Much of the coverage of the Michael Brown shooting and the borderline psychotic reaction by the local police has focused, justifiably, on the increasing militarization of podunk police forces across the country. The rest of us have been talking about this since the tsunami of surplus hardware started flowing during W's second term, but to the country at large (and media) this is a new phenomenon. Certainly there is some need in major metropolitan areas for a wider array of hardware. The NYPD, for example, should probably have a bigger selection of vehicles and tools than the Pigsknuckle, AR police force simply because the former is going to deal with a much larger and more complex variety of situations. But now we are seeing the consequences of making military hardware available – essentially for free – to anyone who wants it. Turns out that the people who want it also want to use it. Shocking, really, to see that a gaggle of yahoos who thought they needed Mine Resistant armored vehicles and .50 cal sniper rifles to patrol strip malls are eager play with their toys.

Many current and ex-military commentators have noted that "militarized" is a misnomer to describe the police in Ferguson, as the actual military is better trained, better organized, and operates under stricter rules of engagement. They also note that those cops were armed with and wearing far more "toys" than actual soldiers wore to do foot patrols in Iraq. The deadly farce looked bad enough to actually shock a few normally complacent or cop-loving portions of the public. It looked like exactly what it was – a bunch of out of control adolescent bullies playing soldier and showing off that they hadn't a clue what they were doing. That's how you end up with a guy dressed like GI Joe sitting atop a vehicle with a SR-25 sharpshooting rifle (unit cost to the Pentagon: $6000). If the cops actually thought or expected that they would get fired upon, what kind of idiot would sit on top of the truck out in the open? A big one. Or one who knows he isn't actually going to be fired upon and simply wants to intimidate people.


The dead giveaway that the problem in Ferguson is one of the mindset of law enforcement, and that police militarization is indeed a serious problem more broadly, is the widespread wearing of camouflage by the officers. Of what conceivable practical use could green or desert camouflage be in a suburban environment? Gonna help you blend in with the Taco Bell or the liquor store? Even if they did wear something that helped conceal them, that would be counterproductive to the entire purpose of policing in a situation like that; law enforcement wants to be visible to act as a deterrent to violent or property crimes in a public disturbance. There is only one reason those cops would wear camo, and it has nothing to do with practicality. It is an integral part of playing out their Soldier fantasy. It "looks cool." It makes them feel tougher and act more boldly. It cements the idea that they are not cops responsible to Serve & Protect the public; they are soldiers fighting The Enemy, and The Enemy is everyone else.

It is facile to say that "some good" may come of the young man's death if it leads to meaningful law enforcement reform. These events do seem like a tipping point, though, to bring together the Rand Paul right and the Maybe Stop Killing Black Men left to pare back the level of aggression, violence, and firepower used by police across the country. The pipeline of free military hand-me-downs is certain to be curtailed or at least subject to a higher degree of scrutiny, and the question of why cops can have $25,000 worth of body armor and weapons on their person but not a cheap, tiny microphone and/or camera.

PS: Anecdotally, an Afghanistan veteran friend told me that in two tours, he never once leveled (pointed) his weapon at anyone who had not already fired at him, which isn't a surprise given that the Army has actual rules of engagement. Go through the photos and videos from Ferguson and count how many instances you see of a podunk cop pointing a rifle at an unarmed person. I found at least a dozen and I didn't look very hard.

31 thoughts on “TOY SOLDIERS”

  • It's interesting that local governments can easily come up with whatever cash is necessary to purchase these over the top pieces of equipment, however cannot find it in the budget to actually train their officers in how to police. Even more to the point, ever notice that Pigsknuckle AR can acquire this crap, but has no money for pensions and insurance. Funny that.

  • US in the UK says:

    i know that guy in the picture.

    Well, not *that* guy but, you know, *that guy*. I grew up with him in TN and AL in the late 80's and early 90's and we parted ways at about the of 4 years of extended adolescence (formally: College). When I'm back in town visiting Ma and Paw Corn, we run into each other at the local waterhole and it's exactly what you think it is going be like.

    "De-militariaing" the local police ain't gonna squish what you are seeing. It'll just find another way to manifest. Black people, unions, state employees, moochers, sympathizers, weaklings, wimen, … this group needs to feel powerful and if it isn't playing weekend warrior, it'll be weekend subjugator somehow.

    IOW, it's a deep cultural thing that will have to burn itself out or be extinguished across the board. And since this group has significant political presence, we'll have to just wait it out.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Our MIC convinced our military that it needs to hand-over their old shit to local cops, so that they can sell new shit to our military.

    And you can't really blame the boys and girls in the local police for wanting to play with their new toys.
    It's human nature.
    So, apparently, is bullying.

    And if you're "white," you're alright, but if you're brown, you're just begging to be put down – literally.

  • Remembering some of the coverage of 1968, kinda' makes one miss the old Mayor Daley… his police didn't seem to need military hardware, does it make the Ferguson police seem just a bit uh, lacking?

  • @ Xynzee, Mike S.

    Regardless of who's making the decision, it's evidence of some twisted decision-making.

  • The Lucchese crime family will properly train each police force after Randal Howard Paul privatizes them. We'll go from collective loose cannons to hired guns.

  • "These events do seem like a tipping point, though, to bring together the Rand Paul right and the Maybe Stop Killing Black Men left to pare back the level of aggression, violence, and firepower used by police across the country."

    I'm not optimistic. Only two months ago, loudmouth left-wing congressman Alan Grayson introduced an amendment to partially defund the program that gives away military hardware to police forces. It got beat by 62-355, with the entire leadership of both parties voting against. But maybe Rand Paul's forces can put it over the top this time, seeing as how this is the Libertarian Mome- pffft snnx oh god i can't mmph pfhaa ha haha haaaaa

  • I haven't seen anyone mention this elsewhere, but what struck me about the Ferguson PD's show of force was that it wasn't a police move at all. It was a gang move: let's intimidate the opposition. The undeniable fact that they view the community they're supposed to be responsible for as enemies that only comprehend force is reason enough to fire all of 'em.

  • One thing that's left out of most discussion of the Feds arming local police is that the law authorizing this program REQUIRES police to use the equipment within one year or forfeit it. It also, of course, provides no training.

  • Interesting article in NYTimes discussing how the war on drugs is behind much of this.

    That introduced "productivity" metrics — lots of arrests no matter on what pretext — which gets the police department lots of funding.

    Unsurprisingly, police departments get a lot less finicky about due process.

    Sounds like calls for "productivity" combined with the money chase work about as well for policing as they do for teaching.

  • Why are there no Open Carry advocates or militia members pointing guns back at the cops? Is it because the toy aisle at Target is still too dangerous?

  • Hey Ted, dead on.

    Ferguson PD's show of force was that it wasn't a police move at all. It was a gang move: let's intimidate the opposition.

    A thuggish mentality comes with the reactionary mind, like catsup on fries?

    Respect Mah Authority!

  • @Whatever: I believe the open carry laws are for white people only. This is understood by all parties involved.

  • This is pure thuggery by the P.D. There is crowd control and there is wannabe specials ops podunk hillbillies. Having had lived in New Orleans for the better part of two decades I have seen what well organized police can do to control a crowd of people looking to misbehave. This is so well far beyond peaceful protesters it is not even in the ballpark.
    It is surely already resonating within me that this is very far from the last time this will happen. This year….. This month……?

  • Good point about training. I got yelled at a great deal for pointing this out about the police in response to the Boston marathon bombing. When dozens of cops cought up to the brothers car, they unleashed a barrage for over a minute. The result was they killed one brother, shot one of their own and the other brother (armed with a pistol) and his car, were still in shape to leave. As former army, to shoot without acquiring a target is a big no no.

  • My neighbor’s daughter is a uniformed police officer in an aging suburb. He believes that the police need and deserve all the military equipment they can get, or they are needlessly vulnerable. I told him I disagree, but I can appreciate his particular viewpoint.

  • The principle difference is one of philosophy: military service members wage war. They wear camo to avoid being targeted. Police officers keep the peace. They wear highly visible uniforms so people can spot them immediately and approach them for assistance.

    I understand that a display of power is a usual tool when riots are expected. Showing a big stick can make people thing twice before moving into mob mode. But when you are *guaranteed* to turn a peaceful protest into a fight by showing up and acting the ass, the outcome is in your hands. When police incite the riot, they are acting illegally.

    "Thin Blue Line" my eye. Police everywhere need to condemn the actions of the Ferguson PD, the biggest gang on the street. Most of the cops I grew up with were friendly guys who helped folks who got stuck in the snow or locked their keys in their cars. There were as many wife-beating, ex-stalking, drunk-driving big swinging dicks, of course. But the good people in the police forces need to put down the bazookas, remember their oaths, and get their shitheels under control. Their silence makes them collaborators.

  • Two Below Says:

    "My neighbor’s daughter is a uniformed police officer in an aging suburb. He believes that the police need and deserve all the military equipment they can get, or they are needlessly vulnerable. I told him I disagree, but I can appreciate his particular viewpoint."

    At this point his viewpoint is one of a gang member. Society giving respect to a viewpoint which boils down to 'we should get away with anything we want' is what's got us to this point.

  • Yeah, "productivity metrics." You know, there's a whole field of experiment design, including a subspecialty in mathematics. It's not easy to design an experiment that will test the hypothesis you want to verify. We can see from the "school reform" swindlers how data that has no valid relation to the hypothesis is sometimes sold like snake oil as a solution to an entirely unrelated problem. So teachers are evaluated based on the scores their students get on tests which may or may not validly measure particular areas of knowledge. Policemen are evaluated on how many citations they issue, which may have no relation to how well they prevent offenses. Running government like a business isn't sensible in the first place, but it does seem to divert a lot of money to certain grifters.

  • @Barry says

    My neighbor's view point is clearly distinguishable from that of a gang member in motivation alone. Your comparison is strained.

  • Sheriff Andy Taylor knew how to keep this tendency in check – he only allowed Deputy barney Fife to have one bullet for his (boring old) revolver, and he had to keep it in his shirt pocket.

    If clothes truly make the man, then all these cops should be required to go back to blue or tan uniforms and hats, and ditch the Halloween costumes and props.

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  • Where in the law does it say cops are immune and above the law? It's the 'one law for me, another for thee' that's the real problem. If I point a gun at someone, that's assault with a deadly weapon, and I go to prison, not jail. If a cop does it, that's considered all in a day's work. WTF? Look at the front of the Supreme Court building, it says 'Equality before the law', but apparently they don't mean it.

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