The Militarization of American Police – and Shredding of Our Constitutional Rights – Started At Least 30 Years Ago

George Washington's picture

Journalists from across the spectrum have documented the militarization of police forces in the United States, including, CNN, Huffington Post, the Cato Institute, Forbes, the New York Times, Daily Kos, Esquire, The Atlantic, Salon and many others.

Many police departments laugh at and harass Americans who exercise their right to free speech (pro tip for ZH readers - listen to the officer call protesters "Scurrying Cockroaches" at 1:50):





Indeed - especially since police brutality against protesters has been so blatant in recent months, while no top bank executives have been prosecuted - many Americans believe that the police are protecting the bankers whose fraud brought down the economy instead of the American people:



iVjUA The 1%



Some are comparing police brutality towards the Occupy protesters to that used by Israeli forces against Palestinian protesters. Indeed, numerous heads of U.S. police departments have traveled to Israel for "anti-terrorism training", and received training from Israeli anti-terrorism experts visiting the U.S. See this, this, this, this, this




Most assume that the militarization of police started after 9/11. Certainly, Dick Cheney initiated Continuity of Government Plans on September 11th that ended America’s constitutional form of government (at least for some undetermined period of time.) On that same day, a national state of emergency was declared … and that state of emergency has continuously been in effect up to today.

But the militarization of police actually started long before 9/11 … in the 1980s.


Radley Balko testified before the House Subcommittee on Crime in 2007:

Militarization [of police forces is] a troubling trend that’s been on the rise in America’s police departments over the last 25 years.


Since the late 1980s, Mr. Chairman, thanks to acts passed by the U.S. Congress, millions of pieces of surplus military equipment have been given to local police departments across the country.

We’re not talking just about computers and office equipment. Military-grade semi-automatic weapons, armored personnel vehicles, tanks, helicopters, airplanes, and all manner of other equipment designed for use on the battlefield is now being used on American streets, against American citizens.

Academic criminologists credit these transfers with the dramatic rise in paramilitary SWAT teams over the last quarter century.

SWAT teams were originally designed to be used in violent, emergency situations like hostage takings, acts of terrorism, or bank robberies. From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, that’s primarily how they were used, and they performed marvelously.

But beginning in the early 1980s, they’ve been increasingly used for routine warrant service in drug cases and other nonviolent crimes. And thanks to the Pentagon transfer programs, there are now a lot more of them.

(And see this.)

Huffington Post notes:

Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper published an essay arguing that the current epidemic of police brutality is a reflection of the militarization (his word, not mine) of our urban police forces, the result of years of the “war on drugs” and the “war on terror. Stamper was chief of police during the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999, and is not a voice that can be easily dismissed.

And Jamie Douglas notes:

Ever since Ronald Reagan in 1981 helped draw up the Military Cooperation With Law Enforcement Act, quickly passed by a very cooperative congress, effectively circumventing the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 by codifying military cooperation with law enforcement, the military has been encouraged to give any and all law enforcement agencies unfettered access to all military resources, training and hardware included. The military equipment was designed to be used by American fighting forces in combat with “the enemy,” but since a law was passed in 1994, the Pentagon has been able to donate all surplus war materiel to America’s police departments. The National Journal has compiled a number of statistics showing that in the first three years after the 1994 law came into effect, the “Department of Offense” stocked police departments with 3800 M-16 assault rifles, 2185 M-14’s, 73 grenade launchers, and 112 armored personnel carriers, as well as untold number of bayonets, tanks, helicopters, and even some airplanes. Regardless who will be in power in the future, the militarization of the police will continue. After all, who wants to appear as being soft on crime? These days, a chief of police’s office is like a doctor’s office, but instead of getting swamped with drug salesmen, they have very congenial visits with the merchants of popular oppression, the salesmen of weapons, various chemical agents, Tasers, body armor, and all kinds of tracking software, surveillance gear, and anything else the department may need for crowd control and to infiltrate dissidents, which are no more than US citizens wanting to restore the republic to its rightful place.


Numerous other assaults on our liberty started before 9/11.

For example, the Patriot Act was planned before 9/11. Former Counter Terrorism Czar Richard Clarke told Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig:

After 9/11 the government drew up the Patriot Act within 20 days and it was passed.

The Patriot Act is huge and I remember someone asking a Justice Department official how did they write such a large statute so quickly, and of course the answer was that it has been sitting in the drawers of the Justice Department for the last 20 years waiting for the event where they would pull it out.

(4:30 into this video).

The government’s spying on Americans also began before 9/11 (confirmed here and here. And see this). Indeed, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumseld and other government officials who held high positions in the George W. Bush administration pushed for wiretaps without approval by a judge … in the 1970s.

(And because the "temporary" crackdown on civil liberties within America is being justified by the "War on Terror", the fact that that war was planned 20 years ago is arguably relevant. Especially since we are in a perpetual war - see this, this, this and this - and so our liberties will never be restored unless we demand it.)  


The militarization of police forces throughout the United States cannot be taken in a vacuum, but is part of the ongoing drift towards a police state. The government has said for years that American citizens on U.S. soil may be targets in the war on terror, is using anti-terrorism laws to crush dissent.

Indeed, you can be labeled as or suspected of being a terrorist simply for questioning war, protesting anything, asking questions about pollution or about Wall Street shenanigans, supporting Ron Paul, being a libertarian, holding gold, or stocking up on more than 7 days of food. Government agencies such as FEMA are allegedly teaching that the Founding Fathers should be considered terrorists. So perhaps that means that any people who like American values are "terrorist sympathizers".

Instead of doing the things which could actually make us safer, the Bush and Obama administrations have been harassing innocent grandmothers and other patriotic Americans (and doing things which increase the risk of terrorism.).

Image by Anthony Freda: Background concerning the image: Here and here

This trend is not just limited to the U.S.

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benb's picture

The gangster controlled federal government runs the cocaine and heroin into the US. It’s a 500 billion dollar plus a year business. Just reference the prosecution and conviction of Wells Fargo and its Wachovia subsidiary this year who were busted for laundering 786 billion in drug money. Wachovia even signed the leases for aircraft bringing it in. Nobody goes to jail. They just get a weenie fine for 20 mil and keep on going. When you are one of the five megabanks that own the Federal Reserve the laws do not apply. Reports beginning in the early 80’s spoke of CIA scum incrementally compromising local law enforcement on a national scale through bribery and in walking into major US police chiefs offices with suitcases full of cash. Most police chiefs and Sheriffs are bought off and are nothing but stooges for the subverted federal architecture. In 1999 Richard Grasso then head of the NYSE traveled to Columbia and met with Manuel Marulanda, the head of FARQ. Grasso advised Marulanda to invest his drug profits in the NYSE. “I invite members of the FARC to visit the New York Stock Exchange so that they can get to know the market personally," Grasso was quoted as saying. When Marulanda passed on the offer the US military was sent in and murdered him. (Link to Reuters article- Of course there’s a lot of rotten cops. Effluence flows down hill. Bad apples from the military are being aggressively recruited along with sub 100 I.Q. people that will not question orders. But there are still a lot of good police officers that can see what is going on and from what I understand their numbers are growing. Most of us here know where this is heading and we need all the help we can get.

cranky-old-geezer's picture



Once again GW displays his utter fucking ignorance.

Police are military the MOMENT they put that badge on.

Police are UNCONSTITUTIONAL in America. Police are executive branch. Executive branch has NO law enforcement authority under the constitution. That job is the sole venue of the JUDICIAL branch under the constitution.

Police are unconstitutional because they're in the EXECUTIVE branch. Sheriff and deputies ARE constitutional because they're in the JUDICIAL branch.

Even then, sheriff and deputies have no constitutional authority to go around "enforcing the law" on their own. "Enforcing the law" requires a COURT ORDER from a JUDGE.

Yes, that's right, judicial branch JUDGES are the real "law enforcers" under the constitution.

Sheriff and deputies merely carry out those court orders. That's their job. Carry out court orders from judges.

A cop or sheriff's deputy writing you a ticket is a VIOLATION of your right of DUE PROCESS. Only JUDICIAL BRANCH JUDGES have constitutional authority to issue summons to appear and other criminal process.

GW has shown over and over again he's a MORON when it comes to constitutional matters.

I said earlier the government (at all levels) has a 4+ MILLION domestic military / mercenary force. Police are MILITARY and MERCENARY by definition.

Wherever police have jurisdiction it is a MILITARY MARTIAL LAW venue by definition, CITY LIMITS being the one people are most familiar with. When you enter "city limits" you are entering a MILITARY MARTIAL LAW venue.

CITY GOVERNMENTS are UNCONSTITUTIONAL in America. They are MILITARY MARTIAL LAW venues established on American soil in time of peace. That is a BLATANT violation of the constitution.

City police are MILITAY POLICE in a military martial law venue, EXACTLY like on a military base, NO difference in a constitutional sense.

In a military martial law venue you have NO rights. Your constitutional rights STOP at the gate leading into that military base OR at the "city limits" of that city government OR at the gate leading into a FEDERAL AREA. The constitution DOESN'T APPLY in those areas.

THAT is why the District of Columbia was created. DC is a FEDERAL AREA carved out of states so it WOULD NOT BE IN A STATE and the constitution WOULD NOT APPLY in DC, just like it doesn't apply in ANY OTHER federal area.

The constitution is binding on the federal government IN ITS RELATIONS WITH STATES and AMERICAN CITIZENS WITHIN THE STATES.

It is NOT binding within the federal government itself, it is NOT binding in the District of Columbia, it is NOT binding on a federal military base, and is NOT binding in ANY federal area or territory.

indio007's picture


Seton Hall Constitutional L.J. 2001, 685

Roger Roots*


Police work is often lionized by jurists and scholars who claim to employ "textualist" and "originalist" methods of constitutional interpretation. Yet professional police were unknown to the United States in 1789, and first appeared in America almost a half-century after the Constitution's ratification. The Framers contemplated law enforcement as the duty of mostly private citizens, along with a few constables and sheriffs who could be called upon when necessary. This article marshals extensive historical and legal evidence to show that modern policing is in many ways inconsistent with the original intent of America's founding documents. The author argues that the growth of modern policing has substantially empowered the state in a way the Framers would regard as abhorrent to their foremost principles.

johny2's picture

greatly informative post. Judge Dredd is the future of the LAW.

bill1102inf's picture

If you think there has been a 'militarization' of the police, well you would be right. BUT it pales in comparison to the MILITARIZATION of the PEOPLE. 

Expect Us

SaveTheBales's picture

Pfftftftf.  Ha, ha, ha, ha.

Doesn't FEMA's own website recommend you make preparations for emergencies?

It seems that they have a whole section on planning for disasters, and they recommend that you purchase food and supplies.  Does that make you a terrorist?  If so, wouldn't FEMA's website be terrorist training materials? 

You realize of course we don't need guns or gold.  We just wait until government gets so big and so paranoid, we just tell one agency about the nefarious activities of the others, and poof -- they're all chasing each other.  Just pull up a chair like the old man trying to cross the street in the Pink Panther. 

Just think, the government keeps supplying the free entertainment while I'm paying for cable.

Seasmoke's picture

in the picture all the cops are white thugs and all the military are dark skin......dont know if that was intended, but its spot on

bill1102inf's picture

Spot on My ass, the military is predominately WHITE especially the 'Line' units, you know, the FRONT LINE, Im not sure about cooks, and janitors but maybe that was your experience.


Furthermore, do you realize how many dark skinned police, ARE polie due to illegal affirmative action laws??? Yup, I know you did.

Seasmoke's picture

1-10....1-20.....1-50 ?????????

gorillaonyourback's picture

is it time to start putting bullets in the heads of cops?      warning to police officers,  QUIT BEFORE SOMEONE STARTS AIMING AT YOUR FORHEAD.

Seasmoke's picture

and they walk around in goofy uniforms making them very easy to identify......quack quack

jack stephan's picture

We Fremen have a saying: "God created Arrakis to train the faithful." One cannot go against the word of God.

Thunder_Downunder's picture

Just keeping on electing popularist politicians with their simplistic "War on XXX" policies. Sooner or later you'll get your war.


Some american ideas off the top of my head that were widely supported, but ultimately self defeating:

- 3 strikes system of 'justice' 

- privatisaion of, and creation of 'for profit' penal systems

- heavy handed, dogma driven crusade against drugs (celebrating 50 years of failure)

- doing away with 'justice' entirely, and instead adopting a retribution based model of control under the banner of patriotism and freedom

- permitting police to behave like thugs. "get tough on crime" ideology just sucks when you're white and on the receiving end I spose. 


Create a binary system, get a binary response.


I had a friend visit Sydney from NYC a little while back, and his first question was "how do you feel safe on the streets here? I've been here 3 days and haven't seen a policeman". My thoughts were, how do you feel safe in a city where you need to see them all the time?


And we just hired one of the US's finest to do for us what he did to NYC, and more recently the UK. The US does export more than silicon wafers and bad mortgages...

DavidPierre's picture



This  was a wake up call !

This  was the last straw !

This  is a four decade refuge.

This  is the future for This old man.



SDS Trader's picture

Yeah, as someone old enough to remember when the pendulum was at the other extreme and victims were treated worse than the criminals were, I would still say this article is right on.  The pendulum has gone way too far in the other direction, and far too selectively "to protect and to serve" the privileged few.

In defense of the police, though, I don't know how they would be able to stand up to some of the violent, heavily "up-armored" and "up-gunned" gangs they routinely face if they still relied on .38 revolvers...

Ironically, one police officer I have been friends with all my life is so anti-Big-Brother-police-state he would probably find Ron Paul not libertarian enough for his tastes.