The GOP Weaponization of Justice & How the History of Police Shows this Vulnerability

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The GOP Weaponization of Justice & How the History of Police Shows this Vulnerability

Politics, Police, & Justice

So, the GOP wants to defund the FBI and Justice Dept. and throw out the constitution so that Trump can rule forever. The US Constitution is the final word on Law and Order but if the definition of Law and Order is a thick blue line of SWAT cops in assault vehicles armed with bazookas, to keep the populace in line, serving only the interests of the wealthy, powerful, and GOP lunatics – we’re in trouble. If we look at policing past and present, it can help us understand how the politicalization of police and justice led to the so-called “weaponization of the justice system” the GOP claims threatens the people the law should protect.

The GOP Weaponization of Justice

If you understand the history of police and the use and misuse of incarceration in the American Justice system, you see how this weaponization for a political agenda becomes possible. Through the use of projection the GOP, Trump and his cult have turned this concept of weaponization against anyone who disagrees with them politically. Projection is the act of placing blame on someone else for things are actually true about yourself. The weaponization of the justice department by Bill Barr and Trump was extreme and the GOP carry this on now with their projections on the present-day DOJ. Understanding the history of policing, makes clear how this weaponization has always been a problem, how the problem improved over time, and how the GOP desires to return to a time of worse weaponization of law enforcement using incarceration to incapacitate political opponents.

The History of Policing

The American police systems are largely founded in the English system of policing. Although policing seems ubiquitous today, formal public police services did not appear in the US until the late 1700s and 1800s. Prior to this period, policing efforts consisted of volunteer groups that charged with a variety of responsibilities including: “social services, including lighting street lamps, running soup kitchens, recovering lost children, capturing runaway animals, and a variety of other services…” As the country began to grow and populations increased during the 1700s, these watch groups were expanded to have daytime and nighttime groups. But as the country grew, problems such as riots and social unrest proved to be too much for these groups to handle. Watch groups were also highly ineffective at crime fighting and because they were comprised of volunteers, these groups were often irresponsible and remiss in their duties.

During the late 1700’s and early 1800s, formal police departments were beginning to form. These were the first organized publicly funded efforts to control crime. In 1829, Sir Robert Peel (Home Secretary of England) introduced the Bill for Improving the Police in and Near the Metropolis (Metropolitan Police Act) to Parliament. This bill would become law and would establish the London Metropolitan Police. The London Metropolitan Police force is considered the first modern police department. Peel believed that the function of police was to prevent crime rather than reacting to it. Peel would infuse this belief into the Metropolitan Police by designing the police force to work in an organized, coordinated, and centralized manner. This modern police force was characterized by several ideas including covering designated areas (beats), twenty-four hour availability, practicing crime deterrence, holding legitimate authority, and providing protection.

By the mid eighteen hundreds, formal police departments would begin emerging in the US. These police agencies would be splintered as a result of slavery. As a result of slavery, many police efforts developed primarily in the south known as Slave Patrols. These groups were responsible for tracking down runaway slaves and stopping congregations of slaves. Slave patrols were known for their brutality and cruelty. These groups would operate inside of formal police departments in the South. As a result of the formation of these groups alongside the formation of formal police agencies, at the end of the Civil War, the slave patrols would merge into other groups that would exert control over African Americans. These groups included federal militias, state militias, the Ku Klux Klan, as well as formal police agencies.

After the merging of police and slave patrols, it become apparent the policing in the US was still largely ineffective. By the mid-1800s, police departments began adopting some of the characteristics of the London Metropolitan Police as designated by Sir Robert Peel. These characteristics included:

  • limited power prescribed by law,
  • local government control,
  • authority divided between police agencies.

These characteristics are still present in today’s police agencies. US police agencies would diverge somewhat from its London counterpart. As the US police agencies would grow, police would adopt uniforms but this happened after a large amount of controversy. As well, US police would also need to carry firearms unlike the London Police.

Unique to American policing was the problem of corruption and political control. From the 1900s to the 1970s the police in America would experience several stages of reform. One of the major problems with policing in the US is that government was too influential in police practices. This occurred as a result of politicians being in charge of who received police jobs. Police officials appointed by politicians often lacked training and skill, serving to create conflicts of interest and making police poltical agents rather than public servants.

To bring this corruption under control would take decades and many of these reforms would not take hold until the 1970s and 80s. By the end of the 70’s and beginning of the 1980s police would emerge as a more professional institution. Despite problems with corruption and politics with police, there is far more oversight today than there was in the past. However, the GOP, knowing that police are at-risk of political corruption, attempt to turn back the clock to a time when police served political goals rather than justice.

Weaponization of Police Occurs Through Incapacitation

The deterrence principle dictates that punishment, if made severe enough, will force people to reconsider criminal action, thus reducing crime. However, deterrence often becomes a means of coercion and oppression used by states. Punishment has been a topic of discussion for centuries, and its benefits and harms have been compared and contrasted by psychologists, sociologists, and those alike for centuries as well.

Reprimands for deviant behavior have been administered and altered since the beginning of time. The severity and the justifications for such actions have changed with the ages as well. For example, in the past, methods such as the guillotine were a common practice; now however that sort of act is an outrage and is never implemented. Originally, punishment was seen as a way to rehabilitate the offenders, however there are four typical reasons we punish today: retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and social protection.


Retribution is the oldest justification for punishments. Punishment that is equivalent to the crime committed is seen as society’s revenge to the wrong-doer. The United States is one of the top countries who follow the “an eye for an eye” belief. To put it simply, the United States believes in the death penalty and executes criminals. This type of final punishment is not uncommon and has been accepted throughout American history sense its beginnings. Despite its longevity, the use of capital punishment does not significantly reduce the crime rate within the United States.


Punishment as a means for deterrence, attempts to discourage crimes by publicly announcing the punishment associated with the wrongful act. Theoretically, with society previously aware of the consequences of violating the law, there will be less crime committed. This is a method of instilling fear to deter wrongful deeds. According to the National Institute of Justice, harsher punishments are ineffective.


Rehabilitation is a modern approach that aims to provide treatment to the offenders. Crime is sometimes viewed as the result to a social problem such a poverty of mental illness. While this type of punishment is fruitful to some recipients, to others it bears no effect. Although the effectiveness of deterring crime is undeterminable, one thing is for certain, the state financial expenditures is exponential. Records depict that a total of $29.5 billion was spent in this matter throughout the 2001 fiscal year (United States Department of Justice, 2004).

Societal Protection

Societal protection is a modern approach that is easier to carry out than rehabilitation. This method segregates the offenders as a way of preventing future offenses from occurring. Methods of segregation include, but are not limited to, varied lengths of imprisonment time, or premature death by execution. Imprisonment is a valid option because it cages the person, disallowing them to commit further crimes while still maintaining their right to life. Execution, on the other hand, is a permanent solution to a life-threatening problem.

Incapacitation As Weaponization

Because police are prone to corruption and capitalism they can be weaponized against political groups, classes, races, etc. The prior mentioned forms of justice brings to light the the GOP's harm to society because they do not wish to spend money on rehabilitation, they instead seek stiffer penalties, despite the evidence that these punishments do not work. For the GOP, justice is about incapacitation, whether it comes from the threat of law enforcement, dealing with the justice system and costs associated, or simply being locked away. 

The Weaponization of Incapacitation via Incarceration

The GOP weaponization of police occurs two way: first that police are weapons against citizens, seeking to maximize punishment with long sentences, and two, the police are weaponized against enemies of the GOP.

Weapons Against Citizens

Incarceration prevents crime through incapacitation rather than deterrence, raising concerns about the actual effectiveness of policing and punishments. If punishment, longer prison sentences, do not deter crime, then the police are forced to maximize incarceration to incapacitate criminals for the longest possible time. This is not effective policing because it simply creates more problems, like prison overcrowding and strains on social welfare when these individuals return to society and have not been rehabilitated. So why does the GOP desire to incarcerate? The answer is disturbing.

The weaponization of police against citizens is a tactic used on all citizens, even GOP supporters. The fear of crime and is a political strategy used to garner votes. Trump, Reagan. Nixon, and almost every GOP member, past a present have used this tactic.

You need to vote for leaders who are willing to execute or send people to prison for life because crime is a real threat!

And so, prisons become overcrowded with people who are drug addicts, drunks, petty thieves, and other crimes that are responsive to rehabilitation – and this outcome serves the GOP well. GOP members can now point to prison overcrowding and scream, "See, crime is a real problem! We need tougher laws!" All the while, citizens suffer fear and punishment.  

Weapons Against Political Opposition

Consider for a moment how Trump called for police action during the civil unrest in the aftermath of George Floyd's death at the hands of a law enforcement officer. Consider for a moment the failed War on Drugs, which has led to prison overcrowding due to mandatory sentencing laws. Consider the ongoing issues of police misuse of force. These factors alone show how the police are weaponized against political opposition, since the people inordinately targeted by these actions and initiatives are some of the most vulnerable populations, which happen to be, in general, democratic or liberal voters. 

Police Weaponized Against Themselves

Police become weaponized by the GOP to do their bidding but also against themselves. Consider for a moment the vast issues facing police:

  • Police recruitment and retention: One of the biggest challenges facing law enforcement is retention and recruitment within police departments.
  • Police accountability: A significant concern in recent years is accountability for police departments. This accountability is inclusive of many issues such as body cameras, excessive force, disciplinary procedures, civilian oversight, etc. 
  • Unaddressed social problems: Substance abuse, mental illness, homelessness, and poverty have vastly expanded the demands on rank-and-file police.

Whether the police realize it or not, the GOP, who presents themselves as strong supporters of law enforcement, are willing to give money to police but they also amplify the problems of police by creating a system that is prone to excessive force, distrust, and many other issues, reducing law enforcement to the level of meatpackers for prisons. Because the GOP does not actually treat the problems, like mental illness, homelessness, poverty, or rehabilitate, the police must constantly deal with these issues that detract from dealing with real crime, making their jobs infinitely more difficult.

The GOP Hypocrisy of Police Weaponization

For the GOP and political far right to try and turn the public’s beliefs and attitudes about cops and the law against the cops, after claiming that the GOP is the party of Law and Order, simply because they are now being led by a crime boss with the vocabulary and understanding law enforcement of a slow third grader, is rich shit indeed. The weaponization of policing perverts it’s long-lasting reputation as being filled with people dedicated to protecting and serving, despite agencies wrestling with internal and social issues. 

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Copyright Vincent Triola & Terry Trueman

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