Abstract of the Week
Posted at 5:50 p.m. on Aug. 23
Evan Bernick looks at the leakage of military tactics and technology into local police departments and the tendency of law enforcement officials to resort to military-style actions far too frequently.
“Call it American law enforcement’s ‘We’re going to need a bigger boat’ moment. In the summer of 1965, a six-day frenzy of looting, burning, and sniping consumed 46 square miles of Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles. The rioters used tactics closely resembling 20th-century guerilla warfare—with people running and shooting in all directions, rather than massing in a single mob like Picket’s Charge. The chaotic situation prompted Inspector Daryl Gates, the point man for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) during the riots, to ask the military for guidance. Gates’s consultation with the military would eventually give rise to the first American SWAT team.”
“In 2013, there are thousands of SWAT teams in America. Federal, state, and local government agencies use military-grade hardware and tactics not only to deal with states of emergency for which they are well-suited, but also to conduct regulatory inspections for which they are not. The resulting overmilitarization has inflicted a great deal of unnecessary harm. Potent law enforcement tools designed for exceptional cases have been wielded too readily, leaving catastrophic damage in their wake.”