In 2011, I was shopping on East Burnside in Portland, OR, just up the street from grand old homes, the 1923 Art Deco Laurelhurst Theater, Whole Foods and little shops – and on that day, a police tactical assault team came speeding down the street hanging on the side of an armored personnel carrier.
It was a chilling moment, likely one that is felt every day in a war zone somewhere in the world – but oh-so-unlikely in civilized Portland or any other location in the U.S.
This was a time following the Recession of 2008; the Occupy Wall Street movement was in full force. Scores of people had taken loudly to the streets, protesting economic inequality and the bank-investment-Wall Street aggressors who were greatly responsible for our financial tumble that left many Americans in financial ruins.
This national movement was not the beginning of the militarization of our police forces which began at least as far back as other riots in the 1970s and has continued to escalate for over 40 years, but it was the first time I experienced it first hand, the first time I watched with horror as the fleet of military trucks and tank-like vehicles lumbered past.
Is this really the kind of policing that we want in America? Where our civilian police are armed with assault rifles, submachine guns, flashbang grenades, grenade launchers, sniper rifles; where special SWAT teams are trained to take out a target with the same precision of our armed military force; where the friendly cop-on-the-beat is no longer our common image, but faceless men and women in riot gear?
If we do think that such overwhelming force is necessary, in order to combat equally well-equipped drug lords, domestic terrorists, and unruly mobs, then we desperately need more training for our police, more checks and balances to eliminate over-reaction, over-kill, racial biases, even fear. We need better psychological profiling of those we hire into the profession and more support once hired.
If you thing we do not want a militarized police force, then we are going to have to take a harsh look at our society, the underbelly with its economic disparities, poverty, crowding, discrimination, hatred and fear, and begin to right those wrongs. If we want to de-escalate weaponry in policing, we have to decrease weaponry elsewhere in the country, abandon the idolatry of guns, dismantle the NRA.
I cannot imagine that there are many families out there who want their children to pursue a career in law enforcement. It is a terrible world we have created and have asked our peacekeepers to maintain. After 7+ decades on this planet, I am sad that we have come to this.
And I am grateful on that sunny afternoon in Portland in 2011 I did not have a child standing by me, watching the specter of war roll down our city streets.
— Jonnie Martin