The Militarization of American Police By Steven Greenhut

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Dandelion Salad

By Steven Greenhut
March 2008

Steven Greenhut ( is senior editorial writer and a columnist for the Orange County Register in Santa Ana, California.

In the summer of 2006 a frail, troubled 18-year-old girl named Ashley MacDonald ran through a nearly empty Huntington Beach, California, city park in the early morning holding a small knife. An onlooker called the police and soon two large male officers showed up. They shot the girl to death with 18 bullets, claiming she had lunged toward them and put their lives in danger. It was just another day for law enforcement in suburban Orange County, where—despite low crime rates—police have become increasingly aggressive and militaristic.

The MacDonald killing sparked an unusual amount of public outrage. This shooting, in particular, was hard to grasp. An empty park and a tiny teenager hardly make for a life-threatening situation for the officers. Couldn’t they just have backed away and used nonlethal alternatives such as pepper spray? The police admitted that they were readying a beanbag gun in the parking lot when the officers claimed that “time ran out.”

Angry that anyone would question their “split-second decisions,” the law enforcement “community” said it was wrong to jump to conclusions before the details of the investigation were complete. The sheriff defended the police publicly before any investigation even started, so he apparently was jumping to conclusions, but never mind. The consensus: calm down and wait for the department to see what happened.



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