Want to know where the discussion set off by the events in Ferguson is going to end up? Look at this Twitter exchange between right-wing radio host Michael Medved and right-wing Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby:
.@MedvedSHOW I'd give the credit to more and longer prison terms for serious crime, not to equipping police w/ RPGs & armored vehicles.— Jeff Jacoby (@Jeff_Jacoby) August 17, 2014
Also see Ross Douthat's latest column, "Playing Soldier in the Suburbs," which takes exactly the same tack as Jacoby's tweet -- yes, heavy-metal policing is bad...
In an era of riots and hijackings, the SWAT model understandably spread nationwide. But as the riots died away and the threat of domestic terror receded, SWAT tactics -- helicopters, heavy weaponry, the works -- became increasingly integrated into normal crime-fighting, and especially into the war on drugs.... but hey, we don't want to be too hasty in condemning other aspects of criminal-justice heavy-handedness:
... It's our antiterror policies made manifest, our tax dollars at work.
And it's a path to potential disaster, for cops and citizens alike.... Militarized tactics that are potentially useful in specialized circumstances -- like firefights with suicidal terrorist groups -- can be counterproductive when employed for crowd-control purposes by rank-and-file cops.
To many critics of police militarization, of course, the helmets and heavy weaponry are just symptoms. The disease is the entire range of aggressive police tactics (from no-knock raids to stop-and-frisk), the racial disparities they help perpetuate and our society’s drug laws and extraordinary incarceration rate....In America, right-wingers always get to position the Overton window, on every subject of debate. Right now, they're positioning it between Douthat/Jacoby and Medved. The "left" and "right" in this debate will be: do we get rid of the MRAPs and BearCats and keep the rest of our usual tactics? Or do we keep it all?
The argument for broad reform is appealing; it might also be overly optimistic. To be clear: I cheered [Rand] Paul's comments, I support most of the reforms under consideration, I want lower incarceration rates and fewer people dying when a no-knock raid goes wrong. But there may be trade-offs here: In an era of atomization, distrust and economic stress, our punitive system may be a big part of what's keeping crime rates as low as they are now, making criminal justice reform more complicated than a simple pro-liberty free lunch....
It would be lovely to think that Rand Paul, by joining liberals in condemning the racial inequities of our justice system, has helped move the discussion to the left. But as I told you on Thursday, even Paul stressed the military hardware rather than the racism in his Time op-ed. And now those of his conservative brethren who are willing to acknowledge any problems whatsoever in how we deal out criminal justice are going to limit themselves to talking about tanks. So, outside MSNBC, that's all we're going to talk about.