Radley Balko's book
(image by Radley Balko)
Radley Balko's book by Radley Balko
Rob Kall: Cool. So I just want to be clear, you say right at the very beginning of the book that it's the drug war that has mostly funded and fueled police militarization. Can you talk about that?
Radley Balko: Sure, I mean it's going back to the Nixon administration, when he first declared war on drugs in 1972, to the policies that he pushed. The most notable that I talk about in the book is the No Knock Raid. Which interestingly enough is an idea that the police can break into your house without knocking or announcing themselves first. And it's a really nasty, and sort of authoritarian police tactic that runs contradictory to pretty much everything that this country was founded upon.
It bumps up against the Castle Doctrine, which is an idea that the home should be a place of sanctuary, bumps up against the fourth amendment which is the right to privacy. And Nixon pushed this idea, and the interesting thing is that it wasn't something that police departments were asking for, it wasn't something that criminologists were saying was needed. This is actually an idea that was brought to Nixon by a twenty nine year old Senate staffer, as a campaign issue that Nixon could use to exploit middle class, mostly white fear of inner city mostly black crime.
This was a wedge issue, I mean look at how frequently the No Knock Raid is used today, and you know the defenses of it, and look at where it actually came from and what the origins are. I think it's telling that this is a political issue, this is not a crime issue or police tactic that people were begging for.
But you know, so Nixon passes the No Knock Raid, he sends no knock narcotic officers out barging into homes. But it actually got walked back a little bit after a series of high profile botched raids that terrorized some people. Congress actually repealed the No Knock Raid in 1974, and it was, it was kind of a telling moment. It showed that Congress was still capable of saying, and admitting they were wrong, and actually revoking a drug war policy that they could be convinced had gone too far.
That all changed in the 80's, the Reagan administration then really took the drug war metaphor and made it quite literal. Reagan brought The National Guard in to start enforcing the laws, Reagan and several members of Congress actually wanted to bring in active duty military troops to start patrolling streets and conducting raids and arresting people. Which had never happened in the US save for the (inaudible 00:38:40) Reconstruction Act right after the Civil War. But the idea of using active duty military for domestic policing is something that we've always guarded against in this country. And interestingly the one institution that's been most opposed to that idea has been the military. It was actually the military that pushed back on that idea, and it was one of the two really bad ideas from the Reagan administration that didn't make it into law.
But we really see then that Reagan sets up these joint task forces where local police agencies start working directly with military groups of various military forces on drug interdiction efforts. We see the sharing of military equipment, the sharing of military intelligence, we start seeing U2 spy planes flying over California looking for fields of marijuana. We see this, the Camp Campaign where national guard troops, and local police agencies start sending helicopters to look for marijuana fields, and then when they find them, sending troops down to chop down the plants. But also to basically arrest and detain anyone in the neighborhood.
I mean these areas in northern California, a lot of these towns basically turned into war zones. People were harassed, and brutalized and terrorized by some of these Camp teams. And so this just continued throughout the Clinton administration. One thing I talk about in the book, is that up until about the mid 1990s, was the police, the government, at least made the argument that these tactics were necessary because drug dealers were heavily armed, and career criminals and dangerous people. So we have to use these tactics to protect police officers. You know there are lots of counter arguments to those points, but at least they were making the argument.
In 1996 California passes its Medical Marijuana Bill, the first in the country, a couple states follow suit, and the Clinton administration responds by raiding these medical marijuana dispensaries with federal SWAT teams. And this I think really representative of a turning point on this issue, because you can't, at this point, these are businesses that are operating openly. You know, they have business licenses, they're operating in compliance with the state law. But also they're openly flouting federal law. And so the federal government is sending in these violent SWAT teams with these violent tactics. And yet nobody thinks that the hippie mom and pop couple that are operating the pot dispensary are going to pull a gun out from under the counter and kill a bunch of federal agents. I mean these aren't dangerous people.
So, you know, the only reason that the SWAT tactics, the violent tactics, are being used on these dispensaries, and it's still going on today, is to send a message. I mean this is the federal government making an example of these people.
Rob Kall: So, wait wait wait, I just want to get this, cause I wrote down as you were talking, how did the Clinton administration make the militarization work, and what I'm hearing is it was Clinton who started using SWAT teams for kind of a political 'send a message' reason. And I think this ties back in with the federalization and the centralization of government, and with imposition of federal laws at state levels.
Radley Balko: Well yeah, that's certainly part of it, the fact that they were enforcing federal law. But I think it would be one thing that the Clinton administration, and I would disagree, but the one thing they would say, federal law is supreme, and we're going to send a couple of bureaucrats with clipboards in to shut these places down. You're going to have to, within thirty days, to shut, close down your business, or whatever. But that's not how they responded. They responded by sending in these gun toting, black clad SWAT teams dressed like troops, to raid these places.
And this, if you think about this it's kind of terrifying. The idea of governments using violence to make a political point, is not something you normally associate with free societies. And this really started happening in 1990s and you know it's been happening ever since.
I mean if you look at the FDA is conducting SWAT raids on these co-ops and Amish farms selling raw milk, unpasteurized milk. And they're selling it to people who want to buy unpasteurized milk, right, these are voluntary transactions. They're not tricking anyone or defrauding anyone. And yet because they're violating FDA regulations, and doing so openly, the federal governments bringing the boot down. So again this is about sending a message.
And this is not, this is not something that governments of free societies are supposed to do.
Rob Kall: So the federal government is bringing the boot down, sending in violent, massively armed militarized SWAT teams, to deal with Amish people riding horses and buggies selling raw milk.