A Minnesota SWAT team actually burst into one family’s house, shot the family’s dog, handcuffed the children and forced them to “sit next to the carcass of their dead and bloody pet for more than an hour.” They later claimed it was the wrong house.
More than 80% of American communities have their own SWAT teams, with more than 80,000 of these paramilitary raids are carried out every year. That translates to more than 200 SWAT team raids every day in which police crash through doors, damage private property, terrorize adults and children alike, kill family pets, assault or shoot anyone that is perceived as threatening—and all in the pursuit of someone merely suspected of a crime, usually some small amount of drugs.
A child doesn’t even have to be directly exposed to a police shooting to learn the police state’s lessons in compliance and terror, which are being meted out with every SWAT team raid, roadside strip search, and school drill.
Indeed, there can be no avoiding the hands-on lessons being taught in the schools about the role of police in our lives, ranging from active shooter drills and school-wide lockdowns to incidents in which children engaging in typically childlike behavior are suspended (for shooting an imaginary “arrow” at a fellow classmate), handcuffed (for being disruptive at school), arrested (for throwing water balloons as part of a school prank), and even tasered (for not obeying instructions).
For example, a middle school in Washington State went on lockdown after a student brought a toy gun to class. A Boston high school went into lockdown for four hours after a bullet was discovered in a classroom. A North Carolina elementary school locked down and called in police after a fifth grader reported seeing an unfamiliar man in the school (it turned out to be a parent).
Cops have even gone so far as to fire blanks during school active shooter drills around the country. Teachers at one elementary school in Indiana were actually shot “execution style” with plastic pellets. Students at a high school in Florida were so terrified after administrators tricked them into believing that a shooter drill was, in fact, an actual attack that some of them began texting their parents “goodbye.”
Better safe than sorry is the rationale offered to those who worry that these drills are terrorizing and traumatizing young children. As journalist Dahlia Lithwick points out: “I don’t recall any serious national public dialogue about lockdown protocols or how they became the norm. It seems simply to have begun, modeling itself on the lockdowns that occur during prison riots, and then spread until school lockdowns and lockdown drills are as common for our children as fire drills, and as routine as duck-and-cover drills were in the 1950s.”
These drills have, indeed, become routine.
As the New York Times reports: “Most states have passed laws requiring schools to devise safety plans, and several states, including Michigan, Kentucky and North Dakota, specifically require lockdown drills. Some drills are as simple as a principal making an announcement and students sitting quietly in a darkened classroom. At other schools, police officers and school officials playact a shooting, stalking through the halls like gunmen and testing whether doors have been locked.”
Police officers at a Florida middle school carried out an active shooter drill in an effort to educate students about how to respond in the event of an actual shooting crisis. Two armed officers, guns loaded and drawn, burst into classrooms, terrorizing the students and placing the school into lockdown mode.
What is particularly chilling is how effective these lessons in compliance are in indoctrinating young people to accept their role in the police state, either as criminals or prison guards.
If these exercises are intended to instill fear, paranoia and compliance into young people, they’re working.
As Joe Pinsker writes for The Atlantic:
These lockdowns can be scarring, causing some kids to cry and wet themselves. Others have written letters bidding their family goodbye or drafted wills that specify what to do with their belongings. And 57 percent of teens worry that a shooting will happen at their school, according to a Pew Research Center survey from last year. Though many children are no strangers to violence in their homes and communities, the pervasiveness of lockdowns and school-shooting drills in the U.S. has created a culture of fear that touches nearly every child across the country.
Sociologist Alice Goffman understands how far-reaching the impact of such “exercises” can be on young people. For six years, Goffman lived in a low-income urban neighborhood, documenting the impact such an environment—a microcosm of the police state—has on its residents. Her account of neighborhood children playing cops and robbers speaks volumes about how constant exposure to pat downs, strip searches, surveillance and arrests can result in a populace that meekly allows itself to be prodded, poked and stripped.
As journalist Malcolm Gladwell writing for the New Yorker reports:
Goffman sometimes saw young children playing the age-old game of cops and robbers in the street, only the child acting the part of the robber wouldn’t even bother to run away: I saw children give up running and simply stick their hands behind their back, as if in handcuffs; push their body up against a car without being asked; or lie flat on the ground and put their hands over their head. The children yelled, “I’m going to lock you up! I’m going to lock you up, and you ain’t never coming home!” I once saw a six-year-old pull another child’s pants down to do a “cavity search.”
Clearly, our children are getting the message, but it’s not the message that was intended by those who fomented a revolution and wrote our founding documents. Their philosophy was that the police work for us, and “we the people” are the masters, and they are to be our servants.
Now that philosophy has been turned on its head, fueled by our fears (some legitimate, some hyped along by the government and its media mouthpieces) about the terrors and terrorists that lurk among us.
What are we to tell our nation’s children about the role of police in their lives?
Do we parrot the government line that police officers are community helpers who are to be trusted and obeyed at all times? Do we caution them to steer clear of a police officer, warning them that any interactions could have disastrous consequences? Or is there some happy medium between the two that, while being neither fairy tale nor horror story, can serve as a cautionary tale for young people who will encounter police at virtually every turn?
Certainly, it’s getting harder by the day to insist that we live in a nation that values freedom and which is governed by the rule of law.
Yet unless something changes and soon, there will soon be nothing left to teach young people about freedom as we have known it beyond remembered stories of the “good old days.”
For starters, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it’s time to take a hard look at the greatest perpetrators of violence in our culture—the U.S. government and its agents—and do something about it: de-militarize the police, prohibit the Pentagon from distributing military weapons to domestic police agencies, train the police in de-escalation techniques, stop insulating police officers from charges of misconduct and wrongdoing, and require police to take precautionary steps before engaging in violence in the presence of young people.
We must stop the carnage.
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People is available at www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.