The Police Became “Militarized” in Response to Race Riots


There is an incredible amount of misinformation being spread about the “militarization” of the police on the right and the left.

While 9/11 did massively accelerate the amount of security funding going to police departments and the two wars led to a lot of surplus gear being offloaded onto local forces so that you have cops driving armored vehicles, that’s not where it began.

All 9/11 did was create an opportunity for local forces to solicit money and gear. That sort of thing has been going on forever. When the drug war was “hot” every police department was looking for money to get drug sniffing dogs and choppers. If aliens invaded tomorrow, they would be asking for spaceships. If the Ebola epidemic gets worse, they’ll all be asking for quarantine facilities and labs.

That’s not just how the police departments work. It’s how every level and area of government work.

They’re all soliciting funding all the time and they know that if they link their request to the hot new policy, they will get it. And they know that going big, asking for an exciting 3 million, instead of $30K for a new cop car, means that they’re more likely to get it.

But that’s not how this got started.

In the summer of 1965, a six-day frenzy of looting, burning, and sniping consumed 46 square miles of Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles. The rioters used tactics closely resembling 20th-century guerilla warfare—with people running and shooting in all directions, rather than massing in a single mob like Picket’s Charge. The chaotic situation prompted Inspector Daryl Gates, the point man for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) during the riots, to ask the military for guidance. Gates’s consultation with the military would eventually give rise to the first American SWAT team.

What’s going on in Ferguson is how we first got here.

The special weapons and tactics concept originated in the late 1960s as a result of several sniping incidents against civilians and police officers around the country. Many of these incidents occurred in Los Angeles during and after the Watts Riot.

If anyone could be labeled as the “founder” of LAPD’s SWAT unit, it would be John Nelson, a former Marine and Vietnam War veteran who joined the LAPD as a patrol officer.

John had served in a USMC elite Force Recon unit during WWII and based the SWAT concept on the Recon units, believing that a small squad of highly trained police officers armed with special weapons would be more effective in a riotous situation than a massive police response.

On Dec. 8, 1969, the department called on SWAT to help serve a warrant for illegal weapons at the Black Panther headquarters.

The heavily armed Black Panthers resisted and attempted to shoot it out with 40 SWAT officers. Thousands of rounds of ammunition were fired during a four-hour siege, resulting in the wounding of three Panthers and three officers. The Panthers eventually surrendered.

It’s reasonable to suggest that the police are overmilitarized. Law enforcement tends to abuse the tools that are handed to it. But we have too many conversations that act as if the militarization is just some insane thing that the police began doing on their own for no reason whatsoever.

This was very much a cycle of escalation. And police forces were confronting terrorism and urban guerrilla warfare. They still are.

watts riots

  • guest

    Ferguson blew up spectacularly. I knew Rodney King was drunk, and Duke Lacrosse accuser was at an ATM, but this one is so different. They burnt down a city to support a violent robber, and now the media’s gone silent. This may be the moment when black civil rights go away and overtaken by Mexicans.

    • Daniel Greenfield

      it happens every few years

      • Ross

        While this is a nice history of the evolution of police tactics, it explains nothing about the current pervasive militaristic mindset of the police. Yes, like all bureaucrats every police department wants more, bigger and cooler toys. The problem is that when you start looking like an army you tend to start thinking like an army – and the mindset of an army is always an “us verses them” mentality.

        The last two sentences are terribly misleading to the point of justifying this militaristic result. As a result of the Department of Defense’s “hand me down effect”, the thousands of police departments in America today (that are indistingushable from army units) are most dedcidedly NOT confronting “terrorism” or “Urban Guerrilla Warfare”.

        What nonsense. They have simply become what they emulate ….and the result is a dark future of the Land of the Free.

        oh, and notice the result when the militarized police stopped confronting the marchers in MO? The looting and rampaging stops also. Funny how that works – but unfortunately it is counter productive to the “full spectrum dominance” mindset of the modern Police State.

        • Daniel Greenfield

          Looting and rioting isn’t caused by police “confronting” protesters. It’s the other way around.

          I saw that for myself back in the 90s when the rioting and looting happened because the police were told not to confront protesters.

          • Nadzieja Batki

            Notice that the meat and bones were thrown to the human predators who are rioting, looting, setting fires, vandalizing. It was the name of the cop who had the misfortune to shoot the human predator Brown and the store video of “sweet Brown” stealing. Nothing is pacifying the human predators. Nary a word from all the hustlers like Sharpton, NAACP, Jesse Jackson or O for the human predators to stand down and go home but first repair and clean up the mess they made.

        • guest

          The police don’t want to fight. They would rather spend money on their pensions. You can tell because they go off the street the first chance they get, like when democrats call them racists.

          You seem not to care about the current pervasive criminal mindset of a large amount of Americans. Brown was shown choking an old woman for a box of cigars, and no one cared.

          I’m betting if the rioters had to work the next morning, even low paying entry level jobs, they wouldn’t riot. Most of them look food stamp fat and are having the times of their lives burning down the city. I bet they wonder why every day is not like the ones of last week.

          The police held off for a few days, and that’s when most of the stores burnt down. They like it, and they’re funded by Democrats to win elections.

          • Nadzieja Batki

            Two species hate the sheepdogs that are the police or the military, the sheep or the human predators. Bet I can guess which one you are.

        • guest

          Also, real police criminality exists. Drug dealers corrupt and infiltrate police. Psychopaths fool everyone, wear the uniform, and murder women. Those issues stay hidden because democrats and cheap politicians would rather win elections than make a nice place to live.

  • cacslewisfan

    Another great article. The media and politician response to this type of rioting are especially alarming to me. They act as demagogues. Do you think this is similar to what happened during the French Revolution? Could areas of the country go the same way?

  • Habbgun

    There are photographs of armored motorcycles with machine guns on the sidecars during prohibition. Like it or not when the opposition ramps up its arms the police do also. Only a liar for gun control will say that gun control will stop smuggling of arms into the hands of professional smugglers. Usually the gun shots come from drug dealers hoping to create less law enforcement presence and more opportunities to sell.

  • Erudite Mavin

    I remember the Watts riot and the many others watching on TV throughout the 60s and after. Several cities at a time on fire and mass rioting in the streets that lasted for days during those years.
    1968 Democrat convention in Chicago with the Bill Ayers crowd and more
    was a war in the streets.
    Many on these sites who did not see this as it was happening, cannot understand,
    these were battles by the Radical Left and the stooges that followed them in the streets of many U.S. cities.
    The police don’t know what they are going to come up against as the rioters
    will have more than just rocks.

    • truebearing

      I remember the “shoot to kill” orders. Imagine a governor giving that order today.

      • Erudite Mavin

        In the same frame
        If WWII was televised, millions would say, stop the war
        not understanding the entire picture

        • Nadzieja Batki

          They would be cheering for Hitler.

          • *Sharpshooter

            Many today are. (see most any of the anti-Semite riots in Europe and Boston.)

      • Drakken

        If this keeps up those orders will be common place.

  • truebearing

    Spot on! Police have been out-gunned for years, thanks to the Democrats ignoring the violence from their loyal voters in the cities they control. Democrats have shielded black organized crime from prosecution. There continues to this day an unwillingness to confront black and Hispanic gang violence in the cities.

    What happened in the past to Chicago mobsters, John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, etc? Gunned down in a hail of bullets from automatic weapons, in ambush after ambush. The nation put down the lawlessness ruthlessly, which was the only choice. But of course, those people weren’t black.

    • andrew semyte

      Israel trains US LE in their thug tactics because it serves Israel to keep the US cash cow intact- without it’s bullying big brother -Uncle Sam- Israel ceases to exist.

      • UCSPanther

        So you don’t like the law because it doesn’t allow you to riot?

        It’s for your protection. Otherwise, any attempt at a kristalnacht re-enactment will result in you wannabe SS types diving for cover as lead is hurled in your direction.

        • Nadzieja Batki

          Andrew semyte doesn’t like the police because they keep the human predators like him in check.
          The stupid also doesn’t like to admit that it is the Dems/Progs/Leftists who grew the militarized police because they are afraid of the more savage human predators who are also Dems/Progs/Leftists.

      • Smoking Hamster

        Israel would continue to exist. If all aid ceased, Israel might not be able to continue its iron dome system.

        Thus, to protect their civilians they would be forced to occupy the Gaza Strip.

        Backfire level over 9000.

      • Nadzieja Batki

        My my, your slip is showing. It didn’t take you long to admit that you hate Israel but love to slip into the cheering section for the muslim human predators.


    I want the police to have the necessary tools to do their jobs also. But I am disturbed by the degree of militarization we’re seeing today – especially with some police possessing select-fire weapons unavailable to the general public. The police should never have guns the ordinary citizen cannot possess, and we should ask what use select-fire weapons (e.g. the M16 rifle) are in a law-enforcement context: on a battlefield, those extra rounds going downrange might simply hit another enemy soldier; in a major city they could very well strike an innocent person.

    Another use of all this hardware seems to be for drug raids, with which I am not in sympathy. No-knock warrants in which militarized police kick down your door in the middle of the night, shoot the family dog, and handcuff family members for hours just to find some drugs are not consistent with Americans’ freedom to be secure in their own houses.

    • Nadzieja Batki

      Better realize that the human predators have become more vicious and savage. It is also the Dems/Progs/Leftists who are militarizing the police, so ask yourself what they afraid of and it is not the sheeple. Most likely more savage human predators like what the Dems/Progs/Leftists are.

  • Roy Adamson

    What’s your point Daniel and what difference the genesis of the militarization champagne? The fact is it is happening…. to the detriment of the United States and the constitution.

    • Nadzieja Batki

      So who is creating the militarized police force if not the Dems/Progs/Leftists.

    • *Sharpshooter

      If you knew how to do analysis, you’d know why the genesis is important.

  • Jakareh

    Decent people have a lot more to fear from black rioters than from the police.

  • Smoking Hamster

    One case I looked at that tells you the mindset of the anti-police crowd.

    Earlier this year police burned a two year old kid in a crib. That is all you heard from them. Turns out the police were executing a search warrent on a person living in the house who was dealing meth. The crib was blockading the door. The police assumed that the suspect knew they were coming and were expecting a fight.

    If you really cared about your kid you wouldn’t live in the same house as a meth dealer.

    • Nadzieja Batki

      There you have the answer, that the meth dealer did not care about a child.

  • Lanna

    When stores are looted and robbed, and Police are being shot at and Molotov cocktails thrown, its time to rid Ferguson of the anarachy! The police’s first duty is to protect the neighborhoods from thugs that are invading Ferguson from other areas of Missouri, their citizens are demanding that they maintain law and order and not allow people who are inciting this violence to be in charge!!!!! This is the opinion of most or all the innocent residents who live there!!!!

  • Lanna

    That’s right….the militarization is in response to anarchy from thugs coming from other areas of the country….it is the duty and oath of law officers to protect and defend innocent citizens!

  • Boondockdad

    What about the blow-back the department got from congress on this SWAT effort back in the early 60’s?
    How about an idea about how to deal with urban guerrilla’s without militarizing the peace officer’s?