Police militarization

Great post from Dexter Filkins about a new documentary on police militarization, “Do Not Resist.”

“Do Not Resist” features several eye-popping moments. There’s Dave Grossman, a leading consultant to police and the F.B.I., lecturing a room full of officers on the pleasures of using violence on the job. (“Finally get home at the end of the incident and they all say, ‘The best sex I’ve had in months,’ “ Grossman told them.) There’s the scene, in South Carolina, of the Richland County Sheriff Department’s Special Response Team conducting a practice gun battle, firing automatic weapons and looking very much like the Navy seals in Baghdad. And there’s Alan Estevez, a deputy under-secretary of defense, testifying to Congress that, along with the many tons of military equipment, police departments were in recent years given twelve thousand bayonets…

The 1033 and Homeland Security programs have resulted in local governments around the country acquiring an astonishing range of military equipment, including armored personnel carriers, M-16 assault rifles, grenade launchers, and infrared gun sights, all of which were designed for combat. Among the vehicles routinely given to police departments is the mrap—mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle—which can weigh up to about twenty tons and is designed to survive roadside bombs. According to the Marshall Project, some six hundredmraps have been doled out to local governments around the country; they cost about a million dollars each…

In one of the film’s most poignant scenes, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department deploys its Special Response Team to raid a home in a run-down neighborhood where the inhabitants were suspected of keeping marijuana. The team members, who are dressed for full combat—black fatigues, helmets, and assault rifles—smash the doors and windows, enter the house, and arrest the owner’s son. They seize eight hundred and seventy-three dollars in cash from him, which he tells police he needs to run his landscaping business. They end up finding a gram and a half of marijuana—enough to fill about a teaspoon. The suspect’s mother, who is in the house at the time, is not arrested. “They tore down the house,” she tells the filmmakers. “My son went to jail for a gram and a half that they shook out of a bottom of a book bag.” …

The picture that emerges from “Do Not Resist” is that the acquisition of military equipment and the use of swat teams for routine arrests are feeding on each other—that heavy weapons are encouraging police to act in ways they otherwise would not…

For more than a century, federal law has prohibited the military from being deployed inside the United States against American citizens. The prudence behind that distinction is obvious, not least because while the military is trained to use maximum force, the police, ideally, should only use as much as is necessary to protect themselves or local citizens. “Do Not Resist” shows that the distinction between the two has been severely eroded. [emphasis mine]

Yes!  You give the police fancy new toys they are going to find ways to use them whether it is actually called for or not.  Just like you give a hospital a bunch of new MRI machines, they are going to find ways to use them.  In many cases, supply drives demand.  And sadly, the supply of militarized police had turned too many police into militarized forces which are at odds with actual, good, community-based policing.

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Photo of the day

I chose this photo from an Atlantic gallery of 1986 photos to tell a funny anecdote:

The independent filmmaker Spike Lee, right, with actress Tracy Camilla Johns at a release party for his film, “She’s Gotta Have It,” in August of 1986 in New York. Lee said he wants to make honest films about black people and didn’t believe there were any films by and for black people.

Mario Suriani / AP
I saw our local TV movie reviewer (remember those!) Arch Campbell give a great review to this movie.  Somehow, during the review I did not pick up  on the fact that the “it” was sex and the “she” was a nymphomaniac.  I just remember that he thought it was funny.  When the movie came out on video (I would have been 14 or 15), I picked it up from the video store to watch at home, with my mom, as I often did with movies back then (I probably said to her something like “Arch Campbell loved it!”).  My mom was pretty liberal on sexual matters, but damn, can we say awkward!

Why is Bernie still running?

I’ve actually been asked this question in a number of interviews.  I cannot confess to knowledge of any great political science research on the matter, but I have my basic human psychology theory.  Why does Bernie keep running?  What would you do given the opportunity to go all around the country speaking your mind to adoring crowds, getting more attention for your passionate political concerns then you’ve ever had, and still winning primaries to boot?  Why stop?!  So what if he’s not going to be the nominee– as he surely knows on some level– who would want to give up that gig? Sure, there’s probably other ways to explain, but this sure seems to get it pretty well to me.

Watch out maybe your employees are potheads!

Now, obviously, there’s many a job out there where you don’t want your employees under the influence of any mind-altering substances while they are performing their job, but employee drug testing has gone way too far.  Is there any more evidence that a person who relaxes with marijuana in the evening will create a workplace hazard at work the next day than somebody who has a few beers?  Of course not.  Tell that to the companies that test for one but not the other.  Anyway, this over-use of drug testing is coming back to bite employers.  In the Times:

All over the country, employers say they see a disturbing downside of tighter labor markets as they try to rebuild from the worst recession since the Depression: They are struggling to find workers who can pass a pre-employment drug test.

That hurdle partly stems from the growing ubiquity of drug testing, at corporations with big human resources departments, in industries like trucking where testing is mandated by federal law for safety reasons, and increasingly at smaller companies.

But data suggest employers’ difficulties also reflect an increase in the use of drugs, especially marijuana — employers’ main gripe — and also heroin and other opioid drugs much in the news…

In August, Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia promised to develop a program to help because so many business owners tell him “the No. 1 reason they can’t hire enough workers is they can’t find enough people to pass a drug test.”

That program is still under discussion. When job seekers contact Georgia’s Department of Labor, which provides some recruitment services to employers, the state would like to begin testing them for drugs; individuals who test positive could receive drug counseling and ultimately job placement assistance, Mark Butler, the state labor commissioner, said in an interview.

“Obviously, it’s not an easy process, and it would be costly,” Mr. Butler said. “But you’ve got to think: What is the reverse of that?” People needed to fill jobs are turned away, and, he added, “it’s pretty much a national issue.”

In Indiana, Mark Dobson, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County, said that when he went to national conferences, the topic was “such a common thread of conversation — whether it’s in an area like ours that’s really enjoying very low unemployment levels or even areas with more moderate employment bases.”

In Colorado, “to find a roofer or a painter that can pass a drug test is unheard-of,” said Jesse Russow, owner of Avalanche Roofing & Exteriors, in Colorado Springs. That was true even before Colorado, like a few other states, legalized recreational use of marijuana.

And allow me to belabor a point… sure you don’t want somebody high on marijuana working up on your roof, but you don’t want a drunk either!  Workplace drug use is a bad idea.  But it is ridiculous to go from that to say your workers should never use drugs.

I was disappointed in the Times for not putting this in the larger context, but Daniel Engber did that in Slate (pretty sure I quick-hitted this) late last year:

“Increasing numbers of employers are doing some sort of drug-testing,” says Barry Sample, the aptronymic director of science and technology for the Employer Solutions business unit of Quest Diagnostics. “These days it is rather uniform across many, many employment sectors. Most of the larger corporations, and most—if not all—of the Fortune 500 have some sort of drug-testing.” In all, Sample estimates that some 45 to 50 million workplace drug tests are taken annually in the U.S., making up a massive industry in biomedical HR…

That might make sense if testing yielded clear benefits to the companies that deploy it or to society at large. But here’s the most distressing fact about drug testing in the workplace: As was the case 30 years ago, testing has no solid base of evidence, no proof that it succeeds. We don’t know if screening workers for recent drug use makes them more productive, lowers their risk of getting into accidents, or otherwise helps maintain the social order. [emphasis mine] And what positive effects we do understand—there are indeed a few—seem almost accidental. They may not be worth the time and money and intrusion.

In other words, the drug testing of employees isn’t so much a thoughtful labor policy as a compulsive habit. It’s something that we do because we’ve always done it, and we don’t know how to stop. Testing has become a national addiction, and it may be time to taper off.

Well, damn.  We’re hardly rational when it comes to our criminal laws on drugs.  Not surprising that we’re hardly rational with employee drug testing.  Is it asking to much for a little rationality with how we deal with drugs in this country?  Apparently.  Though we are finally starting to show some signs of progress.

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