Citizens, Suspects, and Enemies: Examining Police Militarization (Winter 2021)
Concern about the increasing militarization of police has grown in recent years. Much of this concern focuses on the material aspects of militarization: the greater use of military equipment and tactics by police officers. While this development deserves attention, a subtler form of militarization operates on the cultural level. Here, police adopt an adversarial stance toward minority communities, whose members are regarded as presumptive objects of suspicion. The combination of material and cultural militarization in turn has a potential symbolic dimension. It can communicate that members of minority communities are threats to society, just as military enemies are threats to the United States. This conception of racial and ethnic minorities treats them as outside the social contract rather than as fellow citizens. It also conceives of the role of police and the military as comparable, thus blurring in a disturbing way the distinction between law enforcement and national security operations.