A little over two months ago last night, John Oliver* — in a segment on the phenomenon of police militarization, prompted by then-recent events in Ferguson — poked fun at the Keene Police Department for having cited the tiny town’s annual pumpkin festival as justification for its purchase of a Bearcat** (which looks like this):
So when this year’s festival erupted in riotous disarray, a whole mess of people gleefully and predictably gloated that those events somehow served to vindicate the Keene PD. Here’s a brief sample:
I actually found many, many more — but that will do for now.
In any event, I shouldn’t have to spell out for you why this line of thinking is silly — but clearly, there are a whole bunch of people out there to whom it must be told, so here goes nothing…
Even if the police had broken out the Bearcat for the Keene Pumpkin Festival (they didn’t), that fact alone would not have justified its existence in their
inventory arsenal. Claiming that heavy police response was necessary by pointing to a heavy police response is tautological — Oliver’s point was that the militarization of American police is a significant contributor to increasingly violent confrontations between police and civilians.
Was there a riot? Sure. Were some cars overturned and/or set on fire? Definitely. Would things have gotten quite as out of control — and 30 people ended up in the hospital — had police not showed up in riot gear? Nobody knows.
But even if all the bad things happened before the police showed up dressed for Iraq, that doesn’t mean their sartorial choices are necessary. Provisioning the police with equipment designed to withstand an IED blast is almost the definition of a self-fulfilling prophecy: it will get used, IED or not.
And if you don’t believe me that giving the police a Bearcat is a golden hammer that turns every problem into — and I swear this is a thing they really eat*** — a pumpkin, just check out this story I came across earlier today:
A Marathon County man is suing the Town of Stettin for $4.5 million after two dozen deputies and an armored vehicle showed up at a home earlier this month because the family owed $86,000.
Roger Hoeppner, 75, is seeking damages for pain, suffering, emotional distress inflict, damage to reputation and economic loss.
The Marathon County Sheriff’s Department held a press conference Monday afternoon to discuss the matter. They said they wouldn’t have handled anything differently after the fact.
The report doesn’t specify how many cars Mr. Hoeppner managed to flip before the police intervened.
*And perhaps somewhat less memorably, Stephen Colbert.
**Almost unbelievably, the present post does not mark this blog’s first reference to the bearcat.