In Radley Balko's important book, "The Rise of the Warrior Cop," he writes that since the 1960s, "law-enforcement agencies across the U.S., at every level of government, have been blurring the line between police officer and soldier. Driven by martial rhetoric and the availability of military-style equipment—from bayonets and M-16 rifles to armored personnel carriers—American police forces have often adopted a mind-set previously reserved for the battlefield. The war on drugs and, more recently, post-9/11 antiterrorism efforts have created a new figure on the U.S. scene: the warrior cop—armed to the teeth, ready to deal harshly with targeted wrongdoers, and a growing threat to familiar American liberties."
Before this transformation, even the most egregiously abusive police officers were dressed and outfitted like civilian lawmen. The image above, for example, is a statue in Birmingham, Alabama, meant to capture the essence of Civil Rights-era police abuses.
With that in mind, take a look at the powerful photograph that Whitney Curtis took for The New York Times in the Missouri towns where residents are protesting the killing of an 18-year-old shot to death by police as he walked to a convenience store. As I write this item, the image is leading the newspaper's Web site:
Of course, not every police officer in Ferguson is dressed that way.