Like many people, I was enraged and glued to the television for several days watching thousands of people across the country peacefully protest the lynchings of two black men by police officers – Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
I was shocked and disheartened to hear that a mentally disturbed shooter, filled with anger and hatred of white police officers, army reservist Micah Xavier Johnson, opened fire on police at a peaceful demonstration under the banner of Black Lives Matter in Dallas, Texas.
My jaw dropped and I yelled out loud “what the fuck,” when I heard the chief of the Dallas police department describe at a press conference how negotiations with a pinned down Johnson in a garage where going no where and in order to put no other officers or civilians in harms way that they had decided to use a C-4 plastic explosive attached to a robot to kill the suspect in the Dallas ambush.
The police chief, David Brown, somberly described it as their “robot bomb.”
I immediately thought about the first time I ever heard about the police using a bomb in an American city. That was 30 years ago when the Philadelphia police dropped an incendiary device on a bunker on the top of a fortified compound from a helicopter during a standoff in West Philadelphia between the police and an outcast black separatist group named MOVE.
There were nearly 500 police officers at the scene, ready for urban warfare – flak jackets, tear gas, SWAT gear, .50- and .60-caliber machine guns, and an anti-tank machine gun.
Early in the morning on May 13, 1985, Philadelphia police commissioner, Bregore Sambor, yelled into his megaphone, "Attention, MOVE … this is America, … you have to abide by the laws of the United States."
Shortly after someone in the MOVE compound fired a weapon, the police responded with an estimated 10,000 rounds of ammunition over the next hour-and-a-half. Later that day, the city’s firs black mayor, Wilson Goode gave the go ahead to drop a bomb on the roof to destroy the bunker.
When the dust finally settled, 61 houses had burned, 250 people were homeless, and 11 people were dead, including 5 children. Only two people made it out of the MOVE house alive – a woman named Romona Africa and a child named Birdie Africa.
With little public debate, the police have slowly transformed themselves into a domestic military force – with what appears to be all the powers and protections of the regular military – and American cities populated by black and brown people have become urban war zones.
How did this happen?
Following a decade of "rights" movements (especially black and Chicano liberation movements), urban rebellions in hundreds of cities, and an increase in casual drug use by the baby boomer generation, the nation's policy makers (with popular support from the public especially those that fled the cities for the suburbs) declared wars on drugs, crime, and political protesters.
Local police departments were given the tools they needed to restore and maintain order: armored personnel carriers, assault rifles, submachine guns, flashbang grenades, grenade launchers, sniper rifles, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams, sophisticated intelligence gathering equipment which has been coupled with an aggressive style of policing (such as, stop and frisk, and broken windows) and a series of court decisions designed to make their job easier but also erode fundamental civil liberties (such as, exemptions to Miranda and illegal searches, no knock warrants, and seizures of property).
The police have a strong financial incentive (especially in cities without lots of property tax paying citizens) to be aggressive. The desire to militarize themselves means they aggressively seize property and issue tickets to raise money; and lots of arrests – which proves to policy makers in Washington that they are being tough on criminal behavior – also means more dollars and military equipment from a wide range of federal programs.
What we are dealing with is a domestic military force full of people who see themselves as warriors on the battlefield. Whether they are good people with good intentions is of no importance. They and their supporters believe that the police are our last line of defense against a decline into chaos. They are our Warrior Cops.
With nearly 800,000 people with police type powers in departments spread across the country with little public or national oversight, this will not be "fixed" by better training, better police community relations, or getting rid of a few so-called "bad apples." This is a systemic problem.