The local news and internet sites have been rife with images that taken independently seem a matter of course. However, looked at cumulatively a different story might emerge. The images are of men and material of an increasingly military nature being acquired by law enforcement agencies across the country. The events in Ferguson, Missouri over the last week might be illustration number one of a shifting future of law enforcement in America
Traditionally, the policeman has been an admirable position in American society. The baby boom generation of the fifties were taught that to aspire to be a policeman or fireman was a respected career goal; a worthy “pillar of society” type of occupation. In the rather non-existent labyrinths of small town and quiet suburbia of the fifties, the local cops were likely known on a first name basis and were frequently involved in many community activities. The role of service was primary in such occupations, therefore deemed admirable.
But in the sixties, things shifted. Mass protests, initially centered on the rights of minorities, but soon to light upon a wide variety of issues including the Vietnam War, drugs, changing definitions of acceptable social behavior and so on engulfed the nation. The policeman was no longer seen as the revered civil servant but as a despised symbol of “the Man”. The rising violence associated with widespread civil unrest forced law enforcement into changing perspective on methods and tactics. The image of the small town cop gave way to the helmet and shield carrying riot control officer.
Fast forward to the last decade or so and we see a further emergence of a new paradigm of police enforcement. Surplus military equipment and substantial tactical vehicles and equipment are becoming commonplace in larger police departments. Armored personnel carriers and even tanks are proudly displayed as emblems of police strength and prowess. The old Smith and Wesson Model 10 pistol is replaced by sniper rifles and even machine guns. Meanwhile, civil unrest has not subsided over the years, but raises its head regularly. Ferguson is the latest in a long line of violent response to perceived injustice. Names such as Treyvon Martin, Rodney King and many others dot the landscape of violent protest.
The equipment of an emerging police state in America is on clear display. Not just in Ferguson, Missouri during violent unrest, but in internet postings and on the sites of major police agencies in even the calmest of times. Many agencies now have the tools and equipment to impose substantial power and control on their communities if necessary. And the problem with giving men in authority nothing but hammers, especially in an Obama driven era of bigger and more overbearing government, is that they eventually assume they should treat everything as a nail.
And that is a state of affairs that no freedom loving citizen should find acceptable. Such images should not be taken as a matter of course, but as a matter of great concern, whether sympathies lay with the officers or the citizens. The display in Ferguson may only be a beginning.