Over the course of the last 25 years, the number of SWAT team raids in the United States dramatically escalated. Statistics document trends that raids presently occur at a rate that is 25 times more frequent than in the 1980s. This development did not occur in a vacuum. As the United States increased its conduct of wars overseas, police forces became correspondingly militarized as a result. The policy apparatus that contributed the most to the funneling of millions of dollars into militarizing local law enforcement was the federal 1033 Program. The 1033 Program provided surplus military equipment to state and local policing agencies. According to a report published by The Guardian, the 1033 program has provided 12,000 bayonets, 5,200 humvees and 617 mine-resistant ambush protection vehicles (MRAPs) to local police agencies across the United States.
Originally intended for use in counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism operations, this equipment is increasingly being used against political protestors and other local civilian populations. Weapons of war, consequently, did not magically appear on our streets–they’re here now because the federal government paid for them and facilated their use. With that, local law enforcement reveals signs that is evolving into a domestic army, as indicated by things like bodily comportment, equipment, tactics, command structure, and disregard for basic constitutional protections. Consequently, it appears that aggressive foreign polices exercised by the United States, once universally applauded by Americans who saw this activity as necessary to “keep us safe” and “spread democracy,” produced something of what philosopher Michel Foucault called a “boomerang effect.” Violence exercised abroad ran it’s course and finally came home to roost.
The War at Your Door
Author Stephen Graham discusses the multiple ways in which the “new military urbanism” is manifested in cities like New York City. These include: the increasing proliferation of large militaristic SUVs on city roads, an increase in the number of militarized borders and surveillance zones within and around urban areas, amplified collaboration between military, intelligence and police organizations, as well as patterns of linking neoliberal logics with security infrastructure (i.e. EZ Pass monitoring, photo enforcement of traffic laws). Perhaps most disturbing among these developments is the tendency to conflate internal urban ethnic minority groups with external enemies of the state.
Recent research on public attitudes toward police and policing suggests that the Mayberry R.F.D. notion of “officer friendly” has been profoundly ruptured and perhaps along with it the shared public sense of a social contract. Public trust not surprisingly goes out the window when policemen patrol neighborhoods as if they are in the middle of Iraq or Afghanistan.
In a report entitled “War Comes Home,” the American Civil Liberties Union reported on the fact that nearly 80% of all SWAT raids it reviewed between 2011 and 2012 were deployed to execute a search warrant. Bear in mind now, this type of “invasion” tactic is being routinely used against people who are only suspected of a crime. Police, in other words, are using a tactic proven to result in significant injury and property damage as a first option and not as an option of last resort.
Who are the targets of these raids? Statistics reveal, more often than not, it’s the doors of blacks and Latinos that are broken down. The same ACLU report found that when they could identify the race of the person/people whose homes were broken into, 68% of the SWAT raids against minorities were undertaken in order to execute search warrants for drugs. The figure dropped to 38% when it came to whites. This pattern was established in spite of the well-documented fact that blacks, whites, and Latinos all use drugs at roughly the same rates. SWAT teams, it would appear, are disproportionately applying their specialized skills to communities of color. What this essentially does is take racial profiling and “stop and frisk” to a terrifying new level.
Given these developments, cities have become dangerous places for everyone. This does not stop members of the public, however, from wanting to live in nostalgia and retreat to a mythical past – a past where the police are always helpful and friendly –like a neighbor to be trusted. No doubt there are individual police who are committed to upholding these ideals. Statistical patterns, however, indicate a different reality. Despite this, there are nevertheless, strong opinions that exist on both sides of the “good cop”/”bad cop” divide. Some, for example, want to argue in defence of police; that not all cops fit this narrative profile. The problem with the #notallcops argument is that it reduces systemic institutional violence to a mere individual problem. It suggests we might simply remove the few “bad apples” to fix the problem. This type of thinking, unfortunately, gets in the way of prudent action to bring about meaningful institutional level reform through policy change.
Here are a few statistics worth noting:
In 1980, there were approximately 3,000 SWAT raids in the United States. Now, there are more than 80,000 SWAT raids per year in this country.
79% of the time, SWAT teams are deployed to private homes.
60% of SWAT raids in one ACLU study were shown to target homes for drugs/drug use, not to save a hostage, respond to a barricade situation, or neutralize an active shooter.
65% of SWAT deployments feature the deployment of a battering ram, boot, or other explosive device to gain forced entry to a home.
62% of all SWAT raids involve a search for drugs.
50% of the victims of SWAT raids are either black or Latino.
36% of all SWAT raids indicate that no contraband is found by the police.
35% of the time, in cases where it is suspected that there is a weapon in the home, police do not find a weapon.
7% of all SWAT deployments are for hostage, barricade or active-shooter scenarios.
More than 100 American families have their homes raided by SWAT teams every single day.
Even small towns deploy SWAT teams now: 30 years ago, only 25.6 percent of communities with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 people had a SWAT team. Now, that number has increased to 80 percent.
What do you think about these statistics? Do these developments alarm you?
What do the trends say about what it means to live as an American, considering how rapidly we are transferring the weapons of war into the hands of police to be used on U.S. citizens?