Real life horror stories abound in Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.
An 11 year old boy, lying on the floor with family members, guns of SWAT team members pointed at their heads, is the subject of a drug raid. An itchy finger, and the 11 year old boy dies. No charges were brought against the family, because no crime had been committed, apart from the “accidental” shooting of the boy. His family was ultimately awarded three million dollars.
A 43 year old man, Richard Elsass, is sleeping in a trailer near his place of employment. A SWAT team member, clad in black, shines a light into the trailer, frightening the man, who shoots the police officer. SWAT team members return fire, killing the man. This drug raid could have ended peacefully, if the police had identified themselves and allowed Elsass to come out and talk. Instead, five years after the incident, members of Elsass family were awarded 150,000 dollars for the wrongful death of their loved one.
According to Balko, every day in American, innocent civilians are raided, and some of them die. Others are maimed, such as the girl who is burned when a “flash/bang” grenade sets her blanket on fire. Dogs are killed at an alarming pace, because an officer can kill a dog and never face any sort of reprimand.
This isn’t happening in some third world dictatorship. It is happening in America, because American politicians are allowing it to happen.
The Rise of the Warrior Cop does an admirable job of tracing the history of policing from ancient Rome until today. Several misguided policies have led to this deplorable situation, from the “war on drugs” to the release of military grade weapons to American law enforcement.
Everyone should read this book. It is really frightening, and it should be, because Americans have one heck of a problem—their police. People should contact their elected officials and demand reform. Really.
What citizens shouldn’t do is contact the police. ‘Tis sad, but I can’t recall anything good ever coming from an encounter with a policeman. What I didn’t know is how the “us” vs. “them” philosophy has totally eroded the concept of community policing.