Report: Militarization of Police Turning Communities into 'War Zones'

SWAT raids disproportionately affecting people of color

- Lauren McCauley, Commondreams staff writer
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/06/24-4

The city of Manchester, NH parading around their special armored SWAT vehicle. (Photo: Manchester City Library/ CC/ Flickr)

The rapid militarization of American police forces is turning our communities into "war zones" with tactics of war used disproportionately against people of color, charged a new report by the ACLU on Tuesday. 

The report, War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing (pdf) reveals how heavily armed Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams are being increasingly deployed for basic police work, such as serving warrants or searching for a small amount of drugs.

"Our police are trampling on our civil rights and turning communities of color into war zones," said Kara Dansky, senior counsel with the ACLU’s Center for Justice.

"Carried out by ten or more officers armed with assault rifles, flashbang grenades, and battering rams," Dansky continued, "these paramilitary raids disproportionately impacted people of color, sending the clear message that the families being raided are the enemy."

In preparing the report, the ACLU focused on more than 800 SWAT raids conducted by law enforcement agencies in 20 states. The report found that nearly 80% of the raids studied were conducted to serve search warrants, usually in drug cases. "With public support for the War on Drugs at an all-time low, police are using hyper-aggressive, wartime tools and tactics to fight a war that has lost its public mandate," notes the ACLU.

The report highlights how such militarization has been aided by federal programs, which grant local law enforcement with surplus military equipment, including armored vehicles, grenade launchers, machine guns and silencers. Recent reporting by the New York Times revealed that under President Obama local police forces have become militarized at unprecedented levels.

"It’s time for American police to remember that they are supposed to protect and serve our communities," writes the ACLU, "not wage war on the people who live in them." 

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Playing Obscene War: On SWAT Teams and Baby Bou Bou

by Abby Zimet

Commondreans staff writer

http://www.commondreams.org/further/2014/06/24-0

Last month, 19-month-old Bounkham Phonesavahn - aka Baby Bou Bou - was asleep in his crib in Atlanta, Georgia when a SWAT team, armed with assault rifles and acting on a "no-knock warrant," burst into the bedroom where he and his family were sleeping and threw a flash bang grenade into his crib, critically burning him and blowing a hole in his chest so deep it exposed his ribs. Police found no drugs, guns or suspects at the house, which they said they'd had under surveillance while evidently failing to notice that four kids lived, played and scattered their toys around there. They later arrested the nephew of Bou's father, who is Laotian, for allegedly buying $50 worth of drugs.

In its new report "War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing" - which describes a failed War on Drugs employing "hyper-aggressive, wartime tools and tactics" that is often as much about race and class as drugs - the ACLU finds that Bou Bou's story is only slightly more awful than many other awful stories. Bou Bou remains in a medically induced coma. Doctors say he has a 50-50 chance of surviving. Updates here on what we have wrought.

 

SWAT Teams Used Disproportionately Against People of Color

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 24, 2014
4:00 PM

CONTACT: ACLU

212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

ACLU’s Report on Police Militarization Finds Weapons and Tactics of War Used Disproportionately Against People of Color

Report shows injustice, suffering, caused by SWAT teams deployed for low-level police work, not crises

NEW YORK, NY - June 24 - After obtaining and analyzing thousands of documents from police departments around the country, today the American Civil Liberties Union released the report War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing. The ACLU focused on more than 800 SWAT raids conducted by law enforcement agencies in 20 states and on the agencies’ acquisition of military weaponry, vehicles, and equipment.

"We found that police overwhelmingly use SWAT raids not for extreme emergencies like hostage situations but to carry out such basic police work as serving warrants or searching for a small amount of drugs," said Kara Dansky, Senior Counsel with the ACLU’s Center for Justice. "Carried out by ten or more officers armed with assault rifles, flashbang grenades, and battering rams, these paramilitary raids disproportionately impacted people of color, sending the clear message that the families being raided are the enemy. This unnecessary violence causes property damage, injury, and death."

The report documents multiple tragedies caused by police carrying out needless SWAT raids, including a 26-year-old mother shot with her child in her arms and a 19-month-old baby critically injured when a flashbang grenade landed in his crib.

"Our police are trampling on our civil rights and turning communities of color into war zones," Dansky continued. "We all pay for it with our tax dollars. The Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice give police military weaponry and vehicles as well as grants for military equipment. The War on Drugs has failed, yet the federal government hasn’t stopped the flow of guns and money."

The report calls for the federal government to rein in the incentives for police to militarize. The ACLU also asks that local, state, and federal governments track the use of SWAT and the guns, tanks, and other military equipment that end up in police hands.

"Our findings reveal not only the dangers of militarized police, but also the difficulties in determining the extent and impact of those dangers. At every level – from the police to the state governments to the federal government – there is almost no recordkeeping about SWAT or the use of military weapons and vehicles by local law enforcement," noted Dansky.

In addition, the report recommends that state legislatures and municipalities develop criteria for SWAT raids that limit their deployment to the kinds of emergencies for which they were intended, such as an active shooter situation.

The report is available here: www.aclu.org/militarization

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

 

 

Champaign County Now Has Its Own MRAP

Typically unquestioning in its reporting on the Champaign County "justice" system, the News-Gazette reported in its Friday edition that the county has now acquired an MRAP. I suppose that will help them navigate through all the car bombs, IEDs, and dangerous armed groups roaming the countryside -- oh, wait, that last group is just a bunch of NRA members -- in any case, the Sheriff's Dept. is ready for war.

Still no word on when the Sheriff's drone will be repaired...at least it doesn't take up much garage space.

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