Incursion: Effects of Militarization of the Police in the United States

The tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri have brought to the nation's attention a number of issues, not the least of which is the militarization of our domestic police force.

While I am certainly not alone in the opinion that arming our police as though they were fighting a war is a mistake , and although I am likewise not alone in seeing that calling law enforcement a "war" on crime, drugs or anything else is likely to create war-like responses, it might be worth a few moments reflection on the effects. Long-term, that this nomenclature and behavior can have.

There is an old saying; clothes make the man. Intuitively we know that how one appears does make a difference in how one is perceived. That is the reason you might dress differently for a picnic than for a job interview. While the analogy isn't perfect, nonetheless, "dressing" our police as warriors makes them more likely to behave that way. Similarly, isolating them from the population which they serve makes it more likely that a police officer will view him or herself as different from "them" and give psychological room to behave in a dismissive or deprecatory manner towards the citizenry, and it is all too easy to slide from such forms of rudeness to violence.

Needless to say, these misperceptions are not limited to the police, they apply to the citizenry as well. If you are spoken to as though you were dangerous, deceitful or worthless, it is a virtual invitation to "live up" to those expectations. It is a vicious cycle.

Perceptions about the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri are viewed very differently by different sections of the public for analogous reasons ; if one's view of the police is of protectors, then the militarization of the police and their attendant violence is justified. If one see the police as an invading army; they are viewed as a tool of oppression. I would imagine that many police officers must feel see-sawed between these views.

So what should we do? Seeking justice in the Michael Brown case is certainly one necessary step. Finding better ways to communicate is oft-stated, but rather amorphous. But one thing we could do, right away, is "undress." We don't need SWAT teams to serve warrants at someone's home where there are children present. We don't need armored tanks in our streets. We don't need to hide our faces from each other. This alone will not undo generations of mistrust, but it will help make conversation and maybe even partnership possible.