The troubles caused by the George Floyd died after being pinned to the ground by the knee of a Minneapolis cop left parts of American cities resembling a battle zone.
Night after night, angry protesters took to the streets. The same goes for police officers dressed in riot gear and supported by a arsenal that any small military force would be proud of: armored vehicles, military grade planes, rubber and wooden bullets, stun grenades, sound cannons and tear gas canisters.
The militarization of police services has been a feature of U.S. domestic law enforcement since the 9/11 attacks. What is clear from the latest round of protests and responses is that despite efforts to promote de-escalation as a policy, police culture appears to be stuck in an “us versus them” mentality.
Install the enemy
As a 27-year-old former police officer and learned who has written about policing marginalized communities, I have seen firsthand the militarization of the police, especially in times of confrontation.
I saw, all along my decades in law enforcement, this police culture tends to favor the use of violent tactics and non-negotiable force on compromise, mediation and peaceful conflict resolution. It reinforces the general acceptance among officers of the use of all means of force available when faced with real or perceived threats to agents.
We saw this unfold in the first week of protests after Floyd’s death in cities from Seattle to Flint in Washington, DC.
A study of deaths involving police between 2012 and 2018 found that, on average, police kill 2.8 men every day in the United States
The police have deployed a militarized response to what they rightly or wrongly see as a threat to public order, private property and their own safety. This is partly due to a police culture in which protesters are often seen as “the enemy”. Indeed, teaching cops to think like soldiers and learn to kill was part of a training program popular among some police officers.
Police militarization, the process by which law enforcement agencies increased their arsenal of weapons and equipment to be deployed in a range of situations, began in earnest in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
In the years that followed, national law enforcement in the United States began a strategic shift towards tactics and practices employing militarized responses even to routine policing activities.
Much of this was aided by the federal government, through the Defense Logistics Agency Program 1033, which allows the transfer of military equipment to local law enforcement agencies, and Homeland Security Grant Program, which provides police departments with funds to purchase military-grade weapons and vehicles.
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Critics of this process suggested that the message sent to the police by equipping them with military equipment is that they are in fact at war. This implies for me that there must be an enemy.” In cities and, increasingly, in suburban and rural areas, the enemy is often the “others” who are perceived to be prone to crime.
The consequences of this militarized police mentality can be deadly, especially for black Americans.
A study of police-related deaths between 2012 and 2018 found that, on average, police kill 2.8 men every day in the United States. The risk of death at the hands of an officer was found to be between 3.2 and 3.5 times higher for black men than for white men.
The message sent to the police by equipping them with military equipment is that they are in fact at war.
And there seems to be a correlation between militarization and police violence. A 2017 study analyzed police service spending in relation to deaths involving police. Summarizing their results in the Washington Post, the study’s authors wrote: “Even controlling for other possible factors of police violence (such as household income, overall and black population, levels of violent crime and drug use), forces more militarized orders were associated with more civilians killed. every year by the police. When a county goes from receiving no military equipment to $ 2,539,767 (the highest figure that went to an agency in our data), more than twice as many civilians are likely to die in that county in the year. next.
And it’s not just individuals who suffer. Behavior scientist Denise Flock studied the community effect of police violence. Writing in the Boston University Law Review earlier this year, she concluded that “violent encounters with the police have a strong ripple effect of diminishing the health and well-being of residents who simply live in areas where their neighbors are killed, injured or psychologically traumatized”.
The trauma of the video of George Floyd in distinct distress as officer in uniform kneels on his neck is evident in the reaction it elicited.
The need to deal with escalating police confrontations – both in protests and in one-on-one meetings – was at the center of the latest big push for police reform, after the murder of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. As in the case of George Floyd, this led to violent scenes in which protesters clashed with militarized officers.
Just months after the Ferguson troubles, President Obama set up his 21st Century Policing Task Force. He recommended the implementation of training and policies that “emphasize de-escalation”. He also called on the police to use tactics during protests “designed to minimize the appearance of a military operation and avoid the use of provocative tactics and equipment that undermine civilian confidence.”
Based on evidence in recent days, a number of law enforcement agencies have ignored the message.
Tom Nolan is Visiting Associate Professor of Sociology at Emmanuel College, a Roman Catholic liberal arts university in Boston. This one was first published by The conversation – “Militarization has fostered a police culture that makes protesters “the enemy”“