The cost of America’s police state

From Salon:

Hundreds of billions have been spent to militarize our nation against a terrorism threat that barely exists

A line of police stand staged at an Occupy Oakland encampment in Oakland, Calif., early Monday, Nov. 14, 2011

A line of police stand staged at an Occupy Oakland encampment in Oakland, Calif., early Monday, Nov. 14, 2011  (Credit: AP/Paul Sakuma)

This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

At the height of the Occupy Wall Street evictions, it seemed as though some diminutive version of “shock and awe” had stumbled from Baghdad, Iraq, to Oakland, Calif. American police forces had been “militarized,” many commentators worried, as though the firepower and callous tactics on display were anomalies, surprises bursting upon us from nowhere.

There should have been no surprise. Those flash grenades exploding in Oakland and the sound cannons on New York’s streets simply opened small windows onto a national policing landscape long in the process of militarization — a bleak domestic no man’s land marked by tanks and drones, robot bomb detectors, grenade launchers, tasers, and most of all, interlinked video surveillance cameras and information databases growing quietly on unobtrusive server farms everywhere.

The ubiquitous fantasy of “homeland security,” pushed hard by the federal government in the wake of 9/11, has been widely embraced by the public.  It has also excited intense weapons- and techno-envy among police departments and municipalities vying for the latest in armor and spy equipment.

In such a world, deadly gadgetry is just a grant request away, so why shouldn’t the 14,000 at-risk souls in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, have a closed-circuit-digital-camera-and-monitor system (cost: $180,000, courtesy of the Homeland Security Department) identical to the one up and running in New York’s Times Square?

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