Sunday, August 17, 2014

25 Examples of Police Brutality Before Ferguson, and More

The following is an excerpt from a very long post I put up a few weeks back, as I looked at the trend of policing gone wrong and how it's just one of many problems we face in a country that's losing its common sense and letting too many bad things go unchecked. The popular media acts as if it just discovered that our police stations have turned into de facto armies, yet the battlefield-like pictures we're seeing from Ferguson, Mo., are just the latest example in a long string of abuses of power. 

Starting four decades ago, when Richard Nixon declared a "war on drugs," police have been slowly transforming from public servants into soldiers who see the very citizens they're supposed to serve as enemy combatants. First it was SWAT raids in the middle of the night to serve warrants on nonviolent people for using or possessing small amounts of recreational drugs. Now we have cops dressed in camouflage and rolling into town in MRAPs and tanks that have been retired from military service. Our foreign policy is literally coming home to roost, and this is the price we pay. And it's not just white cops killing unarmed blacks. The unrelenting brutality knows no race, sex, or age, as you'll see in the following examples.  

The cops a lot of us grew up with -- the friendly public servants who protected public safety and put the bad guys in jail -- seem to have become a rare breed, replaced by overbearing thugs who easily fly off the handle, use excessive force against peaceful people, turn trivial matters into standoffs, and quickly escalate delicate situations. Some of them seem to think they're engaged in a battle, in some type of us-versus-them showdown with the public. See if this video doesn't make you think you're witnessing a scene straight out of the hills of Afghanistan:

Those men in helmets and riot gear aren't soldiers overseas. They're Albuquerque cops, who shot a homeless man in cold blood ... for illegally camping. If you listen to the guy, he's asking the cops to stand down and let him leave peacefully, as they all have their semiautomatic weapons pointed at him. As he's preparing to leave, one cop fires a flash grenade at him. The cops close in, and the stunned man appears to place a small camping knife in each of his hands. That's when the assault begins. First a spray of bullets, and then an attack by the K-9 unit and some beanbags fired at close range for good measure.

The cops killed him. Over illegal camping.

That's just one of many, many stories of brutality and death in recent years at the hands of law enforcement. In fact, the Albuquerque cops had gotten so far out of control that they became the focus of an investigation by the Justice Department, which found the department "reckless" and its officers never held accountable for their actions. In reviewing the department's 23 killings between 2010 and 2014, Justice said it often used lethal force in an "unconstitutional" manner.

Part of the report reads:
Albuquerque police officers often use deadly force in circumstances where there is no imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to officers or others. Instead, officers used deadly force against people who posed a minimal threat, including individuals who posed a threat only to themselves or who were unarmed. Officers also used deadly force in situations where the conduct of the officers heightened the danger and contributed to the need to use force.
One would hope that these horrible stories are the exception and not the rule, but the disturbing frequency with which the stories come out suggests otherwise.

Cop Block is one of many sites that chronicle the ongoing abuses, and just one glance at a few of its pages as I write this gives you an idea of how serious the problem has become:
  • SWAT Team in Full Machine Gun Armor Raids Innocent Man With Parkinson's and Brutally Beat Him
  • Woman Brutally Beaten in Jail Asking Cops for a Tampon
  • Cops Smash Handcuffed Eighth-Grade Boy Through Glass Window, Puncturing His Lungs
  • Mother Claims 6-Year-Old Beaten by Police at School
  • Chicago Jailers Laughed While Fatally Tasering Mentally Ill Man 16 Times
  • DEA Retroactively Gets Warrant After Violent, Botched Raid on Wrong Address
  • Empty Home Destroyed in 4-Hour SWAT Siege; Innocent Woman Left With $100,000 in Damages
When cops can sell a T-shirt that reads "We get up early to beat the crowds," you know you're dealing with some out-of-control psychopaths with no regard for the rule of law.

Just how bad are things? More Americans have been killed by cops since 9/11 than were killed in Iraq. Around 500 citizens a year die at the hands of "law enforcement." Civilians are 29 times as likely to be killed by a cop as by a terrorist.

These are the same people who are increasingly flying drones over U.S. airspace. You think that power won't be abused?

And that's not even getting into the financial bonanza that is asset forfeiture. U.S. attorneys confiscated more than $12 billion in personal assets between 1989 and 2010 fighting the "war on drugs" alone, and local cops take full advantage of forfeiture, too. In one Texas town, where a woman had $31,000 from a real estate sale confiscated from her car on suspicion of drug usage -- even though the cops never found anything -- 89% of its 2012 gross revenue came from asset forfeiture. The woman had to sue to get her money back.

That's something not everyone can afford to do, and the cops and their municipalities count on that. They seize anything that they deem to have been used in the commission of a crime, which can include your car or even your home and all your possessions inside, and then it's up to you to prove that you did nothing wrong -- essentially, you're guilty until proven innocent -- so that you can get your own property back. Otherwise, too bad. It'll probably get sold off and you'll never see it again.

And note that you don't need to have been convicted of a crime to have your property stolen from you. Mere suspicion of a crime is enough. This isn't something that happens after a criminal conviction. That's probably why 80% of forfeiture cases result in no charges against the property owner.

Not only is the potential for abuse extremely high, but forfeiture also seems to be making cops more interested in the loot they can collect than in stopping the associated crime. When narcotics groups were observed focusing more attention on intercepting the cash in a drug deal than on actually getting the drugs off the streets or serving warrants on dealers, one officer was candid about why:
Because that would just give us a bunch of dope and the hassle of having to book him (the suspect). We've got all the dope we need in the property room; just stick to rounding up cases with big money and stay away from warrants.
Making money trumps fighting crime.

The allure of stealing somebody's property merely on the suspicion of a crime is so strong that in Hawaii, a bill was considered that would have allowed asset forfeiture for petty misdemeanors, like staying in a park after-hours or trespassing. Imagine having your car taken away because you were driving around at a park after it closed, or having your home stereo system confiscated for violating a noise ordinance. Homeless people charged with illegal camping -- if the cops didn't shoot them dead, of course -- could have their tents, clothes, or whatever other few possessions they own taken away from them. Cops would be making arrests just to rake in the money. And when budgets are tight, they're going to do just that.

But wait, you might be asking. Isn't all of this a gross violation of our Fifth Amendment rights? You know, the part that says people shall not be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, not shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation"? 

Yes. Yes, it is. But good luck fighting city hall.

Besides, what's a little property theft in comparison with being beaten up or possibly even killed? Let's look at just a sampling at some of the more outrageous abuses of police power in recent years:

1. Six police officers beat Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man, to death, as the man cried out for his daddy and begged for the beating to stop. The cop accused of his murder was acquitted, as was another officer charged with manslaughter.

Here's the video of the incident:

Here's what he looked like before and after the cops beat him. He died in a hospital shortly after the attack.

His crime? Nothing. A nearby bar called police to the area to check on the vandalism of some parked cars. Thomas, who was in the area when police arrived, was questioned and searched, and he appeared to get the cops agitated when his mental condition seemed to make it hard for him to follow the cops' orders. At one point the cop charged with his murder said his fists were "getting ready to fuck you up."

Thomas was unarmed.

2. A cop was caught on video punching a woman's head while she was on the ground -- all stemming from an incident in which the woman was said to be walking barefoot along a freeway and stepping into lanes of traffic. The officer allegedly arrested her for purposes of public safety, but nothing excuses the pounding he gave the woman when he already had her subdued on the ground. A clear-cut case of excessive force and police brutality.

3. A 110-pound, 47-year-old mother of two was arrested on DUI charges after she was found sleeping in her car on the side of the road. When she realized she'd had too much to drink, she did a sensible, responsible thing and took her vehicle off the road. This woman, who had never before been in trouble with the law, asks at the police station whether she can call her family to let them know she's OK. The video shows her walking out of her open cell, only to be hurled back in seconds later, by a cop who threw her so hard that she smashed her face into a concrete bench. Other officers came to her aid as she lay crumpled on the floor, lying in a pool of her own blood.

Her orbital bone was shattered, and she had to have reconstructive surgery.

4. A SWAT team busted into the home of an innocent family, forced everyone to the floor, and handcuffed them -- including three children, who were searched at gunpoint. A boy was kicked in the side, and a girl had a diabetic episode because the cops wouldn't let her have her medication. The cops also shot and killed the family dog, and the children had to lie handcuffed next to the bleeding, lifeless body of their family pet while the cops tore through the house for an hour. (Incidentallystories of cops who kill dogs have been running rampant in recent years.)

It turned out the SWAT team was there on a drug raid, but they got the wrong house. According to the residents, the cops stayed even after they realized their mistake, combing through every corner of the house to try to justify their raid -- and they eventually found a handgun that they used to charge the head of the household with unlawful possession of a firearm, even though the gun didn't belong to him.

5. A 13-year-old boy was shot seven times, including through the heart, and killed by a cop -- for carrying a plastic toy gun. The cop will face no charges.

6. A family called for help after their paranoid schizophrenic family member locked himself in a bathroom with a knife. Instead of trying to talk him down, the cops barked at him to "Drop the knife! Drop the knife!" When he didn't comply, they tasered him. After he recovered from the shock, he walked toward the bathroom door -- and a cop unloaded 11 shots into his body in rapid succession. He fell to the floor dead.

Relatives can be heard screaming in shock. They'd called the police to help de-escalate a bad situation, and the cops did just the opposite.

7. A father who was trying to defuse a family squabble between mother and daughter in the parking lot of a movie theater caught the attention of some nearby cops. The cops claim he became belligerent with them, while the family said he was only trying to sidestep the cops to prevent his wife from driving off. The situation quickly escalated out of control, with five cops beating the father to death in front of his family. After killing her husband, the cops then confiscated the phone the wife had been using to record the incident.

Said the man's wife: "When they flipped him over you could see all the blood on his face, it was, he was disfigured, you couldn’t recognize him."

8. A 72-year-old man was shot and killed by cops while standing in his garage. He heard a ruckus in the neighborhood and took his handgun with him to see what was happening. The disturbance was at a home across the street, as police arrived to respond to a burglar alarm. Instead, they shot the 72-year-old six times.

He left behind a wife of 46 years.

9. A 93-year-old woman with diminished mental capabilities got into an altercation with her nephew, who refused to relinquish her car keys after she failed her driver license renewal. The nephew called police after the woman brandished a handgun. She shot a bullet into the ground, and a cop responded by unloading four to five rounds into her, killing her.

10. A 95-year-old World War II veteran who needed a walker to move around was killed by a cop at an assisted-living facility, in response to a complaint that he was refusing medical treatment for an illness. In their attempt to subdue him, the cops first tried to taser him, and then they fired a beanbag round at him from point-blank range. The man soon died of internal bleeding from the injury.

11. An 11-year-old girl was walking naked down the side of a freeway. She didn't respond to a cop who arrived on the scene and told her to stop walking, but instead of doing something like chasing after her, getting a blanket for her, and putting her in the safety of his patrol car, the cop tasered her, and she fell face-first into the ground. The girl's father explained that she was autistic, with "the mind of a 3-year-old," and that she was a "very gentle and non-combative" girl.

The father asked, "If the police cannot apprehend a child who is cooperative without tasing, then what would be the alternative? Shooting her?" Probably so.

12. In what became an Internet meme, a cop at the University of California, Davis, casually walked along and pepper-sprayed a group of college students, point-blank, who were engaging in a peaceful sit-in protest as part of the Occupy movement.

The cop was later awarded $38,000 for the "psychiatric injury" that he suffered in the fallout of the incident.  

13. Cops pounded on the door of a woman whose boyfriend was wanted in connection with violating a protection order. A 10-year-old boy began recording the incident, and the police assaulted the child, breaking his leg. His mother ran downstairs, dressed only in her underwear, and one of the cops pulled her outside in the cold, where one of her breasts became exposed, revealing a pierced nipple.

What happens next is nauseating. 

"The officer flicked the piercing, he flicked the ring up with his finger on my right breast," she said. "He said, 'Is this what mothers look like these days?'"

Adding insult to injury, the mother was arrested for assaulting an officer and was released two days later on $1,500 bail. One can only assume that nothing will ever happen to the cop who sexually assaulted her.

14. As a man attempted to run into his burning house to make a heroic attempt to save his 3-year-old stepson from burning to death, police tasered and arrested him. After the fire was put out, the boy was found dead in the doorway of his bedroom.

15. A 52-year-old man paralyzed from the chest down was stopped by police for riding his scooter on the shoulder against the flow of traffic, like a pedestrian would. He said it was the same thing he'd done hundreds of times on his short trip to the local grocery store, rather than attempt to cross five lanes of traffic. A cop ordered the man -- again, paralyzed from the waist down -- to stand up. When he couldn't comply with the order, another cop picked him up, slammed him face-first into the ground, and handcuffed him. His scooter was impounded, and his bail was set at $1,000. 

16. A 78-year-old man was pulled over on his way home from church for driving on the wrong side of the road. Having never been in trouble with the law before, he stepped out of his car and wasn't prepared for the belligerent actions of the cop, who threatened to take him to jail right from the outset of the encounter. The man was ordered back into his car, but when he felt a cramp and stuck his legs out of the car to stretch them, the cop decided to pepper-spray him and his wife. They ended up in the hospital, treated for bruises and burns.

The police chief's justification for his officer's assault? The elderly couple was not "compliant."

17. Police show up at a nightclub, where a man was driving erratically in the parking lot. After the cops take him into custody, they ask his buddy to move the car. The friend says he doesn't want to, because he's drunk, but the cops order him to get behind the wheel and move it anyway. When the drunken man begins hitting other cars, including a police cruiser, a cop opens fire and kills him, even as his partner tells him not to draw his weapon. A toxicology report confirmed that the man who was ordered to move the car was indeed drunk. The cop faced no disciplinary action.

18. A man at a laundromat sees cops using excessive force on a woman and decides to record the incident on his phone. "They slammed her into the wall, slammed her onto the ground, and then the other officer jumped on top of her and starting punching her in the face," the man said.

The cops confronted him and told him to stop interfering with their "investigation." 

"I told them I’m not interfering with anything," the man said. "I'm just videotaping y'all beating up this girl."

He left the laundromat for a while. When he came back to retrieve his clothes, a cop ambushed him from behind and started beating him. Several other officers joined in, before they released their K-9 dog on him. In typical fashion, the cops are screaming at him to "stop resisting" -- as if he could resist if he even wanted to, while they have the man pinned to the ground, yelling out in pain, with a dog biting his leg. (Cops are fond of saying "stop resisting," even if the person they've subdued isn't resisting at all, as it gives them one more thing to pin on their victim. "Resisting arrest" then becomes your word against theirs.)

"They had to choke the dog to get him off of me," the man said. "He was not responding to the call signs to let go of my leg." Meanwhile, the cops continued to punch and kick him.

But before the dog was done, it had taken several chunks of flesh out of the man's leg.

One of his shoes fell off in the attack, and when he was sitting in the back of the police car, a cop threw the shoe at his face.

The cops also took his phone and deleted the video he took of their assault on the woman.

19. A man who witnessed a skirmish at a bar, but was not involved in the skirmish, stepped outside the bar and was immediately grabbed and assaulted by police.

One of the officers involved in the assault has been in trouble before, including an incident in which he slapped a camera out of a woman's hands, and another in which he may have destroyed evidence from a night in which he was working security at a bar when a patron was shoved down a flight of stairs and suffered a brain injury.

20. Robert Leone saw a flashing light bar in his rearview mirror as he drove on a Pennsylvania road one night. Thinking he'd done nothing wrong and assuming the police car was on its way to another call, he continued driving. Police later said his car matched the description of a vehicle that earlier had been involved in a minor traffic accident. The situation suddenly escalated when more Pennsylvania state police cars joined the slow-speed chase, eventually using stop sticks to disable Leone's car. Dash cams from the police cars show a compliant Leone being beaten, tasered, and screamed at in the most crude, vile language imaginable. One cop can be seen jumping from the top of Leone's car and landing on Leone as he lay face-down on the ground. Leone begs for mercy as the beating continues. An ambulance that was called for Leone instead takes away an officer who broke his hand by pounding so hard on Leone's head.

Leone is eventually taken to the hospital in a police car. He begs the attending nurse for help, saying that the police have beaten him. One of the cops who brought him to the hospital overheard the comment and ordered all the hospital personnel out of the room, after which the cops beat and tasered him again.

He is released from the hospital and taken to police barracks, where he is set to be arraigned via videoconference with a magistrate. The cops order Leone not to look at the judge, obviously so the judge won't see how badly he's been beaten. When the link goes live, Leone immediately begs the magistrate for help, and the link "goes dead," with the cops claiming there was a malfunction. At that point, Leone is beaten and tasered a third time, so badly that he has to be taken back to the hospital for further treatment.

When Leone is finally taken to be locked up, the prison officials are shocked at his condition and bring in the on-call doctor, who gives him a full physical and documents all his injuries, so that the officials couldn't be blamed for any of the injuries.

Leone's bail was set at $250,000, and he waited in jail for six months for his trial, where he faced 24 criminal charges. He was found not guilty or had the charges dismissed for 20 of the 24 counts. It was clear that the cops threw everything they could at him, no matter how absurd or baseless. For one, he was charged with assault for breaking an officer's hand, even though it was the officer who broke his own hand by beating on Leone's head. He was also charged with DUI, even though all his tests came back negative for alcohol.

He was sentenced to one and a half to four years in prison on the four charges, and he was denied parole twice before finally being released after two and a half years. So far, none of the officers has been charged with any wrongdoing.

21. Police tell a 49-year-old woman walking her dog to pick up its droppings. She tells them her dog didn't defecate, but she picks up the cold pile in question anyway. When she raises her voice and complains about the disrespectful way she's being treated, a cop shows her a pair of handcuffs and threatens her with arrest. When she stands her ground, the cops do just that. They throw her into the squad car, and pound on her.

A witness saw the cop leaning into the car and pummeling the woman. She was struck in the face, back, stomach, breast, and arm -- all over a pile of dog crap that wasn't her dog's.

22. Cops pull over a 5-foot-2, 34-year-old nurse and mother in a parking lot for talking on her cell phone. Surveillance video from a nearby store shows as soon as the woman steps out of her car, she is thrown to the ground and handcuffed.

One of the cops walks her toward the police car, but rather than putting her inside, the cop violently body-slams her face first into the concrete. After she's finally put inside the cruiser, the two cops fist-bump each other, apparently to congratulate each other for a job well done -- for stopping a woman from the dangerous crime of talking on her phone.

23. A man finds his stepson in the garage, having committed suicide. In desperation, he attempts CPR. When medics and police arrived, the man said a cop grabbed him by the arm and belligerently ordered him to move away. As any loving parent would do, the man jerked his arm back from the cop and said, "Don't touch me," refusing to be ripped away. Rather than having some sympathy for the man and trying to calmly get him to step aside, the cop tackled the man, and two officers held him down while two others pounded on his face. He was arrested and taken to jail, where he was charged with felony obstruction.

24. A man and his mother were having an argument at her home, so she called police. When they arrived, she asked them to please not harm her son. Once inside, the son, who was unarmed, became combative. In short order, the man was tasered, the family dog was shot and killed, and then the man himself was shot and killed. The man had told police to leave and said they didn't have a warrant to be in the house, but according to the partner of the cop who pulled the trigger, the officer put a gun to the man's head and told him, "I don't need no warrant, motherfucker." Moments later, the man was dead.

25. And in what may be the most heartbreaking story of all, a 2-year-old boy may end up being disfigured for life after a pointless SWAT raid in Atlanta. The boy's mother recounted the terrorizing night in an article at Salon:
After the SWAT team broke down the door, they threw a flashbang grenade inside. It landed in my son's crib.

Flashbang grenades were created for soldiers to use during battle. When they explode, the noise is so loud and the flash is so bright that anyone close by is temporarily blinded and deafened. It's been three weeks since the flashbang exploded next to my sleeping baby, and he's still covered in burns.
There's still a hole in his chest that exposes his ribs.

... After breaking down the door, throwing my husband to the ground, and screaming at my children, the officers – armed with M16s – filed through the house like they were playing war.

... I heard my baby wailing and asked one of the officers to let me hold him. He screamed at me to sit down and shut up and blocked my view, so I couldn't see my son. I could see a singed crib. And I could see a pool of blood. The officers yelled at me to calm down and told me my son was fine, that he'd just lost a tooth. It was only hours later when they finally let us drive to the hospital that we found out Bou Bou was in the intensive burn unit and that he'd been placed into a medically induced coma.
The boy also had a hole blown in his cheek and lost the use of a lung. He was covered in third-degree burns. The family wasn't even sure at first whether he'd survive. He's undergone several surgeries, and it's not known yet whether he suffered brain damage in the incident. There will almost certainly be psychological scars.

What was so important in this house that the police had to bust in and terrorize an innocent family? An alleged $50 drug deal, made by the nephew of the homeowner, who wasn't even there and didn't live in the house.

The cops later claimed they didn't know any children were in the house, even though, as the child's mother points out, there were toys in the front yard, and their van had child safety seats inside, plus a stick-figure family on the back window showing four kids.

This poor family was already down on its luck. They were staying at a relative's house after their own home in Wisconsin burned down. And after losing their home, they had to deal with this. Terrorized by police who act like they're on a military raid, their innocent 2-year-old child disfigured -- all over a $50 drug deal. Complete overkill.

This is the tragedy of the so-called "war on drugs." It's doing more harm to innocent people than the drugs themselves are.

Can any good come from this horror? This is what the boy's mother had to say:
The only silver lining I can possibly see is that my baby Bou Bou's story might make us angry enough that we stop accepting brutal SWAT raids as a normal way to fight the "war on drugs." I know that this has happened to other families, here in Georgia and across the country. I know that SWAT teams are breaking into homes in the middle of the night, more often than not just to serve search warrants in drug cases. I know that too many local cops have stockpiled weapons that were made for soldiers to take to war.
The boy is back home now and continuing to recover, but his mother vows that "this is a fight we will not back down from."

Family spokesman and Atlanta community activist Marcus Coleman pulled no punches, either:
The fact of the matter is this family is the face of police brutality. This family is the face of the war on drugs. This family understands that this is bigger than them, and the mother and father have both stated that they do not want to see this type of tragedy happen to another family.
And the only way to prevent it from happening again is to stand up against this increasing militarization of the police and demand an end to the insane policies that are causing these raids to proliferate.

But why are they happening in the first place? Like most things, it boils down to money. The United States spends $51 billion a year on the "war on drugs," and the federal government is throwing around billions of dollars on top of that in grants, offering up military-grade armor and vehicles to help local communities fight the "war" -- and, of course, Fatherland Security is doing its part by writing enormous checks to police departments so they can buy even more battlefield gear on top of that, effectively turning police stations into armies.

Author Radley Balko, who for years has been following the trend of police militarization, offers an overview of how we got to this point:
There's certainly a lot of overlap between the war on drugs and police militarization. But if we go back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were two trends developing simultaneously. The first was the development and spread of SWAT teams. Darryl Gates started the first SWAT team in L.A. in 1969. By 1975, there were 500 of them across the country. They were largely a reaction to riots, violent protest groups like the Black Panthers and Symbionese Liberation Army, and a couple mass shooting incidents, like the Texas clock tower massacre in 1966.

At the same time, Nixon was declaring an "all-out war on drugs." He was pushing policies like the no-knock raid, dehumanizing drug users and dealers, and sending federal agents to storm private homes on raids that were really more about headlines and photo-ops than diminishing the supply of illicit drugs.

But for the first decade or so after Gates invented them, SWAT teams were largely only used in emergency situations. There usually needed to be an immediate, deadly threat to send the SWAT guys. It wasn't until the early 1980s under Reagan that the two trends converged, and we started to see SWAT teams used on an almost daily basis -- mostly to serve drug warrants.
... We got here by way of a number of political decisions and policies passed over 40 years. There was never a single law or policy that militarized our police departments -- so there was never really a public debate over whether this was a good or bad thing.

But there were other contributors. For about a generation, politicians from both parties were tripping over themselves to see who could come up with the tougher anti-crime policies. We're finally seeing some push-back on issues like incarceration, the drug war, and over-criminalization. But not on police. No politician wants to look anti-cop. Conservatives want to look tough on crime. Liberals love to throw money at police departments. So for now, rolling back police militarization is still a non-starter in Congress and state legislatures.
Undertaking an extensive study of SWAT raid proliferation, the ACLU uncovered some unsettling statistics:
There are an estimated 45,000 SWAT raids every year. That means this sort of violent, paramilitary raid is happening in about 124 homes every day -- or more likely every night -- not in an overseas combat zone, but here in American neighborhoods. The police, who are supposed to serve and protect communities, are instead waging war on the people who live in them.
The report also found that in the 800 cases the ACLU investigated, SWAT units were used for their original purpose -- "hostage and barricade situations"  -- only 7% of the time. Almost 80% were undertaken to search homes, usually for drugs.

"During these drug searches," the ACLU says, "at least 10 officers often piled into armored personnel carriers. They forced their way into people's homes using military equipment like battering rams 60 percent of the time. And they were 14 times more likely to deploy flashbang grenades than during SWAT raids for other purposes."

Balko added his thoughts on these findings:
In other words, where violent, volatile SWAT tactics were once used only in limited situations where someone was in the process of or about to commit a violent crime — where the police were using violence only to defuse an already violent situation — SWAT teams today are overwhelmingly used to investigate people who are still only suspected of committing nonviolent consensual crimes. And because these raids often involve forced entry into homes, often at night, they’re actually creating violence and confrontation where there was none before.
And as we've seen, innocent bystanders, including children and family pets, often become victims of these needless and overreaching raids. In at least one-third of these raids, according to the ACLU, no contraband is even found. But even when they do find something, do the ends justify the means? Is this not an invasion of privacy and a violation of the Fourth Amendment?

More from the ACLU:
Even if [SWAT teams] had found contraband, the idea of cops-cum-warriors would still be deeply troubling. Police can – and do – conduct searches and take suspects into custody without incident, without breaking into a home in the middle of the night, and without discharging their weapons. The fact is, very few policing situations actually require a full SWAT deployment or a tank. And simply having drugs in one's home should not be a high-risk factor used to justify a paramilitary raid. 
Equally disturbing is that police departments are so cavalier about these raids now that the orders to carry them out don't even come from the chief in many cases, reflecting a lack of proper oversight. Moreover, lots of police stations simply aren't talking about any of it. Nearly half of the ACLU's requests for information from local police departments were denied using a variety of flimsy excuses. In Massachusetts, SWAT teams declined to reveal information on the basis that they were private 501(c)(3) corporations, making them exempt from requests for public records. That's right: A taxpayer-financed hit squad is hiding behind the IRS tax code to conceal its actions from the public that it terrorizes.

Says Balko:
In short, we have police departments that are increasingly using violent, confrontational tactics to break into private homes for increasingly low-level crimes, and they seem to believe that the public has no right to know the specifics of when, how, and why those tactics are being used.
Furthermore, where only 25% of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 had a SWAT team 30 years ago, that number now stands at 80%. There's no escape from this growing police state.

On top of that, there are the weapons themselves that are being deployed in these raids, as police departments stockpile gear and munitions out of all proportion to anything they could possibly ever need.

Barack Obama once said that "weapons of war have no place on our streets," but if he really believes that, then he has some explaining to do.

As these weapons of war are retired from the battlefields overseas, they're being handed over to local police forces all over the country.

The overkill would be laughable if the situation weren't so serious and the potential consequences so deadly, but the reality is that the wars overseas are coming home to Main Street, quite literally. A department in Maine requested a mine-resistant vehicle because the area allegedly faced "a previously unimaginable threat from terrorist activities." Little Keene, N.H., population 23,000, decided that it needed a Bearcat armored vehicle to protect against terrorist attacks at events such as its annual pumpkin festival. No joke. The ACLU report had a bit to say about Keene's ridiculous decision:
To explain why the police included the word "terrorism" on their application for federal funding for this purchase, a city councilmember said, "Our application talked about the danger of domestic terrorism, but that’s just something you put in the grant application to get the money. What red-blooded American cop isn’t going to be excited about getting a toy like this? That’s what it comes down to."
That's right. Silencers, camouflage, night-vision goggles, and even grenade launchers are being funneled into cops' hands, and all because little boys want to play with their toys. The Albuquerque cops, apparently having learned nothing from their scolding at the hands of the Justice Department for their use of excessive force, are getting in on the act, too, procuring 350 AR-15 assault rifles.

And the excuse the cops dish out for this excessive activity, over and over? It's for our own safety. As one rural Indiana sheriff whose department got a mine-resistant vehicle said, "It's my job to make sure my employees go home safe." In rural Indiana. What, are the cows going to throw Molotov cocktails at the cops? One of his peers in another rural Indiana county says he's only doing what's necessary, because "the United States of America has become a war zone." Well, no, it wasn't, but you guys are increasingly making it look like one.

So is Fatherland Security, which is responsible for a huge part of this abomination.

Memo to police: You are not at war against the American people. Stop acting like you are.

Clearly, this ramping up of the stakes is having a psychological effect on the mindsets of police forces, who are quickly forgetting that they're not members of the military. As The New York Times reports:
The ubiquity of SWAT teams has changed not only the way officers look, but also the way departments view themselves. Recruiting videos feature clips of officers storming into homes with smoke grenades and firing automatic weapons. In Springdale, Ark., a police recruiting video is dominated by SWAT clips, including officers throwing a flash grenade into a house and creeping through a field in camouflage.
Balko says that mindset absolutely has to change:
The gear and weapons and tanks are a problem. But I think a much deeper problem is the effect all of this war talk and battle rhetoric has had on policing as a profession. In much of the country today, police officers are psychologically isolated from the communities they serve. It's all about us vs. them.
... [C]ops should be a part of the communities in which they work. They should walk beats. They should know the names of the school principals, 7-11 managers, and Boys and Girls Club and community center staffers. When your only interaction with the community is antagonistic -- responding to calls, conducting stop-and-frisks, questioning people -- your relationship with the community will be antagonistic. Cops are public servants. Their job is to keep the peace while protecting and observing our constitutional rights. Somewhere in the process constantly declaring war on things, we've lost sight of that.
For 30 years, politicians and public officials have been arming, training, and dressing cops as if they're fighting a war. They've been dehumanizing drug offenders and criminal suspects as the enemy. And of course they've explicitly and repeatedly told them they're fighting a war. It shouldn't be all that surprising that a lot of cops have started to believe it. 
And none of this stops at SWAT teams and drug raids. It's only going to spread and get worse, and it's already beginning. Cops in Orlando conducted warrantless searches on the city's barbershops in 2010, essentially going on a fishing expedition -- the very thing the Fourth Amendment was written to protect against -- as they screamed and cursed at the store owners while ransacking their shops. Some cops were masked. Others had their guns drawn. Still others brought in police dogs. In the end, the cops found small amounts of drugs and guns, but 34 of the 37 arrests they made were for barbering without a license.

In Chicago in 2013, an undercover cop allegedly was offered sexual favors for cash at a massage parlor. When cops showed up to take action, the female owner, 5-foot-2 and 110 pounds, was rushed, thrown to the floor, and handcuffed, before being slapped from behind on the head. She thought she was being robbed before she realized that the criminals were actually Chicago's finest. She ended up with scratches and bruises from the incident, but that wasn't the worst of it. The verbal abuse from the cop was unrelenting.

"Mind your fucking business before I shut this whole fucking place down," the cop said when the woman protested her treatment.

He went on, screaming at her: "You're not a fucking American," he told the woman who's from China but has been an American citizen since 2011. "I'll put you in a UPS box and send you back to wherever  the fuck you came from." From there, he threatens to have it arranged so that she and her family will be killed.

The police tried but failed to find the surveillance video that showed the abuse as it unfolded, clearly so that it could never be used against them.

When the woman fought back against the abusive cop and said she was just trying to defend herself, the cop roared, "Protect yourself from what? From the police? I don’t know how it is in your country, but in our country the police help."


Other stories are just as mind-boggling. Cops in riot gear have raided bars and nightclubs without warrants and handed out citations for underage drinking while checking for everything from outstanding arrest warrants to unpaid parking tickets -- all while holding patrons at gunpoint and searching their phones. The ATF, National Guard, and helicopters have been called out to break up low-stakes poker games, some of which ended after cops raided VFW halls and smashed down doors of private homes with battering rams. One gambling sting went so far as to have an undercover detective befriend a man who made friendly bets on sporting events. The detective got the man to make larger and larger bets over the course of several months, until he exceeded $2,000, which was the threshold in Virginia for running a gambling operation. The detective arrived later at the home of his "friend" with a SWAT team in tow. One of the SWAT team members shot the man in the heart and killed him.

We all remember the scene in Boston after the marathon bombing, with tanks and other armored vehicles rolling down the streets.

People were being involuntarily pulled out of their homes while the cops, armed to the teeth and indistinguishable from soldiers on patrol in a war zone, stormed through private residences with their guns drawn.

Citizens freely walking the streets were being told to show their identification to police. "Your papers, please ..."

One TV report gave a bizarre characterization of the house-to-house raids as a case of cops who would "rescue a family at the point of a gun." That's how we describe martial law and the trampling of the Fourth Amendment?

Don't forget, of course, that the cops, despite their fascist lockdown, never found the bomber. A private citizen did.

But it's hard to top what happened to a Nevada man in 2011. Police asked a man if they could use his house as a lookout for a domestic-violence standoff in the neighborhood. The man declined, saying he didn't want to get involved. That didn't matter, because the cops showed up anyway, demanding entry. When the man didn't open the door, cops smashed it down with a metal battering ram. Police rolled in, guns drawn, screaming conflicting orders at the homeowner after he dropped to the floor. Calling the man an "asshole," police fired at least three rounds of pepper balls at him from close range -- while he was unarmed and on the floor, posing no threat. He was then arrested. His dog got pepper-balled, too, before being tossed outside in the Nevada heat all day, while the cops commandeered the house for their stakeout.

The nearby home of his parents was taken over as well, and cops helped themselves to the water cooler and the refrigerator while they were there. The mother said the cops couldn't enter without a warrant, but they ignored her, grabbed her, and pulled her out of the house. The father was asked to come to the cops' command center, under the guise of helping them negotiate a surrender with the neighbor they wanted to capture. When the father realized taking him to the command center was just a ruse to get him to leave his house, he left the command center and was soon after arrested.

The family later sued the city, with charges including violating their Third Amendment rights protecting Americans from having to quarter soldiers. None of the cops involved were disciplined by the police department.

Clearly, things are completely out of control. What can be done? The ACLU, for its part, is asking for states to set restrictions on the use of SWAT teams, saying, sensibly, that "such aggressive and dangerous force should only be used in cases where it's truly necessary to save a life." It's also asking the federal agencies dishing out the money and weapons to stop "incentivizing tactics that erode trust in law enforcement and undermine public safety."

Balko, for his part, doesn't see any of this ending well:
"A new industry appears to be emerging just to convert those grants into battle-grade gear," he said.
"That means we'll soon have powerful private interests, funded by government grants, who will lobby for more government grants to pay for further militarization — a police industrial complex."
He adds that the polarization between the two major parties is making reform impossible:
The other problem is that political factions decry police militarization when it's used against them, but tend to fall somewhere between indifferent and gleeful when it's used against people they don't like. Conservatives, remember, were furious over Waco, Ruby Ridge, and a host of BATF abuses against gun owners in the 1990s -- and rightly so. Liberals mocked them for it.
Liberals were furious at the aggressive response to the occupy protests -- and rightly so. And conservatives mocked them. Liberals are rightly angry about militarized immigration raids -- conservatives don't much care.
... Until partisans are willing to denounce excessive force when it's used against people whose politics offend them -- or at least refrain from endorsing it -- it's hard to see how there will ever be a consensus for reform.
And it certainly doesn't help that while 84% of cops say they've seen another officer use excessive force, 61% say they don't always report "even serious criminal violations" when they see them happening. On top of that, most cases of misconduct are never investigated, as the cops look out for their own, and jurors' bias toward cops prevents most cases referred for federal prosecution from ever moving forward.

As a result, cops have become nothing more than bullies who hide behind their badges -- a dangerous, violent gang with the power of the state behind them. They know they can act as horribly as they want to, and no one will ever call them on it.

They might even fist-bump each other after a hard day of beating up civilians.

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