ESSAY- Police state: Local agents armed to the teeth
Two years ago, in an article entitled "It Can't Happen Here," Congressman Ron Paul cautioned, "We're not yet living in a total police state, but it's fast approaching."
A lot can happen in two years.
In fact, a lot has happened over the past two years, most of it aimed at amassing greater power for the government while undermining the rights of American citizens. And I would venture to say that Rep. Paul's fears may have come to pass.
For example, sometime in the past two years, President Bush quietly claimed the authority to allow government agents to open the private mail of American citizens, proclaimed his right to assume control of the federal government following a "catastrophic emergency," and assumed the power to declare martial law and use the military as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, disease outbreak, terrorist attack, or any "other condition." However, these incidents are just the tip of the iceberg.
Unless you've been asleep for the past decade, the increasing militarization of the police has become an inescapable and ominous reality. The role of law enforcement, especially local police officers, has drastically changed from when I was a child in the 1950s. The friendly local sheriff in the Andy Griffith Show has been shelved for the federal gun-toting terrorist killer in the popular television series 24.
Some might insist that the new face of law enforcement is warranted, a sign of the times we live in. After all, whereas we once feared nuclear attacks by the Russians, we now fear each other and the predators lurking in our midst– serial killers, drug pushers, home-grown and imported terrorists, perverts who prey on small children, the list goes on.
Thus, in order to better deal with these and other threats, congressional legislation now allows the U.S. military, by way of the Pentagon, to train civilian police and provide them with equipment and funding. As a result, our law enforcement agents are armed to the teeth.
For example, in Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America (2006), author Radley Balko points out that in Wisconsin alone during the 1990s, "local police departments were given nearly 100,000 pieces of military equipment valued at more than $18 million." Columbia County, Wisconsin, with a population of only 52,468, was given more than 5,000 military items valued at $1.75 million by the Pentagon. These included "11 M-16s, 21 bayonets, four boats, a periscope, and 41 vehicles, one of which was converted into a mobile command center for the SWAT team"– along with surveillance equipment, chemical suits, and flak jackets, among other items.
Debating which came first– increased threats requiring greater fire power or heavily armed law enforcement agents in search of greater threats– might seem too much like the chicken or the egg debate, but the numbers speak for themselves. By the early 1980s, there were 3,000 annual SWAT deployments, by 1996 there were 30,000, and by 2001 there were 40,000. Incredibly, these forces conduct approximately 40,000 "no-knock" raids annually across the U.S., some of which are tracked by the Cato Institute on an interactive map on its website.
One thing is undeniable: armed police officers have become a force to be reckoned with. However, it's not just local law enforcement that's loaded for bear. As the federalization of law enforcement continues to grow, more types of federal agents are packing heat. As of September 2004, federal agencies employed about 106,000 full-time personnel authorized to make arrests and carry firearms.
Yet FBI agents are only a small portion of armed federal personnel. Everyone from postal agents, the Internal Revenue Service, the National Park Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency to agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Army Corps of Engineers are now carrying deadly weapons. In Virginia, for example, game wardens were recently renamed "conservation police officers" in an effort to clarify their role as sworn law enforcement officers who are armed and able to make arrests.
Writing for World Net Daily, Joseph Farah declared, "What we've witnessed is the biggest arms buildup in the history of the federal government– and it's not taking place in the Defense Department. The kind of arms that are proliferating in Washington these days are the kind pointed at our own civilian population and carried by a growing number of federal police forces with ever-larger budgets and ever-deadlier arsenals."
"Good grief," remarked Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America, "that's a standing army." At all levels– federal, local, and state– the government and the police have merged. And in the process, they've become a standing army– which is exactly what the Founders feared.
Those who drafted the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights had an enormous distrust of standing armies. They knew that despotic governments have always used standing armies to control the people and impose tyranny. As James Madison, the father of the Constitution, wrote, "A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home." These "instruments of tyranny" are now in place.
Thus, it may very well be that we are already living in a police state– and that it's all over but the shouting. But still we have to shout.