A SWAT team spent ten hours raiding a small organic farm called The Garden of Eden in Arlington, Texas last month. They expected to find a few marijuana plants. They didn't. What they found instead: 17 blackberry bushes, 15 okra plants, 14 tomatillo plants, native grasses and sunflowers.

Even if they had found marijuana, would that justify holding terrified residents of the farm at gun point for at least half an hour? Would it justify using weapons created for overseas combat theatres?

Would it justify treating people in this country like wartime enemies?

The answer is no. In service of fighting the failed War on Drugs, too many police officers have been told they are soldiers fighting a war. This is a problem. We are not the enemy.

So how did we get here? How have our domestic police forces gotten to the point where a 10-hour raid of an organic farm is seen by officers as a justified – even routine – part of the War on Drugs? In the 1960s, some police departments developed SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams – elite teams of officers trained to use military tactics and weapons – for use in very rare, high risk situations like those involving riots or hostages. But, as nationwide fervor for fighting the War on Drugs took hold in the 1980s, police departments began to expand their use of SWAT – no longer used only in exceptional circumstances, militarized police began to be a routine fixture in everyday drug law enforcement. This trend continued into the 1990s, as SWAT teams became ever more common across America and a staple law enforcement tool used in ordinary police work. In the name of fighting the drug war, police departments nationwide have stockpiled wartime tools for use on our own soil – and that's how we've gotten to the ludicrous extreme of treating organic farmers like wartime enemies.

How have domestic law enforcement agencies gotten access to all of this military weaponry? Billions of dollars' worth of military weapons and equipment is available to local police departments through grant programs administered by federal agencies such as the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security. This mission creep is a problem– the tools and tactics used in combat theaters abroad are being turned on our communities at home.

We launched our 25-state investigation into the militarization of police in March because little is known about the unnecessary excesses of the War on Drugs, including the impact of excessively militarized policing on people, families, and communities. Too little is known about how much military equipment law enforcement agencies have, why they have it, and how they are using it.

What we do know is that the American people have a right to know about their police department's military equipment and how it is being used. By providing police with weapons and tactics made for war, we run the risk of encouraging the police to act as though they are at war with the very communities that they are supposed to be protecting and serving. But that's not all. Militarizing the police can also undermine public safety. Law enforcement works when the people trust the police; would you trust a police officer driving a tank through your town? Why should we trust SWAT officers who raid the Garden of Eden, holding people at gunpoint, based on unfounded rumors of a few marijuana plants?

For more on the ACLU's 25-state investigation into the militarization of America's police, click here.

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Anonymous

What tank? The photo you're showing looks more like the back of a fire engine.

Bruce Alan

I posted something already but t disappeared. It does not say that these comments are moderated. That would be a real peach if the ACLU censors its own comments.

Anonymous

Jesus fucking christ- I am so ready to arm myself and take to the street just to get the attention of these little bastards who are so brainwashed by the god damn "Us against them mentality" of law enforcement bozos across the nation. The biggest problem that faces us is that there are so many "George Zimmerman" COP want-to-bees' out there that they are hard to sift through. Psychologically they are not fit to be dog catchers let alone armed police offers. The catalyst for this brain warp are Sheriff's such as Joe Arpiao out in Arizona and the Polk County, Florida PUTZ, Sheriff Grady Judd. It is hard to tell which one is the biggest prema donna. They spend more time being a television "talking head" then they do attending to police work. They both have a tendency to think that they can "make up" the law as they go along rather then just enforsing the law, as they have been elected to do.

Anonymous

I am so ready to arm myself and take to the street just to get the attention of these little bastards who are so brainwashed by the "Us against them mentality" of law enforcement bozos across the nation. The biggest problem that faces us is that there are so many "George Zimmerman" COP want-to-bees' out there that they are hard to sift through. Psychologically they are not fit to be dog catchers let alone armed police offers. The catalyst for this brain warp are Sheriff's such as Joe Arpiao out in Arizona and the Polk County, Florida PUTZ, Sheriff Grady Judd. It is hard to tell which one is the biggest prema donna. They spend more time being a television "talking head" then they do attending to police work. They both have a tendency to think that they can "make up" the law as they go along rather then just enforsing the law, as they have been elected to do.

Anonymous

I am so ready to arm myself and take to the street just to get the attention of these little bastards who are so brainwashed by the "Us against them mentality" of law enforcement bozos across the nation. The biggest problem that faces us is that there are so many "George Zimmerman" COP want-to-bees' out there that they are hard to sift through. Psychologically they are not fit to be dogcatchers let alone armed police offers. The catalyst for this brain warp are Sheriff's such as Joe Arpiao out in Arizona and the Polk County, Florida PUTZ, Sheriff Grady Judd. It is hard to tell which one is the biggest prema donna. They spend more time being a television "talking head" then they do attending to police work. They both have a tendency to think that they can "make up" the law as they go along rather then just enforcing the law, as they have been elected to do.

Anonymous

Marijuana should be legalized in all states just like Colorado . Our courts are over burdened, our jails are over crowded, innocent people are being hurt. Animals are being killed. Wrong houses are being busted into on a constant basis. And children are being ripped away from good loving people. Please, stop the war on drugs. It is wrong to jail anyone who smokes marijuana. They are the most gentle people there is . And marijuana can help so many with health problems. It is time to legalize marijuana .

Anonymous

I don't understand what they were growing. I had a lot more growing in my home garden unless they specialized in the native grasses and sunflowers. For an Organic Farm they did not grow very much.

Anonymous

Just file a FOIA and see what happens, you come under surveillance
Elkins v FAA, 8:12CV2009 US District Court Tampa

Shelley Decker

Bravo for the ACLU. It's past time to take this issue up.

Wayne Lambright

What scares me the most is that sometimes innocent people get killed from what appears to be trigger happy police. Then there is no justice and the police basically get away with Murder. Has this always been the case? It scares me. I'm anti violence, don't own guns and as a history buff, this feels like its going to get a lot worse. What can we do to bring effective change? I have no idea. ACLU give us some ideas please.

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