This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Wednesday, March 25, 2015:
For decades it’s been an article of faith among those involved in the freedom fight that Jefferson was right: “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people [for] they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”
The decision by New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie to sign a bill into law that prohibits the continued militarization of local police departments through free gifts of unneeded hardware from Iraq and Afghanistan unless approved by local authorities is simply the end result of years – no, decades – of efforts by many to educate citizens about the dangers such militarization is to their freedom. The fact that the bill passed both houses unanimously just made it easier for Christie to do so.
New Jersey is only the first. Even stronger bills are pending in
Massachusetts, Montana, and Minnesota. And one almost made it in New Hampshire. When the Concord PD accepted a BearCat – an armored personnel carrier – despite enormous public protests with citizens carrying signs saying “More Mayberry, Less Fallujah” and “Thanks But No Tanks!” and a petition drive that gathered more than 1,500 signatures from a town of just over 40,000, the bill offered to prohibit such direct transfers without public approval almost passed.
There is increasing pushback against the militarization of police elsewhere. In Salinas, California, after its police department received a similar vehicle for free, the department received torrents of protests, with one citizen familiar with the potential for the increasing threat to freedom from the nationalization of local police writing on the town’s Facebook page: “When did Salinas turn into a battlefield? I feel the Constitution shredding under my feet!”
In upstate New York’s Jefferson County, the federal gift of a MRAP – a 14-foot high, 44,000 pound Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle designed specifically to withstand IEDs – led to similar angry protests.
Nationalization of local police has been a long-term goal of totalitarians for decades. Remember Civilian Review Boards? Remember the LEAA (the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration)? Thinly disguised efforts to expand federal influence and eventual control over local police, these are now history. Radley Balko, in his book The Rise of the Warrior Cop, published last summer, traced the timeline from the unrest of the 1960s and the subsequent development of SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) unit, followed by Nixon’s War on Drugs, Reagan’s War on Poverty, Clinton’s COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) begun in 1994 and the post 9/11 “security state” under Bush and Obama.
If there was a starting point for the massive federal effort to take over, through free gifts, local police, it would have to be the North Hollywood shooting in 1997. Perhaps not so coincidentally, that was the year that the 1033 program of offering those free gifts was initiated. Two highly trained bank robbers, fully armed with modified automatic weapons and fully dressed in protective body armor, terrorized employees and customers of a bank for 44 minutes. Police officers found their 9mm and .38 special ammunition ineffective in ending the rampage, which only ended after a SWAT unit arrived. Following the shootout, the Department of Defense gave the LAPD 600 surplus M-16 automatic rifles, opening the door to the flood of military equipment now being transferred from battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan to quiet, peaceful, and law-abiding towns and cities in the U.S.
That trickle has become a flood. Since 1997 more than $5 billion worth of military equipment – MRAPs (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles), fully automatic military rifles, grenade launchers, aircraft, watercraft, and ammunition (millions of rounds of it) – have been gobbled up by local law enforcement agencies. The 1033 program has no oversight as the Department of Defense deals directly with each local agency: no discussion, no public comment, no approval, nothing.
It’s obvious what’s happening. As Glen Greenwald, who helped Edward Snowden with his NSA revelations, noted after observing the excessive use of force during the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in 2011: “The police response was so excessive, and so clearly modeled after battlefield tactics, that there was no doubt that deterring domestic dissent is one of the primary aims of police militarization.”
In simple terms, the American citizen is now viewed increasingly as a battlefield opponent, thanks to that militarization. In the early 1970s, there were about 300 SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team raids a year. Today they are estimated to exceed 50,000. Some police departments are using heavy-handed tactics such as delivering and enforcing search warrants with dozens of heavily armed and dressed police carried in MRAP vehicles. In Fairfax, Virginia, that’s all they use. Says the ACLU:
Heavily-armed SWAT teams are raiding people’s homes in the middle of the night, often just to search for drugs … [causing people needlessly to] die during these raids … [and turning neighborhoods] into war zones.
All the while this was happening, however, was an educational campaign against it which began in the mid-1960s with Support Your Local Police (and Keep Them Independent) committees, sponsored by the John Birch Society. The Koch brothers provided funding for many similar educational efforts to think tanks like Cato and the Heritage Foundation, and writers like Balko. As the predictions started coming true, education moved to political action.
So the decision by Christie to sign into a law prohibiting local law enforcement agencies from hoovering the free equipment offered by the feds unless it is approved in advance by local governments was an easy one. That decision is just another confirmation that the freedom fight premise – education first, political action afterwards – as an article of faith, is valid, dependable and predictable. His decision, whether he knows it or not, also proves Jefferson correct.
Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces Paperback – August 26, 2014 by Radley Balko
Wall Street Journal: Senators Criticize Growing Militarization of Local Police Departments
Wall Street Journal: Towns Say ‘No Tanks’ to Militarized Police