The cost of Americaâs police state
BY STEPHAN SALISBURY
MONDAY, MAR 5, 2012
At the height of the Occupy Wall Street evictions, it seemed as though some diminutive version of âshock and aweâ had stumbled from Baghdad, Iraq, to Oakland, Calif. American police forces had been âmilitarized,â many commentators worried, as though the firepower and callous tactics on display were anomalies, surprises bursting upon us from nowhere.
There should have been no surprise. Those flash grenades exploding in Oakland and the sound cannons on New Yorkâs streets simply opened small windows onto a national policing landscape long in the process of militarization â a bleak domestic no manâs land marked by tanks and drones, robot bomb detectors, grenade launchers, tasers, and most of all, interlinked video surveillance cameras and information databases growing quietly on unobtrusive server farms everywhere.
The ubiquitous fantasy of âhomeland security,â pushed hard by the federal government in the wake of 9/11, has been widely embraced by the public. It has also excited intense weapons- and techno-envy among police departments and municipalities vying for the latest in armor and spy equipment.
In such a world, deadly gadgetry is just a grant request away, so why shouldnât the 14,000 at-risk souls in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, have a closed-circuit-digital-camera-and-monitor system (cost: $180,000, courtesy of the Homeland Security Department) identical to the one up and running in New Yorkâs Times Square?
So much money has gone into armoring and arming local law-enforcement since 9/11 that the federal government could have rebuilt post-Katrina New Orleans five times over and had enough money left in the kitty to provide job training and housing for every one of the record 41,000-plus homeless people in New York City. It could have added in the growing population of 15,000 homeless in Philadelphia, my hometown, and still have had money to spare. Add disintegrating Detroit, Newark, and Camden to the list. Throw in some crumbling bridges and roads, too.