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Camo Covered Cops

Mark Steyn, commenting on images of camo-wearing police in Ferguson:

A soldier wears green camo in Vietnam to blend in. A policeman wears green camo in Ferguson to stand out – to let you guys know: We’re here, we’re severe, get used to it.

[...]

So, when the police are dressed like combat troops, it’s not a fashion faux pas, it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of who they are. Forget the armored vehicles with the gun turrets, forget the faceless, helmeted, anonymous Robocops, and just listen to how these "policemen" talk. Look at the video as they’re arresting the New York Times and Huffington Post reporters. Watch the St Louis County deputy ordering everyone to leave, and then adding: "This is not up for discussion."

Really? You’re a constable. You may be carrying on like the military commander of an occupying army faced with a rabble of revolting natives, but in the end you’re a constable. And the fact that you and your colleagues in that McDonald’s are comfortable speaking to your fellow citizens like this is part of the problem.

Indeed.

A long term problem with law enforcement policy in the United States, and therefore in the attitudes of too many (although not all) in law enforcement, is that members of the public can be treated as the enemy.  This is never the attitude that the police should have, even though I fully understand that the police often have to deal with very serious crimes.  Without a doubt, the situation in Ferguson arose out of an overly adversarial attitude by police vis-à-vis Michael Brown. 

While on the one hand one does not want to overstate this problem.  Policing is hard work, to be sure, and I have friends and family who truly serve/have served the public.  However, on the other hand at time like this I can’t help but recall an acquaintance of mine who was a part-time patrolman in a small Alabama town who really was looking forward to SWAT training (which struck me as rather unnecessary at the time, and as truly absurd as I think about it now.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. stonetools says:

    I would add that when the police force is white and the community is black or brown, it is even easier to fall into the pattern of the police thinking of the community as the enemy.
    I’ll further point out that Officer Wilson’s conduct would be indefensible even under military rules of engagement-which prompts the question, Why isn’t he in custody?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 2

  2. bandit says:

    @stonetools: You have truly got things about as assbackwards as is humanly possible

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  3. @bandit: You would argue the following is untrue?

    I would add that when the police force is white and the community is black or brown, it is even easier to fall into the pattern of the police thinking of the community as the enemy.

    And I assume you have some insight on rules of engagement? I am unaware that it is US military doctrine to shot unarmed civilians who are running away, but perhaps you can help us out with some knowledge.

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  4. Liberal Capitalist says:

    … and the first two comments seem to summarize the polarization that has occurred on this subject.

    My .02:

    As an individual that had the National Guard (including guns and cannons, tents and tanks) stationed on the end of my street in Detroit in the late 60’s, I have always been wary of police isolation.

    When the police does not see itself as one of the community, but instead as an enforcer / jailer role, there is unrest.

    In the 1960’s, the troops and police hid behind their role. However, in the 2010’s, give them camo, cover their faces, and make them no longer individually responsible, then you have an armed mob.

    I found this to be a good read today: http://www.steynonline.com/6524/cigars-but-not-close , which is where the above quote in Steven’s article is taken.

    There is a great deal of detail comparing various counties and their police attitudes:

    “The police” is a phenomenon of the modern world. It would be wholly alien, for example, to America’s Founders. In the sense we use the term today, it dates back no further than Sir Robert Peel’s founding of the Metropolitan Police in 1829. Because Londoners associated the concept with French-style political policing and state control, they were very resistant to the idea of a domestic soldiery keeping them in line. So Peel dressed his policemen in blue instead of infantry red, and instead of guns they had wooden truncheons.

    In Germany, a nation of 80 million people, police in 2011 fatally shot six persons. In Denmark, police shot 11 people in 11 years, and this was felt to be so disturbing that the National Police Commissioner held an inquiry into why his cops had gotten so trigger-happy. In Australia, 41 people were shot by police in eight years, and the then Justice Minister Amanda Vanstone… thought that that was too high. In Iceland, police have fatally shot just one suspect. That’s one guy in the entire history of the country. He was killed by police last December.

    As for the USA… well, there is one account that talks about 100 rounds just for one individual, guilty of speeding. There are other stories as well.

    So. What do we do?

    I was one that spoke out against the invasion of Iraq since day 1, knowing that it was an intentional error on the part of our government, and I have been an ardent opponent of passing out weapons of war to police officers.

    What we can do is keep talking about it. And change the laws that will change the budgets. There is no reason why a local force should have tanks.

    What is surprising is that in this, by stating this position, find myself nearly in the same camp as the armed-to-the-teeth wackadoos that believe that the government will invade their homes and take their property.

    Yet in Ferguson, this is the case.

    But where are the second amendment heroes today? Where is their outrage? Why are they not passing out weapons to the residents of Ferguson… and why are they not rushing to their defense?

    Oh.. yeah. Silly me.

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  5. Ron Beasley says:

    The police used to be public servants who came in to protect the population. Now the often come in like an occupying force and the camo dress and military hardware only add to that image

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  6. MarkedMan says:

    @Ron Beasley: I sincerely doubt that the majority of police in the past were simply “public servants who came in to protect the population”. The police has served to keep the n***r down, literally and figuratively, all over the world. As a white middle-aged guy they might usually treat me with some amount of respect, but I have no illusions that applies to everyone.There are good cops and bad cops, but a very important part of the equation is that the good cops will never hold the bad cops accountable. The blue wall is very real.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  7. michael reynolds says:

    Mark Steyn is utterly dishonest. The comparisons he draws are all to nations with a profound difference from our own country: they do not have an NRA-armed citizenry.

    Steyn’s absolutely right about the uniform. But the bulk of the piece is an attack on the kill rate by American cops. A kill rate he and his ilk help to cause.

    The reason American cops are trigger happy is because Americans are armed to the teeth – with the wildly enthusiastic support of conservatives like Mr. Steyn. When all a police officer is likely to face is flailing fists he’s likely to be a wee bit more relaxed than an American police officer who may be facing semi-automatic assault rifles with cop-killer bullets stuffed into extended magazines – all courtesy of the NRA, the conscienceless filth that manufacture and sell those guns and the political whores who give them cover.

    If you obsessively arm the criminals you’re going to get a trigger-happy constabulary. And that is what conservatives, and the gun manufacturers, and the NRA, do: they arm criminals.

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  8. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I don’t think that Bandit can help us out with insight as to the rules of engagement; he just really does believe that brown people are the enemies of the police.

    And as to shooting unarmed (brown) civilians in the back: well, what else are you going to do, you can’t let them get away, can you?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  9. James Pearce says:

    @michael reynolds:

    If you obsessively arm the criminals you’re going to get a trigger-happy constabulary.

    This cannot be overstated.

    A lot of hot air has been expended over the last week about how libertarians have been harping on the “militarized police” stuff for, like, ever. Characteristically, they do not get the correlation between their gun-toting rhetoric and the gun-toting cops. “Why do the police need tanks?” they ask as they polish their AR-15s.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  10. Jim R says:

    A lot of hot air has been expended over the last week about how libertarians have been harping on the “militarized police” stuff for, like, ever. Characteristically, they do not get the correlation between their gun-toting rhetoric and the gun-toting cops. “Why do the police need tanks?” they ask as they polish their AR-15s.

    Huh. Of all the things to be taken away from Ferguson, “Gee, I really wish the cops were the only ones with weapons! How much better things would be!” is one that hadn’t occurred to me.

    Better idea: end the epic fail known as the “War on Drugs.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. matt bernius says:

    @michael reynolds:
    All excellent points. I did a double take when I realized who wrote the excerpt Steven quoted. And I was planning to (begrudgingly) congratulate Steyn for getting something correct for once. Then I hit your comment and totally agreed. In fact, Steyn fails to note in this article or his previous one on police violence that all of the countries he cites low levels of police violence have high levels of gun control laws.

    Actually its worse than that because Steyn (and others) attempt to muddy this important fact by mentioning the high level of Gun ownership in Iceland. And it’s true, 1/3rd of the population of Iceland *does* own guns. However, Steyn and others fail to note two key facts:
    1. Iceland has a national database that registers and tracks all guns, and all gun buyers must be licensed by the state to possess firearms.[*]
    2. The vast majority of guns in Iceland are long guns.

    [*] – Gun rights folks, note that a country can have a national database and complete licensing and *STILL* 1/3 of the population owns a gun. Go figure!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  12. gVOR08 says:

    In the early seventies I ran into an acquaintance from high school. He’d joined the police force. The city had had a race riot in the 60s, before he joined the force. He said he was hoping they would have another riot so he could bust some heads. For better or worse, keeping the supposed lower orders in line has generally been a police function. And often carried out in paramilitary fashion.

    Read a story years ago about a police academy graduate in Chicago who was really pissed he was assigned to a wealthy neighborhood. He wanted to go to the south side, where he could tell people what to do, not where people would tell him what to do.

    I’m sometimes reminded of Dragnet. Joe Friday discharged his weapon once in years of episodes. And that was off camera prior to the episode. Attitudes have changed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  13. michael reynolds says:

    @Jim R:

    Better idea: both. Let’s end the drug war and get guns off the street.

    It requires mental contortions of an epic nature to conclude that what’s needed in Ferguson Missouri is more guns. In fact it requires long brainwashing, a credulous and receptive mind, and an absolute disregard for reason. The logic of the gun cult.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  14. JKB says:

    @michael reynolds:

    You do realize that so far the only guns on the street in Ferguson have been in the hands of the State actors?

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  15. JKB says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I am unaware that it is US military doctrine to shot unarmed civilians who are running away,

    Except in the case of Brown’s shooting, even what may be the most biased (against) account of the shooting by the guy who was with Brown, Johnson, reports that Brown had turned when the fatal shots were fired. This is supported by the announcement by the family’s private medical examiner report that came out last night. All (6) bullets struck the front of Brown’s body, although one did enter the top of his head and traveled toward the torso. In the audio of a cellphone video showing Brown in the street, one of those heard relates that Brown was running then turned and charged the officer when he was shot.

    There does seem to be eyewitness reports that the officer fired after Brown as he was running away. These may be problematic in light of the controlling SCOTUS decision. But they did not strike Brown and therefore are not material to the fatal use of force, i.e., Brown was not shot while he was running away. He was shot after he turned back toward the officer.

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  16. Matt Bernius says:

    @JKB:
    Correct. Thought the ME report also notes that he was not shot a close range either. Which means he turned around *at distance* (we’ve yet to hear what distance) and then they opened fire or they opened fire on his back, *missed* and he turned.

    I’m not sure shooting an unarmed person *at range* six times was an appropriate response. Especially when that individual had not displayed a weapon or an attempt to go for a weapon.

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  17. Matt Bernius says:

    @JKB:

    You do realize that so far the only guns on the street in Ferguson have been in the hands of the State actors?

    Who either shot an unarmed man out of malice or because they assumed (a) he was a criminal, and (b) therefore he had a weapon.

    I don’t think we can discount the assumption of the police that the *bad guy* is always armed as part of the problem. Which gets back to the issue of gun control.

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  18. JKB says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    In this case, the “bad guy” had assaulted and injured the officer while he was trying to exit his vehicle. Then he ran and by appearances turned back and rushed the officer. Those both contribute to the officer’s reasonable fear of imminent death or serious bodily injury. Can’t say whether it satisfies that standard.

    Brown’s body was 35 feet from the door of the police vehicle where he assaulted the officer. There are statements the officer was pursuing so we may assume the distance from which the fatal shots were fired was less than 35 feet.

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  19. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @JKB: @michael reynolds:

    You do realize that so far the only guns on the street in Ferguson have been in the hands of the State actors?

    THIS !!!

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  20. Matt says:

    @matt bernius: My saiga aka AK103 is considered a long arm there. Here they call it an “assault weapon” or scary black gun. You can legally own them in a variety of places including the UK btw..

    @JKB:
    Okay so you’re saying that you believe Brown ran from the police was on the verge of getting away and then decided to turn around to run back and kill the cop? Or what?

    I’ve known many a criminal and they don’t turn around like that. I imagine if they were shot at a distance while running they certainly would decide giving up would be a good idea though.

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  21. JKB says:

    @Matt:

    I don’t really have a good reason not to believe contemporary comments on video within 5 hours of the shooting. That individual, along with at least one other, has stated the Brown charged at the officer after running away. Hopefully, there is physical evidence that will clarify the matter.

    No one can say what his intent was. All that can be said that after assaulting the officer as he tried to get out of his car, the officer could probably sustain that he had a reasonable fear of death or bodily injury when Brown turned around and (if) he charged at the officer.

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  22. matt bernius says:

    @Matt:

    My saiga aka AK103 is considered a long arm there. Here they call it an “assault weapon” or scary black gun. You can legally own them in a variety of places including the UK btw.

    I’d prefer not to revisit the “assault weapon” debate at this juncture. All I’ll say is this:

    1. I don’t think that the term “assault weapon” is a useful one
    2. I realize that guns like yours are available in a number of these countries with higher regulations including the UK and Iceland.
    3. I believe that in most western countries, ownership of the AK-103 requires a license

    Again, I’m not someone who is rabidly anti-gun. However, I continue to return to two points: (1) the fact that countries with a high level of civilian gun regulation, surprisingly, have lower levels of gun crime, AND (2) by your own admission, countries can have higher gun regulations AND still allow citizens access to guns like the AK-103-1 (I’m assuming you’ve got the citizen model).

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  23. Matt says:

    @matt bernius: I would have no problem with strict regulation but the Democratic base has proven they cannot be trusted in such a situation. Just look at the shit they try to sneak through in California. Specifically the attempt to sneak in to a bill language to confiscate registered sks long rifles.

    I would also add that compared to those countries the USA has higher violence rates in general. We’re an overly violent culture and banning the tools isn’t going to solve that problem.

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  24. gVOR08 says:

    @Matt:

    …banning the tools isn’t going to solve that problem.

    On the other hand, what would it hurt? Except “You’re not the boss of me.”

    Not suggesting we should ban the tools, can’t be done in the current political climate. But if we did an honest cost-benefit analysis of private ownership of handguns, we’d outlaw the things by Tuesday.

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  25. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    Children like to play dress-up. The same children really shouldn’t have access to guns.

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