geared to “taking out” or killing the suspect– thus, the many deaths from SWAT team utilization. Many innocent people are killed in night time SWAT team entries, because they don’t realize that it is the police who have broken into their homes. They believe they are confronted by dangerous criminals, and when they try to defend themselves they are shot down by the police.

As Lawrence Stratton and I have reported, one of many corrupting influences on the criminal justice (sic) system is the practice of paying “snitches” to generate suspects. In 1995 the Boston Globe profiled people who lived entirely off the fees that they were paid as police informants. Snitches create suspects by selling a small amount of marijuana to a person who they then report to the police as being in possession of drugs. Balko reports that “an overwhelming number of mistaken raids take place because police relied on information from confidential informants.” In Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, 87% of drug raids originated in tips from snitches.

Many police informers are themselves drug dealers who avoid arrest and knock off competitors by serving as police snitches.

Surveying the deplorable situation, the National Law Journal concluded: “Criminals have been turned into instruments of law enforcement, while law enforcement officers have become criminal co-conspirators.”

Balko believes the problem could be reduced if judges scrutinized unreliable information before issuing warrants. If judges would actually do their jobs, there would be fewer innocent victims of SWAT brutality. However, as long as the war on drugs persists and as long as it produces financial rewards to police departments, local police forces, saturated with military weapons and war imagery, will continue to terrorize American citizens.

PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com

 

Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. Roberts’ How the Economy Was Lost is now available from CounterPunch in electronic format. His latest book is The Neoconservative Threat to World Order.

Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
Ramzy Baroud
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
Halyna Mokrushyna
The War on Ukrainian Scientists
Joseph Natoli
Who’s the Better Neoliberal?
Ron Jacobs
The Battle at Big Brown: Joe Allen’s The Package King
Wahid Azal
Class Struggle and Westoxication in Pahlavi Iran: a Review of the Iranian Series ‘Shahrzad’
David Crisp
After All These Years, Newspapers Still Needed
Graham Peebles
Hungry and Frightened: Famine in Ethiopia 2016
Robert Koehler
Opening the Closed Political Culture
Missy Comley Beattie
Waves of Nostalgia
Thomas Knapp
The Problem with Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”
Georgina Downs
Hillsborough and Beyond: Establishment Cover Ups, Lies & Corruption
Jeffrey St. Clair
Groove on the Tracks: the Magic Left Hand of Red Garland
Ben Debney
Kush Zombies: QELD’s Hat Tip to Old School Hip Hop
Charles R. Larson
Moby Dick on Steroids?
David Yearsley
Miles Davis: Ace of Baseness
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail