Paramilitary police training spooks Rutherford County residents

“I’ve been writing about this issue for about six years, trying to pitch a book on it, and it got no reception until the Occupy stuff happened,” says Radley Balko, the Nashville-based Huffington Postinvestigative journalist who has reported exclusively on the increasing militarization of American police departments. Balko, who will speak 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13, at Vanderbilt’s Buttrick Hall 206 about his upcoming book, says that while the Occupy clashes brought the issue of paramilitary police squads to the fore of public discourse, “This issue has been going on for more than 30 years.”

Balko says there has been a 1,500 percent increase in SWAT deployments across the county since the early ’80s — i.e., the birth of the modern-day War on Drugs — and that those deployments are often for minor offenses, usually drug-related. He cites an infamous incident last year in which the U.S. Department of Education dispatched a federal paramilitary team to the Stockton, Calif., home of Kenneth Wright for reasons the department won’t elaborate on, citing a pending investigation.

“Why in the hell do they [the Department of Education] have a SWAT team in the first place?” Balko asks rhetorically. “Unfortunately, we’ve become too comfortable with this idea of cops dressed up like soldiers breaking into people’s homes in the middle of the night. … I don’t know if I should say we should all be paranoid, but the paranoid people are closer to being right than the public that has gotten too comfortable with this.”

As it turned out, the DOE got the wrong man — or woman, actually. The feds were after Wright’s wife, who wasn’t home — rendering Wright’s alleged six-hour detainment in a sweltering patrol car a constitutional calamity.

According to the libertarian Cato Institute, paramilitary police raids in Tennessee are not without controversy, either. In 1999, Lexington, Tenn., resident Stacie Renae Walker was shot and killed by police following an inaccurate tip by an informant alleging she possessed methamphetamine and marijuana. In 2002, Memphis gravedigger Jeffery Robinson was killed by police following a botched drug raid, which also involved an inaccurate informant who alleged Robinson sold drugs at the cemetery where he worked. (A grand jury found in October 2004 that police planted a box-cutter on Robinson to justify the shooting.)


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