It’s critical to appreciate the history of policing, to understand that what we now see as normal and inescapable wasn’t always the case. For most of our history, this country did not have a group of people with shields and guns who wandered the streets ordering people about. The fall from grace, If you perceive it as I do, came fast and hard.
American attitudes toward police were built on images of Andy Griffith, strolling the streets of Mayberry to save random cats and, an allusion Radley employs, serving as guest umpire in the occasional baseball game. Good. Honest, One of us. This was the police officer upon whom we relied, and the one we pictured as we told our children that they were here to help us; they were our friend.
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The book contains required caveat number 3, mentioned numerous times that this is not an anti-cop book. And indeed, Radley pays homage to those within law enforcement who recognized the developing schism between police and the public that would lead us to blur the line between soldier fighting a foreign enemy on the battlefield and police fighting a domestic enemy on the streets of America, using the same clothing, weapons and attitudes.
There’s certainly a lot of overlap between the war on drugs and police militarization. But if we go back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were two trends developing simultaneously. The first was the development and spread of SWAT teams. Darryl Gates started the first SWAT team in L.A. in 1969. By 1975, there were 500 of them across the country. They were largely a reaction to riots, violent protest groups like the Black Panthers and Symbionese Liberation Army, and a couple mass shooting incidents, like the Texas clock tower massacre in 1966.
At the same time, Nixon was declaring an “all-out war on drugs.” He was pushing policies like the no-knock raid, dehumanizing drug users and dealers, and sending federal agents to storm private homes on raids that were really more about headlines and photo-ops than diminishing the supply of illicit drugs.
But for the first decade or so after Gates invented them, SWAT teams were largely only used in emergency situations. There usually needed to be an immediate, deadly threat to send the SWAT guys. It wasn’t until the early 1980s under Reagan that the two trends converged, and we started to see SWAT teams used on an almost daily basis — mostly to serve drug warrants.
Unfortunately, it seems that the future Aldous Huxley predicted in 1932, in Brave New World, is arriving early. Mockery, truculence, and minimalist living are best, then enjoy the decline. However, we do need a Revolving Door Tax (RDT), learn what Members of Congress pay in taxes, and prosecute politicians and staff and their “family and friends” who profit from insider trading.