Paramilitary cops and the war on dissent

Twitter is telling me that 19 people were just arrested this evening trying to block Philadelphia's School Reform Commission from voting on school closings. Hopefully they'll use the same lawyers who were able to win a not guilty verdict for 12 Occupy Philadelphia suported busted back in November 2011 (a.k.a. "the good ole' days") for sounding off inside a Wells Fargo Bank lobby about discriminatory lending and foreclosure practices. So is this a trend?

Looks that way. Two things are happening: First of all, taking it to the streets -- which was out of vogue for a while, especially when folks first realize they could vent their frustrations online -- is increasingly the venue of last resort for folks frustrated by our corrupt two-party system. Second of all, when they do...their facing off against cops who increasly looked like the 101st Airborne.

This week, the good people at the American Civil Liberties Union are trying to do something about No. 2: Its main concern is how cities are carrying out the so-called "war on drugs," but paramilitary tactics were a frequent complaint during the American Autumn of 2011:

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has launched a nationwide campaign to assess police militarization in the United States. Starting Wednesday, ACLU affiliates in 23 states are sending open records requests to hundreds of state and local police agencies requesting information about their SWAT teams, such as how often and for what reasons they're deployed, what types of weapons they use, how often citizens are injured during SWAT raids, and how they're funded. More affiliates may join the effort in the coming weeks.

Additionally, the affiliates will ask for information about drones, GPS tracking devices, how much military equipment the police agencies have obtained through programs run through the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, and how often and for what purpose state National Guards are participating in enforcement of drug laws.

"We've known for a while now that American neighborhoods are increasingly being policed by cops armed with the weapons and tactics of war," said Kara Dansky, senior counsel at the ACLU's Center for Justice, which is coordinating the investigation. "The aim of this investigation is to find out just how pervasive this is, and to what extent federal funding is incentivizing this trend."

The militarization of America's police forces has been going on for about a generation now. Former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates first conceived the idea of the SWAT team in the late 1960s, in response to the Watts riots and a few mass shooting incidents for which he thought the police were unprepared. Gates wanted an elite team of specialized cops similar to groups like the Army Rangers or Navy SEALs that could respond to riots, barricades, shootouts, or hostage-takings with more skill and precision than everyday patrol officers.

Thanks, ACLU. Or is it, tanks ACLU?