Turning Policemen Into Soldiers, the Culmination of a Long Trend

By James Fallows

The images from Missouri of stormtrooper-looking police confronting their citizens naturally raises the question: how the hell did we get to this point? When did the normal cops become Navy SEALs? What country is this, anyway?

There will be more and more mainstream coverage of the modern militarization of the police, a phenomenon mainly of the post-9/11 years. For reference/aggregation purposes, here is a guide to further reading:

1) The Book on this topic: Rise of the Warrior Cop, by Radley Balko. It came out a year ago and is more timely now than ever.

2) "Lockdown Nation," a Peter Moskos review of Balko's book last year in PS magazine.

3) "How the War on Terror Has Militarized the Police," an Atlantic dispatch by Arthur Rizer and Joseph Hartman three years ago. 

4) "Tanks in Small Towns," a web item I did in 2011 on signs of this trend, including this photo of a police force in South Carolina:

And this one from a small town in Virginia:

And this from Florida:

5) Some other Atlantic coverage here, here, here

6) Update: An important and well-illustrated report by Matt Apuzzo in the NYT two months ago, called "War Gear Flows to Police Departments." 

7) Update^2: A new report from Alec MacGillis in TNR on how "anti-terrorist" funding from DHS has equipped police forces with this CENTCOM-style war gear.

This Ferguson, Missouri episode is obviously about race, and is (another) occasion for pointing readers to Ta-Nehisi Coates's powerful "Reparations" article. It is also about how we govern ourselves, and about how far the ramifying self-damage of the post-9/11 era has gone.

"Self-damage"? All the literature about terrorism emphasizes that the harm directly done in an attack is nothing compared with the self-destructive reactions it can induce. From Fallujah to Ferguson, that is part of what we're seeing now.

I won't belabor that theme for the moment but will say: Perhaps these incredible police-state-like images will have some attention-focusing or "enough!" effect, like their counterparts from another era (below). Meanwhile, check out Balko's book. 

 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/08/turning-policemen-into-soldiers-the-culmination-of-a-long-trend/376052/