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Militarizing Police and Prison Guards

Photo by Guido Coppa on Unsplash

As a certified professional, author, teacher, sufferer of addiction, and veteran of the criminal justice system, you might say I’ve had a front row seat and a backstage pass to a big show where police, prosecutors, criminal courts and prison guards hold the starring roles. 

The tragic murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and all the others sparked a civil rights rebellion and movement more powerful and meaningful than any single event in my lifetime. These events are now the face of American policing and criminal justice policy and the entire world is watching.

The fact is these kinds of abuses have been going on for years, right in public view. One of the most pivotal events of this kind, which we’ve all but forgotten, is the 1992 beating and torture of Rodney King.

We all watched in almost unbelieving horror as a defenseless King was viciously, brutally assaulted by an enraged, unmerciful, out of control gang of criminal attackers-the Los Angeles Police Department (L.A.P.D.).

We watched in horror as the mask of moral, heroic, patriotic defenders of public safety and guardians of civilization slipped to reveal the monsters underneath.

We’ve given our police and jailers absolute power through our votes, budget allocations and our silence.

Subsequent investigations revealed that this wasn’t just an isolated incident. This was just the tip of the iceberg and had been going on for years. But we hit the snooze button and went back to sleep, especially white America. We changed the channel to our favorite sitcom, big game or movie of the week, or went back to the mall to buy that new gadget we just had to have.

Rodney King was black, a marginal wage earner, commonly known to engage in recreational drug use with a handful of minor arrests on his record. In short, as far as many people were concerned, Rodney King just didn’t matter. “Yeh, those cops sure did beat that guy bad, but hey, he didn’t stop when they told him to and , well, they are the cops!”

Then we allowed the criminal in-justice system to change the venue of the trial for those cop defendants from Los Angeles out to Simi Valley which is widely known to be overwhelmingly white and disproportionately populated by members of law enforcement from both Ventura and Los Angeles counties!

If you lived in Simi Valley and weren’t a cop yourself then one of your friends or neighbors were! It was then no surprise to anyone when this entire band of badge carrying thugs was quickly acquitted. And we hit the snooze button again. We shrugged it off and let it slide. We watched those L.A.P.D. cops brutalize an unarmed, defenseless, unresisting American citizen and we did nothing!

The years rolled by as emboldened police forces grew, became armed in militarized fashion and unrestrained cops, prison guards and jailers injured, maimed, brutalized and shot to death unarmed citizens with utter impunity totally unchecked and unchallenged.

It’s just a fact: Absolute power breeds absolute corruption. We’ve given our police and jailers absolute power through our votes, budget allocations and our silence.

We’ve approved massive budget increases to pay for everything from constitutionally illegal surveillance devices like the Stingray which cost half a million bucks apiece, and allows cops to instantly access our phones totally undetected and unregulated, to armed personnel carriers which look like they belong on the battlefields of Iraq, not the suburban streets of America.

We created the Derek Chauvins of the world. The Derek Chauvin who smugly, defiantly, self righteously kneeled on the neck of a handcuffed, subdued, defenseless George Floyd until he was dead and murdered him.

Chauvin stared into the camera unconcerned because time and time again you and I and the rest of America just hit the snooze button every time a sociopathic cop brutalized or murdered an unarmed and/or defenseless citizen. Own it.

The Watts Riots of 1965 were ignited by police misconduct arising out of a minor traffic stop.

The Rodney King beating arose out of the same circumstances and sparked the L.A. Riots.

Eric Garner was murdered by New York City Police Department (N.Y.P.D.) cops with a chokehold when they accosted him on a public street because he was selling untaxed, single cigarettes to passersby just to put a few measly dollars in his pocket.

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Sweet, gentle Elijah Mcclain was peacefully walking home after a snack run to his neighborhood store when Colorado cops accosted him totally without cause.

Police violently wrestled Elijah to the ground, then ordered EMS workers to inject him with a huge dose of ketamine as he plead for mercy, then fell into unconciousness. He died in the hospital days later from the effects of that injection.

white america

Michael Brown, Ahmad Aubrey, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rodney King, Casey Goodsen and the list goes on and on and on!

In 2004 I watched helplessly as prison guards murdered a handcuffed mentally inmate by emptying three cans of pressurized pepper spray down his throat simply because he had defied them, called them all a bunch of bitches and just generally pissed them off.

I was just transferred from a level one, minimum security compound for low level offenders in Tehachapi, California where I was housed at the height of the Covid-19 outbreak.

During that time a number of inmates filed grievances against the prison for failure to provide adequate sanitation measures to protect us. I was one of them. One such inmate was singled out by our housing officers who told a group of gang members that that inmate was a “snitch”, a false claim, and told them to beat him up, which they did viciously.

Criminal and civil charges are now pending against those two officers, but the truth is, they’ve been doing that kind of stuff on that prison yard for the past twenty years.

In 1999 I was arrested for “petty theft with a prior”, at that time a felony in California. L.A.P.D. from the West Valley Division arrived and demanded that I give them a urine sample to determine whether or not I was under the influence of drugs.

Defiant, a little indignant maybe, I refused. Those cops drove me to a local hospital and convinced a nurse to insert a catheter - painfully - into my penis while I lay handcuffed on a gurney in an open hallway which caused me to urinate into a container. Why? Because I had defied their total authority and pissed them off and they were gonna teach me a lesson. Now I know what it feels like to be raped.

The Posse Commitatus Act of 1878 reads in part: “It shall not be lawful to employ any part of the Army of the United States as a Posse Commitatus, or otherwise for the purpose of executing the laws.” Unfortunately, this foundational concept designed to protect the people from government oppression has been under assault for over half a century. No longer do we teach our soldiers to be cops as part of our communities. Today we teach our cops to serve as soldiers at war with our communities.

Many police officers across the country are recruited straight from the battlefields of the latest war jacked up on self righteous zeal just itchin’ to “kick ass” and “take ‘em down”. They bring military combat training to meld with paramilitary police department training and military style weaponry to bear against a predominantly law abiding citizenry. All of this military style power and energy is launched upon our communities from an underlying philosophy which emphasizes total control, overwhelming force, and absolute power over all other considerations.

Across the country many elite response teams are trained by military special forces or Seal Teams in the use of war-time tactics on our city streets. High School police department recruitment videos portray scenes of jack booted cops repelling from helicopters kicking in doors while deploying flashbang grenades and violently attacking “suspected” criminals with physical force while armed with military grade weapons. This kind of imagery and sales pitch appeals to a particular type of person who is drawn to this type of activity, the type of person who will soon be patrolling your neighborhood and armed to the teeth.

We see these kinds of militarized tactics played out in the Breonna Taylor case.

In his classic book, “The Art of War”, author Sun Tzu writes about specific principles of “war” which are most effective. These are, “Take the enemy unprepared”, or simply, the element of surprise, as in “no knock warrant”, and, “attack an inferior force with a superior one”, or, overwhelming force. This is what cops do when they crash your door twenty deep and then dump thirty two rounds into your home just like they did to Breonna Taylor and her boyfriend.

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This is the undeniable use of militarily trained cops using military style force against American citizens, and innocent ones at that.

Craig Farris

Craig Farris is the author of Drugs, Kids and Crime: Surviving Our Dug Obsessed Culture Revised 2nd Edition

Note: This is the first in a series written by Craig Farris documenting his first hand incarceration experience. This is the second in the series. This is the third in the series.