Killer instincts
The dark vision of one of America’s most popular police trainers

Bryan Schatz
Mother Jones, March/April 2017

Marching around the stage in a theater in Lakeport, California, retired Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman tells his audience that they shouldn’t go out looking for people to kill, because those who need killing — the “gangbangers,” terrorists, and mass murderers — will come to them. All they need to do is be ready. “Are you prepared to kill somebody?” he asks me and the small group of “armed citizens” who’ve paid $90 or more to see him. “If you cannot answer that question, you should not be carrying a gun.”

Two hours into his high-octane, six-hour seminar, the self- described top police trainer in the nation is just getting warmed up. Grossman, a 60-year-old former Army Ranger, wears blue jeans, an ornate Western belt buckle, and a black button-up emblazoned with the words “Grossman Academy,” the “O” stitched like a bull’s-eye. He sports a military haircut. Onstage are two giant easel pads, their legs taped to the floor so that they don’t go crashing down whenever he hits them to punctuate his points. “We fight violence. What do we fight it with? Superior violence. Righteous violence.” He doesn’t bother with notes.

Over the past two decades, Grossman has achieved semi- celebrity status as an authority on aggression, close combat, and the psychology of violence. He literally wrote the book on killing, On Killing. His books have been translated into several languages and he says they are required reading at the FBI Academy and many law enforcement academies. He’s lectured at West Point and claims to have conducted trainings for every federal law enforcement agency, every branch of the armed forces, and cops in all 50 states. He has a black belt in Hojutsu, the Japanese art of shooting. (Grossman did not grant my request to attend one of his police trainings, nor did he agree to be interviewed.)

Grossman’s philosophy grew out of the two decades he says he spent training soldiers to kill more efficiently. The military has long taught its troops to kill through a process of conditioned response — aim, shoot, aim, shoot — that’s meant to override the part of the brain that asks, “Should I be doing this?” Grossman takes this a step further. Rather than simply conditioning soldiers and police officers to shoot without hesitation, he teaches them to embrace their responsíbility to kill. “Killing’s not the goal,” he cautioned ín a 2004 interview with Frontline. “But we all understand that killing is the likely outcome.”

Grossman calls bis discipline “killology” — “the scholarly study of the destructive act.” Though he spent years as a soldier, he has never killed anyone in combat. And while he is a luminary to many in law enforcement, the “warrior” mentality he espouses is under fire. As Black Lives Matter has exposed the prevalence of police abuses and the confrontational attitude that often sparks them, Grossman continues to insist that cops are the ones under siege and that they must be more, not less, prepared to use force.

 “The number of dead cops has exploded like nothing we have ever seen,” he tells the armed citizens in Lakeport. (That is not true: The average annual number of police officers intentionally killed while on duty in the past decade is 40 percent lower than it was in the 1980s.) If emergency medicine and body armor hadn’t improved since the 1970s, Grossman claims, “the number of dead cops would be eight times what it is” today. It’s not clear how he arrived at those figures.

Last summer, after a black man named Philando Castile was shot and killed during a traffic stop outside Minneapolis, it was revealed that the officer, Jeronimo Yanez, had attended “The Bulletproof Warrior,” a two-day training taught by Grossman and his colleague Jim Glennon. Shortly after this came out, the sheriff of Santa Clara County, California, which includes San Jose, canceled an upcoming Grossman training, saying her officers were meant to be “peacemakers first and warriors second.”

Grossman's trainings are “fear porn,” says Craíg Atkinson, a filmmaker who attended one for his documentary on police militarization, Do Not Resist. He wonders how the Castile incident might have played out if Officer Yanez hadn’t heard “Dave Grossman tell him that every single traffic stop could be, might be, the last stop you ever make in your life.”

Grossman is “more of a motivational speaker than a trainer,” says Seth Stoughton, a former cop and law professor at the University of South Carolina who studies the regulation of police. In Grossman’s worldview, Stoughton says, “the officer is the hero, the warrior, the noble figure who steps into dark situations where others fear to tread and brings order to a chaotic world.” Samuel Walker, a criminal-justice professor and expert on police accountability, says the “Bulletproof Warrior” approach is “okay for Green Berets but unacceptable for domestic policing. The best police chiefs in the country don’t want anything to do with this.”

The booklet Grossman hands out at his civilian training contains some of the same content that cops receive. There are charts and tables on “perceptual distortions in combat” and “combat efficiency.” Grossman does tell us that “oftentimes in police training, the right answer is not to shoot.” But he quickly pivots back to his message that right behind the police, gun owners are the “front-line troops” in his war. (The fact that there hasn’t been a homicide in Lakeport since 2002 doesn’t slow him down.)

Onstage, Grossman comes off as both unglued and also quite sincere. He emphasizes the need for firearms training, and his voice cracks when he talks about the “slaughtered children” in school shootings. “This is not right. These are just kids,” he says. “Never lose your sense of outrage over this.”

But he also views the world as almost unrecognizably dangerous: a place where gang members seek to set records for killing cops, where a kid “in every school” is thinking about racking up “a body count.” The recent wave of “massacres” is just the beginning, (“Please stop calling them mass shootings!”) He smacks the easels: “These [thump] crimes [thump] are [thump] everywhere!” He foresees attacks on school buses and daycare centers. lt won’t just happen with guns, but with hammers, axes, hatchets, knives and swords. His voice jumps an octave: “Hacking and stabbing little kids! You don’t think they’ll attack daycares? It’s already happening in China. When you hear about a daycare massacre,” he shouts, “tell them Grossman said it was coming!”

That’s not the end of it. “More people are signing up with ISIS than we can count,” Grossman says. He predicts a terrorist organization will soon detonate a nuclear bomb off the West Coast. “We have never been more likely to be nuked, and we have never been less prepared!” Terrorists will send “suicide bio-bombers” across the border to spread deadly diseases. “The day will come,” Grossman insists. “Folks, it is very, very bad out there!”

– PeaceMeal, March/April 2018

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


US police killings headed for 1,100 this year, with black Americans twice as likely to die

NEW YORK – In the first 24 days of 2015, police in the United States (pop. 316 million) fatally shot more people (59) than police did in England and Wales combined (pop. 57 million) over the past 24 years (55). In the United States, police are killing people at a rate that would result in 1,100 fatalities by the end of this year, according to a Guardian investigation, which recorded an average of three people killed per day during the first half of 2015.

The Counted, a project working to report and crowdsource names and a series of other data on every death caused by law enforcement in the U.S. this year, found that 547 people had been killed by the end of June. In total, 478 of those people were shot and killed, while 31 died after being shocked by a Taser, 16 died after being struck by police vehicles, and 19 — including 25-year-old Freddie Gray in Baltimore — died after altercations in police custody.

When adjusted to accurately reflect the U.S. population, the totals indicate that black people are being killed by police at more than twice the rate of white and Hispanic/Latino people. Black people killed by police were also significantly more likely to have been unarmed.

The U.S. government does not currently keep a comprehensive record of people killed by police. Instead the FBI runs a voluntary program for law enforcement agencies to submit numbers of “justified homicides.” When the federal government last published a full year’s worth of data, it found 461 “justifiable homicides” by law enforcement for the entirety of 2013.

A major recommendation made by Obama’s policing taskforce was a call for the federal government to start collecting more complete numbers.

Amid mounting pressure for what the president himself called “appropriate oversight,” Democratic senators Barbara Boxer of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey and congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee have proposed legislation to introduce mandatory reporting for fatalities involving police. “Incomplete and unreliable reporting makes it tougher to understand the true scope of the problem and more difficult to obtain a policy solution,” Booker said, in a recent online post.

Of the 547 people found by the Guardian to have been killed by law enforcement so far this year, 49.7% were white, 28.3% were black and 15.5% were Hispanic/Latino. According to U.S. census data, 62.6% of the population is white, 13.2% is black and 17.1% is Hispanic/Latino.

More than one in of five of those killed so far in 2015 – 119 people in all – were unarmed. While 31.6% of black people killed were found to be carrying no weapon, that was true for only 16.5% of white people.

On June 15 in South Lake Tahoe, California, police shot dead an unarmed 22-year-old named Kris Jackson. The biracial man, who police said was wanted for parole violation, was attempting to climb out a window at the time he was shot. No weapons were recovered following the incident.

The South Lake Tahoe police department said they were responding to a domestic disturbance at the residential address and told local media the officer “perceived a deadly threat” before firing a single shot. But Alan Laskin, the Jackson’s family attorney, told the Guardian that the unarmed young man was wearing only shorts and socks at the time he was killed and had his legs hanging out the window. “He wasn’t a threat to anybody,” Laskin said. “The family basically feels like it was an execution. They look at it as a murder.”

– edited from The Guardian (U.K.), July 1, 2015
PeaceMeal, Sept/Ocotber 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


U.N. racism committee urges U.S. to stop police brutality after Missouri shooting

GENEVA – The U.N. racism watchdog urged the United States on August 29 to halt the excessive use of force by police after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman touched off riots in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. Minorities, particularly African Americans, are victims of disparities, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said after examining the U.S. record.

“Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life from de facto school segregation, access to health care, and housing,” Noureddine Amir, the Committee vice chairman, told a news briefing.

Teenager Michael Brown was shot dead by a white police officer on August 9, triggering violent protests that rocked Ferguson and shined a global spotlight on the condition of race relations in America.

“This is not an isolated event and illustrates a bigger problem in the United States, such as racial bias among law enforcement officials, the lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations governing the use of force, and the inadequacy of training of law enforcement officials,” said Amir, an expert from Algeria.

U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper told the panel of 18 independent experts that the United States had made “great strides toward eliminating racial discrimination” but conceded that “we have much left to do.”

The U.N. panel monitors compliance with a treaty ratified by 177 countries including the United States. In its conclusions, the panel said “Stand Your Ground” Laws, a controversial self- defense statute in 22 U.S. states, should be reviewed to “remove far-reaching immunity and ensure strict adherence to principles of necessity and proportionality when deadly force is used for self-defense.”

“The Committee remains concerned at the practice of racial profiling of racial or ethnic minorities by law enforcement officials, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Transportation Security Administration, border enforcement officials and local police,” it said, urging investigations. A St. Louis County grand jury has begun hearing evidence in the case and the U.S. Justice Department has opened its own investigation.

Ron Davis, father of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old shot dead in a car in Jacksonville, Florida during an argument over loud rap music in November 2012, attended the Committee session in Geneva. Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen killed in Miami, Florida, by a neighborhood watch volunteer, testified.

Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown, has been put on paid leave and was in hiding. Police have said Brown struggled with Wilson when shot. But some witnesses say Brown held up his hands and was surrendering when he was shot multiple times in the head and chest.

– edited from Reuters, August 29, 2014
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


SWAT teams treat U.S. neighborhoods ‘like a war zone’

SWAT_team.jpg (11850 bytes)Photo caption: A SWAT team member trains a gun on an apartment building during a search for the remaining suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings in Watertown, Mass., April 19, 2013.  –  Reuters photo

Police departments in the U.S. have become excessively and dangerously militarized, according to a report published by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The organization’s investigation found that SWAT deployments are increasingly used to search homes for drugs and are carried out despite the presence of children and elderly. It also said poor standards were used to gauge whether an operation was “high risk” — such as whether a suspect was armed and dangerous — and that squads were increasingly adopting warrior-like mind-sets.

Some key numbers from the report, which is titled War Comes Home:

• 50% of people impacted by SWAT deployments from 2011 to 2012 are black or Latino. Whites account for 20%.

• Seven civilians were killed and 46 injured in such deployments from 2010 to 2013.

• 79% of all SWAT deployments were to execute search warrants for homes, most of them for drug searches.

• 7% of deployments were for hostage, barricade or active-shooter scenarios.

Tragic case studies accompany the figures, among them that of Tarika Wilson, a 26-year-old mother who was shot and killed holding her 14-month-old son, and Eurie Stamp, a 68-year-old grandfather who was shot while watching baseball in his pajamas during a SWAT invasion. Bounkham Phonesavanh, a 19-month- old baby, was in a medically induced coma after paramilitary squads unwittingly threw a flash grenade into his crib, piercing a hole in his cheek and chest and scarring his body with third-degree burns. None of the victims were suspects.

The ACLU claims the militarization of policing in the U.S. lacks oversight and transparency. Not a single law-enforcement agency provided documents of all information “necessary to undertake a thorough examination of police militarization.”

It added, “Neighborhoods are not war zones, and our police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies.”

– Stephanie Burnett, TIME, June 24, 2014
PeaceMeal, July/August 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)