With military-clad police tending to the rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, and recent incidents with civilians where police resemble a wartime invasion squadron more than your friendly neighborhood police department, many American – including former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee – are questioning whether the increasing militarization of American police forces is turning the U.S. into a police state.
When the conservative Fox News talk-show host asked an expert on the issue if she believed police departments used surplus military equipment – donated by the U.S. Department of Defense – "because we have it or because we need it?" his guest wasted little time to give her answer.
"I would say because we have it," replied Cheryl Chumley, who authored Police State USA: How Orwell's Nightmare Is Becoming Our Reality. "You know, the War on Drugs has brought a lot of this equipment straight off the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq into civilian police forces for free or for grant dollars through the Department of Homeland Security."
Chumley says once they have it, it's only a matter of time before they put it to use.
"Once these law enforcement officials have it, they need to train with it," Chumley continues. "They need to justify its use, and that's why we're finding so many law enforcement officials nowadays across communities of America using armored vehicles and flashbang grenades to do things like warrants for drug suspects."
Huckabee's show got America to ponder how far government will go when it comes to arming civil servants at different levels … do we need to arm the Library of Congress with weapons, and what about other federal agencies?
Let the military-powered police mishaps be put to an end
The ex-Arkansas governor threw out a number of incidents that question whether police departments should be armed with armaments intended for the U.S. military.
"In 2011, federal agents, accompanied by SWAT teams, raided the Gibson guitar factory and headquarters in Nashville, threatening and frightening workers and confiscating wood, claiming that it was imported illegally," Huckabee reported. "Criminal charges were threatened, never filed."
He mentions that these are in no way isolated events.
"There are also countless incidences of SWAT teams raiding homes and battering down doors, mistakenly shooting and injuring grandmothers and little kids, even killing pets," Huckabee pointed out.
Even babies have not avoided the wrath of over-zealous police forces with too many dangerous new toys.
"Earlier this year, police searching for a drug dealer in Atlanta threw a flash grenade into a home that landed in a toddler's crib," Huckabee recounted. "The boy, known locally as Baby Boo Boo, had half his chest and face blown off and spent weeks in a hospital in a medically induced coma."
Huckabee added another account.
"A woman in Evansville, Indiana, has sued the city's police department after its SWAT team smashed through her front door and threw flash grenades at her home, just to serve a search warrant two years ago," Huckabee rattled off again.
And one more for good measure.
"The 11 officers, looking for evidence after an anonymous Internet post threatened the local police chief, found only the 68-year-old woman and her 18-year-old daughter in the house and handcuffed them, and they didn't find any evidence in the search," Huckabee added, resting his case.
Prelude to a police state?
"This is all part of a larger question," Chumley said in response to the incidents Huckabee listed. "Not just are our police departments becoming militarized, but are we becoming a 'Police State USA'?"
Chumley went on to mention how the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration and other government agencies are now armed with weapons. This was just before Huckabee showed a video of members of a SWAT team joking about their search where they used a 50-pound battering ram to break through a 10-pound glass pane.
Huckabee took this time to make his support of police clear.
"Now look, I'm a pro-law enforcement guy," Huckabee stressed. "I'm a law-and-order kind of guy. I think we ought to support the police. I think, you know, they do dangerous jobs on our behalf, and I'm behind them 100 percent, but have we crossed a line in some areas with what's called the militarization of police?"
His guest didn't beat around the bush.
"Definitely, and I think all of America is pro-police … but there is a simple solution: when you kill somebody innocent, when you kill and maim a toddler, when you kill a 26-year-old Marine in Arizona, and then you just go on the next day, business-as-usual, using the same military-type grade equipment on the civilian streets of America, that's where the line should be drawn and that's where we should say, 'enough, no more.'"
She argues that tragic incidents such as the one described above should become a thing of the past – not a recurring horror story on the nightly news.
No more military-style engagements
To stem the tide of tragic incidents, Chumley suggested that citizens work to convince the entities funding government agencies to prohibit the money from purchasing military weapons and gear, especially those equipping the police. She then ventured that rules be enforced that limit the use of armored vehicles to extreme conditions … insisting that police departments return to the ways they used to watch over society in the not-so-distant past.
"What ever happened to the old 'serve and protect' model and mantra of civilian policing?" she pondered, touching on topics covered in her book that include how government control is smothering Americans' God-given right and how their protection from warrantless searches under the Fourteenth Amendment is constantly being violated.
Chumley's take on America's state of security is corroborated by some conservatives in public office.
"The coming signs of tyranny are all around us," Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) warned. "Fortunately they can be stopped before it is too late."
Chumley uses the rioting in Ferguson over the killing of teenager Michael Brown as an example of how unruly events have been used to usher in a police military state.
"While looting has no doubt become an issue in the area, and protesters have reportedly taken on more violent tones, it has to be asked: Do police really need to dress like battleground soldiers to get the crowds into control?" Chumley asks, reflecting on points she made in her book – that Americans will ask "What happened?" in five years and view the U.S. as unrecognizable in 25 years if things don't change.
Referring to it as a "military mindset," Chumley insists that upholding citizens' rights is no longer a top priority of America's police officers. She says that citizens' rights now take a backseat to officer safety.
"[S]erve and protect the American public, the taxpayers who are paying your salary," Chumley concludes. "[T]hat mindset is long gone, and we need to recapture that."