Monday, August 18, 2014
Week of 08/18/2014
The Juntas Next Door
In the movie “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”, the command crew of the Starship Enterprise are coerced into travelling to a strange planet by a self-professed religious leader who claimed to have been led there “by God”. Not long after they arrive, they are met with the supposed divine being who demands that the Enterprise take him off the planet and past the “Great Barrier” so he can “share his wisdom” across the cosmos.
Although everyone there is eager to help, it’s Captain Kirk - the lone skeptic of the crowd - that asks a simple question that deflates the whole idea.
A simple question that exposes the being for what it really is.
I have been forced to ask a similar question when it comes to recent events here in the supposedly “Land of the Free”.
“What does a suburban police department need with a tank?”
I have been disturbed and disgusted by the sight of police in Ferguson, Missouri, responding to protests with full-on jackbooted military equipment, complete with armored personnel vehicles.
This comes just weeks after an infant was critically burned by police here in the Atlanta area when a flash-bang grenade was thrown into his crib. The police were executing a no-knock warrant in the middle of the night and claimed that they had no idea that a baby was in the room when they tossed in the explosive device. The police here seem to have a perverse fetish for this kind of action, though, given the number of tragedies that have come out of them using and abusing the “no-knock warrants”.
The police in Doraville, Georgia, were recently hard-pressed to explain a video of their training exercises featuring them in full military equipment and riding around in an armored transport vehicle straight from the Department of Defense.
In western Keene, New Hampshire, where the greatest threat to the peace of the local community is a rampaging moose, the mayor proudly boasted the purchase of Bearcat armored personnel vehicle by saying “We’re going to have our own tank!” This is the state that still has “Live Free or Die” on its license plates!
Bear in mind that this is not something that just manifested itself overnight. This is something that has been building up and brewing for years now. Local police officers, drunk on power and offers of free weapons from the Pentagon, have been getting millions in surplus military equipment; the same kind of equipment used by our military to overthrow third-world dictators like Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega.
We can’t even blame this jackboot fetish on 9/11! This federal program of militarizing our local police actually began in the 1990’s, fresh from the “glories” of the Gulf War. But it is the fear-mongering drive to fascism after 9/11 that transformed the Pentagon into a reckless war supplier that would make a Batman supervillain caw in delight.
Now, folks, my father was both a police officer and a state trooper. I worked with police departments both as part of the Police Explorer program and later in private security. I have a Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice by one of the best colleges in the country. And yet I cannot help but to be disgusted by the actions of the various police departments over the years. While it is the GOP and their conservative and neo-conservative brethren that have been nudging this country down the path of Mussolini-style fascism, it’s the gang-style mindset of the police departments that have been giving that drive a full military-style escort, complete with equipment paid for by very taxpayers they are pointing their weapons at.
Let’s get brutally honest here… this is America we’re talking about! This is not Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan, the Gaza Strip, Libya, Somalia, or the Ukraine. We’re supposed to be the country to goes after third-world junta leaders, not arming the wannabe-junta leaders in our own neighborhoods! We’re supposed to be better than this! We’re supposed to be cracking down on gangs and organized crime bosses, not becoming them with badges. We’re supposed to represent individual freedom, not serve as the how-to book for repression.
I know that there is an effort in Congress to walk us back from this rabid militarization. But given the political party of the people backing that effort, I know that this will be for naught. Like I said, the GOP and their conservative and neo-conservative supporters have been nudging us down the path to fascism for years now, and they certainly will not allow the Democrats or even the libertarians to spoil their plans for one-party domination.
I want to believe that the bulk of police officers in America are decent, honorable people. For a significant part of my growing years, my late father was one of those people. Yes, he made enemies doing his job, and in a few instances I had to pay the price of that. But none of it would ever justify betraying the very things that he was supposed to protect. I want to believe that many men and women who put on a badge every day are like that.
But to see images in Ferguson of police acting more like the Egyptian Army, and essentially violating the Posse Comitatus Act; of hearing reports of police throwing explosive devices into baby cribs in the middle of the night and shooting elderly ladies; of hearing about people being arrested in their own back yards for video-taping the police doing their jobs, and even I have to wonder just what sort of a country we have become to have this go on while we waste billions in taxpayer monies overthrowing the junta leaders around the world.
What does a suburban community in the supposed “Land of the Free” need with a tank, indeed!