I ran across a great term of mockery the other day. SWAT teams come around in their battle jammies to serve an arrest warrant. SWAT, you’ll remember, stands for Special Weapons and Tactics. Urban Dictionary describes SWAT teams as
…police special forces, handling situations too dangerous for normal police officers, such as multiple armed suspects, barricaded armed suspects, hostage situations, among others.
Now we have SWAT teams who break down your door to search for drugs, serve warrants, shoot an old man while he sleeps in bed, and disfigure a little toddler with a stun grenade they inadvertently throw into the Pack ‘n Play. You might call these disasters accidents, but in fact it’s not an accident when you arrive with far more armor and weaponry than you need, and end up killing people. An accident of that type is a predictable outcome when you show up prepared for war.
Posts like this one won’t change police behavior. They won’t change law enforcement’s culture of intimidation and force protection, nor do they change the attraction of training missions where you can pull your deadly, impressive toys out of their lockers to parade them in front of people who deferentially acknowledge your power.
Mocking words like battle jammies have a chance where normal criticism fails. These police officers think they are manly, impressive, and fearful in their jammies, whereas they actually appear ridiculous. They would not appear ridiculous if they actually had someone to fight, but in fact they use these tactics to serve notice of eight-year-old, unpaid fines! When people question their behavior, they say they don’t know what they might encounter, they say it’s for training, they say it’s standard procedure.
I’ll say it’s standard procedure. It is also standard procedure to place buildings and neighborhoods on lockdown on any pretext, to order people to shelter in place, to send police officers to arrest young children who who go to school with a plastic toy that violates the district’s zero tolerance policy, and to zoom up and down the street in huge SUVs and armored vehicles that never made it to Iraq.
These standard procedures, served up to the populace under the pretense of protection from some unnamed, deadly menace, actually serve as force projection in true military style. Every military expert knows the principle: show your strength so you don’t have to fight. Amazingly, this principle has now taken hold in the relationship between police forces, and the citizenry that police promise to protect. Police treat citizens as enemies, or potential enemies. If you can deter enemies from fighting, that’s always better than actual engagement. If you see people as a threat, you act so as to prevent them from acting aggressively. If you see people as a threat, you no longer act to protect them: you act to protect yourself.
So of course those battle jammies are not so innocent, and from the perspective outlined above, they are ominous. Citizens, however, cannot respond aggressively, even if that’s what they would like to do. Violence, or even threatened violence against the state won’t succeed, even if it creates martyrs who die for the cause. Civil resistance can, however, render authority illegitimate, especially authority that constantly harms people. Mockery is an especially effective form of resistance. It improves morale for those who point out how inappropriate the officers look, and injures morale for those who thought they were so fearsome. The officers leave the station with a swagger, and return both embarrassed and angry because the peons they thought they would intimidate laughed at them.
The internet and hand-held cameras offer all of us effective forms of mockery and ridicule. You can bring out your smartphone and film police officers doing their intimidation thing, then post the recording. The police officer who does a somersault on some suburban boulevard as he charges in to subdue a bikini-clad teenager at a neighborhood pool party, looks a lot more ridiculous viewed on YouTube than he did when he surprised everyone with his faux manliness. Later on you have a lot of time to absorb the self-infatuation such behavior displays. These people actually expect their victims to respect them, but their foolish behavior causes people to snicker. We should just laugh at them, and make sure they see it.
Of course, they shoot dogs for less.