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SWAT Raids, Stun Guns, And Pepper Spray: Why The Government Is Ramping Up The Use Of Force
December 5, 2011 9:05 AM   Subscribe

Shortly after Jared Loughner allegedly opened fire in the parking lot of a Tucson grocery store last January, we saw much hand-wringing about the threat of violence against the government. In fact, violence against government officials is actually pretty rare. But just three days before Loughner's rampage, police in Framingham, Mass., raided the home of 68-year-old Eurie Stamps. Stamps wasn't the target of the drug raid. Police were after the son of Stamps' girlfriend, and actually apprehended him outside the home. They raided the house anyway. Stamps, who was unarmed and broke no laws, was shot and killed by a police officer. By my count, he's at least the 46th innocent person killed in a botched drug raid. Every politician in Washington condemned the Loughner shootings, and rightly so. But nearly every politician in Washington supports the laws and policies that led to the death of Eurie Stamps.
-- Radley Balko continues his lonely crusade documenting the ongoing militarization of America's police forces.
posted by empath (62 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

 
the ongoing militarization of America's police forces.

It's worse than that, as this anecdote itself illustrates. The media are enabling, even driving, much of this by amplifying "thin blue line" depictions and "the police need this stuff to protect themselves (oh and also children)" lines much more than stories like Stamps.
posted by DU at 9:11 AM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Radley Balko is doing great work on this issue.

I'm not a libertarian by any stretch, and I don't especially have a lot of respect for a lot of what he writes, but on police militarization he is just spot on.
posted by gauche at 9:20 AM on December 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


The stupid thing is, violence isn't even an effective way to police. Unwarranted violence just shuts down the trust between police and the community, and strips away the cooperation and assistance from the public that is necessary to discover crimes and find the perpetrators. We're already starting to see this occur.

I'd like to try to blame some sort of authoritarian system, etc, for this, but the truth is, a lot of people want this. It's just the same kind of knee-jerk idiocy that says you can get tough and beat a problem into submission instead of trying to solve it logically with research-based solutions. That attitude has always been around, but it seems like it's becoming a lot more common lately - I don't know if this is due to recent political and cultural trends or due to the increasing complexity of the world, which prevents people from understanding most things that are outside of their field.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:22 AM on December 5, 2011 [13 favorites]


I think a lot of it is the pervasive anxiety in American life that achieves catharsis through watching someone who (all the narrative says) deserves it get theirs, especially given all the smug, self-righteous "Hey, if you don't want the cops to raid your house, don't get involved with people breaking the law" that permeates the culture.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:27 AM on December 5, 2011


Stuff like this, btw, is why I don't think that highlighting police brutality against OWS protesters is a sideshow. In a lot of respects, police brutality and the twin wars on 'terror' and 'drugs' are the problem. So much money and so many lives wasted chasing phantoms.
posted by empath at 9:27 AM on December 5, 2011 [10 favorites]


I don't think that highlighting police brutality against OWS protesters is a sideshow.

Amen. If the lasting effect of OWS is to roll back the police state, it will have made America a much, much better place.
posted by gauche at 9:32 AM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


The stupid thing is, violence isn't even an effective way to police.

What makes you think the desired end result is more effective policing?

It's just the same kind of knee-jerk idiocy that says you can get tough and beat a problem into submission instead of trying to solve it logically with research-based solutions.

The key word is in this sentence: "submission"

The purpose to authoritarianism is not safer streets. It's power.
posted by DU at 9:44 AM on December 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


I'd like to try to blame some sort of authoritarian system, etc, for this, but the truth is, a lot of people want this.

How do you think authoritarian systems get that way? Often, large crowds of vaguely angry people who just want to see someone pay for all the things they're unhappy about cheer them on--authoritarian states aren't usually imposed from the top-down when they first get going: people demand them.

People in the US just aren't sticking up for basic American principles anymore IMO. They're sticking up for rich people's interests, and waving guns around a lot, but they aren't sticking up for the real bedrock principles--whether it's separation of church and state, due process, the increase of the public welfare, protections against search and seizure or even habeas corpus--we just don't stick up for the core American political values anymore. It's all just reduced to "smaller government"--which actually means more police, more people in prison, and fewer taxes for the rich. Hell, one of the biggest specific complaints against the crown in the declaration of independence was that the crown imposed restrictions on immigration into the US at all--now our loudest "patriots" want to go so far as to put a wall around the US and (in my state at least) to make everyone pee in a cup just to claim their own unemployment insurance benefits! All on justifications like "things are different now" or "Stand Up for America! Be an American!" whatever the hell either of those thing mean anymore.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:57 AM on December 5, 2011 [25 favorites]


Dress is decorum. Uniform and arm the police like the military (or Judge Dredd or Combine Civil Protection) and they'll act that way. One of the reasons for the relative success of British forces in Iraq was due to the fact that, in the words of a local commander, "we don't wear sunglasses". Remove some of the armour and weapons and it makes the police officers as human as those they are sworn to protect, more personable, and much more open to interaction.

Ignore that, arm them to the teeth, mix in endemic steroid use and an institutional "us vs. them" mindset, and you have a recipe for a police force who are seen not as a public service but an armed force that bullies, threatens, beats and kills anyone who gets in their way.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 10:03 AM on December 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


Our media culture, both fiction and non-fiction, promotes a climate of fear and of support for law enforcement.

The vast majority of dramas on television are about police or detectives or some sort of crime fighters, and nearly all portray law enforcement in a very positive light.

Local television news actively over-emphasizes crime and encourages a fearful reaction.

And local print journalism will almost always exhibit a certian bias in favor of police and prosecutors because law enformcent organizations are very useful sources, and defense attorneys usually decline comment.
posted by tommyD at 10:06 AM on December 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


That should be, of course, "Metafilter's own Radley Balko."
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:21 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think one of the underlying reasons for such brute force, SWAT tactics and hugely expensive armored vehicles is that after 9/11, the "war on terror" gave a lot of police departments a blank check that they used to increase personnel, buy equipment most officers had never seen, and purchase huge SWAT/bomb squad vehicles. Now those same departments have to justify using all their toys and people. They still get homeland security money. But they have to demonstrate that they still need it.
posted by Kokopuff at 10:21 AM on December 5, 2011


It's great to see this posted. Radley does really excellent work on police abuse matters, whether it is militarization or the routine execution of family pets or the self-serving internal investigations that occur when the cops police themselves. Whatever your views on libertarian economics matters, his blog theagitator.com should be daily reading for those interested in criminal justice, the drug war, civil liberties, or personal freedom issues.
posted by AgentRocket at 10:28 AM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]



Personally, with the exception of Meth Labs, which pose a larger threat to health and safety of those not using Meth, I couldn't care less if you grow drugs, make drugs or use drugs, so long as I don't have to suffer any consequences associated with your choice to do so.

You would have thought we'd have learned our lesson with prohibition, but no, here we are with the exact same problems. Murder, violence and anarchy. Only instead of hooch, it's hash (or heroin, or crack or the aforementioned meth.)

Because regular people in regular neighborhoods don't want derelict properties, junkies and assorted nogoodniks hanging around, we've empowered the police to act like damn commandos, raiding houses, seizing property and killing people and dogs. (Oh! My Bad!)

Until we decriminalize drugs, we’re going to have this problem, because the Police think that it’s us against them. I'm beginning to think so too.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:42 AM on December 5, 2011


Now that even regular police units are being equipped with SWAT-style uniforms, including face-covering masks, and high powered weapons we should not be surprised that the divide between the general public and our "protectors" is getting wider.
posted by Not The Stig at 10:53 AM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]



That should be, of course, "Metafilter's own Radley Balko."

When I looked a month or so ago, his account was disabled.

Welcome back, Radley Balko!
posted by jamjam at 10:55 AM on December 5, 2011


Maybe somewhat related: Two recent articles that I linked to in an old OWS thread yesterday assert a link between our militarized police forces and Israeli forces.

I'm ground zero for the endemic steroid use that Boar Horza Gobuchul linked to above- the ring was run out of Jersey City and Jersey City cops made up the bulk of the users. There have been no real consequences for any of the officers involved in that, btw.

Also, Rick Garrison, one of the officers caught up in the steroid scandal stole supporter's keys (and threw them into the bushes) at a political fundraiser. He and his cohorts were never punished, but that's not surprising since he's also first Vice President of the Jersey City Police Union. Going further back, he also was involved in 1997 with a brawl that injured a sheriff's officer (and Jersey City paid out $175,000. to settle the case).

This past February while off duty he struck a number of cars over a distance of a block or two and killed a passenger in one of the cars. It took a very long time for him to be issued any motor vehicle summonses at all. He will not face criminal charges.

There's zero accountability when officers break the law and, at least in this area, they've become a special class of citizen that doesn't have to follow any of the rules that the rest of us do. Something has to change because the power imbalance is extreme.
posted by stagewhisper at 11:04 AM on December 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


People in the US just aren't sticking up for basic American principles anymore IMO.

I don't think that they ever did. I'm extremely skeptical that there's any period of time when the Average American (distinct from the Average American Voter) was more supportive of those American principles -- secularism, the welfare state, rationality, etc. -- across the board than people are today. What you're advancing seems suspiciously like the "golden age" argument so beloved of conservatives, hearkening back to the good old days... only with the values reversed.

If the voter of today seems meaner than in the early days of the Republic, it might perhaps be due in large part to the demographics of voters being quite different. The Enlightenment values that underpin U.S. political philosophy have never been widely held by the masses; they were always a rather elite point of view -- it's just that only the elite had much of a say in how things were run. My suspicion is that if you looked only at the demographics that would have been allowed to vote in, say, 1780, "Enlightenment values" -- which is to say capital-L Liberal values -- would still poll pretty well, and you'd basically have a technocracy. (You'd still get disagreements over tax policy and the welfare state, for obviously self-interested reasons, but I suspect you'd have secularism and other core values pretty well nailed. And the welfare state argument is basically a continuation of Federalism/Anti-Federalism, and has a good historical pedigree.)

The flipside of increased democracy and increased participation in government by a wider swath of individuals is that many more people need to be continually convinced of the necessity and advantage of Liberal values in an environment where they are constantly tempted by the aristocracy to vote against their own interests. I'm not sure that we've done a particularly great job of that, as a nation; instead we've treated increased voter participation as a net good in itself, and been surprised when the average, harried worker doesn't vote with the care and consideration of our haute bourgeoisie forebears.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:07 AM on December 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


I actually use to keep of track of this when the courts okayed it in the 80s (thank you Scalia).

Mostly cases that happened in western states, and the odd news story sent by a friend from afar.

And through this informal survey, I counted around 50 known deaths up through the 90s. But I knew this was only a potion of the actual deaths, so I decided to look for some formal statistics.

There are none.

No police department, nor the Justice Department (that they have been willing to admit) keeps track of civilian deaths from no-knock search warrants. Certainly no statistics on innocent people killed in the execution of said warrants (not to mention errors on the warrants, which, I recall reading, has been estimated to be as high as 25%).

I can recall no cases where officers were put on trial.

That (in sharp contrast with the plethora of statistics concerning officers killed in the line of duty) alone tells you everything you need to know about police accountability, and why any aspect that enhances their enforcement capabilities should be gravely weighed against the societal costs.
posted by quintessencesluglord at 11:09 AM on December 5, 2011 [17 favorites]


I beginning to think we need an Israel-like near universal military oriented service to give ordinary people the competence to resist the further evolution of our own police forces into an occupying army.
posted by jamjam at 11:22 AM on December 5, 2011


Well, whether they ever stuck up for them before or not, no one's sticking up for them now, so it's a moot point, Kadin2048. But then, it's awfully easy to "suspect" things. Like just now, for example. I "suspect" you're mistaken. But neither of our suspicions amount to much. I think it's accurate to say that the national political character in the US has changed into something unrecognizable from the professed founding principles of the nation. And that it's now very often those who claim to be most concerned with restoring/preserving those founding principles that are at the head of the rush to make that transformation. Many of the chief legal innovations historically viewed as central to the American system are no longer observed in practice (from separation of church and state, to freedom of assembly, to prohibitions on unreasonable search and seizure). How or why doesn't really matter.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:35 AM on December 5, 2011


It's great that the libertarians are going after this problem, since they effectively created it. The society of extreme inequality that they dream of would require a full time domestic military and enormous prison complex to harass and intimidate the population and keep them from revolting. In other words, even more of what we have today. The war on drugs is a pretext that allows the upper and middle classes to justify and depoliticize the constant background level of violence that's necessary to prop up capitalism.

Our society requires brutal political oppression of the poor, but it would be too embarrassing to do it openly as they do in third world authoritarian regimes. The war on drugs is a more tactful form of authoritarianism, to allow the middle class to feel that the violence is not political violence, it's just for non-ideological reasons like keeping our children safe from drugs and so on. Libertarians simply don't require this pretense -- they are perfectly comfortable with extreme poverty and creating an authoritarian regime to protect the property rights of the wealthy.

Balko says "There was a time when the level of force governments chose to use in response to a threat was commensurate with the severity of the threat." But this is still true -- whenever we see "excessive" police violence, we should remember that the true threat they are responding to is the threat to capitalism. So the choice is clear: either oppose capitalism, or endorse the state violence that allows it function.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:53 AM on December 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


American principles -- secularism, the welfare state, rationality, etc. --

Since when is the welfare state is a core American value?

Perhaps that's what you admire about the US. If so, OK. But it sounds like you're claiming it's some sort of founding principle, as if there was some sort of concern with creating a welfare state early in the nation's history. And if that's the case, do you have any evidence for it?

-----

It's great that the libertarians are going after this problem, since they effectively created it.

LOL

Good stuff.
posted by BigSky at 12:02 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Since when is the welfare state is a core American value?

1933?
posted by entropicamericana at 12:35 PM on December 5, 2011


Libertarians simply don't require this pretense -- they are perfectly comfortable with extreme poverty and creating an authoritarian regime to protect the property rights of the wealthy.

Uh...I would still consider myself socially libertarian and I used to be a practically "party-line" Libertarian, but I have never been comfortable with extreme poverty and authoritarian regimes to protect the wealthy. From those I've spoken with, I suspect this is the case with many Libertarians. The whole "laissez faire" thing was always way, way, way less important to me than the whole freedom from the oppressive culture of fear and dominance propagated by the concentrated power structures in our political system thing.
posted by nTeleKy at 12:42 PM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Balko was mentioned in this recent NYTimes article: When the Police Go Military
posted by homunculus at 12:58 PM on December 5, 2011


AlsoMike, I'm not sure I've ever heard "authoritarian regimes," "full time domestic military" or "enormous prison complex" used in reference to libertarian goals. I think you might be conflating it with some other political philosophy.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 1:24 PM on December 5, 2011


Another symptom of the unfortunate direction of policing is this allegedly humorous display of police attitudes: You're A Cop If...

* You feel good when you hear "these handcuffs are too tight."

* You have ever wanted to hold a seminar entitled: "Suicide... getting it right the first time...

* You believe that 50% of people are a waste of good air...

* Your idea of a good time is a "man with a gun" call...
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:46 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]



The thing that bugs me is that we only ever really see government power exercised against the powerless and not the powerful. I am not so naive that I think it was ever really different but now it seems so obvious. The naked abuse of power against the powerless and the complete lack of any constraint on the powerful is there for everyone to see. It sticks in my craw to think that this is as good as we are, as good as we can be.


Also I find it ironic that now that our police are becoming a military force our military is stuck being a police force. And by ironic I mean sad.
posted by The Violet Cypher at 1:48 PM on December 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm not convinced that this isn't inevitable. If we had a less militarized police force, we'd possibly just be using more militarized military force against civilians.
posted by Jahaza at 1:59 PM on December 5, 2011


I think you might be conflating it with some other political philosophy.

Libertarians believe that the proper role of government is the defense of property rights. The enormous poverty created by unfettered free market capitalism would certainly generate a huge amount of social unrest and violence against property. The only logical conclusion is that the libertarian ideal necessarily involves an enormous police and prison state -- even larger than we have today -- to defend property rights and put down revolt.
posted by AlsoMike at 2:02 PM on December 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Another symptom of the unfortunate direction of policing is this allegedly humorous display of police attitudes: You're A Cop If...

Now imagine McNulty and Bunk sitting around swapping these jokes while throwing their empties into the freight yard. It's occupational humor and it's an outlet. I'm saving my pearl-clutching for something else.
posted by Spatch at 2:03 PM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


People are dying, sacrificing, getting their heads busted for American values all the time. There were draft riots in the civil war. People got hit by fire hoses in the civil rights movement. With women's suffrage the violence was sublimated in the system, but there. The Tea party stuff. And now the Occupy stuff.

You just don't see it much on t.v. or in the news and when it is, the issues are always obfuscated.
The Tea party (f'rinstnce) is arguing against an amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act that okays imprisoning Americans in Gitmo without trial. They're protesting McCain - which, ok, is like trying to shoot pool with a rope, but that aside, illustrates the convolutions I'm pointing out that are ignored in the monolithic cast the media (et.al) tries to put on everything.

Authoritarianism seems to be contra everything. Sort of like fanaticism. There's no other side to it because it exists for its own sake.
Lindsey Graham, for example, on the bill above sed: "And when they say, ‘I want my lawyer,’ you tell them, ‘Shut up. You don’t get a lawyer.’"

Which is yeah, wholly UnAmerican but .... I don't know how to express the degree of stupid required there. It's beyond double think.
I mean this kind of stuff is supposed to be for security. Protect the country. All that. Ok.
But no one who is in execution is actually pushing in this (authoritarian/militarized) direction because it is provocative and is more likely to get your people killed. Strange how when you allow people an out, they don't fight tooth and nail to the death like cornered rats. Hn.

Certainly it's where the money is, so it's incentive and that results in a change in tactics.
But it's weird how Congress - any Congress - seems to just wet itself over giving vastly augmented powers to the President and to the police/military forces in general.
A. as though it's never gone seriously awry in the past.
and
B. as though it's not this two headed puppet show.
I get a kick out of Krauthammer telling people not to flip out over this. And he's the 'conservative.'
Under Clinton it was G. Gordon Liddy being 'conservative' telling people to shoot federal agents in the balls when they kicked in their doors because the armor wasn't as thick there.
Democide (governments killing their own people) was the #1 killer (through violence) last century. I see no reason why it would change in the future.

In our case, our society doesn't require brutal political oppression of the poor, people in power require brutal oppression of the poor because it gets them off.
Seriously.
They're that stupid and insane.
Genuinely. It's that simple.
If it had anything even tangentially to do with security or took any feedback from a real world picture, even tyranny, it would be far more efficient. As it is this is just for vicarious thrill. The rush of power. The boot on the face. Or the illusion that one has of it.

I mean, I've talked to one or two guys like this and they say they'd be willing to go shoot the scum (typically "scum" or "filth" or other such lasting and constant dehumanizing phrases as a constant perspective from guys like this rather than the impersonal and temporary situational objectification engaged in tactically) themselves.
Oh yeah, given 1/2 a chance, *sniff* I'd be special forces. SWAT. *hoists belt* Yep.

Except they're almost always 30-or more lbs overweight and never picked up a weapon in their lives.
Which, IMHO, is an integral part of the maintenance of this kind of fantasy.

It's funny to see guys standing with rifles aimed and see someone near them with a drawn pistol. Like what, the guy with the rifle can't hit squat, but oh, yeah, I'm a superstar 100 yds out with a handgun.
Typically, the less in control a situation is, the more there is a need for a dynamic entry.
Most SWAT teams (at least on good police forces) do a lot of waiting around. And as such it's sort of shitty duty. So the best trained guys who are least likely to make a mistake and are best able to cover each other and control an entry - do a lot of bench riding.
And the poorly trained SWAT are used as stormtroopers because the other officers are either rubber guns or even less prepared to deal with a dangerous situation because all the money for training has gone to SWAT.

Because if there's one thing that seems to be a core American value it's worrying about not enough gun for the problem. Whatever the problem. Dynamic entry. Social discourse. Too much starch in tighty-whiteys. Tight lid on the pickle jar. Etc.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:06 PM on December 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


This honestly scares the shit out of me. I'm scared of the police already; I live in Albuquerque and APD gets a lot of bad press, though I don't know if it's more or less than most cities. I'm young, and that's definitely part of it, and though I'm white, female and pass for straight, I've spent enough time with punk-looking and/or brown young men to get a taste of* the attitude shift that comes with either being brown or looking unconventional. (I know that isn't what this is about, but that attitude shift is part of the problem.)

It's one of those other things that freaks me out but I have no idea what to do about it.

*This is not to say I understand what it's like to deal with this on a daily basis. Just that it scares me. Or that there aren't situations where being female would make me more scared of the police, because there are, but in the situations I've been in it tends to paint me as less of a threat.
posted by NoraReed at 2:21 PM on December 5, 2011




I'm not convinced that this isn't inevitable. If we had a less militarized police force, we'd possibly just be using more militarized military force against civilians.

Why? No snark here, just an honest question.
posted by jhandey at 3:14 PM on December 5, 2011


I think troops would be less likely today to be called to events like the Seige of Sidney Street, or the Bonus Army dispersal (whether the dispersal was a wise decision is not really the point). Certainly over the past two or three hundred years, the rise of civilian police forces has been mirrored by a decline in the use of military forces for law enforcement. But there are many edge cases where intense violence is still required...
posted by Jahaza at 4:09 PM on December 5, 2011


You just don't see it much on t.v. or in the news

Yes, indubitably, because I don't have a "t.v." or watch "the news".
posted by telstar at 4:17 PM on December 5, 2011


If we had a less militarized police force, we'd possibly just be using more militarized military force against civilians.

I'm pretty sure they'd have to repeal the Posse Comitatus Act to do that.
posted by hippybear at 6:09 PM on December 5, 2011


Norm Stamper also gave Balko a shout-out in his recent article:

"External political factors are also to blame, such as the continuing madness of the drug war. Last year police arrested 1.6 million nonviolent drug offenders. In New York City alone almost 50,000 people (overwhelmingly black, Latino or poor) were busted for possession of small amounts of marijuana—some of it, we have recently learned, planted by narcotics officers. The counterproductive response to 9/11, in which the federal government began providing military equipment and training even to some of the smallest rural departments, has fueled the militarization of police forces. Everyday policing is characterized by a SWAT mentality, every other 911 call a military mission. What emerges is a picture of a vital public-safety institution perpetually at war with its own people. The tragic results—raids gone bad, wrong houses hit, innocent people and family pets shot and killed by police—are chronicled in Radley Balko’s excellent 2006 report Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America."
posted by gingerbeer at 7:42 PM on December 5, 2011


But there are many edge cases where intense violence is still required...

Yeah, going to have to disagree with you there.

There are a few, rare, edge cases where intense violence is required. Not many, and not routine.

But when you give that capability and that training and you push it out to the local level, you are begging for it to be used. Because those skills are perishable and they're expensive, and frankly if you've gone through all that training, it's not hard to believe that you probably want to get out there and actually use it once in a while. So there is a very real danger in having SWAT teams attached to every local police force in every mid-sized town and city in the country.

What we probably need instead of militarized police, is a very limited number of military units trained in policing, perhaps part of the National Guard or similar (but active duty) and authorized in exceptional circumstances by someone on the level of a state governor, or the mayor of a very large city. Or alternately, attached on a permanent basis to a Federal law enforcement branch, like the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team.

It is the routine-ness with which intense violence gets used that is seductive and dangerous, because it provides an easy alternative to other, more time-consuming forms of policework, and it should only be used in those exceptional cases where time is truly of the essence -- I'd argue an acceptable standard is only where there's an immediate life threat to innocent people that will be minimized more through action than through inaction. That certainly doesn't seem to be anything like the standard today.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:56 PM on December 5, 2011


Yeah, going to have to disagree with you there.

...

What we probably need instead of militarized police, is a very limited number of military units trained in policing, perhaps part of the National Guard or similar (but active duty) and authorized in exceptional circumstances by someone on the level of a state governor, or the mayor of a very large city.


Actually, you fundamentally agree with me. You're saying that if we demilitarized the police we'd need that capability to be in the military instead, which is what I said.
posted by Jahaza at 10:04 PM on December 5, 2011


Or at the Federal law-enforcement level, as with HRT. Personally I don't find the distinction between Federal law-enforcement and a hypothetical specialized SWAT-type military unit designed for domestic deployment to be that interesting or meaningful.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:23 AM on December 6, 2011


Since when is the welfare state is a core American value?

No one said "the welfare state". There was talk of promoting the "welfare" of the nation though, as in:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,[note 1] promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. ”
posted by saulgoodman at 10:26 AM on December 6, 2011


As you know in your more honest moments of reflection, Big Sky, all that the now pejorative term "Welfare program" is meant to denote is any policy specifically enacted in pursuit of the founding principle that the US government has a role to play in promoting the "general Welfare."
posted by saulgoodman at 10:32 AM on December 6, 2011


No one said "the welfare state".

If you mean none of the Founding Fathers then of course I agree, if you meant no one in this thread then sorry, but it was a direct quote.

As you know in your more honest moments of reflection, Big Sky, all that the now pejorative term "Welfare program" is meant to denote is any policy specifically enacted in pursuit of the founding principle that the US government has a role to play in promoting the "general Welfare."

What I know is that vague language like "promote the general welfare" is frequently used by do-gooders to justify the expansion of government and shrink individual liberty. Your claimed definition of 'welfare program' is so loose it could be used to describe the military. Doubtless you could name other government programs that "promote the general welfare" with which I agree. But let's take a brief look at the intended meaning before we start calling it a founding principle.

All from Wikipedia:

"the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution [your quote in the 13:26 post] "has never been regarded as the source of any substantive power conferred on the Government of the United States or on any of its Departments";"

"In 1824 Chief Justice John Marshall described in obiter dictum a further limit on the General Welfare Clause in Gibbons v. Ogden: "Congress is authorized to lay and collect taxes, &c. to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States. ... Congress is not empowered to tax for those purposes which are within the exclusive province of the States.""

Looks like some of that federal tax money just might be going to programs which were intended to be "the exclusive province of the States", e.g. education. Imagine that, the use of federal funds for the "general welfare" seems to be a prime example of the violation of one of America's genuine founding principles: State's Rights.
posted by BigSky at 11:13 AM on December 6, 2011


Looks like some of that federal tax money just might be going to programs which were intended to be "the exclusive province of the States", e.g. education. Imagine that, the use of federal funds for the "general welfare" seems to be a prime example of the violation of one of America's genuine founding principles: State's Rights.

I don't know if you missed it, but we had a war over that and you lost. See the 14th amendment for details.
posted by empath at 11:18 AM on December 6, 2011


I don't know if you missed it, but we had a war over that and you lost. See the 14th amendment for details.

Oh my, that's a snappy answer!

Never mind there's no constitutional justification for the involvement of the federal government in education. That's irrelevant. You just keep on posing like you have some kind of a point.
posted by BigSky at 11:39 AM on December 6, 2011


Never mind there's no constitutional justification for the involvement of the federal government in education.

I'm sorry, everybody. I almost got into an internet argument with a crazy person. Carry on.
posted by empath at 11:43 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


it was a direct quote.

It was a direct quote that used the word welfare. It didn't say anything about your fearsome hypothetical "Welfare state."
posted by saulgoodman at 12:05 PM on December 6, 2011


What I know is that vague language like "promote the general welfare" is frequently used by do-gooders to justify the expansion of government and shrink individual liberty.

In this thread, some of us are talking about how police departments in this country are, with increasing regularity, kicking down doors and accidentally shooting innocent people without any repercussions.

Here in this same thread, you are holding up "the welfare state" as your chosen example of expansion of government which shrinks individual liberty.

Please don't change the subject. Some of us were already talking about how the government is infringing on our liberty by killing us. Taxing and spending are kind of lower on the list of outrageous infringements on liberty than being killed by cops for the crime of answering the door while black.
posted by gauche at 12:25 PM on December 6, 2011


It was a direct quote that used the word welfare. It didn't say anything about your fearsome hypothetical "Welfare state."

Yeah, actually it did.

-----

Please don't change the subject. Some of us were already talking about how the government is infringing on our liberty by killing us. Taxing and spending are kind of lower on the list of outrageous infringements on liberty than being killed by cops for the crime of answering the door while black.

Sorry dude! I got distracted by the progressive sophistry. I'm generally pretty eager to post on that infringement of liberty as well.
posted by BigSky at 1:02 PM on December 6, 2011


Fine. I missed that Kadin slipped "state" into his comment for some reason. And I thought "liberals" were supposed to be the ones who minced words.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:03 PM on December 6, 2011


Not sure if this matters, but to come clean: I was using the phase "welfare state" to refer somewhat specifically to the 20th century idea of a state that provides a social safety net through transfer payments or some other form of progressive taxation. It's arguably sloppy shorthand, but I thought one that would be fairly well understood.

In my (minor) defense, I did try to mention in a parenthetical that this is probably the most controversial of the 'Enlightenment' or 'Liberal' values that I was enumerating, and that arguments over the scope and role of the Federal government can be traced back beyond the founding of the United States. This is in contrast to some other Liberal values, which are less open to argument. I.e., while reasonable modern people might still debate the appropriateness of progressive taxation or transfer payments, anyone who questions secularism or rational justice is beyond the pale even by 18th century standards.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:37 PM on December 6, 2011


You're saying that if we demilitarized the police we'd need that capability to be in the military instead

The irony is that the military has learned this (again).

(in case you don't click:)
I wanted to know who had taught him to tame a crowd by pointing his rifle muzzle down and having his men kneel. Were those gestures peculiar to Iraq? To Islam? My questions barely made sense to Hughes. In an unassuming, persistent Iowa tone, he assured me that nobody had prepared him for an angry crowd in an Arab country, much less the tribal complexities of Najaf. Army officers learn in a general way to use a helicopter’s rotor wash to drive away a crowd, he explained. Or they fire warning shots. “Problem with that is, the next thing you have to do is shoot them in the chest.” Hughes had been trying that day to get in touch with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a delicate task that the Army considered politically crucial. American gunfire would have made it impossible. The Iraqis already felt that the Americans were disrespecting their mosque. The obvious solution, to Hughes, was a gesture of respect.

Strategists since Sun Tzu have known legitimacy comes from respect and the stronger the coercion the greater the instability. Galula (COIN warfare), Mao, anyone who's experienced and pondered the question of applied violence on crowds has come to pretty much the same conclusions.

So it's not necessarily paranoid to put forth the idea that some elements in leadership are doing this in a deliberate attempt to provoke a response so as to bring down the hammer all the harder (pass harder laws, etc). And I think Chomsky says as much.

But I think it's giving those elements too much credit. They're just idiots subject to the urgings from their twisted gonads.

If it led to a more stable state, I might consider those kinds of tactics valid. I wouldn't condone them, but I'd see the reasonable argument.
As it is, there really isn't one.
Unless they either want less stability or don't care because their focus is on something else.

And I'd have to go with the latter.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:27 PM on December 7, 2011


If it led to a more stable state, I might consider those kinds of tactics valid. I wouldn't condone them, but I'd see the reasonable argument.
As it is, there really isn't one.
Unless they either want less stability or don't care because their focus is on something else.

And I'd have to go with the latter.


If I'm following your argument, I think you've excluded a possible conclusion.

I'm friends with a lot of right-wing authoritarian types and I think that these kind of strong-arm tactics conform to a narrative that they have internalized about human nature. I think there are a lot of people out there who have decided, a priori, that the most effective way to have a peaceful, lawful society is to come down very hard on any infraction. It's a belief that is very hard to dislodge: it is simply how some people think the world works. Evidence to the contrary is simply written off.

Of course, we all do this about some things. We all have those narratives which are precious to us, and which we hold evidence-proof in some way. I think it's unfortunate and sad that this particular narrative legitimates the use of violence.
posted by gauche at 8:15 AM on December 8, 2011


I think there are a lot of people out there who have decided, a priori, that the most effective way to have a peaceful, lawful society is to come down very hard on any infraction. It's a belief that is very hard to dislodge: it is simply how some people think the world works. Evidence to the contrary is simply written off.

I don't think they're concerned with having a peaceful, lawful society. They want to see the guilty punished, and could care less if they get a ticket or the death penalty, as long as they don't personally break any laws, who cares what happens to criminals?
posted by empath at 8:18 AM on December 8, 2011


I don't think they're concerned with having a peaceful, lawful society. They want to see the guilty punished, and could care less if they get a ticket or the death penalty, as long as they don't personally break any laws, who cares what happens to criminals?

That's one way to think about it. I don't prefer to think of it that way, because I think something is lost in ascribing what I perceive as a cavalier attitude to people.

I think that a lot of right-wing authoritarian types live in fear of the state. Actual active fear that the state is coming to get them. (Where this comes from, and whether it is well-founded, I don't know and feel it would be inappropriate to speculate.) I think that this fear expresses itself in a lot of their talk about reducing the size of government, starving the beast, getting rid of job-killing EPA regulations, and so forth.

Now, the authoritarian streak comes up whenever someone else fails to be suitably afraid of the state. Whenever someone fails to live in the fear that my right-wing authoritarian friends live in. By this I mean not only transgressions such as criminal behavior, but also transgressions such as failing to stand in an immigration line for ten years, or walking away from your mortgage or declaring bankruptcy, or collecting welfare. They are perfectly content to see transgressors hurt or humiliated by the state, because it fits into and reinforces their own fears.
posted by gauche at 2:24 PM on December 8, 2011


is to come down very hard on any infraction.

Yeah, I see that too. I suppose my position is more general: their goal is something other than derived from objective observation.
Internally driven.
I've never been able to reconcile that. One would think an authoritarian would be self-disciplined. Not so much.
Although I've met some strange authoritarian folks who really run contrary to stereotype. I knew a pot-smoking hippie-type chick (liked the Grateful Dead. Expressed open admiration for hippie culture) who was a radical authoritarian.
Protested the Iraq war. But really pro-death penalty, anti- ... what, "Bad people" ?
Constantly fighting strawmen.
Could be a combination of fear and anger. Looking for someone to blame and finding a lot of people blame the government, believe in self-determination and strong individuality, go along with that and fail to see the inconsistency in doing so.

Always used to argue against engagement (terrorists, criminals, homeless, whomever).
It's a weird conversation to get into: killing is wrong, because you have to kill the right people, they're bad because they're evil not because of circumstances, criminals are evil but smoking pot is ok because it's a bad law (because if they, in this case she, personally broke the law it was ok, the cops were wrong for enforcing it).

I feel things pretty strongly too. Which is exactly why I (try to) check myself and try to think things through and find reasons beyond a strong feeling for any given conviction.

Some people reverse engineer that. Fit the convictions to the feelings.
Doesn't take a genius to see that's no kind of life.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:56 PM on December 8, 2011


Now, the authoritarian streak comes up whenever someone else fails to be suitably afraid of the state.

Interesting. And replace 'state' with 'god'.
posted by empath at 4:09 AM on December 9, 2011




Another Isolated Incident
posted by homunculus at 11:50 AM on December 11, 2011


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