Imagine a person sitting down to eat dinner. Their partner pours a glass of tea. Their child reaches for a napkin. Just as this person picks up their fork and knife to cut a piece of stake a flash-bang grenade burst through the families front window. Before anyone has e a chance to realize what happened local police dressed in war ready full military gear kick down the front door. An officer screams “Sit down and shut up!” In 1969 a group that was considered “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country” by J. Edgar Hoover, then Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations got the shock of their life. Members of the Black Panther Party were the first to experience militarization of police in the form of a SWAT raid. The United States had decided to begin using military style weapons and war tactics on its own citizen. The raid was largely considered a disaster and resulted in the Black Panther Party member being acquitted on the grounds of self-defense. Fast forward to 2014 and this militarization policing has become all too common.
Frequently military style police raids are carried out on local citizens resulting in the wrong doors kicked in and innocent people hurt. Just this May one-year-old Bounkham Phonesavanh had to be placed in a medical induced coma. Using a “no-knock” warrant Police tossed a stun grenade into his play pen as he slept, to gain entry into his family’s home. The raid resulted in no arrest and no drugs were found.
What is perhaps most concerning is the law does not protect from police militarization. It actually empowers it. In the 1980’s president Ronald Reagan introduced a series of anti-drug laws, commonly known as the Military Cooperation with Civilian Law Enforcement Statute. This law was aimed at providing military like training and weapons to domestic police to prevent drug smuggling across U.S. borders. Despite many concerns that this new law violated civil liberties protected under the Bill of Rights, budgets for police militarization have exploded over the years.
SWAT teams carry huge monetary incentives for police departments. Anti-drug laws do not require the destruction of money and property seized during the raids. Instead, confiscated items are used to further gear up against the war on drugs. Three billion dollars a year are allotted to local police for military like equipment such as Lenco BearCats. The Department of Homeland security feels that the bullet proof war tank is necessary for local police units.
Militarized SWAT teams have increased by the thousands over the past few decades despite violent drug related crimes decreasing. As a result of their, at times, reckless expenditures, dozens of stories where average citizens lives are changed forever continue to emerge. Some have challenged the laws and the behavior of local police citing violation of their fourth amendment rights or excessive force. When Bounkham’s mother tried to check on him according to her she was told “sit down and shut up!” That seems to be the court’s attitude toward victims. In the case of 18-year-old Esequiel Hernandez Jr, Marine Cpl., Clemente Banuelos shot him to death as he herded sheep near his home. Cpl. Banuelos was a part of anti-drug border patrol operations. He was acquitted of any charges.
In these cases rarely do local police suffer any type of legal repercussions for treating their local jurisdictions like military war zones. Police often defend their actions. Militarization of local police has become the norm giving them increasing power to kick down your front door. The reason, all too often is to simply serve a search warrant for a misdemeanor crime. Perhaps President Reagan’s Assistant Secretary of Defense, Lawrence Korb, put it best when he said “Soldiers are trained to “vaporize, not Mirandize”
By Ashley Poag