The ACLU to wage war against America’s militarized police state

The ACLU today announced that they would be launching a broad investigation into the militarization of America’s domestic police forces. As of this evening, ACLU affiliates in 23 states have signed on to assist in the investigation, and it’s thought that more will join shortly, assigning investigators and filing Freedom of Information Act requests with the various law enforcement agencies in their respective states, in an attempt to determine how they are funded, and what types of technologies their officers are deploying against the citizens they’ve vowed to protect and serve, from drones and GPS tracking devices, to armored assault vehicles and military-grade armaments.

The following quote from Kara Dansky, the senior counsel at the ACLU’s Center for Justice, comes by way of the Huffington Post.

“We’ve known for a while now that American neighborhoods are increasingly being policed by cops armed with the weapons and tactics of war… The aim of this investigation is to find out just how pervasive this is, and to what extent federal funding is incentivizing this trend.”

Of course, this isn’t anything new. Over half a dozen years ago, the libertarian CATO Institute issued a white paper entitled OVERKILL: The Rise of Paramilitary Raids in America. I don’t typically refer to reports by the Koch brothers-funded think tank, but, at least in this instance, I feel as though we may have common cause. Here’s how the folks at CATO framed the issue at the time… as an outgrowth of the so-called War on Drugs.

…The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 brought new funding, equipment, and a more active drug-policing role for paramilitary police units across the country. Reagan’s new offensive in the War on Drugs involved a more confrontational, militaristic approach to combating the drug supply, a policy enthusiastically embraced by Congress. During the next 10 years, with prodding from the White House, Congress paved the way to widespread military-style policing by carving yawning drug war exceptions to the Posse Comitatus Act, the Civil War–era law prohibiting the use of the military for civilian policing. These new exceptions allowed nearly unlimited sharing of drug interdiction intelligence, training, tactics, technology, and weaponry between the Pentagon and federal, state, and local police departments.

The first of these exemptions was the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act, passed in 1981. This wide-reaching legislation encouraged the military to give local, state, and federal police access to military bases, research, and equipment for drug interdiction. It also authorized the military to train civilian police officers to use the newly available equipment, and not only encouraged the military to share drug-war–related information with civilian police but authorized the military to take an active role in preventing drugs from entering the country…

And, as we all know, things have only escalated with the War on Terror, and the seemingly endless amounts of government/military spending that have come along with it. Motivated by fear, we pour money into developing new terrorist-fighting technologies, that invariably make their way back to our shores, where they can be deployed against us. This can be seen today in cities like Miami and Houston, where domestic military exercises have become commonplace. Here, for those of you who respond better to visuals, is a photo taken last year in Anaheim, where approximately 300 citizens had gathered to protest police violence. These are police officers.

Someone in the Reddit thread about this ACLU announcement brilliantly tied in Battlestar Galactica, offering the following quote from the series.

Commander William Adama: “There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.”

So, with that in mind, I’m going to make up for the fact that I’ve allowed my ACLU membership to lapse, and make a contribution to the ACLU Foundation… Someone needs to lead this fight, and I’m glad that we have the ACLU to take it on.

One last thing, regarding possible solutions… Here’s a note from the end of the 2006 CATO report that I found of interest.

End the Pentagon Giveaways. The primary reason so many police departments across the country can afford SWAT teams is the Pentagon’s policy of making surplus military equipment available to those departments for free, or at steep discounts. The Pentagon used its defense budget to buy that equipment, a budget given to it by Congress on behalf of American taxpayers for the purpose of defending Americans from threats from abroad. It’s perverse to then use that equipment against American citizens as part of the government’s war on domestic drug offenders.

Amen.

Oh, and in related news, Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee today that Obama “has (the) authority to use drone strikes to kill Americans on US soil.”

[Today’s post is dedicated to the memory of Detroit’s Aiyana Jones.]

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26 Comments

  1. Edward
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    It’s difficult for the police, especially those who come from the military, to not use the weapons and tactics that they’ve been trained to use. If a tool exists, they will use it.

  2. EOS
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    According to Holder, President Barack Obama has the authority to use an unmanned drone strike to kill US citizens on American soil and Congress cannot remove this authority by legislation. Regardless of ideology, 100% of Americans should stand together, opposed to this evil.

  3. Edward
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    EOS, could I persuade you to make a contribution to the ACLU?

  4. EOS
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    The Anti-Christian Liberals Union? No, but I will support other groups fighting this atrocity. I wouldn’t want my donation to be used for many of the other causes the ACLU supports.

  5. Aaron B.
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Just looking at the cop cars today compared to the 80’s tells you something. Now most cop cars look like shadow predator cruisers instead of being visible symbols of safety.

    Imagine if Dukes of Hazard were filmed today… Boss Hog would be deploying machine gun wielding shock troops, driving Hummers to catch them no good Duke boys.

  6. anonymous
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    I look forward to the prospect of being water boarded for not getting my trash cans off the street fast enough.

  7. Eel
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    It’s a lucrative cycle. The more the police ratchet things up on their end, the more Americans feel compelled to own assault rifles and stockpile ammunition. A lot of people are getting filthy rich.

  8. Meta
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    From the Reddit thread linked to above.

    What most people (including the agency employees themselves) forget is that these types of bureaus are self feeding.

    What I mean by that is these agencies must continue to find threats, spend their entire budgets (i.e. the 2700 explosive resistant vehicles purchased by the DHS to exhaust their budget), harass criminals (and often times average citizens) and in general create a chilling atmosphere to continue to get funding.

    Remember that certain organizations like the DEA are ‘self funded.’ That means that they get a portion or sometimes all of their funding from the busts and subsequent reselling of the material they seized. Do you see the problem this creates? They must never bust ALL of the criminals or even worse: they must never see certain drugs or materials decriminalized. How will they continue to remain in existence?

  9. Mr. X
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    If our police had been outfitted like this in the 60s, the Civil Rights era likely never would have happened.

  10. Meta
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of common cause with the right, as much as I dislike him, I appreciate that Rand Paul is talking about targeted drone killings.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/07/america-shamed-rand-paul-drone-executions

  11. Robert
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    I knew EOS couldn’t keep his promise.

  12. Posted March 7, 2013 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    “I want Bill Gates to pay my taxes”

    EOS, March 6, 2013

    There are a lot of things wrong with me, but I do have my politics straight. Right wingers like EOS can’t figure out what the fuck they want but why should this be surprising, when their inspiration comes from a poorly constructed book of fables and scary fairy tales. Pretty soon, EOS, like other Flea Baggers, will be soaking up disability checks and still complaining about public transportation and public schools.

    What an ass.

  13. Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    I was just thinking about the PATRIOT ACT the other day.

  14. Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    No further message, by the way, I just wanted to share that I was thinking about it when I woke up in the middle of the night.

  15. Edward
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    Holder clarified for Paul.

    Holder: “It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ The answer to that question is no.”

    http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2013/03/07/obama-administration-responds-to-paul-on-drones/

  16. Meta
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    McCain on Paul’s filibuster:

    “If Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids,” McCain said.

  17. EOS
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    So it rests on his definition of engaged in combat. He had drones kill Anwar Al-Awlaki’s teenage son, Abdulrahman, a 16 year old born in Denver whose only crime was his unfortunate choice of parentage. His father, also an American citizen, was targeted and killed weeks earlier. No charges, no trial, just a days work for a low ranking soldier sitting in front of a computer screen in Las Vegas or Southern California.

  18. Robert
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    How long were you able to stay away from this blog, EOS? I knew the temptation would be too great for you.

  19. Erik Nowakowski
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Come join us at the Washtenaw County Campaign for Liberty Liberty Action Briefings every 3rd Thursday at the American Legion in Saline at 6:30pm to learn and help make a difference regarding the theft of our liberties such as this, Drone strikes, CISPA, the Patriot Act, NDAA, Food freedom, global imperialism, etc.

  20. Knox
    Posted March 11, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    We’re going to have some fun times on the horizon. That’s for sure.

    “1.6 Billion Rounds Of Ammo For Homeland Security”

    Excerpt from Forbes:

    The Denver Post, on February 15th, ran an Associated Press article entitled Homeland Security aims to buy 1.6b rounds of ammo, so far to little notice. It confirmed that the Department of Homeland Security has issued an open purchase order for 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition. As reported elsewhere, some of this purchase order is for hollow-point rounds, forbidden by international law for use in war, along with a frightening amount specialized for snipers. Also reported elsewhere, at the height of the Iraq War the Army was expending less than 6 million rounds a month. Therefore 1.6 billion rounds would be enough to sustain a hot war for 20+ years. In America.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphbenko/2013/03/11/1-6-billion-rounds-of-ammo-for-homeland-security-its-time-for-a-national-conversation/

  21. Brenda Gummo
    Posted March 11, 2013 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    S’okay, Knox. Obama’s on your side.

  22. Meta
    Posted July 22, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    The Wall Street Journal has an article today about the militarization of police forces across the US.

    Since the 1960s, in response to a range of perceived threats, law-enforcement agencies across the U.S., at every level of government, have been blurring the line between police officer and soldier. Driven by martial rhetoric and the availability of military-style equipment—from bayonets and M-16 rifles to armored personnel carriers—American police forces have often adopted a mind-set previously reserved for the battlefield. The war on drugs and, more recently, post-9/11 antiterrorism efforts have created a new figure on the U.S. scene: the warrior cop—armed to the teeth, ready to deal harshly with targeted wrongdoers, and a growing threat to familiar American liberties.

    The acronym SWAT stands for Special Weapons and Tactics. Such police units are trained in methods similar to those used by the special forces in the military. They learn to break into homes with battering rams and to use incendiary devices called flashbang grenades, which are designed to blind and deafen anyone nearby. Their usual aim is to “clear” a building—that is, to remove any threats and distractions (including pets) and to subdue the occupants as quickly as possible.

    The country’s first official SWAT team started in the late 1960s in Los Angeles. By 1975, there were approximately 500 such units. Today, there are thousands. According to surveys conducted by the criminologist Peter Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University, just 13% of towns between 25,000 and 50,000 people had a SWAT team in 1983. By 2005, the figure was up to 80%.

    The number of raids conducted by SWAT-like police units has grown accordingly. In the 1970s, there were just a few hundred a year; by the early 1980s, there were some 3,000 a year. In 2005 (the last year for which Dr. Kraska collected data), there were approximately 50,000 raids.

    A number of federal agencies also now have their own SWAT teams, including the Fish & Wildlife Service, NASA and the Department of the Interior. In 2011, the Department of Education’s SWAT team bungled a raid on a woman who was initially reported to be under investigation for not paying her student loans, though the agency later said she was suspected of defrauding the federal student loan program.

    Read more:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323848804578608040780519904.html

  23. Meta
    Posted January 30, 2015 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Riot vehicles and cops with machine guns are coming to the streets of New York.

    The NYPD will launch a unit of 350 cops to handle both counterterrorism and protests — riding vehicles equipped with machine guns and riot gear — under a re-engineering plan to be rolled out over the coming months.

    The Strategic Response Group, or SRG, will be devoted to “advanced disorder control and counterterrorism protection,” responding to the sort of demonstrations that erupted after the Eric Garner grand-jury decision and also events like the recent Paris terror attacks.

    “It will be equipped and trained in ways that our normal patrol officers are not,” Commissioner Bill Bratton said Thursday.

    Read more:
    http://nypost.com/2015/01/30/nypd-to-launch-a-beefed-up-counterterrorism-squad/

  24. Meta
    Posted January 30, 2015 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    As long as we’re talking about the unnecessary excesses of the police, did you see this pepper spray video from Seattle?

    http://i.imgur.com/UBYRgab.gifv

  25. Meta
    Posted May 19, 2015 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    Obama announces ban on the sale of military hardware to US police departments.

    President Obama announced a ban on that federal provision Monday. Under the new guidelines, the government will no longer sell some types of equipment and “sharply restrict the availability of others,” according to the New York Times.

    “The ban is part of Mr. Obama’s push to ease tensions between law enforcement and minority communities in reaction to the crises in Baltimore; Ferguson, Mo.; and other cities.”

    A law enforcement task force the president formed last January recommended the move. The “militarization” of police departments can lead to fear and mistrust, the panel concluded. The 116-page report points to the police response in Ferguson as one example.

    Read more:
    http://bluenationreview.com/obama-announces-ban-on-sale-of-military-style-equipment-to-police-departments/

  26. Meta
    Posted December 3, 2015 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    From FOX News.

    “Outrage as military vehicles, equipment taken from officers in wake of Obama order”

    Valuable vehicles and equipment are being yanked from law enforcement agencies across the country by the Obama administration in the wake of the president’s post-Ferguson order — as sheriffs and lawmakers tell FoxNews.com the equipment is needed, and losing it could put officers and the communities they serve in danger.

    “These things are useful tools and the president taking them away will put more officers in jeopardy and at risk of harm or even death. I don’t know how he can sleep at night knowing his actions will have those repercussions,” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., told FoxNews.com.

    President Obama issued Executive Order 13688 in January after the 2014 riots in Ferguson, Mo., amid concerns about the “militarization” of the police fueling a heavy-handed response.

    The controversy circled around the 1033 program, set up by the Defense Department in 1997. The program authorizes the Pentagon to send excess military equipment such as armored tracked vehicles, camouflage uniforms and weapons to local law enforcement agencies for no cost. Supporters of the program say it saves money for local agencies, strengthens those agencies and allows the U.S. to get a second use out of existing equipment.

    Obama’s order set up a working group to provide recommendations on changes. The group, headed by officials at the Defense Department, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, then drew up a list of items that would either be controlled or prohibited entirely from being acquired via the 1033 program.

    “We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force, as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them. It can alienate and intimidate local residents, and send the wrong message. So we’re going to prohibit some equipment made for the battlefield that is not appropriate for local police departments,” Obama said in May when the report was released.

    Items on the prohibited list include armored tracked vehicles, weaponized aircraft and vehicles, .50-caliber firearms and ammo, bayonets, and camouflage.

    And now the feds are looking to collect.

    Read more:
    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/11/23/outrage-as-military-vehicles-equipment-taken-from-officers-in-wake-obama-order.html

11 Trackbacks

  1. […] are created, they will be used… as we were discussing not too long ago in the post about the militarization of American police forces… and as we’ve seen as the tools developed for the “war on terror” have been […]

  2. […] not exist, prosecutions should be tossed out. It’s the only way, I think, for us to counter the increasing militarization of our local police forces and the growing tendency to employ excessive force in instances where it’s not […]

  3. […] military assault vehicle, and I was reminded of a good conversation we had here about a year ago on the growing militarization of American police forces. If you have time, I’d encourage you to go back and read it. Assuming you won’t do […]

  4. […] [Read more about the rapid militarization of the American police state.] […]

  5. […] continues to evolve, one thing has become clear to me… Now is the time to move against the increasingly militarization of America’s local police forces. The public awareness has never been higher, and, for the first time, I feel like momentum is on […]

  6. […] [Click here for more information on the militarization of America's police.] […]

  7. […] actually went down in that house, what I do know is that this is happening against a backdrop of police militarization unprecedented in American history, and a seeming increase in the use of lethal force by those […]

  8. […] what the answer is, but I don’t imagine that it would hurt if we took this opportunity to demilitarize our police, make sure that every cop with a gun also has a body camera, and get the money out of politics, […]

  9. […] by way of gerrymandering and other forms of trickery so that those in power stay in power. Our increasingly militarized police forces are killing us in unprecedented numbers. All of our actions are being watched and recorded. […]

  10. […] way of background, is a clip from the post I’d mentioned earlier about our need to roll back the American police state. [The following was first posted here August 18, […]

  11. […] but across the United States, but that isn’t a narrative that keeps Americans scared and puts more military-grade weapons in the hands of our police officers. The following comes from CBS […]

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