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"They Throw Kids on the Ground, Put Guns to Their Heads" -- The Horrors Unleashed by Police Militarization

SWAT teams burst through doors armed to the teeth, terrifying (and killing) children. How did we get here?

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“They did their thing,” Taylor says. “Everybody on the floor, guns and yelling. Then they put the two kids in the bedroom, did their search, then sent me in to take care of the kids.”

Taylor made her way inside to see them. When she opened the door, the eight-year-old girl assumed a defense posture, putting her- self between Taylor and her little brother. She looked at Taylor and said, half fearful, half angry, “What are you going to do to us?”

Taylor was shattered. “Here I come in with all my SWAT gear on, dressed in armor from head to toe, and this little girl looks up at me, and her only thought is to defend her little brother. I thought, How can we be the good guys when we come into the house looking like this, screaming and pointing guns at the people they love? How can we be the good guys when a little girl looks up at me and wants to fight me?And for what? What were we accomplishing with all of this? Absolutely nothing.”

Taylor was later appointed police chief of the small town of Winfield, Missouri. Winfield was too small for its own SWAT team, even in the 2000s, but Taylor says she’d have quit before she ever created one. “Good police work has nothing to do with dressing up in black and breaking into houses in the middle of the night. And the mentality changes when they get put on the SWAT team. I remember a guy I was good friends with, it just completely changed him. The us-versus-them mentality takes over. You see that mentality in regular patrol officers too. But it’s much, much worse on the SWAT team. They’re more concerned with the drugs than they are with innocent bystanders. Because when you get into that mentality, there are no innocent people. There’s us and there’s the enemy. Children and dogs are always the easiest casualties.”

Taylor recently ran into the little girl who changed the way she thought about policing. Now in her twenties, the girl told Taylor that she and her brother had nightmares for years after the raid. They slept in the same bed until the boy was eleven. “That was a difficult day at work for me,” she says. “But for her, this was the most traumatic, defining moment of this girl’s life. Do you know what we found? We didn’t find any weapons. No big drug operation. We found three joints and a pipe.”1

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POLICE MILITARIZATION WOULD ACCELERATE IN THE 2000S. The first half of the decade brought a new and lucrative source of funding and equipment: homeland security. In response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, the federal government opened a new spigot of funding in the name of fighting terror. Terrorism would also provide new excuses for police agencies across the country to build up their arsenals and for yet smaller towns to start up yet more SWAT teams. The second half of the decade also saw more mission creep for SWAT teams and more pronounced militarization even outside of drug policing. The 1990s trend of government officials using paramilitary tactics and heavy- handed force to make political statements or to make an example of certain classes of nonviolent offenders would continue, especially in response to political protests. The battle gear and aggressive policing would also start to move into more mundane crimes—SWAT teams have recently been used even for regulatory inspections.

 
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