People argue with great passion to protect their Second Amendment rights and keep their guns. They feel that they are fighting nothing less than an attack on their freedom and on the US Constitution. But everything under the sun is a paradox and winning one right may jeopardize another. As more people own guns, more and more people seem to be killing or at least wounding policemen/women. This is making our police force more and more fearful; it is making them adopt harsher approaches to perceived lawbreakers and, in the end, may produce an almost military police force that always responds with excessive force in order to protect their own. In this way the very guns that people fight to keep to preserve their freedom, will eventually rob us all of the compassionate role policemen often try to employ in our communities. Instead of “tough love” they will just be tough.
We don’t often have photos of our police appearing on the TV news in riot gear, as they do in other nations. Perhaps that is because Americans are too well fed and complacent. We certainly have some current issues that we could afford to demonstrate about (peacefully, of course). However, in the near future, if we want to hold a peaceful demonstration we may be met by our once relatively benign police force decked out with tear gas and truncheons and those scary body shields. You have the right to own a gun or as many guns as you like, but don’t be surprised it exercising this right robs you of others.
Here are some scary reports contained in an article published on salon.com with the title,
Sal Culosi is dead because he bet on a football game — but it wasn’t a bookie or a loan shark who killed him. His local government killed him, ostensibly to protect him from his gambling habit.
Several months earlier at a local bar, Fairfax County, Virginia, detective David Baucum overheard the thirty-eight-year-old optometrist and some friends wagering on a college football game. “To Sal, betting a few bills on the Redskins was a stress reliever, done among friends,” a friend of Culosi’s told me shortly after his death. “None of us single, successful professionals ever thought that betting fifty bucks or so on the Virginia–Virginia Tech football game was a crime worthy of investigation.” Baucum apparently did. After overhearing the men wagering, Baucum befriended Culosi as a cover to begin investigating him. During the next several months, he talked Culosi into raising the stakes of what Culosi thought were just more fun wagers between friends to make watching sports more interesting. Eventually Culosi and Baucum bet more than $2,000 in a single day. Under Virginia law, that was enough for police to charge Culosi with running a gambling operation. And that’s when they brought in the SWAT team.
On the night of January 24, 2006, Baucum called Culosi and arranged a time to drop by to collect his winnings. When Culosi, barefoot and clad in a T-shirt and jeans, stepped out of his house to meet the man he thought was a friend, the SWAT team began to move in. Seconds later, Det. Deval Bullock, who had been on duty since 4:00 AM and hadn’t slept in seventeen hours, fired a bullet that pierced Culosi’s heart.
Sal Culosi’s last words were to Baucum, the cop he thought was a friend: “Dude, what are you doing?”
Here’s one more from the same report:
In 2007 a Dallas SWAT team actually raided a Veterans of Foreign Wars outpost for hosting charity poker games. Players said the tactics were terrifying. One woman urinated on herself. When police raided a San Mateo, California, poker game in 2008, card players described cops storming the place “in full riot gear” and “with guns drawn.” The games had buy-ins ranging from $25 to $55. Under California law, the games were legal so long as no one took a “rake,” or a cut of the stakes. No one had, but police claimed the $5 the hosts charged players to buy refreshments qualified as a rake. In March 2007, a small army of local cops, ATF agents, National Guard troops, and a helicopter raided a poker game in Cary, North Carolina. They issued forty-one citations, all of them misdemeanors. A columnist at the Fayetteville Observer remarked, “They were there to play cards, not to foment rebellion. . . . [I] wonder . . . what other minutiae, personal vices and petty crimes are occupying [the National Guard’s] time, and where they’re occupying it. . . . Until we get this sorted out, better not jaywalk. There could be a military helicopter overhead.”
Police have justified this sort of heavy-handedness by claiming that people who run illegal gambling operations tend to be armed, a blanket characterization that absurdly lumps neighborhood Hold ’Em tournaments with Uncle Junior Soprano’s weekly poker game. And in any case, if police know that people inside an establishment are likely to be armed, it makes even less sense to come in with guns blazing. Police have also defended the paramilitary tactics by noting that poker games are usually flush with cash and thus tend to get robbed. That too is an absurd argument, unless the police are afraid they’re going to raid a game at precisely the same moment it’s getting robbed. Under either scenario, the police are acknowledging that the people playing poker when these raids go down have good reason to think that the men storming the place with guns may be criminals, not cops.
I don’t know about you, but I find this startling and somewhat terrifying. Here’s some more from the same article:
But the mission creep hasn’t stopped at poker games. By the end of the 2000s, police departments were sending SWAT teams to enforce regulatory law. In August 2010, for example, a team of heavily armed Orange County, Florida, sheriff’s deputies raided several black-and Hispanic-owned barbershops in the Orlando area. More raids followed in September and October. The Orlando Sentinel reported that police held barbers and customers at gunpoint and put some in handcuffs, while they turned the shops inside out. The police raided a total of nine shops and arrested thirty-seven people.
By all appearances, these raids were drug sweeps. Shop owners told the Sentinel that police asked them where they were hiding illegal drugs and weapons. But in the end, thirty-four of the thirty-seven arrests were for “barbering without a license,” a misdemeanor for which only three people have ever served jail time in Florida.
The most disturbing aspect of the Orlando raids was that police didn’t even attempt to obtain a legal search warrant. They didn’t need to, because they conducted the raids in conjunction with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Despite the guns and handcuffs, under Florida law these were licensure inspections, not criminal searches, so no warrants were necessary.
That such “administrative searches” have become an increasingly common way for police to get around the Fourth Amendment is bad enough. More disturbing is the amount of force they’re opting to use when they do. In the fall of 2010, police in New Haven, Connecticut, sent a SWAT team to a local bar to investigate reports of underage drinking. Patrons were lined up at gunpoint while cops confiscated cell phones and checked IDs. There have been similar underage drinking SWAT raids on college fraternities. The Atlanta City Council recently agreed to pay a $1 million settlement to the customers and employees of a gay nightclub after a heavy-handed police raid in which police lined up sixty-two people on the floor at gunpoint, searched for drugs, and checked for outstanding warrants and unpaid parking tickets. Police conducted the September 2009 raid after undercover vice cops claimed to have witnessed patrons and employees openly having sex at the club. But the police never obtained a search warrant. Instead, the raid was conducted under the guise of an alcohol inspection. Police made no drug arrests, but arrested eight employees for permit violations.
Federal appeals courts have upheld these “administrative searches” even when it seems obvious that the real intent was to look for criminal activity as long as the government can plausibly claim that the primary purpose of the search was regulatory. In the case of the Orlando raids, simply noting the arrests of thirty-four unlicensed barbers would be enough to meet the test.
But the Fourth Amendment requires that searches be “reasonable.” If using a SWAT team to make sure a bar isn’t serving nineteen-year-olds is a reasonable use of force, it’s hard to imagine what wouldn’t be. At least a couple of federal appeals courts have recognized the absurdity. In 2009 the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit struck a small blow for common sense, allowing a civil rights suit to go forward against the sheriff’s department of Rapides Parish, Louisiana, after a warrantless SWAT raid on a nightclub thinly veiled as an administrative search. And in 1995 the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit made an even broader ruling, finding that having probable cause and a warrant for the arrest of one person in a club did not justify a SWAT raid and subsequent search of the entire club and everyone inside.
But other legal challenges to paramilitary-style administrative searches have been less successful.
You might want to chase down this article using the link above as there is a lot more to this argument. It may not be an excess of caution and fear of imminent death that is making the police act like a militia, but it is not something Americans should accept, this escalation in force, because it is just one more thing that challenges the paranoia-free lifestyle that is at the basis of a free society. People who are not breaking the law should not be subjected to “troops” in riot gear, acting like a military force, something which we connect to fascist nations where government controls citizens through brutality and fear. If this is where the right to have guns with us anywhere and anytime gets us, we have to ask ourselves if there aren’t ways to exercise our Second Amendment rights that would not trigger this fascist response from our police. You may think that if you don’t gamble, drink, or frequent minority barbers then you are probably all right, but it seems reasonable to suggest that this police behavior will escalate and will be employed more frequently and in more situations. The fact that the public is armed to the teeth offers a great excuse for paramilitary-style policing.