Police States, Real and Imagined

We’re fascinated by all the wrong things and it’s literally killing us.


It’s no great secret that the American police have become more militarized: they have bigger weapons and trucks, the use of SWAT teams is way up, and the ongoing use of what constitutes proper application of state-sanctioned violence in enforcement of the law is a key component of the cultural struggle between the Black Lives Matter movement and the law-and-order backlash against that movement.

In fact, crime has been falling steadily for decades, with a recent small uptick in violent crime (fuel for the struggle noted above). Yet here we are, with a decade+ of fears of terrorism managing to worm their way into America’s law enforcement management and execution. There haven’t really been any major devastating terror attacks in America since 9/11; the Boston bombing was the most spectacular, but even that couldn’t compare to a hundredth the destruction of 9/11.

It seems that police killings, on the other hand, are up, and steadily, slowly rising.

So at the least, it’s pretty clear that the fear we’ve constructed out of fear is turning on ourselves. Still, the police killed around a thousand people last year, it’s safe to assume at least some of those shootings were actually justified (rather than “police justified”, which is the kind of standard that’s applied legally and the reason that it’s so rare for murder charges to be brought against police), putting the number of unjustified shootings, at worst, in the realm of some few hundreds in what are probably a million police encounters in a year.

Dead innocents are tragic, but let’s stay focused on the militarization of police and the threat of a police state.

What can we say about all this?

Well, the police are clearly over-armed. They don’t need dozens of rifles for police work unless they’re putting down some kind of insurrection. They’re overly aggressive, given what we know about the frequency of police killings. And their uses of force fall disproportionately on minorities (though not quite as much as some may have you believe: it’s a real data artifact all the same). And yet? This is, in the end a thousand times less deaths and destructive a presence than, say, medical errors, themselves products of a medical system that doesn’t manage to even attempt care on a significant minority of our population.

The NSA is meanwhile reading your emails illegally but pointing that out gets you a decade in prison, the TSA is afraid of liquids and will gently pat your genitals and throw you in prison for noncompliance despite a 95% failure rate, and the FBI can’t find terrorists so it makes them up.

I’m not terribly sure why people are fascinated with these high profile things when accidentally being killed by your doctor is more likely, but one is treated as a statistical anomaly and the others the foundation for a massive police state.

Author: S Peter Cordner

I’m an upper-middle class white male with an education and a raft of luck and an inability to keep too many thoughts to myself. I read RSS feeds like they keep me alive and need intellectual stimulation like mice need cheese. Politically I'm progressive conservative; inside America this is probably a confusing phrase, but most of Europe gets it. I'm also a practicing student of zen and consider myself a pantheist though it pretty much never comes up in discussion. :)

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