I was recently attacked for criticizing police militarization – specifically the city of Bloomington’s failed attempt to acquire a Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle – because I am taking a position divergent from President Donald Trump. (Trump reversed Barack Obama’s restrictions on selling military equipment to police.) The idea that we cannot dissent on policy grounds from the Trump is dangerous and represents a cult mentality. I have opposed police militarization for many years now, years before Trump ever ran for President.
Making this a test of partisan loyalty is absurd. Plenty of Republicans have disagreed with the President of their own party on policy grounds for generations, and the same is true for Democrats. The fact that the Republican President holds a position does not mean that every single Republican must hold the same position. I opposed the Patriot Act from the beginning too, despite the fact that a Republican President signed it into law. Of course, Barack Obama renewed the Patriot Act after promising not to.
Opposing the purchase of a MRAP does not mean I believe that police should have no protection. The Bloomington police had an armored bank truck for years, and those are still around. I see them driving around town all the time. The BearCat stirred quite a bit of controversy earlier this year and a lot of angry commentary from Black Lives Matter, but a MRAP is far more militaristic than a BearCat.
I have seen arguments for armored vehicles based on the perception that crime is worse than before. That is simply not true. America is not a killing field for police, and statistically speaking police are safer than they have been in generations. Fewer police are killed in the line of duty now than in decades. Furthermore, violent crime is dramatically down since the heights of the early 1990’s and the much greater population in America today means the crime rate is even lower than that.
Of course, because far too many on both the Right and Left lack the emotional stability to actually discuss public policy without making the debate personal, a “Republican” smeared me as being “anti police” and said that I do not care if they die in the line of duty. This is pure sophistry. Was every single member of Congress who voted for the Posse Comitatus Act in 1878 indifferent to whether police were killed in the line of duty? After all, when dealing with gangs like the Bloods, the Crips and MS-13 it certainly would provide more protection to police to be backed up by the military.
There is a longstanding tradition in this country of resisting the use of the military in domestic law enforcement because of the concern for that power being abused to trample liberty. That was relatively uncontroversial until the last few decades and the War on Drugs. Now, with police being outfitted with more and more military equipment, domestic police (especially SWAT teams) are looking more and more like military units. Expressing concern about the civil liberties and use-of-force implications of this is not evidence of an anti-police stance or lack of concern for police killed in the line of duty. Such “arguments” are dishonest and despicable attempts to stifle debate on public policy through character assassination. It will not work.