(ALEX PAREENE, Salon.com, 1 December 2011)
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The mayor of New York and his police commissioner reveal just how comfortable they are with autocracy . . . Billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has his own army! No, it’s not a private security firm, like Blackwater. It’s actually, according to the mayor, the New York City Police Department. . . . “I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world. . . . Bloomberg, of course, is being a touch ironic, but he’s also not wrong. The NYPD has a 1,000-man army within its increasingly militarized ranks. It has tanks, combat rifles, anti-aircraft weaponry, non-lethal anti-terror sound cannons, and, supposedly, a submarine. And it’s all under the command of one guy, Ray Kelly, who answers solely to one other guy: Mike Bloomberg. . . . Bloomberg’s conception of the NYPD as “his army” explains a lot. Like why he thought it’d be OK to deploy them to Bermuda to help police his weekend home. (That plan was scuttled … once it leaked to the press.) Or why he thought it appropriate to use the NYPD to prevent demonstrators from … drumming on his block, one night. . . . If you want a sense of precisely how distanced from accountability NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly is, his response to being interrupted by a protester while addressing a Columbia class is illuminating. Faced with footage of police brutality, Kelly grinned and joked around. . . . In case Kelly is unfamiliar with the easily available data regarding what his massive army actually does most days, the NYPD makes more arrests for possession of marijuana than for any other crime. Marijuana possession is used as a pretext to sweep up and arrest tens of thousands of black men every year. And the commissioner pretends he’s totally unaware of that fact, even as his department defends the practice as necessary for our safety.
ALSO SEE: SWAT Raids, Stun Guns, And Pepper Spray: Why The Government Is Ramping Up The Use Of Force … Dress cops up as soldiers, give them military equipment, train them in military tactics, tell them they’re fighting a “war,” and the consequences are predictable. . . . But paramilitary creep has also spread well beyond the drug war. In recent years, SWAT teams have been used to break up neighborhood poker games, including one at an American Legion Hall in Dallas. In 2006, Virginia optometrist Sal Culosi was killed when the Fairfax County Police Department sent a SWAT team to arrest him for gambling on football games. SWAT teams are also now used to arrest people suspected of downloading child pornography. Last year, an Austin, Texas, SWAT team broke down a man’s door because he was suspected of stealing koi fish from a botanical garden.