Police Militarization?

“Security from domestic violence, no less than from foreign aggression, is the most elementary and fundamental purpose of any government, and a government that cannot fulfill that purpose is one that cannot long command the loyalty of its citizens. History shows us - demonstrates that nothing - nothing prepares the way for tyranny more than the failure of public officials to keep the streets from bullies and marauders.”

—Barry Goldwater, accepting nomination as the Republican presidential candidate, 1964 

The evening after his daughter’s first day of kindergarten on September 3rd, 2014, police officer Daryl Pierson was killed by a paroled felon with an illegal weapon during a routine traffic stop. The killer, Thomas Johnson III, according to a witness, pretended to be cooperating, then charged into the police car, and shot Pierson as Pierson grabbed him. 

Pierson, who had served in Afghanistan, also left behind a four-month-old baby and wife. This happened in my hometown, Rochester, New York, in an area that was once a thriving, ethnically diverse, working class neighborhood.

Goldwater’s words were spoken during the decade of increased defendants’ rights, increased crime rates, and waves of riots across America, including Rochester in 1964. That year, my feelings of safety as a seven-year-old changed as I walked past boarded-up corner stores and barber shops.

Fifty years later, it happened again in Ferguson, Missouri. The headlines of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on August 10 prematurely announced that calm had been restored after protests against the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer had turned into a night of looting. Per usual, the liberal newspaper editors thought that once the rioters had done some justified “venting,” things would return to normal. Increasingly hamstrung by criminals’ rights and campaigns against “police brutality” by radicals, and now the Justice Department, the police stood back while rioters rampaged.

The strategy did not work. It hadn’t worked in Rochester in 1964. Nor did it ever work in any American city during the Decade of the Riot: the 1960s. 

Fifty years after Barry Goldwater reminded Republicans of the need for law and order, many Republicans have joined in with liberals to blame “police militarization” for the rioting in Ferguson. Never mind that the riot equipment came out after the escalation of the rioting. 

And I thought our side had the logic.

The anti-cop forces, somewhat dormant since the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011, found a cause to latch onto in Ferguson. 

In October 2011, I saw for myself the harm that such anarchists are capable of, even as they simply “occupy” streets and public places. Even an out-of-control (un-policed) parade can create a life or death situation. 

I visited the “Occupy Atlanta” encampment in downtown Woodruff Park, which Occupiers had renamed Troy Davis Park after a cop-killer, and described what I saw in an article for PJ Media. During a Friday evening rush hour, the Occupiers set out to protest the purchase by Emory Healthcare of a building used as a homeless shelter. 

I followed their rag-tag march up Peachtree Street, the main downtown thoroughfare. The marchers took up two of the four lanes, chanting and banging plastic buckets. One of them directed traffic with wild gestures. Car horns started blaring, as traffic ground to a halt. I passed by three police officers radioing in about a “protest,” which seemed to have taken them by surprise.

Then I heard sirens. An ambulance and a fire truck were trying to get through. 

A motorcycle policeman, blue lights flashing, appeared. So did three punks in orange “Cop Watch” t-shirts holding up video cameras. The policeman ignored them, and expertly cleared the way for the ambulance. 

The Occupy crowd was finally forced onto the sidewalk, and marched up to the Midtown branch of Emory Hospital, where they blocked the entrance.

Soon about a dozen police officers converged on the scene and told protestors to move off the private property. Even as they were forced off the hospital property to the other side of the street, the protestors chanted back, “all property is public” and continued their noise-making. The police stood stoically, confining the nonsense, so patients could get into the hospital.

The Cop Watch punks, mostly scrawny white guys in need of haircuts and baths, were ready. They got into the police officers’ faces, filming them with their hand-held cameras, taunting them, hoping to provoke them into doing something that could be used as “evidence” of “police brutality.” 

I saw them do the same thing at the 2012 Republican Convention in Tampa. Protestors, inches away from the police, called them “pigs.” They teased police by dangling donuts from the ends of fishing lines. The police displayed incredible restraint, laughing off the antics, and even sending sandwiches to underfed protestors at “Camp Romneyville.”

This summer, I was reminded of what I saw in Tampa in 2012, in Atlanta in 2011, and in Rochester in 1964. 

In 1964 conservatives like Barry Goldwater condemned the violence in the streets and leniency for criminals. In 2014, to my horror, many conservative columnists and politicians came out blaming “police culture,” “police militarization,” and prejudice for the rioting in Ferguson. I have yet to see a prominent conservative columnist or politician condemn the fact that Officer Pierson’s killer, Thomas Johnson III, who had an extensive criminal history in two states, was paroled for the second time after violating his first parole. 

In Rochester this month, there was no rioting because a black career criminal, Thomas Johnson III, had executed a white police officer. Nor is there rioting or political grandstanding at any other time a police officer is killed by a thug—no matter the race of either one. 

In Atlanta, in 2011, about 10 of the dozen police officers who kept the Occupy Atlanta protestors from blocking the entrance to the hospital were black. The motorcycle cop clearing the path for the ambulance blocked by anarchists, cop-haters, ne’er do-wells, and professional agitators, was black. Of course, the picture of white cop-haters taunting black police officers with video cameras inches from their faces does not fit the narrative of race and police brutality. 

Overwhelmingly, police of all races, risk their lives to keep our streets free from bullies and marauders. It’s the cop-haters and race-agitators who are threatening tyranny, as Barry Goldwater warned fifty years ago.


Dr. Mary Grabar earned a PhD in English from the University of Georgia in 2002. She is currently a resident scholar at the Alexander Hamilton Institute.