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As the line between the military industrial complex and the criminal justice system continues to blur, Peter B. Kraska, Professor of Criminal Justice at Eastern Kentucky University, brings readers his timely Militarizing the American Criminal Justice System: The Changing Roles of the Armed Forces and the Police.
With contributions from an intriguing combination of academics, military writers, and attorneys, Militarizing the American Criminal Justice System covers a broad scope of topics, including the militarys involvement in drug and immigration enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border and the creeping role of high-tech surveillance methods in the context of increasing domestic militarization.
In the last 15 years, as Kraska explains, the U.S. has witnessed a rapid accelerationof both militarism and militarization in civilian governmental functions. Nowhere has that acceleration been as pronounced as in law enforcement.
Since the Reagan era, writes Kraska, successive American presidential Administrationswith the support of the Congresshave further militarized crime control discourse by radiating the master metaphor of war into a flood of taken-for-granted martial expressions and submetaphors.
It was Reagan who began to routinely equate the evils of communism with the threat of drugs and crime, and then took the first step toward the present-day omnipresence of drug war rhetoric by declaring illicit substances as an official threat to national security.
In subsequent years, both the Bush and Clinton administrations, notes Kraska, eagerly engaged in a game of political one-upmanship arguing over who could push for the most authoritarian and punitive approach toward the War on Drugs. As a result, the military and criminal justice systems now work together to handle the drug/crime problem as a veritable social or political insurrection.
The newly evolved perception of drug use and criminal behavior as a national security issue has thus served to justify a militaristic response, as Kraska explains, including campaigns to occupy, control, and restore state-defined order to public and private space, as well as operating detention facilities designed to punish and warehouse the prisoners of this war.
In this acceleration of a militaristic approach toward criminal justice, Kraska argues that the military and the criminal justice system have emerged as the clear and indisputable victors. The military, for its part, has been able to stretch its mandate to include internal, social national matters, and thereby guarantee the expansion of its already-inflated budget. The criminal justice system, in addition to a gross inflation of its overall budget, has also been able to tap into the surveillance, high-tech weaponry, computer technology, and personnel assistance of the military industrial complex.
The losers, regrettably, have been the rest of us.
To take one example, police paramilitary units (PPUs) now conduct some 40,000 drug raids annually, with hundreds of such incidents resulting in fatalities, injuries, and wrongful arrests of innocent citizens.
These PPUs, often referred to as SWAT teams or special response teams, are modeled after military special operations groups including the Navy SEALS.
Once a peripheral part of larger metropolitan police departments, PPUs are now commonplace across America: By 1995, over 77 percent of police departments had a paramilitary unit, notes Kraska, a 48 percent increase since 1985. Altogether, nearly 30,000 paramilitary deployments were reported in 1995, at a stunning 939 percent increase over such call-outs in 1980.
The bulk of deployments that paramilitary units engage in today are for the execution of no-knock warrants, explains Kraska. In both large and small departments, PPUs routinely carry out dangerous contraband raids on peoples private residences, often in predawn hours, for purposes of conducting a crude form of investigation into drug and gun law violations.
In one of the most egregious examples cited by Kraska, 11-year-old Alberto Sepulveda was shot to death in his own home in the predawn hours of September 13, 2000. With a SWAT officer standing over him screaming at the boy to lie down on the floor with his arms outstretched, Alberto complied. Less than 30 seconds later, writes Kraska, he was struck in the back and killed by a shotgun blast from a SWAT officer who stood over himfrom all indications, an unintentional discharge.
No guns or drugs were ever found in the house. The elder Sepulveda did not have an arrest record. Yet 11-year-old Alberto paid the price of the ill-informed raid with his life.
In Waging a War on Immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico Border, sociologist Timothy J. Dunn recounts the shooting death of goat-herding teenager Esequiel Hernandez by a U.S. Marine in Redford, Texas. The Marine who killed Hernandez was a member of Joint Task Force 6 (JTF-6), a special unit that now coordinates nearly all military support for law enforcement/anti-drug efforts in the U.S.
JTF-6, which works extensively with the U.S. Border Patrol, carried out 3,300 missions from 1990- 1997, reports Dunn. But with no requirement for regular reporting of its activities, the operations of this secretive task force remained largely unknown and out of the spotlight until the 1997 shooting.
Then a 4-member team of Marines on a special operations mission for the Border Patrol noticed Hernandez tending to his goats and carrying a single-shot .22 caliber rifle to ward off attacks from animal predators.
The Marines, dressed in full camouflage, and moving stealthily through the surrounding brush, got into a firefight of unclear origin. By all accounts, Hernandez didnt know who was shooting at him. The soldier who fatally wounded Hernandez was subsequently interviewed and quoted as saying that he believed he had taken down a bad guy. The team of Marines, it was later revealed, administered no medical aid to the dying boy and made no effort to call for medical assistance.
The soldiers, as Dunn notes, had little preparation for civilian contact, which they were supposed to avoid on the clandestine surveillance mission.
What this scenario exemplifies is the incremental erosion of the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which was signed into law after a host of Reconstruction Era abuses of the civilian population because of collusion between local law enforcement and military personnel. The Posse Comitatus Act that clearly demarcated the differing roles of these armed segments of society, first began to be whittled away by the Reagan administration.
In his essay, The Thick Green Line,Colonel Charles J. Dunlap goes on to explain that the dismantling of the Act was justified by the perceived need for a reunification of the domestic functions of the military, local law enforcement, and the criminal justice system as a whole. [T]he end result of almost two decades of statutory change and billions of dollars in budgetary expenditures, writes Dunlap, is the entrenchment of both regular and part-time military personnel in a variety of counter- drug efforts, including Joint Task Force 6.
The central role of American hypermasculinity in perpetuating a militaristic mode of social control is also key to understanding the union of the military and the criminal justice system, explains Kraska in his essay, Playing War: Masculinity, Militarism and Their Real-World Consequences.
Kraska, who embarked on a two-year ethnography of rural police officers and military soldiers working in collaboration on SWAT teams, presents a harrowing description of his time spent observing an ad hoc training session of cops and soldiers. [T]he group armed itself with shotguns and several boxes of odd-looking shotgun ammunition, Kraska recounts. One of the officers fired a round into a junked clothes dryer. The explosion was unbelievably loud, despite ear protection; simultaneously, a large flash was visible in the dwindling daylight. The men also experimented with other special event shells, including a shredder round, which cuts the locking mechanism out of doors. After witnessing its effect on a metal file cabinet, a younger officer said jokingly that he might load up with these shells on his next crack raid.
But by using words like jokingly to describe the actions and words of these officers, Kraska seems to underestimate the degree to which the training session is far from a joke for the officers and soldiers engaged in it.
In perhaps his only omission of perception in this otherwise engaging essay, Kraska could have done better to dig deeper into the psyches of the men whose livespersonal and professionalare devoted to the twin purposes of gunplay and gun-focused law enforcement.
But such omissions aside, Kraska leaves the training session with a firmer grasp of the troubling societal implications of the paramilitary exercise hes been allowed to witness.
The books female contributor, sociologist Susan L. Caulfield, in her essay, Militarism, Feminism and Criminal Justice, argues for feminist analysis in the context of a militarized criminal justice system. How, then, is an examination of feminism and militarism relevant to those who work within criminology and criminal justice?, asks Caulfield. The relevance can be found at many levels, including theory building, law enforcement practices, courtroom dynamics, law creation, [and] sentencing practices.
One aspect of the criminal justice system sorely in need of feminist analysis and criticism is that of correctional boot camps which, says Caulfield, exist to provide a form of shock incarceration.
Given that in the military, to fail at a task often leads to being labeled woman or little girl, boot camps, by promoting military ideology, reject both women and what are labeled as female characteristics, she writes.
Caulfield and her fellow contributors to Militarizing the American Criminal Justice System are not off the mark. Clearly, the future integrity and democracy of our society depends on our commitment to understand and challenge the militaristic model, which now governs an increasing portion of American existence.
Silja J.A. Talvi is a Seattle-based freelance journalist. She is a regular contributor to publications ranging from the Christian Science Monitor to In These Times, and is co-editor of LiP Magazine.