Support Your Local Police, MRAPs and All

Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri knows his constituency. Though considered a moderate within Democratic circles, he knows he must look leftward given rumors that he could be a 2016 vice-presidential pick. So he proclaimed a “light hand” in his response to the mob violence in Ferguson.

By William R. Hawkins l September 2, 2014

Mob violence and communist agitation in Ferguson, Missouri

Polls consistently show that two of the institutions in which the public has the most confidence are the military and the police. In both cases, men and women have volunteered to place their lives on the line to defend society from all enemies, foreign and domestic. In the social contract between rights and duties, most people insist on their right to everything and neglect any responsibility to the larger community. In contrast, those in green and blue, have chosen duty above all else. They are to be honored, unless you are a liberal. Cops and soldiers are not part of the liberal constituency. The “thin red line” protects a society that the left wants to radically transform, so it must be weakened so the misnomered forces of “progress” can literally run riot if need be to force change.

Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri knows his constituency. Though considered a moderate within Democratic circles, he knows he must look leftward given rumors that he could be a 2016 vice-presidential pick. So he proclaimed a “light hand” in his response to the mob violence in Ferguson. He even blamed the police for the turmoil. He criticized the “over-militarization” of the police response to “protests”” that were spurred by the killing of Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson on August 9.  He said that the local police were “too aggressive” in confronting looters, arsonists and vandals.

This column is not about the shooting incident. It is best to wait until the investigations play themselves out before evaluating the evidence and debating whether politics hijacked the outcome. Instead, I want to look at the mob violence that took place in Ferguson, Missouri. There are reports of the use of Molotov cocktails and the infiltration of “radical communist revolutionaries” from Chicago and New York City. But how does this fit the notion of a nationally “militarized” police. Libertarians and other left-wingers have raised this phony issue to divert attention from the real problems of crime; not just in Ferguson but in every community where people are afraid to walk down the streets at night (and often even in daylight). This is to be expected. What is disturbing is that some on the right have fallen for this same line, unwary as the conservative movement has become about infiltration from the left.

For example, Kevin D. Williamson at National Review hurled insults at the Ferguson police as if he was writing for The Nation or Op-Ed News, “They are ridiculously militarized suburban police dressed up like characters from Starshi Troopers and pointing rifles at people from atop armored vehicles, i.e. the worst sort of mall ninjas.” This was on August 14, after several nights of looting and the burning of stores! A truly embarrassing outburst from someone sitting safely in an office rather than facing thousands of angry protesters displaying a lynch mob mentality. It should be remembered that the police did not deploy in their combat gear until after the first night of violence.

A few days after Williamson’s childish rant, the tide at NR seemed to have turned for the better. Eminent historian Victor Davis Hanson observed that “the more complaints against the so-called militarization of the police, the more some radical groups seem to have been empowered to commit violence.” Indeed, since Gov. Nixon took control of police operations, very strict rules of engagement have been in effect, limiting the ability of the authorities to protect private property from criminal attack. Store owners have had to arm themselves to deter the mobs. At NR, Katherine Timpf quoted a businessman, “Not one customer has come in and complained about the police being too militaristic.” Small businesses are another highly trusted institution not in the liberal constituency and thus not worthy of protection.

Gov. Nixon, however, thinks, “In those situations where folks are rolling up heavily armored and they’re pointing guns at folks, that’s impossible to have a dialogue.” With looters?

The Department of Defense started to transfer surplus military equipment to local police forces in 1997. The motive was not to confront mobs in the street, but to fight the expansion of gangs who could outgun the police. Indeed, you can find dozens of magazines at any Walmart discussing the capabilities of assault rifles, shotguns and combat handguns readily available on the market. No cop wants to raid a criminal lair without body armor and other gear designed to defeat heavily armed foes. The “war on crime” has indeed become a literal description of the situation in many urban areas.

Bernard Kerik, a former New York City Police Commissioner, made the talk show rounds. His message on CNN was “Police should not be afraid to do their job….You can’t let thugs take over the city. We saw that the other day. The police had to respond.” He recounted that the “militarization” of the police started during the height of the “war on drugs” and continued after the 9/11 attacks and has continued because of mass shootings in schools and public places. “It’s absolutely needed,” he argued. Kerik served under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose administration did so much to reduce crime in the nation’s largest city.

Recently, I saw an MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle sitting in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant. It was military surplus still in its desert paint job being delivered to a law enforcement agency. The MRAP has surpassed the SUV as the object of liberal vilification. But I was not fearful. My hope was that it would be deployed in my town. Unlike libertarians who harbor fantasies about being outlaws and revolutionaries, I know which side of the police line I will likely be on in any conceivable outbreak of mob violence or gang warfare. It is the same side that nearly everyone who reads this column will want to be on; with a common security interest in keeping that protective line as strong as possible.

William R. Hawkins, a former economics professor and Congressional staffer, is a consultant specializing in international economics and national security issues. He is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.