“How Could This Happen in America?” Why Police Are Treating Americans Like Military Threats
Why is the armed might of the state, (necessary in waging war against foreign enemies) being applied to domestic policing of local communities and peaceful protests?
By William Hogeland
“Is this still my country?”
In the past few days, those and similarly poignant Twitter posts have appealed to fundamental American values in objecting to the notorious U.C. Davis event, where police pepper-sprayed seated protesters, and to cities generally cracking down on the Occupy movement. The crackdowns have brought a military level of combativeness to what many Americans — even those not in sympathy with the protesters — would normally see as a police, not a military matter.
Police, not military. The distinction may seem academic, even absurd, when police are bringing rifles, helmets, armor, and helicopters to evict unarmed protesters. But it’s an old and critical distinction in American law and ideology and in republican thought as a whole. The 17th-century English liberty writers, on whose ideas much of America’s founding ethos was based, believed that turning the armed might of the state, (necessary in waging war against foreign enemies), to domestic policing of local communities tends to concentrate power in top-down executive action and vitiate treasured things like judiciary process, individual liberty, representative government, and free speech.