Abuse of Power and Dangerous Accomodation

A sign that the fervor and panic over security in the age of global terror has taken us a little too far adrift? Apparently, New York Police departments now have the ability to knock aircraft out of the skies in the event of a terrorist attack. This is the first time that a civilian department is reported to have such extreme power, ten full years after the last time a plane was used as a ballisitc weapon.

There is little to deny the right of New Yorkers to look to the skies with apprehension after passengers jets brought the World Trade Center towers down around them, but is arming the police with weapons capable of blasting a plane out of the sky a realistic response to this concern or a gross miscalculation?

There are no details provided as to what weapons the NYPD have at their disposal that would enable them to bring down a jet. And, no doubt, there are only a certain group of officers who will be granted the authority to use the weapon, and will be trained on the proper and proficient way to use it. These are all assumptions that come in the wake of Commissioner Ray Kelly’s interview Sunday on CBS television, but one expects that they are safe assumptions. New York, it could be argued, is almost a country unto itself; the city has an absolutely massive population and occupies a tremendous geography, and has a police force that is larger than the active deployed numbers of the Canadian Armed Forces. However, New York is still just a city, so it begs the question why any city is given armament more suitable to a national military.

Whether New York is a target of not is without dispute at this point. Symbolically, New York provides an ideal target for anyone trying to disrupt or tarnish the United States as a whole. Commissioner Kelly claims that more than a dozen attempts to attack New York have been thwarted since 9/11, and one can only surmise that more attempts will follow. Maybe some of those attacks took the form of aircraft, but we’re left to guess. Commissioner Kelly hasn’t said that any of the more than a dozen attempts involved a plane at all.

What I’d like to know is how the decision will be responsibly made to use the weapons they now have available. There has been more than one occassion where jets were scrambled to escort aircraft that had wandered too close to an area they shouldn’t and were uncommunicative, only to find out that it was an innocent mistake. What is the new protocol for this kind of an event? What is the Go-No-Go decision horizon before a cop lifts a launcher to his shoulder and blows an aircraft to bits over Manhattan? And, why should such devastating force be given to civilian law enforcement instead of maintained by the national military?

Mistakes can happen, but mistakes involving a rocket launcher tend to be difficult to undo.

Not to compare apples to oranges, but this is why gun control is a good thing; giving people the ability to take a life puts them in a position to make a decision, usually based on limited information, that can end a person’s existence. There are countless incidents a year where someone is shot on accident. To badly abuse a quote from “Spiderman”, with great power comes even greater responsibility. Simply put, not everyone is able to handle that level of responsibility.

I don’t think I’d feel a lot metter to be living in a city where the police have rocket launchers. I mean, it’s enough of a threat that you could be in an office building and have a jet smack into you, but to be walking down the sidewalk and have the burning husk of one fall on your head is pretty alarming as well. Maybe there would have been less loss of life if the jets that took down the towers were instead shot down over the city, but it’s hard to be sure, isn’t it? How much damage would be done by dispersing the burning and still heavy wreckage over a greater footprint vs toppling two skyscrapers?

Either way, it’s a shocking sign of the times when police departments turn their eyes and marksmanship to the skies looking for threats. And, it seems like an escalation that takes us further from who we were in the days before 9/11, for better or worse. I would argue for “worse.”

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