Whatever happened to community policing? Building bridges? Didn't we learn a long time ago that the police can only do their jobs when the people of every neighborhood think the cops are on their side?
And why does St. Louis County have an arsenal more suited to storming Omaha Beach than policing Ferguson? I don't see anything wrong with there being a swat team in each state, for those rare occasions when lunatics barricade themselves with an arsenal. But now every middling city has enough guns to overthrow the Costa Rican government. For what? Assault rifles and armored cars don't fight crime; police who know their beats and have reliable friends in the neighborhood fight crime. A lot of this armed build-up was justified as defense against terrorists, and that just shows the danger of focusing too much on imagined dire threats instead of real, low-level problems like policing the tough neighborhoods of cities like St. Louis.
In the short term, a "show of force" like this one may reassure some people and keep the lid on trouble. But the long-term cost in terms of lost trust, alienation, and a sense that the government is an occupying force is far, far greater than anything the rioters could have done. I'm not just talking about black Americans, but about people like my sons who watch these images and think, what do you know, maybe those guys on the internet are right about FEMA. They and their friends are following this news like they have never followed the news before, and they are entirely on the side of the rioters. What does that bode for the future of our democracy?
A democracy cannot afford to treat its own citizens as enemies. The first thing that should happen is that all the police officials behind this disaster should lose their jobs, and all the guys on those swat teams should be sent back to foot patrol until they actually make some friends and solve some crimes. The second thing is that we should take all the assault guns and grenade launchers away from local police forces, melt them down, and put up some monuments to local cops who do their jobs without shooting anyone, and to the protesters throughout our history who have fought for our freedoms.
I have to pass along this observation from Walter Olson:
Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors?This is militarization for its own sake, not for any conceivable public purpose.