Sunday, May 27 , 2018, 5:01 am | Fair 53º

 
 
 
 

Jim Hightower: Arms Peddlers Discover Your Town — and Tax Dollars

It can be tough policing the mean streets in these days of desperation, when drug cartels and other hardened criminals are out there ... somewhere ... you really can't know where, until they strike, and another civilian is marked with a V — for Victim.

But the good people of Orange Country, Fla., are lucky, because they've got the astonishing team of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Orange County Sheriff's Office keeping watch, ready and able to preempt any criminal gang before it can strike locals with the dreaded V. In fact, a recent ruling by a U.S. Court of Appeals documents the truly incredible vigilance of this dynamic policing duo.

The DBPR/OCSO target in this case was a suspicious enterprise calling itself Strictly Skillz, and the agents spent a month carefully planning a joint sweep operation including a fully armed SWAT team in full battle dress. On the day of the raid, the team first sealed off the parking lot; next, two plainclothes cops entered to size up the danger; and then — BAM! — the SWAT team hit the unsuspecting subjects. Wearing riot gear and brandishing their guns, the team seized a half-dozen of the enterprise's kingpins, cuffed them and then laid them out on the floor, while officers searched the premises for more than an hour. Alas, nothing criminal was found.

You might assume that this was a narcotics operation, but no. In fact, Strictly Skillz is just a barbershop. What possible criminal activity led to this militaristic show of brute force? "Barbering without a license." That's a mere second-degree misdemeanor, but there was no violation, for all licenses at the shop were valid. DBPR could've determined that by a routine inspection, but instead the OCSO got involved to muscle the barbers, because ... well, because it has a SWAT team and a military mentality, so it thinks it's above the law.

In this case, the court not only yanked this abusive duo's constitutional chain, but also ridiculed its Keystone Kops routine of SWATing at barbers.

But it's not funny — for police now run thousands of these farcical SWAT raids a year, and they're rarely held accountable. They justify their over-the-top response to routine police work with the idea that since they have the equipment, they might as well put it to use.

Multibillion-dollar armament giants have long profited from the constant wars and repressive tactics of police states around the globe, but they've now discovered a hot new growth market here at home: The militarization of our local and state police agencies. The people of Ferguson, Mo., learned about the domestic proliferation of battlefield firepower the hard way when their own police department came after them with a Bearcat tank, two armored Humvees, stun grenades, M-16 rifles and other weapons of war.

It's been widely reported that this push into combat gear (and the militant mentality that accompanies it) has largely come from a 1990 congressional act authorizing the Pentagon to disperse surplus war equipment around the country. Less known, however, is that our corporate arms peddlers have lately leapt into direct sales of their deadly goodies, holding field demonstrations and trade shows to titillate the fancy of police chiefs and other officials.

Long Range Acoustic Device Corporation, for example, makes the long-range sound cannon that was used in Ferguson, literally blasting away demonstrators with ear-shattering pain. Also, such tear gas makers as Combined Tactical Systems are having a field day supplying and re-supplying police agencies. Then there's Taser International, whose electrocution gun — which can stop a heart — is now on the hip of nearly everyone with a badge.

In September, corporate militarizers paraded their stuff in — of all places — Missouri at a shebang called Military Police Expo. LRAD, CTS and Taser were there, along with a horde of other venders, to meet and greet, schmooze with and sell to a crowd of "civilian law enforcement and chiefs of police" who were invited to enjoy a shopping spree.

A coalition of citizen groups are organizing to stop this pernicious sale of arms to be used against ... well, us citizens. For information, go to FacingTearGas.org.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow. Click here to contact him, follow him on Twitter: @JimHightower, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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