‘Do Not Re­sist’ high­lights cri­sis of po­lice mil­i­ta­riza­tion

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Of­fi­cers with as­sault ri­fles, backed by a huge ar­mored grenade launcher, square up to a crowd fu­ri­ously de­nounc­ing the killing of a young black neigh­bor. It is a scene which could have been taken from ar­chive footage of Mogadishu in 1990s So­ma­lia or count­less other bat­tles, but this con­flict is closer to home-the streets of small-town Amer­ica.

The im­ages, cap­tured in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri in 2014, open “Do Not Re­sist”-a dis­turb­ing doc­u­men­tary chart­ing the trans­for­ma­tion of po­lice across the US into forces that look like mil­i­tary units. The ex­plo­sive film is set to fuel an al­ready bit­ter de­bate rag­ing in Amer­ica over heavy-handed law en­force­ment, fol­low­ing a litany of po­lice killings of black men that have sparked protests from Fer­gu­son and Char­lotte to Chicago. Di­rec­tor Craig Atkin­son, whose movie is open­ing across the US hav­ing won best doc­u­men­tary fea­ture at the Tribeca Film Fes­ti­val, says the Amer­i­can law en­force­ment ethos has changed “from a men­tal­ity of peace­keep­ers to that of an oc­cu­py­ing army.”

An­other eye-open­ing scene shows of­fi­cers in black fa­tigues fir­ing vol­ley af­ter vol­ley of au­to­matic rounds at card­board tar­gets, as if they were pre­par­ing for war rather than to “pro­tect and serve.” A khaki-clad in­struc­tor ex­plains that se­cu­rity forces must pre­pare for all kinds of at­tacks, “in­clud­ing the Is­lamic State.” MRAPs, the ar­mored trucks that pro­tect troops from road­side bombs planted along the dusty roads of Iraq and Afghanistan, are now ubiq­ui­tous across the US.

Grow­ing back­lash

They are pro­vided by the Pen­tagon through a pro­gram of sur­plus give­aways that has amounted to $5 bil­lion since for­mer pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton signed it off in 1996. In an­other shock­ing scene, a SWAT team ar­rives in an MRAP at a tree-lined street in Columbia, South Carolina, to ex­e­cute a search war­rant in a drug case. The of­fi­cers, whose equip­ment looks barely dis­tin­guish­able from that of an in­fantry divi­sion, end up badly dam­ag­ing a fam­ily home in a raid that nets a small amount of loose cannabis.

Atkin­son’s fa­ther, a re­tired po­lice­man from Detroit, Michi­gan, spent over a decade in one such SWAT team, the New York-based film­maker ex­plains. “In his time, his team in­ter­vened 29 times in 13 years. Now they are tak­ing part in 200 raids a year,” Atkin­son tells AFP. Faced with a grow­ing back­lash against po­lice killings, par­tic­u­larly in black com­mu­ni­ties, Ter­rence Cun­ning­ham, the pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Chiefs of Po­lice (IACP), has ad­mit­ted that law en­force­ment of­fi­cers have been “the face of op­pres­sion to far too many of our fel­low cit­i­zens.” He told a con­fer­ence in San Diego on Mon­day that po­lice needed to apol­o­gize for “the ac­tions of the past and the role that our pro­fes­sion has played in so­ci­ety’s his­tor­i­cal mis­treat­ment of com­mu­ni­ties of color.”

‘War­rior cul­ture’

Cam­paign­ers against po­lice mil­i­ta­riza­tion ac­cept that SWAT teams and their heavy-duty hard­ware have a vi­tal role in com­bat­ting the rare in­stances of ter­ror­ism in the US. But they point out that, due to pro­longed mis­sion creep, this is no longer how these re­sources are used. Peter Kraska, a crim­i­nol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the University of Eastern Ken­tucky, says there are now at least 50,000 SWAT raids a year, up from 3,000 in the 1980s. Most of the ac­tiv­i­ties of these highly spe­cial­ized units have lit­tle to do with the rea­sons for their in­cep­tion, such as deal­ing with hostage sit­u­a­tions, ter­ror­ist at­tacks and drug car­tels.

Ac­cord­ing to Atkin­son, one of the ar­chi­tects of the “war­rior cul­ture” is a hugely suc­cess­ful po­lice trainer named Dave Gross­man, head of a con­sult­ing firm called the Kil­lol­ogy Re­search Group. “We are at war and you are the front­line troops in this war. What do you fight vi­o­lence with? Su­pe­rior vi­o­lence,” Gross­man hollers at an au­di­ence of mes­mer­ized po­lice in one ses­sion filmed for the doc­u­men­tary.

The re­tired army lieu­tenant colonel has lec­tured through­out the US, ac­cord­ing to his web­site, and Atkin­son be­lieves his in­flu­ence has spread to ev­ery Amer­i­can law en­force­ment agency. “There are 63 mil­lion po­lice in­ter­ac­tions with cit­i­zens each year in the United States, and if we take that kind of men­tal­ity dur­ing a rou­tine traf­fic stop, that’s how there are peo­ple get­ting killed,” he said. — AFP

St Louis County Po­lice of­fi­cers, out­fit­ted in tac­ti­cal equip­ment, mon­i­tor the sit­u­a­tion in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri on Au­gust 10, 2015. — AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.