Almost two years after the firestorm that took place
in Ferguson, Missouri, when a white police officer shot an unarmed black
teenager and militarized police descended in a brutal show of force to quell
local protests, not much has really changed for the better.
SWAT teams are still bursting through doors,
terrorizing families and leaving lives and property shattered. In one incident,
a Kansas SWAT team erroneously raided the home of two former CIA analysts after police observed family members
shopping at a gardening store and found loose-leaf tea (mistaken for marijuana) in the family’s
And the military industrial complex is still making
a killing (literally and figuratively) at taxpayer expense from the transformation of
small-town police forces—“kitted out with Marine-issue camouflage and
military-grade body armor, toting short-barreled assault rifles, and rolling
around in armored vehicles”—into extensions of the military.
What has changed is the extent to which
Americans—easily distracted by all of the political mumbo jumbo being bantered
around—seem to have stopped paying
attention or being outraged
about revelations of government corruption, wrongdoing and outright abuse.
Part of this ignorance can be attributed to the
failure of the mainstream media to report on what’s really taking place in the
American police state. As The Huffington Post reports, “The media has turned its sights to the
heated presidential election, burning through the oxygen that had given life to stories about police
brutality and reform.”
Another part of this apathy can be chalked up to a
widespread desensitization to police violence, thanks to the growing
availability and accessibility of surveillance and camera footage. As Salon points
out, “the increased visibility of trauma and death at the hands of cops” has
resulted in “the deadening of our collective senses.”
And yet another part of this indifference seemingly
stems from the fact that we just don’t value human life as much as we should.
How many Americans seem unconcerned about the
carnage inflicted on civilians worldwide as a result of the nation’s bloody, endless wars abroad? As The
Washington Post makes clear, the end result of ignoring these civilian
casualties and burying memories of war’s destruction is more wars, more
blowback, and more innocent blood on our hands.
If there’s one area where Americans do seem to still
get outraged, it’s in relation to their pets, who occupy a sizeable place in
their hearts, homes and wallets.
Essentially, police can shoot your dog for any
reason or no reason at all.
What’s more, the general consensus from the courts
thus far has been to absolve police from charges of wrongdoing. Conversely,
while police routinely receive little blowback for shooting family pets,
shooting a police dog can land you in just as much trouble as if you shoot a
human being: for instance, a teenager who shot and killed a police dog received
a23-year prison sentence.
Payton, a 7-year-old black Labrador retriever, and
4-year-old Chase, also a black Lab, were shot and killed after a SWAT team mistakenly raided the
mayor’s home while searching for
drugs. Police shot Payton four times. Chase was shot twice, once from behind as he ran away. “My government
blew through my doors and killed my dogs. They thought we were drug dealers,
and we were treated as such. I don't think they really ever considered that we
weren’t,” recalls Mayor Cheye Calvo, who described being
handcuffed and interrogated for hours—wearing only underwear and
socks—surrounded by the dogs’ carcasses and pools of the dogs’ blood.
There are websites, community action organizations
and Facebook groups that do nothing but publicize dog shootings by police, and
there are a lot of them. One filmmaker, Andrea B. Scott, has even put together
a documentary to raise awareness about the epidemic.
Clearly, our four-legged friends are suffering at
the hands of a police state in which the police have all the rights and the
citizenry (and their “civilian” dogs) have little to none.
As always, we have to dig down deep to understand
why is this happening.
Are family dogs really such a menace to police? Are
law enforcement agents really so fearful for their safety—and so badly
trained—that they have no recourse when they encounter a dog than to shoot?
Finally, are police shootings of dogs really any different than police
shootings of unarmed citizens?
First off, dogs are no greater menace to police than
they are to anyone else. After all, as the Washington Post points
out, while “postal workers regularly encounter both vicious and gregarious dogs
on their daily rounds… letter carriers don’t kill dogs, even though they are bitten by the thousands every
year. Instead, the Postal Service offers its employees training on how to avoid
Second, these dog shootings epitomize a larger,
societal problem with law enforcement agencies prioritizing an “officer safety”
mindset that encourages police to shoot first and ask questions later. We’d
have a lot fewer police shootings (of dogs and unarmed citizens) if police
weren’t quite so preoccupied with “officer safety” at the expense of all else.
As commentator William Norman Grigg pointed out, “A peace officer is paid to assume
certain risks, including those necessary
to de-escalate a confrontation... A ‘veteran’ deputy with the mindset of a
peace officer would have taken more than a shaved fraction of a split-second to
open fire on a small male individual readily identifiable as a junior high
school student, who was carrying an object that is easily recognizable as a
toy—at least to people who don’t see themselves as an army of occupation, and
view the public as an undifferentiated mass of menace.”
Third, these dog killings are, as Balko recognizes,
“a side effect of the new SWAT,
paramilitary focus in many police
departments, which has supplanted the idea of being an ‘officer of the peace.’”
Thus, whether you’re talking about police shooting dogs or citizens, the mindset is the same: a rush to violence, abuse of power, fear for
officer safety, poor training in how to de-escalate a situation, and general
That paramilitary focus has resulted in a government
mindset that allows SWAT teams and other government agents to invade your home,
break down your doors, kill your dog (the dog always gets shot first), wound or
kill you, damage your furnishings and terrorize your family.
This is the same mindset that sees nothing wrong
with American citizens being subjected to roadside strip searches, forcible
blood draws, invasive surveillance, questionable exposure to radiation and
secret government experiments, and other morally reprehensible tactics.
Unfortunately, this is a mindset that is flourishing
within the corporate-controlled, military-driven American police state.
So what’s to be done about all of this?
In terms of our four-legged friends, many states are
adopting laws to make canine training mandatory for police
officers. As dog behavior counselor
Brian Kilcommons noted, officers’ inclination to “take command and take
control” can cause them to antagonize dogs unnecessarily. Officers “need to
realize they’re there to neutralize, not control… If they have enough money to militarize the police
with Humvees, they have enough money to train them not to kill family members.
And pets are considered family.”
Frankly, police should also be made to undergo
classes annually on how to peacefully resolve and de-escalate situations with
the citizenry. While they’re at it, they should be forced to de-militarize. No
one outside the battlefield—and barring a foreign invasion, the U.S. should
never be considered a domestic battlefield—should be equipped with the kinds of
weapons and gear being worn and used by local police forces today. If the
politicians are serious about instituting far-reaching gun control measures,
let them start by taking the guns and SWAT teams away from the countless
civilian agencies that have nothing to do with military defense that are
packing lethal heat.
Finally, there will be no end to the bloodshed—of
unarmed Americans or their family pets—until police stop viewing themselves as
superior to those whom they are supposed to serve and start acting like the
peace officers they’re supposed to be. Ultimately, this comes down to
better—and constant—training in nonviolent tactics, serious consequences for
those who engage in excessive force, and a seismic shift in how the law enforcement
agencies and the courts deal with those who transgress.
As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the
American People, when you’re trained to
kill anything that poses the slightest threat (imagined or real), when you’ve
been instructed to view yourself as a soldier and those you’re supposed to
serve as enemy combatants on a battlefield, when you can kill and there are no
legal consequences for your actions, and when you are deemed immune from
lawsuits holding you accountable for the use of excessive force, then it won’t
matter what gets in your way. Whether it’s a family pet, a child with a toy
gun, or an old man with a cane—you’re going to shoot to kill.