Demilitarize the police

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, in Time

: The shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown is an awful tragedy that continues to send shock waves through the community of Ferguson, Missouri, and across the nation.

If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off. But I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.

The outrage in Ferguson is understandable — though there is never an excuse for rioting or looting. There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace, but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response.

There is a systemic problem with today’s law enforcement.

Not surprisingly, big government has been at the heart of the problem. Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies — where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement.

This is usually done in the name of fighting the war on drugs or terrorism. The Heritage Foundation’s Evan Bernick wrote in 2013, “The Department of Homeland Security has handed out anti-terrorism grants to cities and towns across the country, enabling them to buy armored vehicles, guns, armor, aircraft, and other equipment.

“Federal agencies of all stripes, as well as local police departments in towns with populations less than 14,000, come equipped with SWAT teams and heavy artillery.”

Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention. Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences for nonviolent mistakes in their youth.

What’s the strategy in Iraq?

William Murchison in The American Spectator

: The United States is involved in Iraq. Concerning which involvement we have two choices: 1) Mess it up, getting lots more people killed than have been killed already or 2) help the locals to engineer something like a standoff between Iraqis able to pass for reasonable people and those who, on present evidence, might have earned censure from Genghis Khan for excessive devotion to human slaughter.

It may be a while before President Barack Obama figures out what he has gotten himself into — first on account of prematurely pulling all American troops out of Iraq, second by sending back the Air Force to protect the Iraqi minority known as the Yazidis, along with such Americans as can still be found among our endangered friends, the Kurds.

Americans unhappy over events in Iraq are certain to grow unhappier as Obama — in between Democratic fundraisers — fumbles his way toward alternative No. 2. That’s assuming he understands, as may not be the case, how small is the corner into which he has painted himself. He won’t do boots-on-the-ground, he promises, but without those boots, what are the chances of deterring the homicidal maniacs who call themselves the Islamic State? Close to zero, one has to guess, based on the maniacs’ military successes.

Calling off the airstrikes isn’t remotely possible so long as the jihadists remain free to range throughout northern Iraq, killing Christians, Yazidis and anybody else in their way. Now that he is rightly back in Iraq — because how could he have left all those jihadist victims, present and potential, to die? — Obama will find how little room he has in which to operate.

It’s not about police equipment, but trust

Neil Franklin, retired police officer, in The New York Times

: The use of military equipment by the police is not necessarily a bad thing. Armored personnel carriers, for instance, save lives when, in cases like the D.C. sniper in 2002, police or civilians are under direct threat and subject to imminent harm if not protected. What has gotten out of control, however, is the way this equipment is too often used as a substitute for conversation before the situation ignites, exacerbating the us-versus-them mentalities among police officers and the communities they are sworn to serve.

What’s happening right now in Ferguson, Missouri, is not about the equipment being used. It’s about the lack of trust between the community, particularly people of color, and the police.

This lack of trust stems from the way we have policed for decades. Despite the fact that people of color are no more likely to use drugs than white people, the war on drugs is fought in our communities of color, where interrogation by the police is a routine way of life for young men. You can’t treat someone like a criminal because of his ZIP code or the color of his skin and expect him to respect your authority.

What we can do is change the way we police. We can change drug laws and police tactics that prioritize the targeting of people of color. We can adopt civilian review boards with real teeth and encourage a culture in which police respect the citizens they serve. We can develop practices so that the use of this equipment becomes a last resort.

After all, that's our job as police officers.

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