The law enforcement profession has changed. No longer a friendly, neighborly kind of job, the human resources of a police officer have increasingly been directed toward military-style tactics within an antagonistic mindset, in which heavily-armed cops are “the good guys” and residents of targeted neighborhoods are viewed as opponents, in combat zones which encompass entire neighborhoods. Despite statistics showing violent crime going down nationwide, law enforcement officers call for more expensive body armor and more lethal weapons. And they get them, courtesy of the federal government. This, according to Radley Balko’s timely and alarming exposé, is the rise of the warrior cop.
The change has its roots, unsurprisingly, in the drug war. In the 1930s, when vast waves of Southern blacks began migrating en masse into Northern urban areas, Northern newspapers became hysterical. Editorial pages warned of the “cocaine-crazed Negro” who used the infamous stimulant to make him impervious to the bullets of standard-issue police handguns and police chiefs publicly lamented that they lacked the equipment to keep white communities safe from the dark menace. And just like magic, urban police departments won appropriations for new .38-caliber handguns which packed a more lethal punch than their previous revolvers. It was a salient lesson in the power of public relations.
Although the myth of the “cocaine-crazed Negro” appears obviously fictional today, the basic narrative has changed little in modern times. SWAT, a more recent milestone in the rise of the warrior cop, grew in popularity during the supposed “crack menace” of the 1980s, which saw a rise in gang-related violence to control the trade of a crack cocaine. Soon, SWAT teams began appearing in police departments throughout the country, even in cities which had experienced no significant problems with the crack trade; and even as cocaine use has declined in the U.S., SWAT-style tactics have become more common.
Today, the problem is exacerbated by federal grants which finance the purchase of military-style equipment in exchange for arrest numbers and by military stress orientations for new police officers which set an antagonistic tone right from the gate for anyone who signs up to “support their community.” While there are many good cops serving in the U.S. who bravely put their lives on the line every day, Balko’s book blows the whistle on the system-wide incentives which constantly encourage those good cops to mistake their beloved communities for a hive of enemy combatants. A must read for any lover of liberty.
First appeared in Issue 9 of Cannabis Now Magazine.
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