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Militarisation of the police, Fargo edition

Fargo police

Law enforcement team this past winter in Fargo, North Dakota ( Michael Vosburg, Fargo Forum )

The stormtrooper look by law enforcement in Missouri has usefully brought into focus the long-term trend of police forces morphing into military units. For previous installments and a reading list, see here and here.

Today's photo, courtesy of Michael Vosburg of the Fargo, North Dakota, Forum, is of a police team six months ago, in the winter. The photo is worth a second look, for details ranging from the vehicle's license plate to the choice of green camouflage in the snow.

The full story, by Archie Ingersoll, is also worth reading. It points out that the last big public disturbance in the Fargo area was 13 years ago, during the Testicle Festival. (I'll let you look it up.) Oddities like the Testicle Festival are part of the picture we'd like to have of Americana. Combat-dressed cops are not, or shouldn't be. Usefully, the Forum article ends with a sane observation from the police chief of Moorhead, Minnesota, which is Fargo's sister city across the Red River:

[F]ear is a factor police have to be mindful of when dealing with disorderly crowds, said Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger. When officers don intimidating riot gear, their appearance alone can stir trouble.

“If you show up with that gear and you don’t have a riot, you’re inviting one,” he said. “The best weapon we have is our ability to communicate.”

Let's send Chief Ebinger to Ferguson. Meanwhile on policing, reader Billy Townsend of central Florida says the Ferguson showdown highlights the oddly uneven ways in which we hold public servants "accountable":

There's a fascinating parallel here between police officers and teachers. Police body cameras and test scores serve the same purpose. They are meant to provide accountability, assessment, and motivation for the core interaction between a public servant and the public served.

American political power at all levels has determined that a tortured, inaccurate, funhouse mirror statistical approximation of a teacher's interaction with a student is absolutely vital to public well-being and worthy of billions and billions of tax dollars.

Meanwhile, it is controversial — and maybe too expensive — to provide a precise, direct accounting of the core interaction between a police officer and the public. That is, to be direct, completely nuts.

Think about it: in the eyes of American state power, teaching Mike Brown makes the teacher immediately suspect and open to public sanction based on Mike Brown's test scores. Shooting Mike Brown in the street and leaving his body uncovered for four hours makes Mike Brown automatically suspect in the eyes of state power.

A camera provides for police the holy grail that education reformers seek for teachers—the ultimate evidence of policing quality. How would such evidence have changed what happened in Ferguson?

More from Townsend on his own site, here. Thanks to reader JW for the Forum tip. If you would like an illustration of Townsend's point about the difference that photographic evidence can make, consider this cellphone video of police shooting to death Kajieme Powell yesterday.


This post was originally published at The Atlantic