Is the Federal Government violating the The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878?

By Troy Camplin – –

The Posse Comitatus Act was passed in 1878 with the intent of restricting the power of the federal government by prohibiting the federal government from using the military to enforce state laws. While there is little question that the absolute letter of the law continued to be followed, I think it is equally true that the spirit of the law has been severely violated in recent years.

I am talking, of course, about the militarization of our police. The issue is not that the police now have “scary-looking” equipment. The issue is that the federal government has authorized our police to use equipment specifically designed for use by the military – equipment whose purpose is to cause as many deaths in as short a period as possible. While this may be what one wants in military equipment – the ability to kill more people and break more things faster than can your enemy – this kind of equipment is certainly not what you want to arm your police forces with.

I am well aware of the problems with both the police and the military as institutions. I discussed the corruption inherent in such institutions – institutions to which we have outsourced our vengeance – almost <a href=>ten years ago</a>. Given the fact that our institutions of vengeance are inherently corrupting, it makes sense to deprive them of as much power as possible while still allowing them to carry out their jobs of outsourcing our vengeance.

Indeed, once we understand that the police protect us because they are our tools of vengeance against those who commit crimes, we may begin to understand why we probably should not have certain laws on the books. If you rob me, should I be able to get vengeance on you? Or at least get someone to do so for me? The latter is the concept of policing. If you jaywalk, should I be able to get vengeance on you? Now, doesn’t that sound a little silly? Or, better: if you smoke a joint, should I be able to get vengeance on you? For what am I trying to get revenge? How dare you buy and sell! I shall get my revenge! We’re moving into satire. Yet, we have such laws.

Now, when we have laws that require enforcement and are not kinds of vengeance against harmful acts, we have a situation wherein the police are behaving as more than what their job entails. They are now the enforcers not of vengeance, but of the will of the lawmakers. When the police become the enforcers of the will of the lawmaker rather than enforcers of vengeance, they are corrupted much more. They now become open to rent-seeking (bribery, when it comes to the police). More, their role becomes more and more military-like. The military is the enforcer of the will of the lawmakers in a much more direct fashion – even if it is used in a purely defensive manner. When the police take on the role of enforcer of the will of the lawmakers, we should not be surprised when they start behaving more like the military.

The War on Terror has been the perfect excuse for militarizing the police. It has done what the War on Drugs has not even been able to do (at least, within the United States). It has created the right level of paranoid among the citizenry such that they are willing to allow for the militarization of the police. And this is not a Right or Left thing, a Republican or Democrat thing – while the Republican right may be most vociferous in its support of the militarization of the police, most of the urban areas where this militarization has taken place, and where it is being used, are controlled by the Democratic left. Both sides share the blame for the situation we find ourselves in with the police.

I think we need to really understand the situation we are in. That requires understanding the institutions of the police and the military, what each is supposed to do and what each is not supposed to do. As we see the spirit of the Posse Comitatus Act being degraded before our eyes, we are seeing the wisdom of that particular law being passed. Yet, that wisdom does us no good as the police are transformed into local military units, and the police are slowly turned against us, as agents of the will of the lawmakers rather than our agents of vengeance.

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