Militarize Police: The Excessive Force, Unjustified Shootings, and Lawsuits They Spawn


Police misconduct—uses of excessive force, unjustifiable shootings, and planting evidence—is a blight on the criminal justice system, offends the very core of our Constitution and has cost taxpayers in states across the nation hundreds of millions of dollars. Minnesota is one of the states whose taxpayers have been the hardest hit picking up the tabs for the misconduct of their police.


For example, Minnesota Public Radio reported that between 2011 and 2014, the city of Minneapolis paid out more than $9.3 million to Minnesotans harmed, in one way or another, by the very police sworn to protect them.


“Courageous and Exemplary Cop” Costs City $700,000.00


One of those Minneapolis police officers was Lucas Peterson who had at least 13 excessive force complaints against him and who had cost the city more than $700,000 in lawsuit settlements. Peterson was nonetheless revered and respected by his superiors who bestowed decoration after decoration upon him for being a “courageous and exemplary cop.”


The public record is replete with other examples of Minnesota police officers either using outrageous excessive force against citizens or unjustifiably killing them when investigating crimes.


And things are about to get worse not only in Minnesota but in other states as well where police departments believe they now have the unbridled authority to do as they please and when they please, as exampled by the Los Angeles, New York and Denver police departments.


Beauregard Gives Wink to Corrupt Police


This past April U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, through an official directive, sent a clear message to police departments across the country that the U.S. Justice Department would no longer conduct vigorous civil rights investigations against law enforcement agency accused of misconduct. Put simply, bad cops now have an implied license to lie, steal, cheat, fabricate, plant, and even kill with relative impunity.


And, more recently, the Trump administration announced that it planned to “roll back” limits on military equipment to the nation’s police departments that were put in place under the Obama administration. This means the police will now have unfettered access to grenade launchers, high-powered weapons, armored vehicles, and host of other military surplus that will be used to quell civil disobedience and even peaceful public protest, particularly if its directed against the president and his policies.


President Encourages Police Misconduct


During his 2016 presidential campaign, President Trump frequently encouraged his supporters to attack protestors at his campaign rallies, telling them he would pay their “legal fees” should they be arrested. The president is now arming police departments to do this dirty work for him with the assurance that their officers will not face any of those troublesome civil rights investigations should they use excessive force—something he has encouraged them to do.


Attorney General Sessions would have the American public believe that the militarization of the police is needed “to protect public safety.” The AG recently told a cheering crowd at a national convention of the Fraternal Order of Police in Nashville, Tennessee that the Trump administration was going to revive a Pentagon program to provide surplus military gear to police departments nationwide to ensure that they could “get the lifesaving gear that you need to do your job.”


Police Killings Set to Exceed 1000 in 2017


Unfortunately, and tragically, this means more weapons to kill people, including innocent ones. This year, through August 29, 2017, the police have shot and killed 807 people in this country, a pace that will far exceed 1,000 by year’s end for the third consecutive year.


This is the way the police use lethal weapons.


But what about how they use so-called “non-lethal weapons”?


“Non-Lethal” Tasers Used to Kill


Tasers: the real name is Electronic Control Devices. The device was invented by a NASA scientist named Jack Cover. This non-lethal weapon is designed to incapacitate an individual so the police can quickly, and non-violently, gain control of a suspect. As far back as the 1960s, police were known to carry cattle prods while on patrol to control disorderly people. The Taser, patented in 1974, was hailed as a more effective way to accomplish this objective.


Today the Taser is used by more than 15,000 law enforcement and military agencies in this country.


The result for law enforcement use is this:


In August, Reuters reported about a “first of its kind” review of court documents, police reports, news accounts, and other public records nationwide that revealed 1005 deaths “following encounters with police in which Tasers were used either on their own or, more often, as part of a larger mosaic of force.”


Hundreds of Wrongful Death Lawsuits


The respected news outlet found that 442 of these deaths resulted in wrongful death lawsuits.


In 2014, a Cincinnati family settled a Taser death lawsuit for $650,000 after a father of eight was killed with a Taser shot to the chest; and this past June a family in Bangor, Maine settled a Taser death lawsuit for $525,000 after their son was killed by police with a stun gun.


And it is these kinds of police officers, who cannot even safely operate non-lethal weapons, that the Trump administration wants to militarize like those in third-world dictatorships.


In effect, the president and the attorney general want to give military-grade weapons to lawless, thuggish law enforcement leaders, like former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, both of whom cost taxpayers well over $100 million in lawsuit settlements during their law enforcement tenures because of their criminal and systematic abuses of the jail inmates they supervised and the citizens they were sworn to protect and serve (here and here).


Can anyone, with any rational sense, believe that law enforcement leaders like these two individuals could be responsible “commanders” of a militarize force ostensibly set up to protect and serve racially and ethnically diverse communities?


AG Sessions Believes Country Facing Violent Crime Wave


Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is pushing to militarize the police because, as the Washington Post reported recently, the attorney general believes country is facing “a violent crime wave [that] is sweeping the nation.”


That is an outrageous lie, and the attorney general knows it is a lie.


The Post article put it this way:


“To support his claim, Sessions cites an increase in violent crime from 2014 to 2015 as well a preliminary report citing an increase in violent crime in 2016, according to a Department of Justice official.”


Facts Betray the AG’s Claim of Growing Violent Crime


But here are the facts as reported by the Post: “In 1991, the nation’s violent crime rate peaked at 758 violent crimes for every 100,000 people. Since that point, violent crime across the country has declined. In fact, in 2015, the violent crime rate was lower than it has been in almost 45 years, and it is lower than it has been for most of the 2000s save for 2013 and 2014. The violent crime rate would need to double to reach the same levels of the 1990s, when violent crime peaked across the country.”


Hate Crimes Are on The Rise


What the Attorney General is not saying is that “hate crimes” in nine metropolitan areas rose by 20 percent in 2016—fueled by the presidential election campaign and Donald Trump.


In fact, Trump kicked off his presidential campaign in June 2015 with obnoxious appeals to racism, and his entire campaign was fueled by racism, ethnic division, and a courtship with violence. And since being sworn into office, the president has done everything in his power to legitimize white nationalists, white supremacists, Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klaners.


Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, like his boss, the president, see violent crime in the narrow prism of racism—that those responsible for the “violent crime” are black and Hispanic men who are gang-bangers or otherwise live in lower income communities selling drugs. They do not see hate violence spawned by the “alt-right” white supremacists who support their administration as a problem; in fact, the president himself took pains to point out there are some “fine people” in these groups.


Accountability, Not Military Weapons, Needed


This country does not need militarize police forces. The nation needs accountability for police misconduct, like that exhibited recently by a Salt Lake City, Utah detective who unlawfully arrested a nurse after she refused to perform an illegal blood draw from a patient, and that exhibited by a Cobb County, Georgia police officer who told a white female motorists that she had nothing to fear because the police only killed black people (here and here).


The nation’s military protects us from foreign adversaries. The police protect and serve our communities. The two forces should never be interchangeable, unless we want a society defined by the President as “beat ‘em up and get ‘em out of here.”