police militarization

Why wasn’t anyone talking about police militarization?

Paul Waldman recently wrote a piece at the Washington Post asking a a reasonable question: where is the libertarian outcry against the overbearing use of police force? At face value, his commentary seems very illuminating: the tragedy in Ferguson shocked all reasonable people into consciousness, and we can’t hear the libertarians doing the same, so they must be unreasonable.

If you talked about police militarization before this tragedy, you would be considered somewhere on the spectrum of paranoid conspiracy nuts molded from the same clay as Alex Jones, especially if you identified as a libertarian. The reason that libertarians didn’t seem to adjust their focus to accommodate for Ferguson is because their focus was already there. Everyone else has since moved into this territory, previously occupied only by those conspiracy mongering weirdos.

Simply by googling “police militarization libertarian” and constraining the search for results from before August 9th to a few years back, we get a treasure trove of now embarrassing snark aimed at ostensibly paranoid and reactionaries. Here’s a great one that spends a majority of the article building the case that a Radley Balko is hopeless reactionary puppet, a racist and not a real journalist. Eventually, there is a payoff to this buildup, when Balko takes the side of a man who defended himself against armed, militarized police engaging in a drug bust. The Alternet writers practically roll their eyes at the assertion that this man may have saved his own life by defending himself, and imply that the libertarian noise surrounding police militarization is just paranoia that is attendant upon Balko’s reactionary beliefs. If this same dismissal of police militarization and the right of a black man to defend himself against such militarization were called into question today, you would be called a racist.

You’d probably be someone who watches Fox News, too. In an odd coincidence, libertarian John Stossel warned against the militarization of police in a piece posted on Fox only two weeks before the Michael Brown’s death-by-cop. He isn’t caught up in his own libertarian headspace, either. Stossel makes the point as diplomatically as possible in the title, earnestly trying to appeal across the political spectrum:

It’s healthy for conservatives, libertarians and liberals alike to worry about the militarization of police. Conservatives worry about a repeat of incidents like the raids on religious radicals at Ruby Ridge and Waco, Texas. Liberals condemn police brutality like the recent asphyxiation death of a suspect at the hands of police in New York….

This is a rare issue where I agree with left-wing TV host Bill Maher. On his TV show last week, Maher ranted about no-knock raids “breaking up poker games, arresting low-level pot dealers.”

Going a little further back to April 22, a Libertarian Party official in Michigan rallies civilians to sign a petition against the local police being supplied with military equipment. As you might have guessed, the petition ended up doing nothing. Libertarians tried to make as much noise as they could, but nobody really heard them. This is something that libertarians are used to, but everyone else seems to have a selective understanding of just how small of a soapbox the libertarians actually have. The signal to noise ratio between those who cared about police militarization pre-Ferguson and the paranoid isn’t very high. Remember when the DHS had practice targets of children? Take a look at the bizarre comments on that article. Whether it’s conspiracy mongers or johnny-come-lately activists, you can count on the libertarian voice being drowned out.

Violence as a matter of scale

It’s interesting what happens when you see two nations, diverse and distinct as they can be, interact. A minor hostile interaction can tend to escalate very quickly if you let it. When all you have is emotions and pure instinct to go by, a slight can become a fistfight very quickly. That goes with people. Communities. Nations.

Conflict takes a lot to inspire these days, but it’s far easier to incite it as the number of people you need to provoke grows ever smaller. It’s made all the more so when you see the other as not just some other person, but as something else. If you think that Other person isn’t respecting you and your space in that moment, what do you do? Are you calm enough to let it slide? Do you run away, as some would argue here? Or do you fight?

It’s admittedly strange to compare violent conflicts of recent, especially because the reasons and methods are so diverse, and because sounds so simplistic. But applying the economics of scale, you become more appreciative of what is happening from a holistic perspective, even you don’t have a complete understanding of things. In two such conflicts, the lack of clarity makes a comparison apt. When you have two distinct groupings, clarity is beyond important when a mistake is made in interaction. Sometimes, that requires patience.

Three teenagers kidnapped and killed. Or maybe they were killed already, and the butchers had made a large mess in the clear-up. Or maybe they were kidnapped and accidentally killed. The killers are (not) state-mandated terrorists. Or they’re (not) militants associated with the government. Or they’re (not) just a bunch of morons with AK-47s and some unabashed sense of righteousness. Or the leadership admitted their (non) role in the situation.

A teenager is shot and killed. Maybe he was (not) a suspect in a robbery. Maybe he was (not) reaching for a cop’s a gun. Maybe he was (not) picking a fight. Maybe he just said (did not say) “fuck off, pig” with his hands up. The cop’s a rookie. The cop’s a veteran. The cop is (not) hiding something. The cop is (not) hiding. There are (no) death threats.

All this information is as much a jumble as the items found in a trash can. Yet we seek to answer this slight as fast we can. Why? Why bother asking? We demand justice, revenge, blood. Screw the first two words, we’ve always wanted blood. It’s one of the few things we yearn for more than sex.