The rural communities surrounding Nashville, TN are quiet, unremarkable places. We know: we’ve been there. But now the city of Gallatin will be confronting its citizens with a $658,000 armored military vehicle that, like many of the young men in this country’s increasingly militarized police forces, has seen serious action.
Overseas, the “MRAP” is the symbol of American power on the move, a bizarrely self-parodying vehicle that attempts to encase its soft-shelled occupants from a world full of people who despise us and who will, increasingly, sacrifice their own lives to take ours. Nothing quite says “Us And Them” like rolling in an MRAP. It was developed for a world where everyone outside its reinforced-steel walls is a subhuman enemy to be killed at will.
So what does it say that four of the cities around Nashville are pleased as punch to take delivery of one?
Gallatin claims that they participate in about fifteen SWAT exercises a year. According to the local police,
“Even the common hunter knows the penetration power of most of the hunting rounds so we didn’t have anything to protect the officers while we’re deploying gas or doing hostage negotiations,”… When you compare it to the customized 1980s military ambulance they have now with ballistic blankets only one side the MRAP is 360-degrees of reinforced protection. It’s almost like they’re going from a horse and buggy to a space ship. Master Patrol Officer James McFadden worked on MRAPs as a military mechanic and now will here at home as well. “It’s so much better just knowing that there’s all this protection in between us and somebody trying to hurt us,” McFadden said while taking us on a ride along Friday.
Again, this isn’t Watts or Chicago or Jo-mother-fuckin-‘hanneburg. (Warning: clicking that link at work will simultaneously expose you to first-class rap and render you COMPLETELY UNEMPLOYED.) It’s Gallatin, Tennessee. Hendersonville, Mufreesboro and Lewisburg are the other towns in the area to take delivery. Your humble author has been all around Murfreesboro. It’s not the best neighborhood in the South but I’ve never felt that I needed to add anti-mine protection to my Town Car. It’s also, apropos of nothing, the home of light-pop songstress Angela Ammons and her production company. (You can watch that video with no risk to anything but your heart, and possibly your musical/aesthetic sense.)
While surely nobody wants the police in this country to be inadequately protected, one has to wonder about what happens when you take young men who have already suffered through America’s foreign adventures, put them in the same kind of truck they used back in Afghanistan, and tell them to patrol the neighborhood and/or respond to a situation. Surely it will do nothing to heal the division between the police and the public they are supposed to serve and protect. One also has to wonder if their opponents on the other side of the blue line, many of whom are perfectly aware from personal experience of what it takes to knock an MRAP out of commission, won’t simply raise the stakes as well. The victim in this proposed Kandahar-level firefight will be the same person who was the victim in Iraq and Afghanistan: the man, woman, and child on the street.
Only this time, the street is right there in Tennessee.