John Whitehead's Commentary
Raging Bulls in Blue: The Deadly Toll of Warrior Policing on Steroids [SHORT]
That the police officers charged with the beating death of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols are Black is a distraction.
Don’t be distracted.
This latest instance of police brutality is not about racism in policing or black-on-black violence.
The entire institution is corrupt.
The old guard—made up of fine, decent, lawful police officers who took seriously their oath of office to serve and protect their fellow citizens, uphold the Constitution, and maintain the peace—has given way to a new guard hyped up on their own authority and the power of the badge who have almost absolute discretion to decide who is a threat, what constitutes resistance, and how harshly they can deal with the citizens they were appointed to “serve and protect.”
Memphis’ now-disbanded Scorpion unit provides a glimpse into the looming crisis in policing that has gone beyond mere militarization.
Unfortunately, while much has been said about the dangers of police militarization, a warrior mindset that has police viewing the rest of the citizenry as enemy combatants, and law enforcement training that teaches cops to shoot first and ask questions later, little attention has been paid to the role that “roid rage,” triggered by anabolic steroid use and abuse by police, may contribute to the mounting numbers of cases involving police brutality.
Given how prevalent steroid use is within the U.S. military (it remains a barely concealed fixture of military life) and the rate of military veterans migrating into law enforcement (one out of every five police officers is a military veteran), this could shed some light on the physical evolution of domestic police physiques.
A far cry from Mayberry’s benevolent, khaki-clad neighborhood cops, police today are stormtroopers on steroids, both literally and figuratively: raging bulls in blue.
“Steroid use,” as researcher Philip J. Sweitzer warns, “is the not-so-quiet little secret of state and city police departments.”
John Hoberman, the author of Dopers in Uniform: The Hidden World of Police on Steroids, estimates that there may be tens of thousands of officers on steroids.
Illegal without a prescription and legitimized by a burgeoning industry of doctors known to law enforcement personnel who will prescribe steroids and other growth hormones based on bogus diagnoses, these testosterone-enhancing drugs have become hush-hush tools of the trade for police seeking to increase the size and strength of their muscles and their physical endurance, as well as gain an “edge” on criminals.
Having gained traction within the bodybuilding and sports communities, steroid use has fueled the dramatic transformation of police from Sheriff Andy Taylor’s lean form to the massive menace of the Hulk.
Broad-shouldered. Slim-waisted. Veiny. Tree-trunk necks. Rippling physiques. And as big as action heroes. That’s how Men’s Health describes these “juicers in blue”: cops using a cocktail of steroid drugs to transform themselves into “a flesh-and-blood Justice League.”
“Because juicing cops are a secretive subculture within a secretive subculture,” exact numbers are hard to come by, but if the anecdotal evidence is to be believed, it’s more widespread than ever, with 25% of police using these drugs to bulk up and supercharge their aggression.
Cue the rise of muscular authoritarianism.
There are few police forces at every level of government that are not implicated in steroid use and, consequently, impacted by “roid rage,” which manifests itself as extreme mood swings, irritability, nervousness, delusions, aggressive outbursts, excessive use of force, a sense of invincibility, and poor judgment.
“For officers who work daily in high stress, high adrenaline environments and carry guns, the ‘rage’ can be even more extreme,” concludes journalist Bianca Cain Johnson, eliciting “a Hulk-esque response by those using steroids to normal situations.”
When that roid rage is combined with the trappings of a militarized cop armed to the teeth and empowered to shoot first and ask questions later, as well as to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts, the danger of any encounter with a cop grows exponentially more deadly.
Given the growing numbers of excessive force incidents by police, especially against unarmed individuals, we cannot afford to ignore the role that doping by police plays in this escalating violence.
For instance, in one of the largest busts nationwide involving law enforcement, 248 New Jersey police officers and firefighters were found to have been getting fraudulent prescriptions of anabolic steroids, human growth hormones and other muscle-building drugs from a doctor. A subsequent investigation of those officers found that many had previously been sued for excessive force or civil rights violations, or had been arrested, fired or suspended for off-duty.
As David Meinert reports, “Steroid use has been anecdotally associated with several brutality cases and racially motivated violence by police officers, including the 1997 sodomizing of an Haitian immigrant in New York.”
Not surprisingly, police have consistently managed to sidestep a steady volley of lawsuits alleging a correlation between police doping and excessive force, insulated by a thin blue wall of silence, solidarity and coverups, powerful police unions, and the misapplied doctrine of qualified immunity.
At its most basic level, what this really translates to is an utter lack of accountability, whether over police brutality or doping.
Thus, any serious discussion about police reform needs to address the use of steroids by police, along with a national call for mandatory testing.
For starters, as journalist David Meinert suggests, police should be subjected to random drug tests for use of steroids, testosterone and HCG (an artificial form of testosterone), and testing should be mandatory and immediate any time an officer is involved in a shooting or accused of unnecessary force.
This is no longer a debate over good cops and bad cops.
We’ve allowed the government to create an alternate reality in which freedom is secondary to security, and the rights and lives of the citizenry are less important than the authority and might of the government.
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, the longer we wait to burst the bubble on this false chimera, the greater the risks to both police officers and the rest of the citizenry.