Monday, July 8, 2013

The Militarization of Police

Radley Balko on one of the ever increasing fascist tendencies of the state, the increasing militarization of police and federal agents.

Elizabeth Daly's terrifying ordeal has gone viral. In April, the 20-year-old college student and her friends were jumped by a team of undercover agents from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The girls were jumped in the parking lot of a grocery store because the agents mistook a case of bottled water they'd purchased for alcohol. One agent pulled a gun as another jumped on the hood of Daly's car.
Incredibly, Daly was arrested, jailed and charged with assaulting a police officer because in fear, she attempted to flee her attackers, and apparently grazed one of them with her car. Daly spent a night in jail and, incredibly, didn't have the charges against her dropped until last weekNow we have the 911 audio from one of Daly's friends who was in the car at the time. You can hear the panic and fear in the women's voices. And all in response to actions taken by the government employees who are supposed to protect them.
Now that the story has percolated in the public for several days, there are a lot of lingering questions. Here are a few of them:
-- Is it standard procedure for ABC agents to jump out on college students in the parking lots of stores that sell alcohol? (According to the local paper the Daily Progress, several other students were apprehended the same way.) Is it standard procedure for them to draw their weapons?
-- Even if that is standard procedure (and if it is, that's outrageous), how did these particular agents know that Elizabeth Daly was underage? Since she wasn't purchasing alcohol, she wouldn't have been carded in the store. Did an agent check her license plate, and somehow cross-check that with her date of birth? If not, it means that not only did these agents dressed in street clothes jump and pull a gun on a group of college women in a parking lot after dark for the petty crime of purchasing alcohol before the age of 21, and not only were they wrong about the fact that that crime had been committed, they jumped these women before they even knew for certain that they were underage.
-- If Daly hadn't realized the men who just confronted her were cops, and if she'd attempted to drive away, would the agents have fired their guns at her? If they had, would the ABC have considered them justified in doing so?
-- Why are ABC agents armed in the first place?
This is only the latest incident in the creeping use of more police force to enforce increasingly petty crimes. In fact, just a couple weeks ago, a dozen government officials -- some of them armed police officers -- raided the Family Wash bar in Nashville in what police claim was an inspection to be sure the business was complying with the state's alcohol regulations. Owner Jamie Rubin told the Tennessean, "They may want to call it a ‘spot check.’ But you can talk to anybody that was in there – employees, patrons – it was a raid. That’s what it was.”

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