Battlefield America Is the New Normal: We’re Not
in Mayberry Anymore
By John W.
we’re training cops as soldiers, giving them
equipment like soldiers, dressing them up as
soldiers, when are they going to pick up the
mentality of soldiers?
If you look at the police department, their
creed is to protect and to serve. A
soldier’s mission is to engage his enemy in
close combat and kill him. Do we want police
officers to have that mentality? Of course
not.”— Arthur Rizer, former
police officer and member of the military
29, 2017 "Information
- America, you’ve been fooled again.
the nation has been distracted by a media
maelstrom dominated by news of white
supremacists, Powerball jackpots, Hurricane
Harvey, and a Mayweather v. McGregor fight, the
American Police State has been carving its own
path of devastation and destruction through
what’s left of the Constitution.
First, Congress overwhelmingly passed—and
President Trump approved—a
law allowing warrantless searches of private
the purpose of “making inspections,
investigations, examinations, and testing.”
For now, the scope of the law is geographically
limited to property near the Washington DC Metro
system, but mark my words, this is just a way of
testing the waters. Under the
pretext of ensuring public safety by
“inspecting” property in the vicinity of
anything that could be remotely classified as
impacting public safety,
the government could gain access to almost any
private property in the country.
Then President Trump, aided and abetted by his
trusty Department of Justice henchman Jeff
Sessions and to the delight of the nation’s
powerful police unions,
rolled back restrictions on the government’s
military recycling program.
What this means is that police agencies, only
minimally deterred by the
Obama administration’s cosmetic ban
on certain types of military gear, can now go
Blackhawk helicopters, machine guns, grenade
launchers, battering rams, explosives, chemical
sprays, body armor, night vision, rappelling
gear, armored vehicles, and tanks.
Clearly, we’re not in Mayberry anymore.
this is Mayberry, it’s Mayberry in The
As journalist Benjamin Carlson stresses, “In
and Barney Fife could be using grenade launchers
and a tank to
keep the peace.”
The Andy Griffith Show,
Set in the fictional town of Mayberry, N.C.,
The Andy Griffith Show
portrays the two stars of the show—Sheriff Andy
Taylor and his bumbling deputy Barney Fife—as
peace officers in the truest sense of the word
as opposed to law enforcers.
Sheriff Taylor and Deputy Fife dress in khaki
uniforms, a far cry from the black, militarized
Stormtrooper getups worn by police today. Andy
refuses to wear a gun and only allows Barney to
wear his gun on the proviso that he keep his
single bullet out of the chamber and in his
shirt pocket. Most of all, the two lawmen relate
to those under their protection as equals,
rather than as enemy combatants or inferiors.
Contrast the idyllic Mayberry with the American
police state of today, where local police—clad
in jackboots, helmets and shields and wielding
batons, pepper-spray, stun guns, and assault
rifles—have increasingly come to resemble
occupying forces in communities across the
As Alyssa Rosenberg writes for The
Washington Post, “[The Andy Griffith Show]
expressed an ideal that has leached out of
American pop culture and public policy, to
dangerous effect: that
the police were part of the communities that
they served and shared their fellow citizens’
were of their towns and cities, not at war with
really what this is about: a war on the American
citizenry waged by local law enforcement armed
to the teeth with weapons previously only seen
on the battlefield
thought the militarized police response to
Ferguson and Baltimore was bad, brace
As investigative journalists Andrew Becker and
G.W. Schulz reveal, “Many police, including beat
cops, now routinely carry assault rifles.
Combined with body armor and other apparel,
many officers look more and more like combat
troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
to Trump, this transformation of America into a
battlefield is only going to get worse.
fair, Trump did not create this totalitarian
nightmare. However, he has legitimized it and,
in so doing, has also accelerated the pace at
which we fall deeper into the clutches of
Everything America’s founders warned against—a
standing army that would view and treat American
citizens as combatants—is fast becoming the
norm. Certainly, this lopsided, top-heavy,
authoritarian state of affairs is not the
balance of power the founders intended for “we
the hands of government agents, whether they are
members of the military, law enforcement or some
other government agency, these weapons of war
have become accepted instruments of tyranny,
routine parts of America’s day-to-day life, a
byproduct of the rapid militarization of law
enforcement over the past several decades.
As Becker and Schulz document in their
insightful piece, “Local
Cops Ready for War With Homeland Security-Funded
Montgomery County, Texas, the sheriff’s
department owns a $300,000 pilotless
surveillance drone, like those used to hunt
down al Qaeda terrorists in the remote
tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In Augusta, Maine, with fewer than 20,000
people and where an officer hasn’t died from
gunfire in the line of duty in more than 125
years, police bought eight $1,500 tactical
vests. Police in Des Moines, Iowa, bought
two $180,000 bomb-disarming robots, while an
Arizona sheriff is now the proud owner of a
surplus Army tank.
Under this recycling program, small counties and
cities throughout the country have been “gifted”
20-ton Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP)
MRAPs are built to withstand roadside bombs,
a function which seems unnecessary for any form
of domestic policing,
yet police in Jefferson County, New York, Boise
and Nampa, Idaho, as well as High Springs,
Florida, have all acquired MRAPs. Police in West
Lafayette, Indiana also have an MRAP, valued at
half a million dollars.
Universities are getting in on the program as
The Ohio State University Department of Public
Safety acquired an MRAP, which a university
spokesperson said will be used for “officer
rescue, hostage scenarios, bomb evaluation,”
situations which are not common on OSU’s campus.
In fact, it will be
used for crowd control at football games.
13,000 agencies in all 50 states and four U.S.
territories participate in the military
“recycling” program, and the share of equipment
and weaponry gifted each year continues to
$500 million worth of military equipment was
law enforcement agencies throughout the country.
That number jumped to
$546 million in 2012.
$4.2 billion worth of equipment has been
from the Defense Department to domestic police
agencies through the 1033 program, in addition
to various other programs supposedly aimed at
fighting the so-called War on Drugs and War on
Terror. For example, the Department of Homeland
Security has delivered
roughly $34 billion
to police departments throughout the country
since 9/11, ostensibly to purchase more gear for
their steady growing arsenals of military
weapons and equipment.
departments are also receiving grants to create
microcosms of the extensive surveillance systems
put in place by the federal government in the
years since 9/11.
For example, using a $2.6 million grant from the
DHS, police in Seattle purchased and setup a
throughout the city capable of tracking every
Wi-Fi enabled device within range. Police claim
it won’t be used for surveillance, but the
devices are capable of determining “the IP
address, device type, downloaded applications,
current location, and historical location of any
device that searches for a Wi-Fi signal.”
Now ask yourself: why does a police department
which hasn’t had an officer killed in the line
of duty in over 125 years in a
town of less than 20,000 people need tactical
like those used by soldiers in Afghanistan?
does a police department in a city of 35,000
people need a military-grade helicopter?
that matter, what possible use could police at
Ohio State University have for acquiring a
heavily-armored vehicle intended to withstand
modern-day Trojan Horse.
Although these federal programs that
allow the military to “gift”
battlefield-appropriate weapons, vehicles and
equipment to domestic police departments
at taxpayer expense are being sold to
communities as a benefit, the real purpose is to
keep the defense industry churning out profits,
bring police departments in line with the
military, and establish a standing army.
militarized approach to make-work programs,
except in this case, instead of unnecessary busy
work to keep people employed, communities across
America are finding themselves “gifted” with
unnecessary drones, tanks, grenade launchers and
other military equipment better suited to the
battlefield in order to fatten the bank accounts
of the military industrial complex.
Not surprisingly, this trend towards the
militarization of domestic police forces has
opened up a new market for military contractors.
know who gets stuck with the bill for all of
this unnecessary military gear, don’t you?
taxpayers,” of course.
First, taxpayers are forced to pay millions of
dollars for equipment which the Defense
Department purchases from megacorporations only
to abandon after a few years. Then taxpayers get
saddled with the bill to maintain the costly
it has been acquired by the local police.
like the old adage: “never look a gift horse in
the mouth.” The catch is that this gift horse is
an expensive and deadly boondoggle.
For instance, although the Tupelo, Miss., police
department was “gifted” with a free military
helicopter, residents quickly learned that it
“$100,000 worth of upgrades and $20,000 each
year in maintenance.”
addition to being an astounding waste of
taxpayer money, this equipping of police with
military-grade equipment and weapons also gives
rise to a dangerous mindset in which police
adopt a warrior-like, more aggressive approach
results are deadly.
As a study by researchers at Stanford University
makes clear, “When law enforcement receives more
military materials — weapons, vehicles and tools
— it becomes … more likely to jump into
Militarization makes every problem — even a car
of teenagers driving away from a party — look
like a nail that should be hit with an AR-15
danger of giving police high-power toys and
weapons is that they will feel compelled to use
it in all kinds of situations that would never
normally warrant battlefield gear, weapons or
This “if we have it, we might as well use it”
mindset, by the way, is also used to justify
assigning SWAT teams to carry out routine law
enforcement work such as delivering a warrant.
That’s how you end up with SWAT tactics being
employed when police are tasked with
searching for a stolen koi fish
enforcing barber licensing laws.
it to say, we’re long past the days of Mayberry
when cops were peace officers and recognized
their role as public servants, a marked contrast
to the climate of entitlement that has cops
today acting like overlords and authoritarians.
will not come easily.
As I make clear in my book
Battlefield America: The War on the American
the police unions are a powerful force and they
will not relinquish their power easily. Connect
the dots and you’ll find that most, if not all,
cover up police misconduct or sidestep
can be traced back to police unions and the
look at Trump: he’s been on the police unions’
payroll from the moment they endorsed him for
president, and he’s paid them back generously by
ensuring that police can kill, shoot, taser,
abuse and steal from American citizens with
the responsibility rests with “we the people.”
As author Ta-Nehisi Coates
Constitutional attorney and author John W.
Whitehead is founder and president of The
His new book Battlefield
America: The War on the American People (SelectBooks,
2015) is available online at www.amazon.com.
Whitehead can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The truth is
that the police reflect America in all of
its will and fear, and whatever we might
make of this country’s criminal justice
policy, it cannot be said that it was
imposed by a repressive minority. The abuses
that have followed from these policies—the
sprawling carceral state, the random
detention of black people, the torture of
suspects—are the product of democratic will.
And so to challenge the police is to
challenge the American people who send them
into the ghettos armed with the same
self-generated fears that compelled the
people who think they are white to flee the
cities and into the Dream.
The problem with the police is not that they
are fascist pigs but that our country is
ruled by majoritarian pigs.