Posse What?! The Increasing Militarization of the Police

Posted by CODEPINK Staff

by Elizabeth Barger, CODEPINK Tennessee

Over the past decades, people have been noticing an increasing militarization of our civilian law enforcement. We have seen lessening of protection for people and more protection of corporate property and actions. Our traditional American rights and values of “liberty and justice for all” are fading.

The Posse Comitatus Act is a United States federal law. Its intent (in concert with the Insurrection Act of 1807) was to limit the powers of Federal government in using federal military personnel to enforce the state laws. It was passed on June 18, 1878, after the end of Reconstruction and was updated in 1981.

The military is trained in the use of deadly force against an enemy. Public law enforcement is trained, ideally, to keep friends and neighbors, community members safe from harm. Good police training emphasizes the safety of citizens, including officers of the law, who are citizens concerned with the safety and well being of the people they serve.

In the past I have worked as a trainer with law enforcement in Tennessee under the Department of Justice. It has given me great satisfaction to know these dedicated public servants who truly care for the people in their communities and take seriously the motto, “Protect and Serve.”

However, my own Tennessee Senator, Lamar Alexander, suggested replacing Immigration and Naturalization Service and Border Patrol with military armed services in direct violation of the law. It concerns me when I see a growing aggressive and military consciousness in some of our agencies, particularly from Homeland Security. It is very unsettling to see fiercely dressed, heavily armed and unidentified police dealing with peaceful crowds.

Millions of dollars are needed for upkeep of heavy military armaments and vehicles loaded into civilian law enforcement agencies. A recent Sunday edition of the Nashville Tennessean, my local newspaper, featured the millions of tax dollars spent on military equipment going to Tennessee police agencies. The lure of using military ordinance developed for national defense to support civilian law and order is expensive and dangerous. In the wrong hands these weapons become the tools of oppression and violence. The cost of maintenance alone would be better used developing community relations and public safety and education.

The law in America is traditionally served when police understand that everyone is innocent until proved guilty in a court of law. Too often we are beginning to see punishment on the street with NO due process as a form of law enforcement, especially when dealing with minorities. The murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, was not an isolated tragedy and has become a national flashpoint in response to police shootings.

The US Constitution puts regulation and funding of military actions under Congress. and limits appropriations to 2 years. The Second Amendment provides that a WELL-REGULATED militia is necessary to the security of a free state to counter balance the power of the national army.

Vigilante hate groups have used Posse Comitatus to take advantage of economic crisis in rural areas. The racist beliefs of these ‘so called Patriot’ groups are wrapped in Dominion Christian theology and coated with tax resistance and the fear of gun control. Daniel Levitas, the author of a forthcoming book on Posse Comitatus and the Christian Identity movement, indicates the violence of the movement is presently on the upswing.

But, the Second Amendment is not the most important part of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment says that Congress

    • cannot make a law that favors the establishment of one particular religion;

    • or that prohibits the free exercise of religion;

    • or that restricts freedom of speech or of the press,

    • or the right of the people to gather and engage in peaceful demonstrations and to petition the government for redress of their grievances.

The Fourth Amendment is being overridden by the passage of the indefinite detention provisions in the National Defense Authorization Acts in 2012 and 2013, and the mass surveillance and bulk data collection practices of the NSA that move very close to treason against the laws of the land.

The Fifth Amendment deals with criminal offenses explicitly and states that no person may “…be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process.” Poorly trained officers very often ignore it when they shoot citizens in panic, or as punishment. We see this happen in many cases as exemplified by the police shooting in Ferguson, MO and many other communities.

We have seen the law and Constitution willfully ignored when the Eighth Amendment states, “there can be no excessive bail or fines, nor cruel and unusual punishment.” Peaceful protesters are more and more often kept in jail through excessive fines and long sentences for practicing their 1st Amendment rights.

Keeping the military and civilian policing separate is an American tradition. The Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights show clearly that the founding fathers were concerned about the danger of arrogant military thinking and oppression that they had suffered from, by the unlimited power of kings and state churches.

Elizabeth Barger is a longtime CODEPINK organizer and a community leader and resident of the famous intentional rural community, The Farm in Summertown, TN.

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