The Creeping Militarization of Civil Life

Radley Balko, simply one of the best journalists around, has a new piece up at the Huffington Post on the militarization of domestic police departments, especially since 9/11. Unsurprisingly, the numbers show the terrorist attacks served merely as a pretext for the power-grabbing martial response, which was directed mostly at Americans.

New York magazine reported some telling figures last month on how delayed-notice search warrants — also known as “sneak-and-peek” warrants — have been used in recent years. Though passed with the PATRIOT Act and justified as a much-needed weapon in the war on terrorism, the sneak-and-peek was used in a terror investigation just 15 times between 2006 and 2009. In drug investigations, however, it was used more than 1,600 times during the same period.

…September 11 also brought a new source of funding for military-grade equipment in the Department of Homeland Security. In recent years, the agency has given anti-terrorism grants to police agencies across the country to purchase armored personnel carriers, including such unlikely terrorism targets as Winnebago County, Wisconsin; Longview, Texas; Tuscaloosa County, Alabama; Canyon County, Idaho; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Adrian, Michigan; and Chattanooga, Tennessee. When the Memphis suburb of Germantown, Tennessee — which claims to be one of the safest cities in the country — got its APC in 2006, its sheriff told the local paper that the acquisition would put the town at the “forefront” of homeland security preparedness.

Read the whole piece for all the unsettling details. What Balko also includes is the steady rolling back of the Posse Comitatus Act, which basically prohibits the federal government from using the military for domestic law enforcement. I’ve written before about how US foreign policy towards Latin America diligently prevents there being any such limitations. We strongly encourage and implement drug and law enforcement policies which bolster the military, causing all sorts of trouble for millions of ordinary Latin Americans. But Balko details the slow creep over the past few decades of the militarization of American police.

Another creeping example of the blurring of the lines between the civil criminal sphere and the war zone is the yet-to-be-passed provision in an omnibus Pentagon spending measure that would shift all terrorism cases immediately into the military sphere. Under the law, which will be voted upon later this month, arrested terror suspects would be placed under military custody rather than being left to civilian law enforcement agencies like the FBI.  As written, the measure wouldn’t apply to American citizens, although that was supposed to be the case for Guantanamo too, despite American citizens being held there without civilian trials. If passed, legislation like this is just a first step to expanding such treatment to ordinary Americans for god knows what else.

Update: I should have included (1) the fact that there are thousands of known instances of law breaking by the government in PATRIOT Act law enforcement behavior and (2) the drone war has extended to the drug war as well, perhaps the most spectacular illustration of war-on-terror-induced militarization of almost everything.

  • skulz fontaine

    John? I mean no disrespect to you or Radley Balko. But, Huffington Post? The old 'Huff 'n' Puff' sort of screams disingenuous. However, that's just me and I readily admit that. That Balko writes for Arianna is a non-starter. Thank you however for bringing Balko's words to the pages of Antiwar.com. It's where I feel comfortable. Again, just me…

  • JLS

    Balko is easily one of the top 3 or 4 journalists in America.

  • JLS

    I'll believe this country cares about freeom when they bring the troops home and turn them on the police.

  • Ken

    Thanks to things like the Patriot (sic) Act civil life is becoming increasingly uncivil.

  • Lear K

    Just look this picture of the so America toughest sheriff,Joe Arpaio.And people keep electing him time and time again.They would love to have him run for a prisdent,dictator,of the US.
    http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/photoGallery/index

  • Caveman

    Oh Lawd, Balko is fine. But, he's by no masturbatory stretch of the imagination "one of the top 3 or 4 journalists in America." He's right about 68.2% of the time. That's more or less a deviation of the mean less right than Dove soap.

    • JLS

      Oh idk Cave, seems like the stories he does puts up there with Greenwald, Michael Hastings and guys like that. His story on Corey Maye's imprisonment for killing a cop when the SWAT team wrongfully raided his house and didn't identify themselves got Corey off death row and out of prison in Mississippi! I'd say that one story is more important than 90% of what has been reported in the media this year. Check out his blog if you've nbever read it: http://www.theagitator.com/

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