The manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects offered the nation a window into the stunning military-style capabilities of our local law enforcement agencies. For the past 30 years, police departments throughout the United States have benefited from the government’s largesse in the form of military weaponry and training, incentives offered in the ongoing “war on drugs.” For the average citizen watching events such as the intense pursuit of the Tsarnaev brothers on television, it would be difficult to discern between fully outfitted police SWAT teams and the military.
The lines blurred even further last Monday as a new dynamic was introduced to the militarization of domestic law enforcement. By making a few subtle changes to a regulation in the U.S. Code titled “Defense Support of Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies” the military has quietly granted itself the ability to police the streets without obtaining prior local or state consent, upending a precedent that has been in place for more than two centuries.
The most objectionable aspect of the regulatory change is the inclusion of vague language that permits military intervention in the event of “civil disturbances.” According to the rule: “Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances.”
Bruce Afran, a civil liberties attorney and constitutional law professor at Rutgers University, calls the rule, “a wanton power grab by the military.” He says, “It’s quite shocking actually because it violates the long-standing presumption that the military is under civilian control.”
~ from Military Quietly Grants Itself the Power to Police the Streets Without Local or State Consent by Jed Morey ~
It is interesting to watch which kinds of news stories are promoted by the mainstream media and gobbled up by the American public. While the press and many Americans are focused on Edward Snowden's NSA revelations and the George Zimmerman trial -- both worthy of a lot of attention in their own rights -- I have seen almost no mention, let alone public discussion, of this obvious power grab. Part of this needed discussion is why were such changes deemed of as critical importance now and by whom?
As with most federal legislation these days that favors the elite, the definition of "civil disturbances" is intentionally vague. The higher ups like vague terms because they easily can twist them to mean almost anything they want whenever they want. What's worse is that these twisted interpretations will be decided in secret and the American people won't learn of them until the time that military personnel are roaming their streets!
Another interesting facet of the changes of this regulation is that it did not lead to outrage from ultra conservative Republicans. Remember that these are the folks who constantly yammer about the inviolable nature of local control (unless, of course, the subject is same-sex marriage or abortion). Granting the US military the right to supersede a state's governor or a city's mayor is about as antithetical to states rights as one can get and yet we've heard nary a peep of protest.
So, where might we see this new regulation applied liberally? If it had been in effect during the days of the Occupy Movement, it might have been deployed then. As it was, most local police departments acted like military units anyway.
For me, it is telling that these tweaks were applied to the regulation in the aftermath of Ed Snowden's NSA mass surveillance leaks. If some organization decides to lead a mass protest in defense of the 4th and 5th Amendments of the US Constitution and such a movement gains steam, that might lead to civil unrest. I mean, it's bad enough that one man is causing much embarrassment for the Obama administration, but what if that one man motivates thousands or tens of thousands to take to the streets in peaceful protest?
Gads! We can't have that. Call out the Marines!