Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Arming the Law, War on Patrol

I feel ill-equipped and far too ill-informed to discuss the crisis that has descended upon Ferguson, Missouri when any pithy insight. There are far better places than this to learn of the events taking place there and the abuse of the state towards its citizens. There is an underlying thread; that the militarization of police forces have had a severe impact on the ability of police forces to deliver services effectively.

The disproportionate force and dehumanizing qualities of advanced military hardware should be a chilling lesson not just to citizens but to governments and police services themselves. Body armour, polymer shields, assault weapons, and armoured vehicles may serve to protect the bodies of law enforcement but it also has the negative impact of distancing themselves from the public. I am (generally-speaking) a law-abiding citizen. I am male, and come from a middle-class background and while I have Indian Status most people who see me would assume that I am white and I have been treated as such my whole life. I say this by way of saying that with all my innate privileges and the fact that for so many centuries power structures have worked in favour of people just like me, I am intimidated to speak to a police officer in uniform.

Law enforcement officers are naturally intimidating. Even in their regular uniforms and vest, with a well concealed sidearm they naturally project a sense of authority, or power, and fear or hesitation is a natural response. This was never made clearer for me than when I met people I had known for many years in uniform on patrol and my feelings were suddenly very conflicted about them.

The addition of drawn heavy weapons, helmets, and all the other ephemera of a modern military strapped onto a police force makes them instantly antagonistic. Even removed from the racial/class conflict of the United States, the G20 protests in Toronto not so many years ago are a symbol of similar problem.

Uniforms obscure the human being beneath them. As a result common citizens feel removed from, and vaguely intimidated, by police. This is a healthy and normal response, but when mixed with intergenerational problems these symbols can become toxic.

There is a serious question over whether or not police forces are bloated, and funding is misallocated. No politician ever lost an election promising more men and women in uniform or increasing their funding, but the fundamental use of that funding and how policing is carried out seems relatively stagnant. Not every police department should be ready to respond to riots and urban warfare, being prepared for it almost seems to doom it into being.

Oddly enough I wish to end on a quote I saw on social media from a science fiction program. “There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.”

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