The police/military

The police in the US have been becoming like the military for quite awhile which is why you can see stuff like this and not blink:

Between 1994 and 2009, 82 police departments and other authorized agencies in Massachusetts received 1,068 military weapons from the DoD—including 486 fully automatic M-16 machine guns and 564 semi-automatic M-14s. While the State Police received the most weapons, departments in towns like Wellfleet, Medford, Duxbury, and Hamilton also obtained machine guns from the military, free of charge.

West Springfield, Massachusetts, population 28,137, got two grenade launchers through the 1033 program.

Massachusetts police departments also received five “peacekeeper armored vehicles” valued at $1 million, 771 vehicles worth more than $11 million, and large marine craft worth $300,000. In 2012, Massachusetts agencies requested equipment worth over $2 million from the DoD, including night vision goggles, binoculars, telescopes, computers, and trucks.

Of course it could also be because we don’t hear about it:

This acquisition of military equipment including powerful weapons happens without a process for public input. A Boston Globereport found that when it surveyed 12 Massachusetts police departments, not one had informed the public that it was getting free military weapons through the 1033 program.

It has also become the new normal:

In 1972, America conducted only a few hundred paramilitary drug raids a year, according to Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” By the early nineteen-eighties, there were three thousand a year; by 2001, Alexander notes, the annual count had skyrocketed to forty thousand. Today, even that number seems impossibly low; with one annual count of combat-style home raids hovers around eighty thousand. (The title of Alexander’s book reflects the racially disparate impacts of these policies.)

Of course, this isn’t the only crazy part of the war on drugs:

n a bright Thursday afternoon in 2007, Jennifer Boatright, a waitress at a Houston bar-and-grill, drove with her two young sons and her boyfriend, Ron Henderson, on U.S. 59 toward Linden, Henderson’s home town, near the Texas-Louisiana border. They made the trip every April, at the first signs of spring, to walk the local wildflower trails and spend time with Henderson’s father. This year, they’d decided to buy a used car in Linden, which had plenty for sale, and so they bundled their cash savings in their car’s center console. Just after dusk, they passed a sign that read “Welcome to Tenaha: A little town with BIG Potential!”

They pulled into a mini-mart for snacks. When they returned to the highway ten minutes later, Boatright, a honey-blond “Texas redneck from Lubbock,” by her own reckoning, and Henderson, who is Latino, noticed something strange. The same police car that their eleven-year-old had admired in the mini-mart parking lot was trailing them. Near the city limits, a tall, bull-shouldered officer named Barry Washington pulled them over.

He asked if Henderson knew that he’d been driving in the left lane for more than half a mile without passing.

No, Henderson replied. He said he’d moved into the left lane so that the police car could make its way onto the highway.

Were there any drugs in the car? When Henderson and Boatright said no, the officer asked if he and his partner could search the car.

The officers found the couple’s cash and a marbled-glass pipe that Boatright said was a gift for her sister-in-law, and escorted them across town to the police station. In a corner there, two tables were heaped with jewelry, DVD players, cell phones, and the like. According to the police report, Boatright and Henderson fit the profile of drug couriers: they were driving from Houston, “a known point for distribution of illegal narcotics,” to Linden, “a known place to receive illegal narcotics.” The report describes their children as possible decoys, meant to distract police as the couple breezed down the road, smoking marijuana. (None was found in the car, although Washington claimed to have smelled it.)

The county’s district attorney, a fifty-seven-year-old woman with feathered Charlie’s Angels hair named Lynda K. Russell, arrived an hour later. Russell, who moonlighted locally as a country singer, told Henderson and Boatright that they had two options. They could face felony charges for “money laundering” and “child endangerment,” in which case they would go to jail and their children would be handed over to foster care. Or they could sign over their cash to the city of Tenaha, and get back on the road. “No criminal charges shall be filed,” a waiver she drafted read, “and our children shall not be turned over to CPS,” or Child Protective Services.

“Where are we?” Boatright remembers thinking. “Is this some kind of foreign country, where they’re selling people’s kids off?” Holding her sixteen-month-old on her hip, she broke down in tears.

and:

Another case involves a monthly social event that had been hosted by the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit. In the midst of festivities one evening in late May, 2008, forty-odd officers in black commando gear stormed the gallery and its rear patio, ordering the guests to the ground. Some in attendance thought that they were the victims of an armed robbery. One young woman who had fallen only to her knees told me that a masked figure screamed at her, “Bitch, you think you’re too pretty to get in the mud?” A boot from behind kicked her to the ground. The officers, including members of the Detroit Police Department’s vice squad and mobile tactical unit, placed the guests under arrest. According to police records, the gallery lacked proper city permits for after-hours dancing and drinking, and an old ordinance aimed at “blind pigs” (speakeasies) and other places of “illegal occupation” made it a crime to patronize such a place, knowingly or not.

After lining the guests on their knees before a “prisoner processing table” and searching them, the officers asked for everyone’s car keys. Then the raid team seized every vehicle it could find, even venturing to the driveway of a young man’s friend nearly a mile away to retrieve his car. Forty-four cars were taken to government-contracted lots.

Most of those detained had to pay more than a thousand dollars for the return of their cars; if payment wasn’t made promptly, the car would become city property. The proceeds were divided among the offices of the prosecutors, police, and towing companies. After the A.C.L.U. filed a suit against the city, a district court ruled that the raid was unconstitutional, and noted that it reflected “a widespread practice” by the police in the area. (The city is appealing the ruling.) Vice statutes have lent themselves to such forfeiture efforts; in previous years, an initiative targeted gay men for forfeiture, under Detroit’s “annoying persons” ordinance. Before local lawyers challenged such practices, known informally as “Bag a Fag,” undercover officers would arrest gay men who simply returned their glances or gestures, if the signals were deemed to have sexual connotations, and then, citing “nuisance abatement,” seize their vehicles.

But this is what makes this case a different level of crazy:

NEMLEC, a group of 58 police and sheriff departments in Middlesex and Essex counties, receives government grants and taxpayers’ dollars to purchase high-tech equipment, and oversees several operational units. One of these units, the SWAT team, uses armored vehicles, automatic weapons, and combat gear to carry out military-style operations, such as forced entries and high-risk arrests.

NEMLEC operates as a regional law enforcement unit, yet when the ACLU of Massachusetts requested records from NEMLEC, the agency responded that it is a private, non-profit organization, wholly exempt from public records laws.

That’s right, the SWAT teams claim they are not a public agency (and my city of Malden is part of the organization). Hey wait because:

“Private individuals can’t own automatic weapons, or even get product information about armored vehicles,” Rossman said.

it means that the SWAT teams are an organized criminal organization and that means we can seize their assets.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Ferguson and the police/military | Petunias

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