Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Good Ol' Days

There's an odd ahistoricity to some of the "militarization of the police" discussion kicked off by the Ferguson rioting. Joel, one of my wookie-suited moral compass needles, has pointed out to the people suddenly noticing that the po-po had scary guns that
Cops have been gunning up very publicly since the seventies...
Which is true enough, as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough back.

In the Twenties, cops had better guns than the military. Submachineguns and self-loading rifles were widespread in law enforcement before they ever were in the Army. People need to stop getting their history from Andy Griffith reruns. Frank Hamer didn't gun Bonnie and Clyde down from ambush with a flintlock musket, you know.

In the Sixties, they’d have already turned the dogs and water cannons on the Ferguson protestors. In the Twenties, Andy and Barney would have broken the old Potato-Digger out of the armory and started mowing them down. The po-po used to be pretty quick to go weapons-free on unruly crowds, especially if such crowds were made up of black folk or commies.

Delaware Statie in the '60s.
Realistically speaking, the rate of police violence (like all violence) is probably at a low ebb, but in this age of social media, ubiquitous cameras, and the 24-hour news cycle, you get to hear about every bit of it. (And of course the media is 100% infallible when they report on police brutality, the way they are with gun-related stuff. We mock the "shoulder thing that goes up" utterances and then Gell-Mann our way across the page to nod in sage agreement at reported use-of-force abuses.)

Sure, in the old days, Officer Flatfoot walked a beat and said "Hi!" to the kids and helped people carry their groceries in. He also "tuned up" the occasional vagrant with some brass knuckles for giving him lip or helped a black guy ensure that the sun didn't set on his back in Pleasantville, and everybody just shrugged and went on, because that's how things were.

Let's everybody be thankful that, so far, Ferguson 2014 hasn't turned into either Los Angeles 1992 or Tulsa 1921.


Comrade Misfit said...

Or the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898. Back when Ida Wells argued that every Negro home should possess a Winchester rifle.

Jack said...

Hear. Hear.

Critter said...

one remembers the '70's when the Nixon admin was giving helicopters away like party favors to any agency that asked. the only places that actually used them to any effect were big agencies like N.Y. or L.A., which could afford the ruinous maintenance on such devices. The local Sheriff got a couple of choppers at the time and attempted a media day to show off their new toys. Unfortunately, the only deputy in the place who was chopper rater weighed in at about 350 pounds and his co-pilot was not much less. The heli was a little Sikorsky bug so you can imagine the loss of face for the sheriff when the little craft, rated for 400 pounds and trying to lift about 650, just hopped across the tarmac and never get air born. that was the end of county air support.

that said, the same sheriff's office still has a M113 in inventory all painted up like a deputy mobile that is sometimes seen on a flat bed in parades. no one gets too exercised over it.

ChrisCM said...

1) Good ole days

2) Terrorists are the new "cocaine crazed negroes," invoked with hand-waving alarm to justify bigger and better toys.

waepnedmann said...

A number of years ago, in an adjacent county, a WW2 vet passed on to his reward leaving no surviving kin.
The county eventually, through whatever legal instruments required, became owners of his home and property.
Upon entering the home county employees discovered a bedroom well-stocked with WW2 vintage weaponry and ammo.
To my knowledge, their sheriff's department is the only one in America to have a Ma Deuce in their armory.

Tam said...


"...their sheriff's department is the only one in America to have a Ma Deuce in their armory."

That is nowhere near as uncommon as most people would think. ;)

Anonymous said...

And sending in the National Guard to "make things better." No one has heard about how that turned out at Kent State?

Joseph said...

I've a lot less problem with the types of weapons and armor as I do the number of cops I see pointing guns at people. What's up with that? It's like they have some sort of immunity to Rule 2 or something...

LawDog said...

And let us not forget that the famous "One Riot, One Ranger" Texas Rangers typically managed to end those riots by shooting the loudest mouth present off his soapbox and then suggsting that eveyone else go home.

Somewhere I've a news article from the 1920s in which is detailed the use of rocksalt-loaded shotshells to break up mobs deemed "unruly". Seems to me that catching a 10-gauge load of salt nuggets amidships might not be humane as one might be wont to believe.

Weer'd Beard said...

""...their sheriff's department is the only one in America to have a Ma Deuce in their armory."

That is nowhere near as uncommon as most people would think. ;) "

Wasn't there an article not long ago talking about how NYPD's anti-terror group has choppers with M2 Door Gunners?

Weer'd Beard said...

For Reference


Paul said...

If you forget history you will get to repeat it until you do.

Kristophr said...

Lawdog: Agreed, shooting the loudmouth is often very effective.

It's also been useful in places where the state has failed, and looters start rampaging. Every looter band has one or two loudmouths egging them on.

Kurt said...

If armament determines behavior, as many of the 'militarization of police' alarmists imply, what's the argument for concealed carry?

Phillip said...

Problem with shooting the loudmouth in some cases (although not likely here) is that it's the undercover Fed that's stirring up trouble.

Something else people forget about that whole "One riot, one Ranger" is that the Rangers were generally real badasses that would shoot you rather than look at you.

stan said...

Love the Gell-Mann reference.

mikee said...

Re Kent State and the NG: When I became an unruly rebellious teen (during the Carter Epoch) I once used the argument that the civilian deaths at Kent State demonstrated the oppression inherent in the system, or some such twaddle, to my dad, a John Bircher, traditional Catholic, very social conservative.

He didn't argue, just pointed out that the deaths at Kent State pretty much occurred simultaneously with large violent campus protests stopping nationwide, cold.

He left me to work out the connection between that tidbit, and my statement, and what it all meant.

Yrro said...

I kind of got the impression that most people making the "militarization" argument were starting their timeline in the 1970's.

Reading the number of legal barriers LA SWAT had to bust through to get permission to get fully kitted up and smash through a legit, heavily armed encounter... how recent the court decisions were that allowed dynamic raids at all in the modern style, or how hard many departments had to fight to be allowed to carry AR's in their trunks...

I guess, I don't think the fact that some departments had heavier equipment, rarely used, doesn't mean that the stuff isn't spread around a lot more regularly these days. Whether you think that's a problem or not.

rickn8or said...

"Problem with shooting the loudmouth in some cases (although not likely here) is that it's the undercover Fed that's stirring up trouble."

I fail to see the problem with this.

Epsilon Given said...

With regards to the fear of police militarization, I would propose these thoughts:

First, with regards to equipment, the police shouldn't be allowed any equipment that is forbidden to regular civilians. Police, after all, are civilians.

Second, I'll have to second the motion that it's likely an issue of attitude, above all else. Indeed, I suspect that the creation of SWAT teams, and then the insistence that they be used to handle situations which have historically been handled without SWAT, and without incident, is the biggest problem here.

Third, above and beyond being concerned about the militarization of the police, could we please, for the love of Pete and all that is holy, stop militarizing our other government agencies? Why does the IRS, OSHA, and the Department of Education (?!?) need so much as a pistol? If they have any police action they need to perform, there are agencies and local police forces specifically organized for that purpose!

Unknown said...

That pic of the Delaware statie with the tommy gun was most likely taken during the Wilmington, DE riots of 1968. Which lasted 2 days, burned 21 buildings and injured as many as 40 people, no deaths. But the National Guard called out by the governor occupied the city for 6 months.

Anonymous said...

"Realistically speaking, the rate of police violence (like all violence) is probably at a low ebb"

I am not sure I agree with this, but I am not sure I disagree. I'd be interested in seeing some historical statistics for OIS, but the only thing I have found is the "Justified Homicides" from the FBI UCR, and only back to 1991. Obviously, this omits unjustified homicides. If anybody knows how to find data prior to '91, please let me know!

For the record, the figures for LE Justified Shootings from 1991-2012 are:

8359 Total
High 462 (1994)
low 297 (2000)
Average 379.95
Median 378
SD 38.85


Steve Skubinna said...

You left out Brian Dennehy in the first Rambo film.

Now there was some old fashioned bare knuckled policin'.

Bubblehead Les. said...

Back in the 60s and 70s, my old Hometown of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio had a WW2 Halftrack with TWO Ma Dueces on it that they used for "Riot Control". They actually broke it out for the 68 Riots that happened after MLK was Murdered. You see, the "Enlightened Democratic Progressives" that ran Akron, Ohio deemed that all the African- Americans who were in Public Housing had to live in the Valley in the Elizabeth Park Projects that separated Cuyahoga Falls from Akron. So, a bunch of them started to come up "The North Hill" of the Valley to Cuyahoga Falls, wherein they were met with the Cuy.Falls P.D. and their Halftrack, because the Akron, P.D. were guarding all the Politicians and Downtown Business and the Rich White Neighborhoods. After a slight pause, they decided to leave, and no shots were fired by either side.

So, Police Militarization goes back a LONG WAY.

Sigivald said...

Epsilon given asked: Why does the IRS, OSHA, and the Department of Education (?!?) need so much as a pistol?


Because they all handle fraud and extortion and similar cases, and just like cops investigating serious felonies, you might want a sidearm in case some desperate guy decides bashing you and running is his best option.

The reason why we don't "just let the FBI handle all of that" is the same reason we don't see local PDs have separate "investigators" and "arresters" - the FBI's job isn't to know every possible Federal crime and be experts at investigating it.

Local knowledge is almost always superior; if OSHA is going to do enforcement of regulations, it's best done with an OSHA guy who lives and breathes the regulations he's enforcing, not some G-man on loan who doesn't know what he's doing.

(Now, want to argue that we need a lot fewer laws and regulations?

Well, amen, brother!

But if we have 'em, as we do right now, and we're gonna enforce 'em, as it appears we are, since DC isn't asking my advice, then we need people who know the laws and regulations, to do the enforcing.

And that means every agency needs its own enforcement agents, and for similar reasons its own OIG.)

rocinante2 said...

"Realistically speaking, the rate of police violence (like all violence) is probably at a low ebb"


While there is perhaps less overall police violence, the nature - and degree - of that violence is different.

When Atlanta SWAT in full battle-rattle (hydration bladders? Really, guys?) serve bad-check warrants, we've entered some uncanny valley.

When Habersham County SWAT serving a no-knock on a street level meth dealer who sold one serving of meth to an informant lobs a flash-bang through half-open door and into an occupied baby crib, is that just "collateral damage" in the War on (Some) Drugs?

When the Red Dogs act on a tip from a guy in jail and midnight no-knock an 89-year-old grandmama who has the misfortune to live in a neighborhood with bars on her door and windows, Grandman attempts to defend herself against the strange, unidentified men trying to break down her door in the middle of the night, and is killed for her trouble, is that also just "collateral damage"?

Anonymous said...

The difference is not that the equipment is deadlier, or that military tactics are new. The difference is the FREQUENCY. No-knock warrants rarely make the news anymore. Ferguson is better publicized, and bystanders with video cameras and instant upload capabilities mean that we hear about these events when (or even AS) they happen, and now it's more than the conspiracy "nuts" who are seeing that this is the norm, not the exception.


Ian Argent said...

"The difference is not that the equipment is deadlier, or that military tactics are new. The difference is the FREQUENCY. "

The overuse of SWAT is a separate discussion from the "militarization" of riot police facing rioters (active or passive). The difference is that a) the proceedings are broadcast nationwide, live, with commentary of a lower quality than you'd get if you hired a Wimbledon enthusiast to give the play-by-play in a texas high school football game, and b) the riot police are doing it in camo instead of their Sunday-go-to-church uniforms, while carrying a descendant of Eugene Stoner's plastic-furniture rifle rather than a wood-furniture remchester riot gun, or tommy gun (as we saw in the DE state cop pic above).

Conflating riot control with SWAT-as-day-to-day policing Does Not Help when trying to reduce the abuse of SWAT, because it lets the proponents of SWAT say "and this is why we need our toys," and opponents of properly-equipped riot police to say "this is why you can't have nice things."

To the extent that the Ferguson riots are a failure of the PD, it was their doctrine and attitude, not their gear. The same "failure" would have occurred with cops wearing their regular uniforms, carrying remchesters, and blocking roads with regular old trucks.