Fear grows over militarization of US local police.Submitted by fonzdrew on Fri, 07/05/2013 - 14:37
Elizabeth Daly went to jail over a case of bottled water.
According to the Charlottesville Daily Progress, shortly after 10 p.m. April 11, the University of Virginia student bought ice cream, cookie dough and a carton of LaCroix sparkling water from the Harris Teeter grocery store at the popular Barracks Road Shopping Center. In the parking lot, a half-dozen men and a woman approached her car, flashing some kind of badges. One jumped on the hood. Another drew a gun. Others started trying to break the windows.
Daly understandably panicked. With her roommate in the passenger seat yelling “Go, go, go!” Daly drove off, hoping to reach the nearest police station. The women dialed 911. Then a vehicle with lights and sirens pulled them over, and the situation clarified: The people who had swarmed Daly’s vehicle were plainclothes agents of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The agents had thought the sparkling water was a 12-pack of beer.
Did the ABC’s enforcers apologize? Not in the slightest. They charged Daly with three felonies: two for assaulting an officer (her vehicle had grazed two agents; neither was hurt) and one for eluding the police. Last week, the commonwealth’s attorney dropped the charges.
The agents’ excessive display of force is outrageously disproportionate to the offense they mistakenly thought they witnessed: an underage purchase of alcohol. But in a sense, Daly got off easy. A couple of weeks after her ordeal, a 61-year-old man in Tennessee was killed when the police executed a drug raid on the wrong house. A few weeks later, in another wrong-house raid, police officers killed a dog belonging to an Army veteran. These are not isolated incidents; for more information, visit the interactive map at www.cato.org/raidmap.
They are, however, part and parcel of two broader phenomena. One is the militarization of domestic law enforcement. In recent years, police departments have widely adopted military tactics, military equipment (armored personnel carriers, flash-bang grenades) — and, sometimes, the mindset of military conquerors rather than domestic peacekeepers.
The other phenomenon is the increasing degree to which civilians are subject to criminal prosecution for noncriminal acts, including exercising the constitutionally protected right to free speech.