For 15 years, Americans have been living in a constant state of “wartime” without any of the obvious signs of war. There is no draft. The public has in no way been mobilized. The fighting has all taken place in battle zones thousands of miles from the United States. Despite a rising homegrown fear of Islamic terrorism, an American in the continental U.S. faces greater danger from a toddler wielding a loaded gun. And yet, in ways often hard to chart, America’s endless wars — Barack Obama is now slated to preside over the longest war presidency in our history — have quietly come home. You can see them reflected in the strengthening powers and prominence of the national security state, in those Pentagon spy drones now flying patrols over “the homeland,” and, among other things, in the militarization of police departments nationwide.
Perhaps nowhere in these years, in fact, have America’s wars come home more fiercely or embedded themselves more deeply than in those police forces. It’s not just the multiplying SWAT teams — the police equivalent of Special Operations forces, often filled with ex-special ops types and other veterans from this country’s Iraqi and Afghan battlefields — or the weaponry fed by the Pentagon to police departments, also from the battlefields of the Greater Middle East, including mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, automatic and semi-automatic rifles, and even grenade launchers. It’s also, as Jay Stanley and TomDispatch regular Matthew Harwood, both of the American Civil Liberties Union, suggest today, intrusive new forms of technology, developed by or in conjunction with the Pentagon for battlefield use, that are coming to your neighborhood. So welcome to the war zone, America. Tom Engelhardt
Can’t you see the writing on the touchscreen? A techno-utopia is upon us. We’ve gone from smartphones at the turn of the twenty-first century to smart fridges and smart cars. The revolutionary changes to our everyday life will no doubt keep barreling along. By 2018, so predicts Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company, more than three million employees will work for “robo-bosses” and soon enough we — or at least the wealthiest among us — will be shopping in fully automated supermarkets and sleeping in robotic hotels.
With all this techno-triumphalism permeating our digitally saturated world, it’s hardly surprising that law enforcement would look to technology — “smart policing,” anyone? — to help reestablish public trust after the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the long list of other unarmed black men killed by cops in Anytown, USA. The idea that technology has a decisive role to play in improving policing was, in fact, a central plank of President Obama’s policing reform task force.
In its report, released last May, the Task Force on 21st Century Policing emphasized the crucial role of technology in promoting better law enforcement, highlighting the use of police body cameras in creating greater openness. “Implementing new technologies,” it claimed, “can give police departments an opportunity to fully engage and educate communities in a dialogue about their expectations for transparency, accountability, and privacy.”