Let’s take a look at a few things.
These are not soldiers. This is not Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Gaza.
The above images and video were tall taken in Ferguson, Missouri this week, as protests rock the town in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed teenager. More notable than the protests themselves, however, has been the police response, which as you can see, has been on the heavy-handed side.
Paul Szoldra, a former US Marine and combat veteran of Afghanistan, has written for Business Insider on the turmoil, pointing out just how over-the-top the response has been (he references the images at the top of this post).
In photos taken on Monday, we are shown a heavily armed SWAT team.
They have short-barreled 5.56-mm rifles based on the military M4 carbine, with scopes that can accurately hit a target out to 500 meters. On their side they carry pistols. On their front, over their body armor, they carry at least four to six extra magazines, loaded with 30 rounds each.
Their uniform would be mistaken for a soldier’s if it weren’t for their “Police” patches. They wear green tops, and pants fashioned after the U.S. Marine Corps MARPAT camouflage pattern. And they stand in front of a massive uparmored truck called a Bearcat, similar in look to a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, or as the troops who rode in them call it, the MRAP.
Perhaps the saddest part of Szoldra’s report comes from a tweet he received from a veteran of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, who said “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone.”
But this isn’t a warzone. It’s a small town of 21,000 people. An American town.
Into a world where Ferguson has now happened, where people around the world are confused and outraged at this type of police appearance and presence, EA is going to release a video game about heavily-armed police blowin’ shit up on the streets of the USA.
Nathan wrote about people’s concerns (and EA’s responses) with Battlefield Hardline’s subject matter earlier this year, but that was a piece inhabiting a vacant plot of the media and cultural landscape, where the only thing present were those concerns. Now, we have some reality to sit alongside them.
Sure, you could argue, it’s not a good look, but this is happening now, and that game isn’t out until 2015. It might all blow over by then!
But it won’t. This is not the last time events like this are going to transpire. We’re not talking your standard SWAT level of gear here. The United States is being flooded with military hardware returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - as detailed in this excellent New York Times report - and police forces are the beneficiaries of much of it, taking stock of vehicles and weapons that were designed to fight wars, not police streets.
And for all its economic, political and military might, the United States is a nation beset by fundamental social problems, some of them stemming from race, many of them stemming from an increasing divide between the rich and poor.
What we’re seeing here isn’t some isolated one-off. It’s simply the first time a geared-up police force has had a chance to take its new toys for a test run. There will be more weeks like this. And each time it happens, it’ll make a game where the soldier cop is front and centre look a little less tasteful.
So what are EA to do? Well, there’s not much they can do, or to be honest anyone should ask them to with regards to Hardline. The game was announced months ago and is well on its way to being completed. It’s going to be out next year, and while the subject matter is a little weird for a series that’s previously been exclusively about the armed forces, millions of others will not give two shits and will buy it because it’s about men with guns and because it has the word “Battlefield” on the box.
Let’s not pretend EA’s game is about antagonizing civilians, either. It’s about catching heavily-armed criminals (or, well, shooting them to death).
What I’d hope EA do, however, and this goes for all video game publishers, is to take the subject matter a little more seriously next time they want to approach it. There’s a deeply unsavory element to casting police as assault rifle-toting warriors, one that in the wake of Ferguson - and its inevitable successors - video game companies would do well to remember and be a little more careful with.
Because now that we’ve seen it in action, there’s little heroism or admiration to be found in police cosplaying as combat soldiers, pointing military rifles at the people they’re meant to serve and protect.