To be clear, when I say “police state tactics” I mean just that. We do not live in a police state here in the United States. However, since the 1970’s the federal government has been legislating more powerful weapons and tactics for use by our law enforcement agencies. The language, uniforms, and culture of everyone from county sheriffs to the FBI has become more and more militaristic. Moreover, our rights have suffered severely in the face of this onslaught.
From the mid 50’s through the 1960’s, the Warren Court made several decisions in cases involving wrongful convictions that angered hard core law and order types. They felt that these rulings were more concerned with the rights of the criminal than that of the victim. Some of the protections we enjoy to this day based on those cases are:
- Disclosure of all exculpatory evidence to the defense.
- Exclusion of evidence obtained during an illegal search.
- Required reading of Miranda rights.
- The right to legal representation during police interrogation.
- Right of the indigent to be provided attorneys.
- Expansion of 4th Amendment rights to include immaterial intrusion with technology as a search.
Both the perpetrator and victim of a crime have the exact same rights under the Constitution. Hence, it is impossible to weaken the rights of one without necessarily weakening the rights of the other. Nonetheless, the right argued that the courts had done just that by giving the accused extra protections. This, they argued, placed the victim at a disadvantage. By 1968, the nation turned to Law and Order hardliner Richard Nixon in response.
Birth of police state tactics.
Ironically, the same “law and order” President would resign based on his own legal issues. It wouldn’t be the last time someone from his Administration got caught up in the aggressive policing tactics that he brought to bear. President Nixon did meet some resistance to his tough on crime proposals. He bemoaned this fact while celebrating his first win, the D.C. Crime Bill. This act began an irreversible trend of aggressive law enforcement. It included tactics like preventive detention, wiretapping, no-knock searches, and mandatory five-year prison terms for anyone convicted of a second armed crime. President Nixon complained about the fact that he didn’t get more.
Nixon had submitted 13 different law and order bills. Fighting back were Democrats like Congressman Emanuel Cellar from Brooklyn and Senator Sam Ervin Jr. They opposed many of the provisions they saw as invasive and unconstitutional. However, the party feared being labelled as weak on crime. Hence, they eventually caved on one that was easy to stomach. Having no Senators and only a representative in Congress who can’t vote on legislation, Washington D.C. fell victim to a crime bill. One that Congressmen and Senators had opposed for their own constituents.
Nixon’s efforts were to tie drugs to other criminal acts and thereby, although the name would become attached 10 years later, launch the war on drugs. The D.C. Crime Bill was the first in a series of attacks on civil liberties that would be launched by both parties over the coming 3 decades. These attacks would be compounded by Supreme Court decisions that expanded the powers of law enforcement and weakened the rights of citizens.
Growth of police state tactics.
President Reagan doubled down on these tough on crime tactics in the 80’s. In the 90’s, President Clinton did the same. Law enforcement began the creation of paramilitary police units, like L.A. SWAT. LAPD leadership originally opposed the idea. Gates saved SWAT with a simple name change. This switch is a prime example of how easy it can be to sacrifice rights on the altar of protection.
Gates saw a need for a special team of highly-trained officers who could be called out for extremely dangerous circumstances. He proposed that this team be called “SWAT,” which originally stood for “Special Weapons Attack Team.” Later, while describing the moment he first brought the idea of SWAT to his superiors, Gates said, “I was almost disowned.” He changed the name to “Special Weapons and Tactics” and sold the idea to higher-ups.
Notice, it was perfectly acceptable to have an attack team. It was only problematic to call it an attack team. Soon, SWAT would spread to more and eventually smaller towns. Today it is not uncommon for towns with less than 50,000 residents to have SWAT teams. The FDA, Department of Education, and even U.S. Fish and Wildlife have their own SWAT teams. There are even programs to fund and facilitate the transfer of military vehicles and weapons to police departments across the country. The Founder’s fear of a standing army in the streets is now a commonplace reality.
Opposition to police state tactics.
Civil Libertarians consistently stand against both the militarization of the police and the use of police state tactics. The left, as previously noted, did launch some early opposition. By the time Clinton was elected, Hillary was railing against “super predators”. The left was completely on board and seemingly trying to one up the right on the law and order hardline.
Suddenly, the roles reversed. The nation watched as federal agents raided Ruby Ridge and the Branch Davidian compound on weapons charges. The right seemed to realize their error. The machine they had created to raid inner city drug users was now in the hands of the left. The government was now using these tactics to raid far right wingers for gun violations. When armed agents raided a South Florida home to retrieve a young Elian Gonzales, the political right was in full fledged opposition to police state tactics. Unfortunately, the left no longer seemed to notice nor care.
Once Clinton left office, President Bush had the right behind him as he raided medical marijuana facilities. The left protested briefly. However, President Obama continued the raids. Now, nobody seemed to notice nor care, except for the Libertarians.
Which police state tactics need to go?
- Qualified immunity is a standard that holds officers liable only for violating rights that are “clearly established” in light of existing case law. Private citizens, on the other hand, are responsible for breaking any law. We must hold police officers to that same standard. End qualified immunity.
- No knock warrants are a clear violation of the Castle Doctrine. Scrap them.
- Military weapons belong in the hands of soldiers on the battlefield. There is no place for armored vehicles on our streets. Ban the use of weapons of war by law enforcement officers.
- We must ban the use of preventive detention, except in the most extreme cases. Furthermore, the act of using high bail as a de facto preventive detention has to end.
- Remove all exceptions to the exclusionary rule. Under no circumstances should illegally obtained evidence be admissible.
These ideas are a starting point. I’m sure more knowledgeable minds than mine can offer a few more reform ideas. Feel free to do so in the comments below.
Uniting against police state tactics.
We have reached a unique juncture. For the first time that I can recall, both sides are protesting police state tactics. NFL players are protesting the heavy hand of law enforcement in the inner cities, while Trump supporters are angered by SWAT styled raids on Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone. The only problem is that political forces have managed to distract us.
NFL players are protesting police brutality. Politicians are misrepresenting these protests as an attack on the flag. Meanwhile, the agencies that raid Trump Administration officials tell us that they followed proper protocol. These methods can only be considered proper protocol when police state tactics are commonplace. The question isn’t are they following such guidelines, it is should such protocol exist? The answer is “no”.
We have a golden opportunity to get past our differences here and effect positive change. You may love Trump and hate the NFL players who are protesting. Conversely, you might applaud the players but hate President Trump. On this issue, we are on the same side. If we come together, perhaps we can reverse the trend of militarization and reverse the spread of police state tactics against our fellow citizens.
Consider this. One of the Trump associates raided was Roger Stone. Earlier, I stated that Nixon wasn’t the only member of his Administration to get caught up in aggressive police action. Not only did Stone work for Nixon, he has a tattoo of the former President on his back. When released from jail, he flashed the Nixon “victory” sign. He’s no speaking out against police state tactics.
G. Gordon Liddy is former Nixon official who served prison time for his involvement in police state tactics. He now advocates his own strategy for dealing with federal agents who break into your house. He says to shoot for the head, where their body armor won’t protect them.
When the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms thugs come to kill your wife and children, to try to disarm you and they open fire on you. When they come at the point of a gun, force and violence, when you’re going to defend yourself, use that Gerand [M-1 rifle]. That thing is 30-06, and it’ll take ’em right out.
I disagree with Liddy on that. I quote him only to establish that the originators of these tactics seem to have turned against them. This is likely because they are now living under them instead of overseeing them.
There are good cops and even some good police departments out there. We have the groundwork laid to push for a return to neighborhood policing policies. The only question is can we come together and make it happen?