13.8 C
Byron Shire
June 24, 2021

What will happen when Australian police have military weapons?

Latest News

Comment: Vigil for Canadian genocide that resonates closer to home

Yesterday, in solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, members of the Tweed community held a ceremony at the Sacred Heart Church in Murwillumbah.

Other News

The Sourdough Chick rises to the occasion!

When you talk to Susann Wiedermann, her passion for sourdough is clearly evident. She describes the world of sourdough...

Interview with Chris Cheney, lead vocalist of The Living End

The Living End are truly Rock Royalty. Formed in 1994 in Melbourne, it was 1997 when the band blasted through with their double A side single featuring ‘Prisoner of Society’ and ‘Second Solution’ – songs that have become festival anthems around the world. This five times ARIA-winning band are one of the Aussie treasures playing at Bluesfest this October.

Brisbane’s COVID-19 community case update – Alpha variant confirmed

Queensland Health says that genome sequencing results have confirmed the Brisbane COVID-19 case reported on Sunday (20 June) is the Alpha variant.

Linda Vidler Memorial Park Masterplan

Linda Vidler Park The Masterplan for the Linda Vidler Memorial Park, Suffolk Park, is currently on display with submissions closing...

In a league of their own

S Haslam At the end of a dusty lane, just beyond the increasingly hip area of the Mullum Industrial Estate,...

Lambruk: Local gourmet providore

S Haslam Lambruk Pantry is a local gourmet providore based in the heart of the Byron Shire. They create a...

Members of the Queensland Police Service march during a capability demonstration at the Queensland Police Service Academy in Brisbane on Thursday in preparation for the upcoming G20 summit. AAP Image/Dave Hunt
Members of the Queensland Police Service march during a capability demonstration at the Queensland Police Service Academy in Brisbane on Thursday in preparation for the upcoming G20 summit. AAP Image/Dave Hunt

Jeff Sparrow, editor of Overland, through Crikey

Barely 48 hours after the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, police in Los Angeles had shot dead another young black man, described by his family as suffering from ‘mental problems’.

Accurate and up-to-date figures on police killings in the United States are hard to come by, but statistics from the Department of Justice showed that from January 2003 through December 2009, 4,813 people died during ‘an arrest or restraint process’.

Black men were, of course, substantially over-represented. As Salon noted a few years back, ‘if you are a young man, a person of color, and live in a poor urban area, you are far more likely to become a victim of police gunfire than if you are none of those things’.

But if the situation in Ferguson is about race and poverty, it’s also about the transformation of local American police forces into miniature (or not so miniature) armies. Increasingly, there’s nothing exceptionable about officers in body armour, riding in military-style vehicles and toting assault weapons.

In Montgomery County, Texas, the local police possess a weapons-capable drone. In Tampa, officers can deploy an eight-ton armoured personnel carrier and two tanks, while the Fargo police operate bomb-detection robots, and Chicago runs some 15,000 interlinked surveillance cameras.

In New York, former mayor Michael Bloomberg once boasted: ‘I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh largest army in the world.’

The militarisation of police forces began with the (symptomatically titled) War on Drugs and then accelerated massively with the War on Terror. Since 9/11, the US Department of Homeland Security has provided something like US$40 billion in direct grants to state and local law enforcement, much of which has been spent on systems and devices perfected in actual war zones.

In 2012, one estimate put the total expenditure of US federal funds on homeland security-related activities and equipment in the wake of 9/11 at a staggering US$635 billion.

Naturally, the acquisition of combat gear both fosters and relies upon an increasing perception of those being policed as an enemy to be pacified, if not suppressed, a mentality that pervades the security services more generally.

‘To conclude that “the police” have become increasingly militarized,’ writes Stephan Salisbury, ‘casts too narrow a net. The truth is that virtually the entire apparatus of government has been mobilised and militarised right down to the university campus.’

Only in America, right? Well, no, not quite.

In Australia, the Brandis plan for metadata epitomises the same post-9/11 attitude of generalised suspicion, while counter-terrorism has become more and more influential on state policing. In the wake of Occupy Melbourne, David Vakalis and Jude McCulloch noted that:

‘Specialist squads like the Force Response Unit (FRU), the military-trained Special Operations Group (SOG) and the ‘counter-terrorism’ Security Intelligence Group (SIG) were rationalised on the basis of ‘terrorism’. These squads have gradually come to have a greater influence on regular policing, particularly the policing of protests.

Many of the most controversial and problematic policing incidents in Victoria since the early 1980s, including assaulting peaceful protestors and using pressure points and neck holds, can be linked to the SOG or its influence over operational tactics.’

Most of the state police forces are either using or want to use their own drone units.

But in Western Australia, police have gone further, announcing in 2013 the acquisition of the $400,000 Ballistic Engineered Armoured Response Counter Attack Truck (known as ‘Bearcat’), a vehicle whose features include ‘gun ports, rotating roof hatch, two electric winches, emergency light/sirens, spot/flood lights, battering ram, tear gas deployment nozzle, thermal cameras, common remotely operated weapon station and protection against chemical, biological, radiological nuclear and high-yield explosives’.

During the G20 conference scheduled for Brisbane this November, we’re likely to see exactly the conditions in which militarised policing flourishes.

During the summit, the entire CBD will be locked down, with police granted special powers to blacklist, detain and hold people.

Within a declared area running from South Bank to Kelvin Grove, Bowen Hills, Fortitude Valley and Woolloongabba, officers will have the right to strip search anyone they think might be carrying a weapon, and anyone arrested will be automatically denied bail.

Queensland police minister Jack Dempsey has said he wants to deploy drones, possibly second-hand ex-military aircraft previously employed in Afghanistan, during the G20, as the police prepare for mass arrests.

Furthermore, as Terry Goldsworthy notes, with the extraordinary unpopularity of both the state and federal governments, ‘a sociopolitical environment for a perfect storm of protest has been created’.

At the moment, Ferguson, Missouri, seems like a long way away. We may feel differently after November.

Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.


  1. This is nothing but a biasesd, uneducated article trying to scare people into believing that our police are somewhat comparable to that of the United States. There is no “tank” in service with any US police department, they are up armoured troop transport vehicles given to police by the military. And also, the SOG are not “military trained”. They are “Police Trained” in close association with Army Special forces units. The journalist behind this ought to be sacked, this isn’t honest, factual reporting, it’s one sided propoganda. Also, with your cops hate blacks attitude, maybe get the real facts and publish them? You would find that in low income poor areas of US cities such as Los Angeles and Boston, the majority of the poor are black, so yes, of course they have a higher chance of getting shot.

    • I agree the first half of the article describing US military to use as a launching-pad into descriptions of the Aus police is a bit awkward, but the G20 conference in Brisband is Guaranteed to feature many MANY police officers patrolling the streets armed to the teeth like the troops of Mordor.

      Even if you don’t agree that police shouldn’t have some army equipment, It will still be a stupidly extravagant waste of money.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Community Byron announces Council ticket

Sitting independent Councillor, Cate Coorey, has announced her ticket for the 2021 Byron Shire Council elections, to be held September 4.

Tom Tabart and Sarah Ndiaye

Jenny Coman, Former Byron Shire Councillor, Bangalow I fail to see what part of Tom Tabart’s recent letter (2 June) to The Echo regarding Sarah Ndiaye’s AVO against...

Catchin’ the Writers Festival Train

Byron Writers Festival 2021 (6–8 August) has revealed a program of more than 150 celebrated authors and commentators, as well as powerful new voices to mark its 25th anniversary.

Linda Vidler Memorial Park Masterplan

Linda Vidler Park The Masterplan for the Linda Vidler Memorial Park, Suffolk Park, is currently on display with submissions closing in the first week of...