The American Police State


While there is some evidence that people are beginning to wake up to the realities of the growing (and already well-established) police state that this country and many others have become, there is still a disturbing lack of awareness of not only the tools and training of these increasingly violent paramilitary forces, but also of the perverse incentives that impact their attitudes and action. The problem is not just the enforcers themselves, however; it is also the various governments which employ them, create the laws which they enforce, and provide a mantle of legitimacy for their violent crimes.

One thing worth noting at the outset is the euphemistic language that is used to make violent actions sound more legitimate when carried out by an employee of the state. To spot examples of the state redefining words, just ask yourself what you would call an action if someone without a badge committed it. If you put chains on someone's wrists and forced them into the back of your vehicle, what would that be called? Kidnapping, of course! Yet when a state enforcer does it, it's called an arrest. What if you sprayed someone in the face with pepper spray merely because they were videotaping you on public property or refused to stop walking down a public street just because you told them to do so? Such an act would certainly be considered assault and battery — unless the perpetrator is wearing a badge. What if you shot and killed a 13-year-old child carrying a toy gun as he walked down the sidewalk?[1] You would get convicted of murder no doubt, but just add a magic badge and this crime somehow becomes acceptable.

Consider the tools of the modern state enforcer. He carries weapons not just for self-defense, but for compelling compliance. Tasers are often referred to as "less-than-lethal," but there are many cases in which they were in fact, quite lethal. One statistic indicates that 800 people have died from Tasers since 2001.[2] Perhaps even more disturbing than Tasers are the drones that many law enforcement agencies are now using to spy on innocent people in hopes that they will discover an excuse to send in a SWAT team. In 2012, Canyon County, Idaho spent more than $33,000 obtained from a Homeland Security grant to purchase and train employees how to operate a Dragonflyer X6 drone helicopter equipped with a camera that can stream live high-definition video to a remote operator.[3] The next year the state legislature passed a law ostensibly requiring a warrant for drone usage by law enforcement, but they left a gaping exception for "controlled substance investigations"[4] — in other words, drones can be flown anywhere without a warrant as long as the enforcers remember to say they were looking for a banned plant.

The latest toy to find its way into the arsenal of the domestic occupiers is the "Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected" vehicle or MRAP for short. The Department of Defense is handing out these half-million dollar urban tanks like candy to any agency that asks for one, including to tiny city police forces like the one in Preston, Idaho.[5] Can someone please tell me why a town of 5,200 people needs a 14-ton, mine-resistant military transport?

What about the training? It's not just the tools of law enforcement that should concern you, as the training has become equally as disturbing. A day at the range would just not be complete without taking a few shots at some photo-realistic "No More Hesitation" targets such as "Little Boy with Real Gun," "Older Man with Shotgun," "Young Mother on Playground" and "Pregnant Woman Threat."[6] Yes, today your friendly neighborhood police officer is being trained not to hesitate for even a second before gunning down children, the elderly, and pregnant women. Unfortunately this attitude has spilled over into the streets, and now officers are quite comfortable killing unarmed adults[7] and even children[8] simply because they are trying to run away. Another growing trend that is very troubling is the callous manner with which officers shoot dead curious family pets in the name of "officer safety."[9]

It is perhaps unsurprising, given the tools and training that state enforcers receive today, that they have developed an attitude of superiority and are extremely hostile to any kind of oversight or accountability. Individuals who attempt to film police when they are harassing people are frequently subject to harassment[10] and even arrest[11] themselves as officers endeavor to hide their actions from public scrutiny. Even though recent court decisions have upheld the right of individuals to film police,[12] the abuse of those who attempt to do so continues unabated.

Of course all of this abuse and excessive force under color of law would not be possible if it were not for the vast sums of money coercively expropriated from the productive members of society and redistributed by governments to the enforcers and support staff that they keep on the payroll. The police state exists primarily due to rampant overcriminalization by governments at all levels. This problem is so pronounced that one researcher concluded that the average American actually unwittingly commits three felonies a day![13] The US Code alone is hundreds of thousands of pages plus there are innumerable federal regulations, state laws and regulations, county laws, city laws, and even more laws for special districts and situations. While it was once suggested that "ignorance of the law is no excuse," the modern reality is that ignorance of the law is universal. No individual could possibly read and comprehend all of the laws which they are supposed to follow.

One of the biggest drivers of this ever-escalating police state is the failed "war on drugs." Launched during the Nixon administration, the "war on drugs" has been a trillion dollar endeavor[14] that has led to the United States having the highest incarceration rate in the entire world[15] and one of the largest police forces in the world with nearly 800,000 police officers and detectives[16] at a cost of more than $100 billion per year.[17] Even with all of this effort, the price of drugs has fallen and the quality has increased to such an extent that Dr. Evan Wood, scientific chair of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, has declared that "the war on drugs has failed."[18] So why is it that even as decriminalization has shown very positive results[19] and leading world politicians are now urging a 'paradigm shift' in drug policy,[20] the US continues to arrest and incarcerate thousands of individuals who are guilty of nothing more than engaging in the production, distribution, and consumption of goods for which there is significant market demand? Could it be that the "war on drugs" is really just a ruse to allow for the unremitting militarization of America's law enforcement?

The simple reality is that the American criminal justice system primarily harms people who have not actually violated the natural rights of others. While some statistics indicate the numbers are actually much higher, even basic federal data reveals that 48 percent of federal prisoners are being held for drug offenses, 11 percent for immigration offenses, and 15 percent for weapons offenses. Just 13 percent of all federal prisoners are guilty of violent offenses or property crimes.[21] Nationwide, 25 percent of those on probation and 33 percent of those on parole were drug offenders.[22]

Noted economist Milton Friedman said that he was in favor of legalizing drugs, noting that "most of the harm that comes from drugs is because they are illegal." Larry Elder, a conservative American radio and television personality, has pointed out that "the war on drugs is wrong, both tactically and morally" and has concluded that "the war on drugs is morally bankrupt." Why then does it continue? Perhaps author and activist L. Neil Smith summed it up best when he said, "The War on Drugs employs millions—politicians, bureaucrats, policemen, and now the military—that probably couldn't find a place for their dubious talents in a free market, unless they were to sell pencils from a tin cup on street corners."

Whether it is the failed "war on drugs," the more recent introduction of the "war on terror," or just some general prattle about public safety, the government always seems to have an excuse for diverting more and more expropriated money to law enforcement or criminal justice and for pulling the noose ever tighter around the necks of individuals who used to believe they were protected by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The modern American police state is the unholy offspring of overcriminalization by a power-hungry government and certain individuals being given badges and encouraged to act as tyrants over their friends and neighbors. The military-style tools and the desensitizing training that these enforcers receive only serve to further inflate their egos and create an 'us versus them' mentality that far too often carries with it deadly results. Unfortunately, until individuals in this country come to recognize the simple truths that badges do not grant special rights and where there is no victim there is no crime, we are unlikely to see the situation improve. Our opportunity to remedy this situation is a limited one, and appeals to political solutions will likely prove fruitless. We must awaken a sleeping populace to the alarming reality they now face: Pandora's Box has been opened and the "Warrior Cop"[23] has been unleashed.


[1] FBI to probe deputy shooting of California 13-year-old who had pellet gun
[2] McComas: Police Taser Abuse, Misuse Kills
[3] Drones are popping up all over Idaho and nationally as well
[4] Idaho Code 21-213
[5] At 10-feet tall and 14 tons ... don't mess with the Preston Police Department
[6] Cops conducting target practice on images of children and pregnant women
[7] Unarmed Man Shot And Killed By Officers While Running Away From Police
[8] Why was he still on the force? School police officer who shot dead 14-year-old unarmed pupil had been suspended four times
[9] Family outraged after Boise Police officer shoots and kills dog
[10] Idaho Cop Assaults Man for Video Recording Traffic Stop From More Than 50 Feet Away
[11] Cops arrest California man for filming them and then kill his dog
[12] U.S. weighs in favor of right to record police
[13] Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent
[14] AP IMPACT: After 40 years, $1 trillion, US War on Drugs has failed to meet any of its goals
[15] List of countries by incarceration rate
[16] Bureau of Labor Statistics - Police and Detectives
[17] United States Continuing to Overspend on Police, Despite Decreasing Crime Rates
[18] Report: Cheaper, purer illegal substances suggest global war on drugs is failing
[19] 'This Is Working': Portugal, 12 Years after Decriminalizing Drugs
[20] Leading world politicians urge 'paradigm shift' on drugs policy
[21] Drug Offenders in the Correctional System
[22] Ibid.
[23] Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces

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