Urban Warrior (2002)

“That’s the problem when you play war in a civilian environment.”

We’ve all read about police fuck ups in the paper. The police raid the wrong house, and shoot and kill an innocent resident. Photos appear in the papers and on the internet of walls so filled with bullet holes, the house looks like Swiss cheese. Well of course, after the funeral(s) the shooters are placed on administrative leave, there’s an ‘investigation’ perhaps even a lawsuit, but nothing ever changes….

I’ve often wondered just what the thinking is behind the tactics of sending in a SWAT team into a home in the middle of the night to capture, for example, a man who has outstanding warrants against him while he sleeps in a home filled with children. This seems an awfully clumsy tactic to employ–unless of course, casualties are not really a consideration. I just finished watching Matt Ehling’s film URBAN WARRIOR and everything makes a lot more sense to me.

The film examines the alliance between the military and the police and tracks the steady militarization of the police force over the past few decades. Arguing that this all started under Reagan and his so-called War on Drugs, the police began using military weaponry in an increasing number and range of situations. This explains the whole ROBOCOP paramilitary look we are seeing increasingly whenever protestors show up.

I used to think that SWAT teams were called in for hostage situations only, and I’d been vaguely aware that this had changed, but the film argues that police departments all over the country are increasingly using their SWAT teams for inappropriate situations. This highly informative documentary includes interviews with various experts–authors, retired police officers, a retired police chief and Stan Goff–who at one time trained L.A. SWAT. Goff walks us through a SWAT raid, explaining what they do when they arrive on your doorstep at 2 or 3 in the morning. 80% of SWAT raids are ‘No Knock Warrants,” so you may very well have your front door blown open with explosives as part of SWAT’s “dynamic entry techniques.” Woe betides the resident who grabs something for protection, because as Goff explains, you will end up dead. There’s also an interview with an advocacy group regarding a deadly SWAT raid that left a man blown to pieces, and we see footage of his bullet-ridden apartment.

While SWAT teams were initially supposed to contain potentially violent situations while negotiations took place, the role of SWAT has changed dramatically and this is all part of the “increasing use of military methods by civilian police.” The police and the military have traditionally been separate entities, but the film notes that in 1995, the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice forged a Joint Technology Program that permitted the transfer of military technology. This so-called “convergence in the technology needs of the law enforcement and military communities” accounts for the overuse of the nasty little toys, the “less lethal” weapons for an ever-growing number of completely inappropriate situations (protests, for example). And as the film explains, these weapons are NOT non-lethal–that’s a complete misconception; they are less lethal.

The film argues that these incidents of unnecessary carnage are increasing at an alarming rate as SWAT teams armed to the teeth are called in for things such as civil disturbances. Examining the bloodbath of Waco, the film also records the police use of sophisticated weaponry for WTO protests, for example. Incidentally, Delta Force Soldiers were on site at both locations. And this takes us to the WTO protests in Seattle, 1999–an egregious example of the realities of brutal ROBOCOP squads replacing the bygone notions of neighbourhood policemen. Watch the startling footage, and recall these are just regular police armed to the teeth, firing rubber bullets at the crowd and ripping off gas masks of protestors while they shoot tear gas indiscriminately into the faces of those people they are supposedly ‘protecting and serving.’

Since the WTO protests and the treatment of the protestors crossed new boundaries and set new standards of acceptability in America, this is vital footage. And what’s so particularly interesting here is the decision to move the protesters out of down town. The protestors left, and their ROBOCOP enforcers followed, and this brought them to the Capitol Hill area, a neighbourhood largely not involved in the protests until the police drove the protestors into the area. Residents of the neighbourhood, who just stepped out of their front doors to see what all the commotion was, found out the hard way just how brutal police work against protestors is these days. With those handy dandy military weapons, and with the police thugs itching to use them, residents and even a King City council member became victims of police violence. Perhaps it takes being an innocent bystander and being brutalized by police in order for people to wake up and realize the legalized thuggery tactics at use here.

According to the film, we can only expect more inappropriate violence as police departments across the country implement use of their SWAT teams and their ROBOCOP outfits against the public. And after reading some of the headlines, I have no trouble believing this prediction. These paramilitary SWAT teams exist in 90% of American cities with a population of 50,000 or more.

Urban Warrior is a really informative and highly relevant documentary, and if you’re interested in the subject, you can get a copy at:


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Filed under Documentary, Political/social films

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