It’s not just Ferguson

Unarmed man holding hands up in front of four men in full military gear Libertarians have been warning about the dangers of militarized police for years. Now it’s exploded in a way that no one can ignore. (Except that some idiots have seamlessly jumped from “Why are libertarians so paranoid about police power?” to “Why aren’t libertarians saying anything about this?”) Peaceful demonstrators have been tear-gassed and had guns pointed at them. Reporters have been arrested. It’s Selma, Alabama all over again.

This isn’t unique to Ferguson, though. The signs have been plain enough. SWAT teams have come to be used routinely. Police departments in small, peaceful cities and towns have been acquiring federally subsidized attack trucks. Concord, NH got a Bearcat armored vehicle, for the stated purpose of protecting the city from the Free State Project. Six cities in the Boston area were shut down, residents ordered to remain indoors, during the Tsarnaev manhunt. Ferguson is just the full expression of these trends, which so many people are so happy with.

You want to be “safe from terrorism” at any price? Well, this is the price: Living in terror of the police who are “protecting” you. If you now see that there might be a problem, better late than never. Pick up a copy of Rise of the Warrior Cop for a look at what’s been happening all over America.

I’m seeing calls for a “day of rage” now. That can only make things worse. We need moral outrage, but not rage.

One more Concord Bearcat note

An article in the Concord, NH Patch indicates that the Concord school district may be interested in a Lenco Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck (Bearcat). Police Chief John Duval, who has previously cited the Occupiers and Free Staters as “terrorist” threats requiring the availability of an armored vehicle, claims that “The recent incident at the school in (Decatur, Georgia) is further evidence for the need of this rescue vehicle.”

The invasion of a Georgia school by a gunman was resolved by peacefully talking him down. Duval seems to think this was the wrong thing to do, that the correct response was something involving an armored vehicle. It’s bad enough that he regards non-mainstream groups as terrorists, but subjecting school kids to his overkill mentality is really scary.

See my earlier posts tagged “Bearcat” for background and more links.

Update: The Concord City Council will vote on September 9 on getting an attack truck.

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New Hampshire’s plague of Bearcats

For every time there have been protests against police departments’ acquisition of military-grade vehicles, many others have quietly obtained them without getting much notice. I’d wondered whether Nashua had acquired or was planning to GET a Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck, or Bearcat as it’s called for short, and it turns out that it has. I don’t know if it’s been abused yet, but its presence is a constant invitation to unnecessary escalation. When cops start acquiring increasingly violent toys, they start to think of justifications and excuses. Concord Police Chief John Duval’s characterization of Free Staters and Occupiers as potential terrorists is an example.

I’m not aware of any violent incidents in New Hampshire involving Bearcats, but there have been clear cases of overuse which had the potential to create violence. In January 2011, an attack truck and a SWAT team were sent to a home in the border town of Pelham, where a 72-year-old man had barricaded himself in, though it was reportedly used just to keep the cops warm. The cops declared that “his apparent state of mind at the time of the event prevented him from early on making the obvious rational decision to surrender.” Very likely if I saw a small military force outside my door, I’d be afraid to make that decision too.

I hate to give Lenco’s ads any publicity, but they damn the Bearcat better than anything else could. Watch this video, portraying cops in combat gear coming out of a Bearcat carrying assault weapons and gassing a building, and ask: Is this what you want to see in Concord, Nashua, Manchester, or Derry? (Embedding it is prohibited; Lenco doesn’t want people other than trigger-happy cops to see its ads.)

When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail; and when people are provided with demolition-scale hammers as tools of their work, they start seeing demolition-scale targets everywhere. The cost in some future situation could be deadly. Police are supposed to be a part of its community; it endangers them as much as everyone else if they’re put into the position of imperial stormtroopers.

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Concord Police Dept. wants a violent toy

Concord, NH, is a nice, peaceful city. It has bookstores, cafés, and perhaps the most accessible state legislature in the country. Police Chief John Duval, however, sees it as a city about to explode with terrorist violence. In order to protect Concord from this deadly threat, he’s asked Homeland Security to provide Concord with a Lenco Bearcat armored vehicle. Don’t think of the name as a cute sports mascot. It stands for “Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck.” It’s a military-grade vehicle designed for violent confrontation. It carries gun ports, and a battering ram is an option. Lenco’s ads emphasize its paramilitary uses.

The future of Concord?

What is the threat which Duval fears? According to the application he submitted, the vehicle is intended to take on the threat of Occupy, a bumbling anti-minority (they characterize their opponents at “the 1%”) sit-in group, and the Free State Project, which encourages liberty-loving people to move to New Hampshire. Neither of these groups has any record of violence. Duval’s move reeks of intent to intimidate political groups he doesn’t like.

According to an article in Mother Jones, Duval has waffled under pressure but hasn’t apologized for the smears.

“I wish I would have worded things different in retrospect,” he says. “I understand why their eyebrows are raised about that.” He chalks up the wording to the limitations of writing a detailed proposal in only three pages and says it was meant to refer to the “unpredictable nature of unpredictable people who attach themselves to otherwise lawful situations.”

If Duval is incapable of writing a coherent three-page proposal that doesn’t come off as paranoid raving, that doesn’t say much for his qualifications for the job. Is he now just saying that people are unpredictable? If so, why name any specific group? If there’s a group that’s unpredictable and dangerous, it’s the one that is looking for heavy armament in response to imaginary dangers.

When police departments acquire heavy armament, they start thinking of ways to use it. Look at SWAT teams. Originally designed for highly explosive situations, they now routinely smash in the doors of non-violent drug users (or people mistaken for them). Perhaps at first Duval will just roll out the Bearcat at political events, as a veiled threat. That’s bad enough already. But then there may come a day when there’s a situation which genuinely needs police action but not blazing guns and buildings. Duval might say, “Hey, these are ‘unpredictable people,’ and this is the chance to see what the Bearcat can do!” A building might be smashed into rubble and burn. Neighbors might be injured or die.

Homeland Security deserves a large chunk of blame for handing these deadly toys out. If Duval hadn’t been tempted, maybe he wouldn’t have started labeling dissidents as potential terrorists. Most cops are good people, but if they get carried away with power, they may do frightening things.