The sight of demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri facing off against police officers dressed in full military gear, brandishing machine guns, and perched atop surplus military Humvees and MRAP’s seems like it’s light years removed from our everyday life here in Emporia, Kansas. There are no tear gas canisters exploding on our streets. There are no Molotov cocktails flying through our air. Our daily newspaper’s “crime blotter” is almost always full of tidbits about “dogs at large” or some citizen “failing to obey a stop sign.”
As I watch events unfold in Ferguson, I wonder if something like that could ever happen here. I don’t think so, but I’m not as sure as I was a few years ago. I wish that the police response in Ferguson had been an isolated incident, but it wasn’t. Police on citizen violence in this country is becoming more and more frequent and violent.
On June 21, 2012, for example, 68 year old Louise Milan was at home with her adopted daughter when an Evansville, Indiana police SWAT team broke through their door, looking for someone who had allegedly issued on-line threats against the police. As it turned out, the source of the threat was a neighbor who had pirated the WI-FI signal from Ms. Milan’s router. After the smoke cleared, Ms. Milan told a reporter from Police State USA, “I’m afraid of the police. I’m afraid of them. I used to speak [to officers] and wave. I don’t do that anymore, and I don’t trust them.”
In early 2013, Dave Eckert was forced by the Deming, New Mexico police to endure multiple anal cavity searches, enemas, and a colonoscopy when they suspected him of hiding drugs. The searches revealed what Eckert had told the police when they first stopped him. He had no drugs…period!
As we were returning from vacation earlier this year we watched a television report about the 26 fatal police shootings that had occurred in the Albuquerque area during a recent four year period. The U.S. Justice Department called “many of these deadly shootings unjustified, saying a culture of “aggression” exacerbated the problem.”
In the summer of 2013, 22 year old Raymond Herisse was killed by the Miami Beach and Hialeah police. It began when Herisse allegedly fled from police after he’d had an altercation with an officer on bike patrol. 116 shots later, sixteen of which hit Herisse, the incident ended. According to the Miami Herald, some of the errant bullets “struck and wounded four bystanders.”
Earlier this year, a police SWAT team broke into the Atlanta home of AleciaThis is happening every day to people [who are] being relentlessly and unnecessarily militarized by police who think just because they're supposed to be upholding the law, they are above the law themselves.”
As the incidents continue to build, the relationship of trust between the police and the public is slowly, but surely, eroding. It shouldn’t be that way. As Robert Peel, the founding father of Britain’s Metropolitan police, once noted, “The power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behavior, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.”
Being a policeman is a really difficult job. Unfortunately, the profession doesn’t really get the attention it needs. Here in Kansas, for example, becoming a licensed cosmetologist requires about 39 weeks of training while becoming a police officer with a badge only requires 24 weeks. Is it really fair to expect a person to do all that’s required of a policeman with less training than it takes to learn how to cut our hair or give us a manicure?
Over the past few years, more and more police departments are compensating for the lack of needed training with the use of surplus military equipment. Our police are looking more and more like Darth Vader these days than Officer Friendly of old. They’ve got drones, machine guns, body armor, Humvees, Mine Resistant-Ambush Proof vehicles, etc. We even got our own MRAP here in Lyon County not long ago. We’ve been told it’s needed “just in case.” In case of what? Has ISIS taken Lebo? Are King George’s Hessians marching down from Americus? Have you and I, like Louise Milan and Alecia