An article published by New Republic yesterday (April 17) looks under the hood of police training and militarization by following one man, former West Point instructor Dave Grossman, as he educates Pennsylvania police officers in what he calls “warrior policing.”
As the article explains, Grossman’s 1995 book, “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society,” established the retired Army ranger as an authority on the ways in which police should regard themselves as soldiers in a war:
For nearly two decades, he has taught tens of thousands of police officers, sheriff’s deputies and federal agents in every state to cultivate what he calls a “warrior mindset”—being mentally prepared to kill at any moment. Grossman’s goal, in essence, is to get cops to think more like soldiers, training them to regard the communities they serve as territory occupied by potential insurgents.
The report goes on to note that a student of one of Grossman’s co-taught seminars, Jeronimo Yanez, went on to kill Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Minnesota last July. Castile’s death, alongside those of Alton Sterling and other Black people who were killed by police, fueled protests for policing reform. The New Republic article frames Grossman’s teachings in the context of contemporary advocacy against police departments’ militarily-informed relationships with Black communities across the country:
The War on Drugs—and later the War on Terror—transformed police departments into paramilitary forces, spreading the warrior ethos to every corner of American law enforcement. Between 2002 and 2011, the Department of Homeland Security handed out $35 billion in grants to state and local police. At the same time, the Pentagon supplied surplus military gear—everything from assault rifles to armored personnel carriers with rotating turrets—to practically every police department in the country. Even small-town departments could now afford their own SWAT teams, whether or not they needed them. According to Peter Kraska, an expert in police militarization at Eastern Kentucky University, more than 80 percent of towns with fewer than 50,000 residents now have a SWAT team—and nationwide, such units are called out some 50,000 times a year, most often for raids on the homes of low-level drug offenders.
The military gear has been accompanied by a military mindset. Warrior training, like the kind offered by Grossman, seeks to instill cops with the same instincts as soldiers. “You gotta be on high alert, and you gotta look for any indices of threat, and you need to eliminate that threat, just like the military does, in a second,” says Kraska.
The problem is, training police officers to think like warriors effectively alienates them from the communities they are sworn to protect. It can also lead them to perceive threats where none exist, escalating what should be minor conflicts into deadly force encounters. Along with a host of other policies that the criminal justice system has inflicted disproportionately on communities of color—stop and frisk, broken windows, three strikes—police shootings have fostered an atmosphere of deep distrust. Once cops started thinking like occupying troops, a clash like the one that followed the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, became all but inevitable. “The angst against this sort of militaristic, overhyped policing has been growing for a long time,” Kraska says.
Grossman educates officers in this mindset with appeals to a problematic assertion of rising crime rates as a precursor to societal decay:
“The murder rate exploded across America,” Grossman shouts, scribbling city names and percentages from 2015 on an easel. “An explosion of homicides like nothing we have seen since the American Civil War!”
Assertions like these, the kind that Trump deployed during his march to the White House, are misleading. Most of the increase in violent crime in 2015 was concentrated in just seven cities. Criminologists can’t explain precisely what fueled the spike in murders, but the uncertainty provides fertile ground for Grossman’s grim prescience. The future, he says, is mass murder. There will be massacres on school buses and in day-care centers, ultraviolence by Mexican drug cartels spilling over the border, the “systematic ambush, murder and execution of cops,” ISIS-inspired butchery, September 11-scale terror attacks—and perhaps worst of all, in his estimation, the emergence of a “vicious generation of kids” raised on “the sickest movies and the sickest video games,” who will soon “give us crimes as adults we never dreamed of.”
Grossman later tells his audience that officers must follow a moral code to avoid killing at all costs, which he says former Ferguson, Missouri, officer Darren Wilson violated by not performing CPR on Michael Brown after shooting him. Still, Grossman believes that developments like Donald Trump’s election discredited Black Lives Matter and those calling for police reform by showing more people want aggressive policing. ”There’s going to be a backlash of enormous magnitude in the other direction,” Grossman says. “Back to broken windows, back to stop and frisk, back to cops in the street aggressively pursuing crime.”
Read the full article here.