SWAT Teams, Drugs, and the War on Terror

Serious police militarization has grown steadily in the United States since the Reagan era and continues to create controversy today. While the media often covers the negative consequences of police militarization, it often fails to address the greater causes in its connection to the War on Terror.

Police militarization refers to the equipping of police departments with military weapons and armor, including assault rifles and armored trucks. The initial movement to arm police with greater weaponry has its strongest roots in the early 1980s, when President Reagan identified illegal drugs as a threat to national security. Through his commitment to the “War on Drugs,” Reagan began a trend of harsher punishment for drug use that has more or less continued into the present day.

The War on Drugs has promoted police militarization because it represents more than a domestic issue, but a problem that involves international drug trade with more dangerous criminals. Thus, SWAT teams and armored trucks act as a protective measure against the greater threats involved in illicit drug market.

Some of the most popular controversies that have arisen are the misuse of military-like arms by police and the overuse of SWAT forces, especially in lower-income areas. These controversies have embodied themselves most recently in the displays of police weaponry in Ferguson, Missouri, and most recently, at the oil pipeline protests at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

While the media often pinpoints racial tensions and economic disparity as the causes of these issues, they fail to recognize it as a rebirth of a national containment rhetoric. In my RBA, I aim to argue that both social tensions and police militarization are effects of a larger movement to promote America’s superiority in the international realm—through the War on Terror. This parallel of military power both abroad and domestically works to enforce an “us versus them” mindset that values compliance with national norms.


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