Small town sheriff buys tank: "the United States of America has become a war zone"

Rural counties across Indiana have been purchasing Afghanistan-surplus tanks with gunner turrets and heavy armour; most recently, it was Johnson County, whose Sheriff, Doug Cox, justified the purchase by saying, "The United States of America has become a war zone."

The 55,000lb "mine resistant ambush protected" tank (MRAP) was a steal at $5,000 (original price: $733,000), part of a bizarro-world peace dividend from the Afghanistan and Iraq drawdown, which sees the toolsuite of a military occupying force being flogged at knock-down rates to macho shithead sheriffs across the American heartland for deployment against American civilians.

For example, Johnson County SWAT used their MRAP to break up a fight between two drunks, and in Morgan County, the requisition for their MRAP said it was to be used for a variety of purposes, including "drug search warrants and felony arrest warrants." By and large, counties acquiring these tanks have no formal policy about when and how they can be used.

"The United States of America has become a war zone," he said. "There's violence in the workplace, there's violence in schools and there's violence in the streets. You are seeing police departments going to a semi-military format because of the threats we have to counteract. If driving a military vehicle is going to protect officers, then that's what I'm going to do."

But, to some, the introduction of equipment designed for war in Fallujah, Iraq, to the streets of U.S. towns and cities raises questions about the militarization of civilian police departments. Will it make police inappropriately aggressive? Does it blur the line between civilian police and the military?

"Americans should ... be concerned unless they want their main streets patrolled in ways that mirror a war zone," wrote Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., co-author of a USA TODAY article earlier this year. "We recognize that we're not in Kansas anymore, but are MRAPs really needed in small-town America?"

Police officer safety or surplus zeal: Military equipment spurs debate [Mark Alesia/Indy Star]

(via Reddit)

Notable Replies

  1. Life in the modern US is a farce worthy of Kafka. We live in one of the safest societies ever to exist on the face of the planet, yet due to proliferation of 24 hour "news" that is devoted to spreading panic and the ease with which anyone can upload a video of the latest tragedy, people believe they live in under a constant deadly threat. Law enforcement and pols exploit this feeling to enhance their own power, and it morphs in to a self-reinforcing meme.

    Sometimes I doubt whether our animal brains are prepared to deal with a world in which everything that happens will be captured on video and put on the net for all to see

  2. Small town sheriff buys tank

    Really there is no need to exaggerate the stupidity of these purchases with misleading use of language. They're stupid enough as it is even if you use the correct names for things. That vehicle is not a tank. It doesn't have a gun or a turret. It's an armored car. That doesn't sound quite as obscene, to be sure, but let's not confuse the issue with the wrong terminology. No one is driving an M1 down the highway to pick up donuts, not even an AFV.

  3. How many times does the distinction between "armour" and "tanks" need to be explained to BoingBoing?

    Is it tracked, possessing no wheels? Does it mount a tank gun?

    If the answer to either of these questions is "No", the vehicle in question is not a tank. It may still be piece of armour, but to call it a tank is incorrect and misleading.

    Different vehicles possess radically different equipment and armament, and fill radically different roles. You wouldn't call an ambulance a fire truck, even though they are both routinely seen at the scene of a fire.

    It is bad enough on its own that police forces are purchasing (non-tank) pieces of armour. You don't have to misinform and confuse people by repeatedly employing the wrong terminology for the vehicles in question - they should be suitably concerned without the scare tactics.

  4. Can we talk about the much greater injustice occurring here?

    Since when does Boing Boing embed autoplay videos?

  5. Cory, that is a truck. Yes, it's a stupidly oversized armored military truck that serves no purpose in a police department except as a penis extension, but it's still a truck. This is not a minor nitpick. It is no more a "tank" than it is an aircraft carrier.

    You know this. You are a smart guy, you are a fantastic writer, you know that words mean things and that word choice matters. And you've done this kind of thing many times before on this site*, in clearer circumstances even than this one. That means you're not just mistaken about a point of vocabulary, which would be fine even though my pedantic side would grumble. You are making shit up to try to get a stronger emotional response from your audience.

    It's insulting, man. We're supposed to be the rational ones, the evidence-based ones, the ones who can deal with the plain, unadorned truth. Show us the facts and trust us to come to a wise conclusion.

    And worse than that, it feeds the perception that progressives are a bunch of shrill, manipulative jerks. It makes people who might be on the fence, who might be amenable to reason, more inclined to say "those stupid liberals don't know what they're talking about, don't trust them."

    Please reconsider this approach. I'm asking you as a fan of your writing and of your politics. You're better than this.

    *I'm afraid I do not have citations handy, because I am not quite feeling stalker-y enough to start keeping an "Errors Made By Cory Doctorow" journal.

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