There was an interesting discussion that emerged yesterday on the need for the Sheriff’s Office to have an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle). One poster noted the quick rise of AntiFa (short for Anti-Fascist) which has emerged in some ways as a radical left counterpart to the Alt-Right.
The poster argued, “The MRAP is an example of the tools law enforcement may need to deal with this organization if it continues to spread.”
But is that really a good idea even if it might be a helpful tool? The poster quickly noted, “I personally hope it just sits in the police lot and collects dust.” But the track record for such “tools” has been that if they are available, they get used.
More importantly, rather than help to de-escalate tensions, their use has proven to escalate problems and even incite violence.
On August 15, 2014, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran the story where they reported, “The focus on continuing protests here turned Thursday toward paramilitary tactics and equipment that critics — even among some law enforcement leaders — say have provoked violence from the crowds.”
Tim Lynch, director of the Cato Institute Project on Criminal Justice, said police use of military weapons and tactics accelerated after the 2001 terrorist attacks, in part because of Homeland Security grants.
The availability of such equipment, he said, is blurring the line of “the civilian police mission with the military mission and when that happens, there are unnecessary, violent confrontations between the police and citizens such as we’re seeing in Ferguson.”
He continued, “It’s only when there has been some kind of horrible tragedy, like somebody getting shot or somebody getting killed during one of these paramilitary raids … that the hard questions start getting asked — the questions that should have been asked since the beginning.”
In Standing Rock, likewise, the use of federally-supplied military equipment was criticized heavily, with criticism of abusive police practices.
In October, the New York Times reported, “The authorities arrived at the pipeline protest on Friday in military-style vehicles and demanded that the protesters vacate the camp.”
Rather than quell the situation, that led to an escalation with the use of bean bags, rubber bullets, pepper spray and ultimately water fired in subfreezing temperatures from water cannons on the protesters.
The Indian Country Media Network reported, “On Thursday October 27, police executed a particularly violent sweep of a camp that left structures destroyed, more than 140 people arrested, cars impounded and others burning on the side of the road. The highly militarized response—armored vehicles and heavy weaponry—was recorded by many people caught in the assault.”
But here is the important point – in neither case did the use of military vehicles help to quell the situation. In both cases, it ended up escalating an already volatile situation.
In the discussion one of the posters noted, “I certainly agree that having the MRAP appear at an otherwise peaceful protest would be nuts.”
But what they seem to fail to understand is that bringing the MRAP to even a situation like a Milo Yiannopoulos protest would have backfired on authorities.
As chaotic as the scene was on campus that Friday night where the situation was deemed unsafe, the university managed to avoid the use of mass arrests to get the situation under control. Can you imagine what would have happened had the university brought out an MRAP?
I can only imagine how much my phone would have blown up. Social media would have gone crazy. Instead of 1000 people out there, there quickly would have been 5000, maybe 10,000. The situation would have gone from chaos to grave.
Whatever concerns you might have with a relatively small in number but destructive group like AntiFa, rolling out an MRAP would escalate the situation by five to tenfold almost instantly, given the speed of Facebook, Twitter and text messages.
In neither the Ferguson or Standing Rock situations did the use of police military vehicles prove useful. In fact, history shows that they did just what we would expect – they escalated the situation. The New York Times reported about the first arrival of military-style vehicles in October – and we know both November and December were more, not less, contentious situations.
As we saw in the spring of 2015, there are times when some sort of armored vehicle is helpful. As it turned out, there was not an active shooter/hostage situation in West Davis, as the individual had already killed himself by the time police arrived, but my concern is that the prevalence of these vehicles leads to mission creep.
We already have an MRAP in both Woodland and West Sacramento, and both of those managed to find their way to Davis in March 2015. I would argue against those vehicles as well, but their presence makes it all the harder to convince me we need one in the hands of the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office as well.
—David M. Greenwald reporting