OK. Here are some stats. In 1960, black men were incarcerated at 5.01 times the rate of (non-Hispanic) whites, according to Pew. By 2010 that gap widened to 6.4 times (incarceration rates have also risen in general). Put differently, the rate of white incarceration increased by 259% since 1960, while the rate of black incarceration had risen by 331%.
In terms of total number of incarcerated persons, blacks and Hispanics made up 58% of all prisoners in 2008, according to the NAACP. Lets compare this to SWAT executions of search warrants: according to the ACLU study cited by @aikimo as evidence for his claim, 54% of SWAT searches were performed on minorities. So SWAT deployments are actually slightly less discriminatory than the overall criminal justice system. This would seem to track with what I’ve been saying: that militarization is simply another tool in the arsenal of discrimination, that it doesn’t seem to target minorities in a disproportionate way compared to other police techniques, and that it simply reflects the greater culture of discrimination. Maybe this is why the ACLU study itself says that the discriminatory impact of SWAT deployments is “no different” than the discriminatory impact of non-militarized policing.
Finally, SWAT teams and militarization cannot explain the rise in relative incarceration rates since 1960. The most generous estimates of SWAT deployments are about 80,000 per year. Let’s assume the worse case scenario: that all of them are for traditionally non-militarized law-enforcement purposes (as opposed to true special-needs purposes like hostage situations, etc.). And let’s also assume that every single on of these law-enforcement SWAT deployments (presumably to execute a search warrant) results in one additional incarceration that would not occur if the warrant/law-enforcement purpose had been achieved through a non-militarized mechanism. (These are really generous assumptions, and if you disagree with them let me know why.) In short, let’s generously assume that these 80,000 SWAT deployments lead to 80,000 incarcerations that would not otherwise happen. 54% of these would be minorities, as noted above, and 42% would be black. So that would give us 33,600 black incarcerations per year due to SWAT teams. Remove these SWAT-attributable incarcerations from the numbers and we have a drop in black inmates from about 900,000 to 865,000. which is about a 4% drop. In terms of incarceration rates, a 4% drop would translate to a drop from 4,347/100,000 people to 4,173/100,000. This is still 6.15 times greater than the 2010 white incarceration rate of 678, and still much larger than then the 1960 incarceration disparity of 5.01 times.
Clearly, the increase in militarized police tactics is not responsible for the increase in black incarceration rates, as the racial disparity in black-black incarceration rates continues to grow in the absence of militarized tactics, and SWAT deployments are no more racially disproportionate than the overall justice system.