This week, Trump has rolled back the ban on the federal government providing surplus military equipment to local police departments that the Obama Administration put in place after the Ferguson backlash.
It might surprise you to learn that this was a measure by Obama that I supported at the time it happened. Believe it or not, I was disgusted by the Ferguson Police Department’s hamfisted response to the protests that broke out after the Michael Brown shooting and was even initially sympathetic to Black Lives Matter and its cause. It disappointed me to see that the various militia groups (who usually have their shit together) were uniformly on the side of the police instead of protecting the rights of the protesters. Remember that this was happening at about the same time as the Bundy Ranch standoff.
Over time, my attitude toward BLM changed. I lost respect for them because of the Ferguson riots and their application of the obnoxious and dangerous “freeway blocking” protest tactic, among other things. Even though I think their original cause was a good one, they managed to lose my goodwill by their own conduct.
Still, I was–and remain–leery about militarized police departments. Not only do I think it’s un-American for police departments to even present the appearance of being an occupying force in our neighborhoods, I find it distressing that some police officers seem to literally think this is the role they should hold.
There are problems I have with modern policing. I think cops place too much emphasis on “officer safety” at the expense of “public safety”. No, I don’t want to see police officers die or get hurt for the sake of every crackhead who’s waving a knife around, but I also believe that a society such as ours shouldn’t tolerate law enforcement using extreme force in situations that clearly don’t require it when there’s a good chance that an innocent will be harmed.
I also think that police officers are far too reliant on their firearms and lack confidence in empty hand and conflict resolution techniques. That they behave this way is not a reflection on the bravery of your average police officer, in my opinion. Instead, it’s simply the product of the bad doctrine that’s being propagated at police academies all over the country. They’re being taught that they should not risk injury to themselves at all costs and the doctrine favors this approach in even the most ludicrous circumstances. They’re taught to fear the people they’re supposed to be serving and protecting. This is how you end up seeing unarmed people getting gunned down by jumpy cops in routine traffic stops.
I suppose some people might look at the recent civil brawls in places like Charlottesville and Berkeley as examples of why police departments need more advanced weaponry and equipment. I don’t. If anything, I think those incidents are more indicative of police departments learning the wrong lessons from Ferguson. It’s even a byproduct of the “Ferguson Effect”. The police are terrified to take a hard line against rioters because they’re afraid of how they’ll look when video gets uploaded to YouTube by witnesses and rioters. They’ve foolishly gone to the opposite extreme and seem to be content to allow all hell to break loose through inaction rather than risk bad publicity through over-reaction. This approach is wrong too, of course, and giving them infantry fighting vehicles isn’t going to make it better.
Above all else, any police officer who is so afraid of the community in which he patrols that he thinks he needs a tank should find another career. The president shouldn’t be feeding this attitude, but he’s made being “tough on crime” due to fear about the perceptions of increasing violent crime a centerpiece of his presidency.
Police departments do not need better toys. They need better rules.