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Walling Ourselves Inside a Militarized-Police State

It was, in a sense, so expectable, so leave-no-child-behind.  I’m talking about the arming of American schools.  Think of it as the next step in the militarization of this country, which follows all-too-logically from developments since September 11, 2001.  In the wake of 9/11, police departments nationwide began to militarize in a big way, and the next thing you knew, the police were looking ever less like old-style neighborhood patrollers and ever more like mini-anti-terror armies.  The billy club, the simple sidearm? So Old School. So retro.

When it came to weaponry for the new, twenty-first-century version of the police, it was a matter of letting the good times roll: Tasers, flash grenades, pepper spray, incendiary tear gas, Kevlar helmets, assault rifles, bomb-detection robots, armored vehicles and tanks, special-ops-style SWAT teams, drone mini-submarines, drone aircraft, you name it.  Today, even school police are being armed with assault rifles.  And with it all goes a paramilitary fashion craze that anyone who observed the police in the Occupy moment is most familiar with.

In addition, the U.S. military is now offloading billions of dollars worth of its surplus equipment, some of it assumedly used in places like Iraq and Afghanistan against armed insurgents, on police forces even in small towns nationwide.  This includes M-16s, helmet-mounted infrared goggles, amphibious tanks, and helicopters. And now, the same up-armoring mentality is being brought to bear on a threat worse than terror: our children.  Think of it as the reductio ad absurdum of the new national security state.  First, they locked down the airports, then the capital, then the borders, and finally the schools. Now, we’re ready!

But the seldom-asked question is: ready for what?  After all, with a few rare exceptions (including unpredictable lone wolf attacks like the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords; the disgruntled software engineer who flew his plane into a building containing an IRS office in Austin, Texas, killing himself and an IRS manager; Major Nidal Hassan’s murderous rampage at Fort Hood, Texas; and the Newtown slaughter), just about all “terror” threats in the U.S. have essentially been FBI sting operations involving crews of “terrorists” who were, by themselves, incapable of planning their way out of the proverbial paper bag. 

Imagine for a moment how much better off we might be today if the money that has, for more than a decade, poured into the militarization of the police had been plowed into American education or infrastructure or just about anything else.  In that case, we might be prepared for something other than fighting phantoms and -- as Chase Madar, author of The Passion of Bradley Manning, points out in “The School Security America Doesn’t Need” -- handcuffing seven-year-olds.  For the TV version of what’s happening in our schools in the post-Newtown moment, you would have to imagine “Homeland” populated by overarmed Muppets and Thomas the Tank (not the Tank Engine).