In response to the anti-police brutality protests that followed in the wake of Eric Garner's death, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton has decided to create a new Strategic Response Group. The SRG will consist of 350 officers, armed with assault rifles and machine guns. Yes. Machine guns. To control protesters. Here it is straight from the mouth of Bill "Blood-n-Guts" Bratton:
It will be equipped with all the extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and the machine guns that are unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances. [New York Post]
Sometimes necessary! We here at Con Daily must have really slacked off in our high school US history classes, because we can't think of a single instance when police at a protest needed machine guns. Maybe Stormin' Bill Bratton has something like the Kent State anti-war protests in mind. Those national guardsmen only fired 67 rounds in 13 seconds. A single M2 Browning fifty cal machine gun can get off well more than 100 rounds in the same amount of time.
Bratton later clarified that he had misspoken when he said the new heavy weapons would be part of protest control. The weapons would go along with CRVs, critical response vehicles, and not the SRGs, which are for protest control. [Newsday] That's more reasonable, except for one tiny little gap in Bratton's reasoning...
When have machine guns ever been necessary in domestic counter-terrorism? If only there had been some more CRVs on the streets of New York, those planes wouldn't have hit the World Trade Center.
Fans of Battlestar Galactica will recall Commander Adama's response to President Roslin when she asks him to use the marines as a police force:
There's a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.
Nevermind that it would have been more clear to say "then the people tend to become the enemies of the state," most people still get the point. Huzzah context and all that. What we're seeing in New York and other cities is essentially the same thing being run in reverse. The police are increasingly taking on counter-terrorism effort -- that is, they are fighting the enemies of the state.
It's a very delicate situation, and while it is possible to strike the right balance, we don't have a ton of faith in a police commissioner who occassionally confuses his department's crowd control duties with its counter-terrorism efforts.