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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Militarized Policing: The Gibson Guitar Company SWAT Raid

   The Gibson Company, located in Nashville, Tennessee, has been manufacturing quality guitars since 1830. On August 24, 2011, heavily armed U.S. Marshals and a Fish and Wildlife Service SWAT team (Yes, the Fish and Wildlife Service has a SWAT team--hell, they all do.) burst into the Gibson plant in full combat gear. Terrified employees looked on as the federal agents ransacked the place, carrying off computers, documents and other material. These SWAT unites weren't raiding a huge meth lab, a Mafia headquarters, a nest of Hell's Angeles, or a terrorist bomb making hideout. The SWAT officers had no reason to believe that anyone of the Gibson premises was armed, a fugitive from the law, or in anyway dangerous. In fact, no one associated with the company had been charged with a crime. The place could have been searched by a couple of laid-off postal workers, well, maybe more than a couple. This is government work.

     Pat Nolan, writing for National Review Online ("The Gibson Raid: Much to Fret About," September 27, 2011) describes the occasion for the SWAT raid this way: "The law that Gibson allegedly violated is the Lacey Act, which bars importation of wildlife or plants if it breaks the laws of the country of origin. It was intended to stop poachers. The ebony and rosewood that Gibson imported was harvested legally, and the Indian government approved the shipment of the wood. But Fish and Wildlife bureaucrats claim that, because the wood was not finished by Indian workers, it broke Indian law. In other words, a U.S. agency is enforcing foreign labor laws that the foreign government doesn't even think were violated."

     So what's really going on here? According to Henry Juszkiewcz, Gibson's Chairman and CEO, it's federal harassment and intimidation. Juszkiewcz has stated that the seizures (this was the third raid) and resulting manufacturing disruptions, have cost the company more than $1 million.

     In my book, "SWAT Madness," regarding modern shock-and-awe policing, I wrote: "Stunning the enemy with overpowering, high-tech ordinance as a prelude to a full-scale military invasion, while effective as a combat stategy, is not a suitable approach for ordinary, everyday law enforcement."  Regarding the trend town federalizing criminal law and law enforcement: "Police authority has become increasingly centralized through the federalization of criminal law. In the 1960's, there were fewer than 1,000 federal crimes. Today, there are 4,450 federal offenses and dozens of federal law enforcement agencies staffed by thousands of armed officers. The FBI alone fields 56 SWAT teams. Several other federal agencies have SWAT-type units such as the Special Response Team of the Bureau of Alcohol Tax and Firearms (ATF), the Special Operations Group of the U.S. Marshals Office, and the Special Response Team of the U.S. Immigration and Custums Enforcement (ICE) Office....Even the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has its own SWAT Team."

     At the time I wrote that last sentence, I wondered how the Fish & Wildlife people would inappropriately utilize their SWAT teams. (Once you get a SWAT team, whether you need it or not, you have to use it.) I figured it would take imagination on their part to abuse their power this way, and I was right.

      

2 comments:

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