Hire your own cop!

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For the past twelve years, AlliantACTION has vigiled in front of Alliant Techsystems (ATK), Minnesota’s largest arms merchant.

After being spun off from Honeywell who grew tired of the protests from the Honeywell Project, ATK first located in an old Honeywell facility in Hopkins, MN. The weekly vigil by local activists started in 1996, focusing on ATK’s manufacture and sale of anti-personnel landmines. After a significant victory in court in 1997, when 79 people were acquitted of trespassing charges under a defense claiming international law, the Wednesday morning vigil continued to grow in size.

Opinion: Hire your own cop!

When the weapons manufacturer moved its headquarters a mile or two down the road to Edina, the weekly vigil followed. After a few years there, we noticed a difference in the police presence. At first, the city of Edina assigned a police sergeant as the primary liaison between the vigilers and the arms corporation. AlliantACTION didn’t request any law enforcement presence, even though it felt that some international laws should be enforced against this company. Apparently, local police don’t specialize in enforcing international law.

Because members of the group occasionally attempted to carry their concerns directly to the front doors of the corporation – attempting to deliver documents highlighting the illegality of the weapons they made to corporate officers – they recognized that the local police might haul some of them off on charges of trespassing.

The Edina police sergeant courteously explained to the group that his presence during our vigil was to be sure our First Amendment rights were honored as much as to “protect” the property of this manufacturer of cluster bombs and depleted uranium weapons. He even insisted on sitting through an entire trial after he was called to testify about the arrest of some of the group for trespass.

“Since I arrested you,” he told some of the defendants, “the least I can do is remain in the courtroom to hear your testimony about why you did it.” After hearing testimony from one defendant about ATK’s research and development of a gun that could “shoot around corners”, then hearing the defendant add that “we know that any such weapon made for our own soldiers will likely be found a few years later on our own streets and used against our own cops by criminals”, the Edina police officer wanted to know more about the research on this weapon uncovered by the defendants.

After a few years, that sergeant was replaced. The vigil group noticed a change. Now, younger, more verbally abrasive officers were present on Wednesday mornings. Members of the group suspected (and were later told) that these police were “hired” by ATK.

When ATK recently moved again, this time to Eden Prairie, the AlliantACTION group began to question this practice. The group’s new police liaison with Eden Prairie, Lt. Tracy Luke, informed the group that the two officers now present at each weekly vigil were off-duty Eden Prairie police who were “hired” by Alliant Techsystems. The private-duty cops are dressed in their Eden Prairie Police uniforms and arrive for this “private-duty” work in an Eden Prairie squad car.

In the new location, AlliantACTION decided to change part of their vigil in to a walking picket that now crossed the driveway into ATK’s parking lot and office complex. So now, police hired by the company being picketed decide when to stop the flow of pickets in order to allow ATK workers up their driveway.

When questioned about the obvious conflict of interest, Lt. Luke responded, “Well, you know, you can hire your own cops as well. It is $60 per hour.” While they are charged by their own department to fairly uphold the law, wouldn’t their judgment be skewed in favor of who is paying for this job? What if AlliantACTION hired its “own cops”? Would judgment calls about when to give priority to the pedestrian “rights” of picketers over the “rights” of motorists depend on the rank or seniority of the “dueling police officers”?

Reflection on the ATK-hired cops brings up other questions.

Have you noticed the uniformed police officers at your local Target store or grocery store? How does one tell if a police officer is a “hired gun” for a corporation rather than a public safety officer for the community? If citizens are free to “hire our own cop” to ensure our First Amendment rights, should Black citizens hire their own officer of color if they are afraid of being stopped for “driving while Black”? Should Latino citizens hire their own cops so they aren’t stopped and asked to prove that they are not in this country “illegally.” Maybe Native Americans can hire their own cops and ask them to help enforce some of the many treaties that have been unenforced by the “majority” political powers. Of course, at $60 an hour, not too many of us can afford our own “law enforcement”.

Maybe we could decide as a society to pay our public safety officers enough so they wouldn’t have to “moonlight” as shills for the corporate powers. It makes one wonder when, this September, we meet cops “protecting” who(?) during the Republican convention – who are they working for when “private-duty” cops wear the same uniform as public safety officers. Maybe they could wear armbands that disclose their “sponsor” for the day.

Steve Clemens is a peace and justice activist living in Minneapolis and is a member of the Community of St. Martin and of AlliantAction. He serves on the Boards of Pax Christi Twin Cities Area and the Iraqi & American Reconciliation Project. His brother-in-law was Chief of Police of a small city in western PA.