Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces [PublicAffairs; $27.99] is the most terrifying book I have read this year. Award-winning investigative journalist Radley Balko has chronicled a law-enforcement movement that has been threatening our essential freedoms for decades. It is a deadly state of affairs that has been enabled by politicians from the left and the right, an insane chorus of “tough on crime” laws that, while they may play well to fearful, frankly ignorant voters, should be more properly deemed “stupid on crime.”
I wanted to say it started with Richard Nixon, as so many terrible things have done, but that would be inaccurate. Though he details the fears of the framers of our Constitution against the military as police, Balko doesn’t connect the dots to the larger historical truth that the haves are always seeking to limit the have nots or the “don’t have as much as me” Americans. This continues in our own time with corporations and big money setting the agenda for every election and the knowing and often successful attempts to suppress non-Republican and especially non-white voters. But I won’t fault Balko for not writing precisely the book I wanted. The book he did write should be a wake-up call for all citizens.
Nixon was looking for an issue that would win him voters and ‘war on crime” was that issue. He played on the fears of the citizens. Drug offenders, even non-violent drug offenders, were characterized as rabid animals. By the power of rhetoric with the cooperation of politicians left and right, Nixon took small-time dealers and their customers and turned them into monsters.
Movies and TV aided the process. Though few drug-dealers were armed with anything other than handguns, and even that level of firepower was not a constant, our entertainment showed them armed with every conceivable weapon of war. A pulp fiction trope became a reality, if mostly in the imaginations of the citizens.
Balko shows the growth of the militarization of our police forces and the subsequent diminishing of individual rights. Greater and greater leeway was given to police by the politicians, the courts and the public. The federal government enabled this build towards a virtual police state by selling weapons of war to police forces who weren’t properly trained in their use and who had no real need for them. But, as the book points out on numerous occasions, when you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Look in the mirror. You are that nail.
As you read this book, you’ll be horrified by the excessive use of force to serve warrants for non-violent crimes...by the uncertain evidence used to justify these military assaults...by the routine killing of family pets...by the numerous raids on the wrong houses and the effect on the innocent citizens caught in their wake...by the casual declarations that the invading force acted in a proper manner. These true believers of this insane “war on crime” live by the adage that you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.
Look in the mirror. You’re an egg.
I became physically ill when I saw how complacent President Obama, Vice-President Biden and other Democrats have been in a sociopathic process that does more damage than good and without consequence to those who commit and relish the damage. The Republicans are just as bad on this issue, but I guess I expected it from that side of the aisle. Who says the parties can’t work together?
What can be done? Start by writing letters to your leaders: city, state and national. Remove the weapons of war from the police work those weapons were never designed for. Break the police mindset of “us against them” and emphasize “to serve and protect,” even when breaking that mindset requires firings of police officers who cross the line. Stop targeting so-called criminals based on the financial inability of suspects to fight back against a legal system geared to be lenient to the rich and powerful.
I have been and remain a big supporter of our police. But, when the police can’t recognize that citizens are not “them,” when they have forgotten that we are all “us,” then they must face consequences, serious consequences, for their actions.
We will have their backs if they stop beating on ours.
For reasons that escape me at the moment, I read Justice League of America’s Vibe #1-10 [DC Comics; $2.99 per issue). It should come as no surprise to my faithful readers - and I should not have held out hope otherwise - that this is yet another mediocre super-hero series from the DC pain-trust. Those guys really take that insane “no jokes” crap to heart.
Cisco Ramon gets his vibrational powers from standing too close to a boom-tube from Apokolips that seemingly kills his older brother Armando. If you immediately thought “My Brother, My Enemy,” you do understand your super-hero cliches. Vibe is filled with them from issue #1 cover to issue #10 back cover.
You’ve got your clandestine government agency in A.R.G.U.S. whose actions are questionable at best and villainous at worst. You have the new slim and sexy Amanda Waller because most DC artists can’t draw more than one female body type. You have murderous villains in the employ of the government. You have an inhuman prison for super-humans and visitors from other dimensions or worlds. You have the young hero rebelling against rotten authority, but positively eager to work with them to achieve his own ends...even if those ends pose a danger to our world. I’m glad about that because I wouldn’t want to like any character in this title. When I characterize the series as mediocre, I’m being charitable.
From a diversity standpoint, Vibe scores for keeping the character Hispanic, a general term I use because the writer never gets more specific than that. If I were writing Vibe, I would have probably made him a “Dream Child” because I like to use real-world stuff in my stories.
Amanda Waller is black. Vibe’s handler is black and gay. However, the new 52 version of Gypsy is no longer one of the Romani people. She’s from another dimension. Which makes me go “Huh?” when I look at her “traditional” gypsy outfit of a kind that likely hasn’t been worn by actual Romani woman in decades.
Characterization is present only in the broadest of terms because to create more realistic and therefore more interesting characters would get in the way of the endless action sequences. Today’s DC super-hero comics are about as deep as a puddle.
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
© 2014 Tony Isabella