#2. The American Military Keeps Being Ridiculously Popular
We're now over a decade into a string of unpopular war sequels, and this country still likes the military as much as we like American flag pie made entirely out of freedom. A poll conducted in 2013 found that 78 percent of adult Americans thought people in the military contributed "a lot" to society; servicemen and women outscored all the professions the poll asked about, including teachers, scientists, and the clergy. The trust we used to put into teachers and priests now goes into guys in uniforms holding guns.
You just know at least one of those pockets is holding delicious candy.
So on one level, it's horrible and kind of ridiculous that police departments in backwoods Idaho are dressing up like they're storming houses in Fallujah, rather than giving a stern warning to Duckshooting Joe for hunting ducks out of season again. But on the other hand, it's clear that both police and civilians are playing on some kind of subconscious association in order to grab a piece of that Military Love Pie. After all, the FTC had to ban actors from wearing white coats in some health product commercials, because people tend to subconsciously associate the coats with doctors. And the military beat out doctors on that poll, so associating yourself with soldiers is pretty much like having a grenade launcher that shoots unharmed kittens into the laps of passersby.
Once you take this into account, it's no surprise that some police departments have abandoned the traditional uniform for a more military-style look, or that a lot of police recruiting videos now feature clips of cops throwing flash grenades, riding in armored vehicles, and running around outdoors in camouflage gear (presumably the Tibetan monks with their hands up are just off camera).
This guy is carrying so much meth.
And if at any point someone steps back and looks at the tanks and the body armor and the grenades and says: "Hey, you guys are starting to look more like soldiers than cops," then who cares? Wow, we're starting to resemble something that 4 out of 5 Americans think is fucking awesome? Oh, darn.
And of course, the ultimate problem here is ...
#1. Soon Everyone Starts to Look Like a Terrorist
Say you buy a top-of-the-range marshmallow shooter to ambush your roommate who keeps stealing your cat food. You have to hide out in the pantry for hours in a ghillie suit, but the ambush is successful, and your roommate promises to go to counseling over his cat food problem and to never do it again. But wait: You just spent $500 on the shooter and $200 on special tactical marshmallows, and you only got to use it once. Now it's just sitting there gathering dust. Pretty soon, you're going to start looking for reasons to shoot marshmallows at another target.
He probably deserves it.
Similarly, say your police department has a heavily armed and militarized SWAT team, and you're spending amazing amounts of time and effort every month training that same SWAT team. But you live in a hamlet in Idaho, and the biggest crime of 2013 was a tractor joyride that damaged several fence posts. Who can blame you if, after a while, you start to look at your tractor-filled hamlet differently? If reality isn't providing you with enough dangerous, sophisticated, SWAT-worthy crime to keep everyone occupied, well, you can always adjust your definition of what "SWAT-worthy" means.
So America now has about 150 SWAT raids every day, and most of them are for non-violent crimes like drug possession. And the problem is that unlike the marshmallow shooting spree, crazy over-the-top SWAT tactics hurt people. They hurt small people. In April, a SWAT team badly burned a toddler when they dropped a flash grenade into his crib while searching for a relative they thought might be carrying drugs. And in 2010, a SWAT team shot and killed a 7-year-old girl when they accidentally raided the wrong house. Even when innocent humans don't die, it's common for police in these raids to shoot pet dogs on sight. All this is a pretty high price to pay for the "those bullets would have just sat around and gone to waste" defense.
Everyone knows that soldiers in wars often dehumanize their enemies. It's what happens when you're trained to see every person as a potential enemy, rather than a human with dreams and a favorite taco recipe and a Mario Kart high score. In war, this is probably inevitable. But when cops are dehumanizing their own communities -- when they're interacting with the people they're meant to serve and protect from inside armored vehicles and at the other end of machine guns -- things get really fucked up. I'll finish up by saying that as far as my research tells me, American police have never shot or injured a single otter. Here is a picture of some.