Monday, August 25, 2014

"Battlefield America: No warrant? No justice? No problem!"

“The police today are more militarized than the military.” – Balko

This is the most disturbing book I’ve ever read. Other ground-breaking, hard-hitting exposés concerning financial white-collar crime and the near-collapse of the US economy, or judicial inequality resulting in mass incarceration of minorities always left me feeling that, as bad as it was, nothing bad would happen to me. I control my bank account; it’s small, and I don’t invest, so it’s unlikely that I’ll be effected directly by crimes committed by the Wall Street Investor-Class. I’m white, over sixty, retired and I obey the law, so chances are better than good, based on my “record”, that I won’t end up in prison on a parole violation for shoplifting or carrying a concealed weapon, with or without a permit.

But Balko’s book completely destroys any confidence I had in my sanctuary of ignorance and bliss. Metaphorically, his book does to my sense of personal safety, my entitlement to the right of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, what big city and small town SWAT teams all across the country do to the US Constitution on a daily basis: like a black leather boot, Balko’s book kicks the doors down like Fascist storm troopers in Poland, circa 1932 – threatening citizens, killing unarmed “suspects”, confiscating property without authority, beating innocent people, stealing money, burning homes and offices, falsely imprisoning people without evidence of a crime, “kidnapping” and holding men, women and children at gun point, destroying family pets, and generally making its own laws, and policing “Battlefield America” with a closed iron-fisted glove. Politicians are enablers. Community “watchdogs” are cowards. And the people are victimized. In fact, I feel like a “victim” just by reading the book, even though I know I’m not, that’s how sobering Balko’s journalism really is.

What his book makes clear is that “war” is the key to understanding the issue of militarization of police: war on poverty; war on pornography; war on terror; war on crime; and, especially, and most importantly, war on drugs. With each new declaration of “war”, every presidential administration since Nixon, up to and including Obama, has expanded the power, authority and scope of the police, while at the same time suppressing constitutional guarantees explicitly reserved for US citizens, the same promises the nation’s police were meant to protect and serve. The Department of Homeland Security, since George W. Bush, has sold, given away or transferred billions of dollars worth of military-grade weapons to local law enforcement agencies, and equipped SWAT teams in big cities as well as small, rural communities that are lucky to even have a post office let alone a police force, with powerful weapons and equipment designed to be used on the streets of Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran - not downtown Main Street, USA!

The book is impeccably well-researched, documented and entirely even-handed and fair. The fact that Balko paints the cops in a negative and unflattering light just underscores the sad, depressing conclusion I was left with when I finished reading the book: what other choice did he have?

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