by Rod D. Martin
July 22, 2013
The Posse Comitatus Act prevents the use of the military for policing on American soil. But you’d hardly know it existed based on the increasing militarization of police forces, not just in major urban areas like Los Angeles but in communities as small as 20,000 people or less.
Today’s Wall Street Journal asks the question in my title, in an article called “Rise of the Warrior Cop“. It deserves a look.
Some will rightly respond that we live in a time in which terrorists are a constant threat and potentially able to wield weapons of mass destruction. But this is no longer a conservative position at the point at which we begin to compromise fundamental freedom. Benjamin Franklin said “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Franklin was no pacifist: he put his life on the line for the idea of America, against the greatest power on Earth, a power that didn’t mind using its military on American soil one little bit.
Conservatives are used to fighting a Democratic Party that seems with the French always to want surrender. This has been so for at least forty years, with liberals seeking to tear down the FBI, gut the CIA, cancel weapons programs absolutely essential to deter or, worst case, defeat the USSR, and more recently, treat Islamofascism as the appropriate province of Barney Fife. Conservatives have been right to call for strength, because as George Washington has taught us, “the most effectual way to preserve the peace is to prepare for war.” Especially when you’re in one.
But conservatives should avoid knee-jerk reactions every bit as much as liberals. We live in a different time now, when technology (combined with Obamacare, the Patriot Act, and a host of overreaching actions by the folks in power) renders our every movement public, our every secret the province of some government surveillance program, and all of this easier by the day. Be honest: doesn’t the prospect of mosquito sized spy drones creep you out? It should, because any day now, it will.
Add to this an increasing tendency by government to resort to compulsion — something already inevitable simply because of its runaway size — and the increased militarization of federal and local police and, well, this just isn’t the time for knee-jerk anything.
Bottom line: of course it’s time to reconsider the militarization of American policing. It’s also time to reconsider privacy, and the increasingly unhelpful legal standard of “reasonable expectation of privacy” (which today means you may never really expect any). Technology is a liberator if it’s our servant; police are our friends if they are bound by reasonable laws and inalienable rights. But remove either of those premises and in short order you’ll have a police state. And in that day, Constitutions will be nothing but scraps of paper.