In March, 2014 Cliven Bundy found himself targeted by the professional police force of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) which justified its actions using a trivial offense that had placed Bundy on the wrong side of America’s supercharged legal code. BLM showed an appalling willingness to escalate the situation to overwhelming government force by deploying a police force which was a small army in all but name. A tense standoff ensued, BLM agents and civilians pointed weapons at each other, and eventually the BLM backed down. Fortunately, there was no loss of life or exchange of weapons fire.
Now, only a few months later, police have killed an eighteen year old young man in Fergurson, Missouri. Some reports have said the young man was unarmed, others say he may have lunged for the officer’s weapon, but even if that is true, the proper response is something along the lines of a punch in the face, not lethal bullets. When an armed, trained officer has to kill a young man who has no weapon of his own he’s not doing his job right and depending on the circumstances he may have committed murder. Hopefully an investigation will reveal the details, but doesn’t it seem like the police are gunning down an alarming number of Americans these days and being awfully belligerent toward many others?
The government, which seems to compile data on just about everything these days, curiously does not keep data on how many people are killed by police each year. Independent studies have placed that number at around 375-497 people per year between 2003 to 2009. This is approximately ten times more people killed by police than police who are killed in the line of duty. If this number doesn’t seem shocking to you, consider that the number of German citizens killed by that nation’s police force during the same period of time appears to be around two. The United Kingdom clocks in at around seven. Are Americans so much more dangerous that we need to be killed by police at such an astoundingly higher rate than our counterparts in Germany or the U.K.?
Returning to the situation in Missouri; minor rioting and looting broke out in response to the killing of the young man. While we do not know the details surrounding this slaying the police reaction looks eerily familiar to its reaction in the Bundy case. America has again been treated to the sight of a “police force” that looks more like an army. Camouflaged troops police marching in the street with military grade weapons, wearing gas masks, deploying tear gas, and protected by surplus military armored vehicles are now commonplace. Reporters have allegedly been arrested and instructed to stop taking photos of police.
Excuse me? Police operating in the public square have no expectation of privacy and certainly no average citizen could angrily demand the police divert the lens of their cameras from his or her conduct. Don’t the American people have a right to know what their public servants are doing in their name? Don’t we have this thing called the First Amendment, which includes freedom of the press to gather information for public disclosure, especially about things which are relevant to our self-governance? Yet the police have become increasingly unwilling to have their activities documented by the public. What is it that people always say, something like, if you don’t have anything to hide…
This event is yet another piece of evidence that America’s police are out of control and turning their guns on the people they’re supposed to be protecting, like cattle ranchers and whoever else happens to run across their path. Their training, tactics, and equipment look very much like the standing army our Founders feared. Conservatives have traditionally been very much in favor of law and order; no one is suggesting that should change. But if law and order requires militarized police in armored vehicles to keep the peace on Main Street in Anytown, USA then perhaps its time we look for other solutions.