The Thin Blue Line, and its Alarming Shades of Green. Part 2
Things have actually gotten better. So why are they gearing up for war?
Its been established that crime, both in general and against police directly, has actually been on the decline for a long time. There's been a string of attacks on police that while of course tragic, still do not reflect an overall growing trend of violence. Despite all this President Obama still decided to rescind executive order 13688. Local police agencies now have virtually unlimited access to our armed forces' arsenal once again. But all this equipment isn't going to use itself, so one must assume there are law enforcement officers of some stripe or another ready to use this stuff. But what kind of laws are they going to be enforcing with grenade launchers and machine guns? Are we really training our law enforcement to see the public as the enemy? Why? Events that local law enforcement seem to be gearing up for are well beyond the scope of the day to day, things which in days gone by some federal agency or the National Guard would respond to after measured escalation. They're so on edge they kill 3 of us a day, and the courts support that their fear is reasonable. Enough to almost invariably refuse to bring charges in questionable deaths. So is there a threat we don't know about, or is it really just turning into a police state?
These are hard questions, It's almost surreal to be asking them. This isn't some crackpot theory, these are demonstrable trends. There's no official story, not really. Not one that explains in what kind of America do they expect local law enforcement to need weapons of war to do their job. What's left is conjecture, which is often scarier than reality. People, however begin to take a negative view of police, tension increases. Fears of violence become a self fulfilling prophesy. But for most people, it remains a distant issue. Most people assume it will never happen to them. I suppose you're right if your metric is being outright killed, but law enforcement has other means to end lives. The British Medical Journal has published a study which analyzed 1.2 Million records of police encounters from 2012 resulting in 55,300 hospitalizations. You might be thinking routine checkups following the use of pepper spray or tasers, but the most commonly reported injuries were blunt-force trauma. There were around 1,000 deaths and 1/291 cases analyzed contained a report of violence necessitating hospitalization, 1/11 of those involved a gunshot.
Violence isn't the only thing the police can use to hurt people though. According to the ACLU as of 2009 the US accounted for 5% of global population, yet over 25% of prisoners. Just shy of half for non violent offenses, and around 10% for drug crimes, often marijuana possession.
On the other side, evidence of a trend in violence against police is virtually nonexistent. According to statistics compiled by the Department of Labor you're more likely to be killed tending bar than you are as a law enforcement officer. As far as jobs we expect to be dangerous go, a profession in law enforcement is relatively safe. The average number of police killed on the job has been on a downtrend for 40 years.
Every day there are new videos of people of every stripe, but mostly lower income minority males being brutalized by police, often for minor drug crimes. Once in custody they are also having their rights violated further in the jails they are sent to. Modernized countries around the world look on in horror and disbelief as we allow our Police and Corrections Agencies to trample on the rights they're sworn to protect. Yet we hear more and more about this nonexistent "war on cops." Hundreds of complaints filed daily, resulting in paid leave for accused officers and almost invariably no penalty of any kind. In the rare event an officer is actually prosecuted, sentencing is light. After sentencing, if the officer was terminated, they can go to the next town over and get right back on the force. There is no registry for cops who've been fired for violent tendencies or other red flags. Nothing is being done to stem this tide. Nothing is being done to improve training, create accountability. Officers have no incentive to learn any kind of de-escalation tactics, how to deal with the mentally ill, how to get compliance without violence.
As the saying goes, if the only tool you have is a hammer, every starts to look like a nail. But what do we do? I have my ideas, but there are plenty of successful models already in place all over the world. American Police have killed more people in the last year than all of Western Europe combined in the last 25+ years. Unfortunately, nothing will change until the public takes notice. Recently this issue has been more present in the national conversation, but as usual the debate is narrow and emotionally motivated, rather than fact oriented and solution based. We accept that a young man facing arrest for a non-violent crime might be killed for resisting arrest, a misdemeanor, and then argue about whether or not it was justified. How did we come to the point where we find summary executions for petty crimes to be acceptable? Why do we debate whether the killing of an unarmed person was ok because they did or didn't do this or that? Are we so desensitized to violence? are we so deeply conditioned to view those deemed criminals by society as sub-human, somehow less deserving of the same due process we'd expect for ourselves if we were caught, say, smoking a joint or driving home from the bar after having a couple beers? Or even just not paying a traffic ticket?
Questions for another time. For now, this issue is getting more of the spotlight it needs, but the conversation is still extremely limited in its scope. If police brutality and militarization is a disease then our discussion has been more about the symptoms than the cause, or more importantly the cure. This must change.