Grand Theft Auto Meets Call Of Duty?

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Many observers of the events in Ferguson, MO, seem to agree that the growing militarization of policing is a problem. But a satisfactory explanation for what Radley Balko has called “the rise of the warrior-cop” seems to evade many who are complaining about it. Some rightly point to the war on drugs and the well-funded, heavily armed gangs that have accompanied it (or risen as a consequence of it, as some, including yours truly, would argue). In this account, the increasingly militaristic organized crime threat posed by gangs and cartels requires an increasingly militarized police to counter it. Others, with equally good reason, cite the war on terror, with its accompanying glut of taxpayers’ money and public support for pretty much anything that is supposed to keep us safer. Still others blame an increase in hostility towards police officers, citing tragic examples of officers responding to calls for help only to be ambushed by cold-blooded murderers out for revenge, fame or God knows what else. Then, too, some see the problem as simple mission creep – once police departments obtain heavy weapons or equipment the need to justify the high maintenance costs, combined with the juvenile urge to play with the new toys, leads to the too frequent use of assets meant to be deployed in extremely rare circumstances.

All of these things no doubt are factors in the rise of the warrior-cop. But I think there are other, more fundamental changes that need to be recognized. The concern, it should be pointed out, is not so much with the heavy equipment police departments have accumulated as with the frequency and reckless nature of its use. Deploying SWAT to deal with a well-armed hostage taker is not militarization, but common sense. Sending the same unit in with APCs to raid a family dairy for selling unlicensed raw milk products is another matter entirely.

An NPR reporter recently commented that the streets of Ferguson after dark felt like a fusion of Grand Theft Auto and Call Of Duty. That statement nicely encapsulates the changes to which I refer. The zeitgeist, to continue the over-use of an over-used buzzword, is not what it was thirty years ago. Human nature has not changed – total depravity has been the consistent state of humanity since the fall – but in terms of western culture, the rejection of biblical morality (or even classical pagan morality) as an ideal has left us with an ethical vacuum. That vacuum has been widely filled with what might be called a cult of autonomy, in which the self-realization, self-expression and self-fulfillment of the individual has been held up as the ultimate good.

“Those who will not be ruled by God will be ruled by tyrants.” William Penn

Thoughtful observers of human nature and history should readily see where such a mentality is bound to lead. Whether one looks to Biblical warnings about the consequences of defying the Creator, philosophical cautions about the connection between morality and freedom, or historical examples of other communities of people who have abused liberty only to lose it, there is no excuse for thinking that the original American experiment can long survive this new one. Government must be expected to grow more and more intrusive – law enforcement must be expected to grow more and more heavy-handed – in proportion to the degree to which its citizens fail to govern themselves. This is not to excuse government, but simply to recognize the inevitability of the response.

“I am the State.” Louis XIV
“I’m the decider.” George W. Bush

So much for the citizen, but what does this paradigm shift mean for those in government? One common mistake when considering government is to treat it as an independent entity rather than as a collection of individuals who hold political power. Take the latter view, and one then has to ask what the exaltation of self means for those who hold the levers of power. If self-expression for an inner city youth means walking down the middle of the street, what does it mean for the police officer whose ego is injured in front of bystanders? Is the police officer who finds satisfaction in tasering a handcuffed, drunk woman for spitting on him really any better then the “low life scum” he complains about having to deal with every day? Make no mistake about it: the rejection of biblical morality extends all the way to the pinnacles of power. More to the point, it is even more dangerous in powerful elites than in street-level anarchists. One need look no farther than the roughly 800,000,000 victims of the atheist century for proof of that assertion.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what any people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.” Frederick Douglass

Obviously these opposing faces of man as his own highest authority cannot peacefully coexist. William Lind, writing over at the American Conservative, has argued that the state as an institution is facing a global crisis of legitimacy as it struggles to retain power without the monopoly on war that it has largely enjoyed for centuries. I think there is a good case to be made that this crisis, to the extent that it is real, is self-inflicted; the resurgence of what we might call tribalism is directly related to the wanton destruction that governments have wreaked on their own citizens and each other over the past hundred years. Regardless, governments are scared of their citizens, and with good reason.

In summary, I think these three together rank among the most fundamental causes of increasingly militarized policing in this country: the decline of self-government on the part of the citizens; arrogance and lust for power and control on the part of government agents; and genuine fear on the part of those at the top who have got the tiger by the tail.

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About Patrick G. Kocher
Patrick G. Kocher is a liberty minded Republican activist from southeast PA. He is a constitutionalist and history junkie whose political thinking is heavily influenced by Jefferson, Madison, Bastiat, Hayek and, most recently, Ron Paul. A committed Christian, Patrick is a member of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He and his wife, Georgina, live in Chester County, PA with their four children.

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