As expected, here he is belatedly seizing an obvious opportunity. The only question for Paul was which angle of the Ferguson drama to emphasize. Racial disparities in how the law is enforced? He mentions it in his op-ed but rarely does a would-be presidential nominee profit from expounding at length on race at a moment when tensions are high. State suppression of civil liberties, in particular the police restricting press activity in Ferguson? He mentions that too but no Republican will ever get much mileage from defending the media.
How about the militarization of the police, then? That’s the sweet spot for Paul as it influences both of the other problems above and carries obvious appeal to all of the constituencies he’s trying to reach, namely, blacks, libertarians, and conservatives that have grown more leery of state power in the Obama era. And best of all, it’s an issue on which there’s bipartisan support. There are valuable pieces online this morning on how the feds turned small-town cops into Special Forces by Alec MacGillis of TNR, Conn Carroll of Townhall, and Mark Thompson of Time — left, right, and center-ish. Big government has shoveled billions in money and materiel at PDs since 9/11, with predictable results. And if there’s one thing that summarizes the Paul brand, it’s skepticism of big government in all its aspects.
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…
When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury—national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture—we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands.
Given these developments, it is almost impossible for many Americans not to feel like their government is targeting them. Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.
Racial double standards, the NSA, the war on drugs, federal spending, even a whiff of overreaction to 9/11 — the whole Paul policy portfolio is there in service to the broader point about demilitarization. He’ll have support from some veterans too:
“You see the police are standing online with bulletproof vests and rifles pointed at peoples chests,” said Jason Fritz, a former Army officer and an international policing operations analyst. “That’s not controlling the crowd, that’s intimidating them.”…
King added that, instead of deescalating the situation on the second day, the police responded with armored vehicles and SWAT officers clad in bulletproof vests and military-grade rifles.
“We went through some pretty bad areas of Afghanistan, but we didn’t wear that much gear,” said Kyle Dykstra, an Army veteran and former security officer for the State Department. Dykstra specifically pointed out the bulletproof armor the officers were wearing around their shoulders, known as “Deltoid” armor.
“I can’t think of a [protest] situation where the use of M4 [rifles] are merited,” Fritz said.
Paul Szoldra, an Afghanistan vet, made the best point I’ve seen on this in a piece for Business Insider a few days ago. He too marveled at the use of M4s and the Bearcat, but the thing Szoldra couldn’t get over was the camouflage pants that some of the cops were wearing. You can understand why they’d wear body armor but what conceivable purpose is served by wearing clothing like that while patrolling city streets? The answer, obviously, is psychology. The pants don’t make the cop blend into his surroundings but they do put him in a warrior frame of mind and signal to onlookers that he’s apt to respond like a soldier would if challenged. That’s the core vice of police militarization, I think. It’s not that the cops are lobbing grenades through people’s windows, it’s that they feel more free to take lesser but still heavy handed measures like tear-gassing a camera crew. Sometimes, when you’re pacifying a restive enemy population in an occupied zone, you need to be a little rough with the locals. Aren’t the police supposed to be part of “the locals” themselves?
Anyway. Expect Paul to float some sort of bill cutting federal funds for military gear for locals PDs. There’s already some support for demilitarization among Democrats. It’ll be hard for Obama to resist.