Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Other Side of the Gun Control Debate

First of all, I'm not going to talk about Newtown.  It was a tragedy that resulted a year ago in the killing of twenty children, and was followed by the abomination of lobbying that has prevented -- a year later -- the gun control that the American people were calling for.

And I'm not here to talk about the "other side" of the debate that pretends to make the 2nd Amendment about a right handed down by God and our founding fathers for all of us to be able to be armed to the teeth.

The other side of the argument that all us citizens need to be armed has a great deal to do with how armed our police have become.  While we weren't looking, we went from the creation of well trained SWAT teams to be used in cases of extreme threat to small town SWAT teams with military weaponry and little training who are very excited about using their new toys.

We're not talking about breaking into houses that hold caches of weapons, nor are we talking about busting large drug cartels, although we hear plenty about it on the rare occasion that it happens.  The invasions into private homes today are nearly always about finding small amounts of drugs, often for private use, or breaking up friendly poker games.  Damage is done to homes, pets are shot.  The terror is coming, today, from our own police forces.

And far too often, those SWAT raids happen at the wrong address, or with misinformation that has not been adequately corroborated.

We hear about our police on the front lines risking their lives as though our neighborhoods were war zones.  We have come to accept that innocents can be harassed, homes broken into, without warrants, without warning, because otherwise drugs might be flushed, guns might be used against the police in the time it takes to assure citizens their rights.

Community policing should be, and once was, intended to be a friendly police presence in the community.  Today it has become an "us against them" mentality, wherein the police in the community need to be on the lookout for all of us citizens, who may be breaking the law.  The crimes we are suspected of range from carrying dope to looking like an illegal immigrant.

We may be thinking that "stop and frisk" is on its way out in New York, but that remains to be seen.  Despite the polite phraseology, Arizona's "papers, please" law has resulted in increased harassment by and fear of the local police.

A few years ago, my daughter, then an undergraduate at a university in another state, commented that while there were unsolved rapes in the college community, police presence was high but more often associated with random stops for suspicion of driving under the influence than for preventing dangerous criminal activity.  And where the police force has a SWAT team, while bulletproof vests and military weaponry might allow some police to feel safer, they are likely to use that force against small or questionable crimes.  If all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.  

Radley Balko has written quite a bit about the militarization of our police.  His book, The Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces,  is extensively researched and an essential component in understanding America's fixation on fire power.  We may all believe that the police need that weaponry to protect themselves from criminals, but what if the criminals are perceived to be us?  What is the cost, in lives, in quality of life, in dollars, to protect police whose primary duty once was to protect us?

As the police escalate their war against those suspected criminals among us, the pressure is on to defend ourselves, isn't it?  Maybe the solution to all this obsession with guns and defense is a de-escalation on both sides.

What?  You think I'm being paranoid?  Overreacting?  How about a $658,000 armored vehicle designed to "protect SWAT team officers... from dangerous confrontations?"  You may think we don't need one here, but now that Columbia has one, maybe Charleston is next in line.  After all, here in South Carolina we may not want those federal Medicaid dollars, but you never know when you might need a tank to break up one of those illegal poker games.

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