Tanks in Horse Country

The header of the website for Lenco Armored Vehicles features two waving American flags and the slogan “Protecting our nation’s defenders.”  A little lower down the page, we learn the Lenco is the country’s top manufacturer of “tactical armored security vehicles.”  A quick glance at the product pictures offers clarification:  They basically make tanks, but with car tires.  And at the top of their customer list?  LAPD and NYPD.  Lenco builds tanks…for the police.

In an article about the growing use of tank vehicles by local police forces, MSNBC quotes a sheriff whose Virginia location isn’t too far from my own:  “If somebody looks out and sees a Ford Crown Victoria sitting out there, they may not take you very seriously,” Warren County, Va., Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron told a local newspaper in October, “but if they look out the window and see this thing sitting there, they’re going to know you’re serious.”  Added another officer:  “It’s big enough to go through a house if it had to.”

I should note, by the way, that Warren County’s population is a grand total of 37,575 with only one actual town.  That town is the “canoe capital of Virginia” and has a stadium paid for by Bing Crosby.  I’ve been there — it’s basically somewhere between apple and horse country.  It is not, in short, a seething metropolis of crime.  And yet the police have tanks.

The Sheriff’s expressed desire to be taken seriously by suspects unintentionally hits on a larger point:  Why is the tank so much more intimidating than the Crown Vic if you look out the window to see it in your yard?  It’s not just that the tank is enormous and could run over your house; it’s that you have nothing remotely comparable in size or strength.  There is no contest here.  Some police don’t even bother with Lenco’s 75% tank/25% truck combo; in Tampa, they go all tank.

Along with the general trend of police militarization and brutality, this growing gap between what the police can and may do and the significantly more limited abilities and permissions afforded to the common plebeian has lately been brought into the general discourse by the appalling actions taken against protesters of the Occupy movement, particularly in New York City and Oakland, CA.  As Salon commented:

If you’re an ordinary citizen, and you get caught on video dousing people with noxious gas like [NYPD officers] did, you get summarily locked up. And if you’re young and black, expect to receive the law’s full wrath. But when you’re an NYPD commanding officer…you get essentially a free pass.

Of course, that the law applies differently to those with badges has long since been a foregone conclusion in the United States.  Imagine, for instance, the consequences I’d experience if I made 95-year old cancer patients remove their adult diapers for “screening.”

All that to say:  If anyone still doubts that the line between our military and police is not increasingly blurred, let them doubt no more.  As our military stays busy policing the world, our police here at home are increasingly militarized.  And the line between these two parts of government is a dangerous one to blur indeed.

This post was originally published on my blog.

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