Material World: The Military Police
Today, in the USA, its police have come to resemble—in appearance, weaponry, and tactics—infantrymen in the US Army who see certain city districts as war-zones to be occupied and subdued, where the confrontations are described in terms of ‘battles’ in what some politicians say are ‘wars on cops’. The War on Drugs and the War on Terror, many will claim, has created such units as the paramilitary SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams which have gained a reputation for excessive force in their military-style ‘counter-insurgency’ strategies for the inner-city ghettoes.
Many police units are better equipped to fight terrorists in foreign lands than serve and protect civilians at home. Even small-town America is acquiring wartime weaponry. When police are equipped like soldiers, trained to be like soldiers, why are we surprised when they act like soldiers? To expect demonstrators to welcome being confronted by riot-police dressed head-to-toe in military gear, alternatively dispersing them and then kettling and corralling them, is delusional.
Some in the US Congress have long endeavoured to curtail police departments’ access to military equipment which the Defense Department have in abundance and have been providing to the civilian police. Billions of dollars of surplus kit has been supplied to law enforcement agencies. The militarisation of America’s police has been on full display during the widespread protests against the recent killing of George Floyd.
Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, introducing an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to discontinue the 1033 programme that transfers military weaponry to local police departments, explained, ‘It is clear that many police departments are being outfitted as if they are going to war, and it is not working in terms of maintaining the peace.’ Obama had placed limits and restrictions on the transfer of ex-military weapons. Trump rescinded those restrictions in 2017, permitting once again the flow of equipment to police departments such as armoured vehicles.
Research shows that the police are more likely to respond with force when they are the subject of protest, and that they respond more aggressively towards younger crowds and black people than they do towards white and older people. ‘There’s deep resentment on the part of the police that so many people are angry at them, and they’re lashing out,’ said Alex Vitale, a sociologist at Brooklyn College who studies the police response to protest and coordinates the Policing and Social Justice Project.
As Schatz said, ‘it is clear many police departments don’t train and supervise for restraint and de-escalation, and some officers are just plain racist and violent.’
In its 2014 report, ‘AR COMES HOME: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing’ the American Civil Liberties Union contended, ‘American policing has become unnecessarily and dangerously militarized, in large part through federal programs that have armed state and local law enforcement agencies with the weapons and tactics of war, with almost no public discussion or oversight. Using these federal funds, state and local law enforcement agencies have amassed military arsenals purportedly to wage the failed War on Drugs, the battlegrounds of which have disproportionately been in communities of color. But these arsenals are by no means free of cost for communities. Instead, the use of hyper-aggressive tools and tactics results in tragedy for civilians and police officers, escalates the risk of needless violence, destroys property, and undermines individual liberties.’
A 2018 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences supports much of what the ACLU found, in that, ‘Aggressive policing strategies have historically been disproportionately applied to citizens of color in ways that serve to preserve race- and class-based social hierarchies.’ The study also found that ‘militarized policing fails to enhance officer safety or reduce local crime.’
Socialists take a class view of law and order and do not accept the idea that policing is somehow ‘broken’ and is in need of reforms. We do not have a nostalgic memory of a romanticised past with the friendly ‘bobby on the beat’. We look, instead, towards a future society where community harmony can be maintained without the intervention of armed representatives of the state and the abolition of the social conditions which lead to unacceptable disorder and harmful violence.