Abolition for the People

When Police Play Soldier, Everybody Loses

The militarization of police departments has only intensified an ongoing cycle of failure and oppression

This article is part of Abolition for the People, a series brought to you by a partnership between Kaepernick Publishing and LEVEL, a Medium publication for and about the lives of Black and Brown men. The series, which comprises 30 essays and conversations over four weeks, points to the crucial conclusion that policing and prisons are not solutions for the issues and people the state deems social problems — and calls for a future that puts justice and the needs of the community first.

This pattern is global. American police commanders declare that their officers are so well trained and experienced that they should teach cops elsewhere how to do their jobs. When those cops inevitably falter in a crisis, officials come to believe more aggressive approaches are necessary.

After an incident of police brutality involving a Black motorist, Marquette Frye, and his brother and mother on August 11, 1965, exaggerated but plausible rumors began to spread about police attacking a pregnant Black woman. Watts residents began protesting — and in response, cops ran wild, acting even more unhinged than usual. Looting, shooting, fires, and mass arrests ensued. The situation quickly became the most destructive “civil disorder” the twentieth century had yet seen. The National Guard patrolled in jeeps and cargo trucks, wearing helmets and carrying bayonet-tipped rifles. And then, once an uneasy calm returned to the streets, the LAPD became even more venomous against Black and Chicano activists.

Author of Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing (University of California Press, 2019)