Back in September, around the twelfth anniversary of the 9/11 attack, we pondered the nation’s dangerous slide into a mentality of sacrificing some of our freedoms – so hard-earned back in the 1770s – for a little temporary security, and not even very good security at that. One of the worrisome developments we noted was the rise of militarized police forces everywhere, the proliferation of SWAT teams for every podunk town in the land… and the predictable abuses that follow.
Well, folks, it’s worse than we thought.
As John Fund writes for the National Review Online, it’s not just law enforcement that craves, obtains and then abuses their newfound paramilitary muscle. That’s already bad enough, but what are we to think when various administrative pencil-necked geek agencies with zero experience in law enforcement get their own SWAT teams, and start routinely using them against non-violent offenders… and even folks who are only associated with non-violent offenders?
Here are a few mentions from Mr. Fund’s article: the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Education, the Railroad Retirement Board, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Office of Personnel Management, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Yep, they all have SWAT forces.
What the hell do these agencies need SWAT teams for? Why can’t they just put in a request to the FBI for this kind of assistance, if they think it’s needed?
As one would expect, in a post-9/11 “Homeland Security” environment that would do George Orwell proud, pencil-necked geek agencies who suddenly find themselves in possession of big guns and musclebound Men In Black just don’t know what to do with these new toys, but by golly, they’ll do something. Check out Fund’s article to see his examples of the heinous criminals who have felt the armed fury of these administrative bureaucrats: a rancher accused of blowing off fees for grazing on public lands, bringing the Bureau of Land Management down on his head; a dairy farmer selling unpasteurized milk, provoking an armed “inspection” by the Food and Drug Administration; and an innocent man whose sole offense was having an estranged wife suspected of financial-aid fraud, inviting the Department of Education to break down his door, handcuff him, and haul him and his kids out of his house for several hours while they searched the home for any indication of her activities… and she didn’t even live there.
This is the biggest danger with handing out SWAT teams like candy; as Fund correctly notes, once an agency or jurisdiction has such a thing, they will find uses for it. If they don’t have drug cartels or gang wars or bungled bank robberies or hostage situations to deal with, well… there’s always an animal shelter with a “dangerous” baby deer that needs seizing and killing (this happened in Wisconsin), or barbers who barber without a license who need arresting in Florida, or… right here in my own home county in Virginia… a guy betting on football games who needs to be taken out (that case resulted in a settlement against the county). Then there is the recent case of outright abuse in Peoria, Illinois, in which Mayor Jim Ardis ordered an unconstitutional armed raid on a home just because he was ticked off that one of the residents had established a fake Twitter account to parody him.
There is something seriously wrong with a country where paramilitary forces are more and more ubiquitous, and more and more engaged in violent shock tactics against non-violent or even completely innocent citizens. Does this look like democracy to you?
This kind of senseless overkill is dangerous to law enforcement, too. If a completely unsuspecting citizen is suddenly attacked in his own home, he might not automatically assume it is the police barging in. He might, like Henry Magee of Texas, act to defend himself and his loved ones from an apparent home invasion. Magee, who was growing a few marijuana plants in his home, was targeted for a no-knock warrant late last year. When agents stormed the home with no warning before 6 AM, Magee reacted by firing at the intruders, killing one deputy. He will face drug charges for the marijuana, but a grand jury refused to indict him for shooting the officer and the charge of murder was dropped. While the District Attorney continues to blame Magee for the death – “The Burleson County Sheriff’s Office would not have been there that day if Mr. Magee had not decided to live a lifestyle of doing and producing illegal drugs in his home” – there is more common sense in Magee’s defense attorney’s statement: “It need not have happened. They could have walked up to his house in the daylight and he would have let him in or they could have stopped him as he left his house to go to the store.” Yes, that’s common sense, because Magee would then have been in plain view, more likely out of reach of his weapon, and it would have been obvious that he was being approached by police rather than home invaders.
But no, we’d rather kick his door in and scare the crap out of him. Alas, in today’s volatile atmosphere of us-vs.-them, big-guns paramilitary overkill, spreading from major metropolitan police forces down to your local Barney Fife and whatever’s next – your local library, perhaps? – common sense is in dangerously short supply.