Friday, August 15, 2014

The Militarization of America's Police Departments

When did this...

...become this?

...and this?

Militarized cops. It's been happening in big cities, small towns and tiny villages, thanks to a law that congress passed in the 90s. It's insanity. And we've seen the result again this week in tiny Ferguson, Missouri.

Militarized cops, tear gas, rubber bullets, arrests and assaults were all used against the citizens of Ferguson who were marching and demanding to know why yet another unarmed teenager was harassed and then murdered by police for walking in the street.

Reporters from the Washington Post  were arrested and violently removed from a McDonald's where they were sitting at tables writing their stories. Al Jazeera America reporters filming on the street were tear-gassed and had to flee, leaving their equipment in the street.

Aside from a handful of opportunists who were looting stores at other locations, these people, by the hundreds, were peacefully marching to demand answers. There was absolutely no need for war zone tactics, rubber bullets, tear gas, and violent arrests.

Now contrast that to what happened last spring at the Bundy ranch, when those white rednecks and Teabaggers "came to the aid" of that criminal rancher who refused to pay federal grazing fees.  At the Bundy ranch, those rednecks pointed loaded rifles and shotguns  at US marshals and police, who backed off.  Yet for some reason there was no riot gear, tear gas or bullets fired at any of them.  At Bundy, the cowardly cops knew how to mind their manners, step back and keep their big mouths shut.

This is what it looked like this week. Keep in mind this is not Baghdad or Beirut. This is in Ferguson, Missouri -- in the USA, where people allegedly still have the right to protest.

So exactly what happened that day when 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot? Ferguson police aren't talking.  Of course, conveniently, neither the patrol car nor the cop in it were furnished with a video camera.  But every eyewitness says the kid had his hands up when he was shot and killed by the cop.

But why are so many police departments suddenly loaded with millions of dollars of war zone equipment?

According to an article from The Guardian (October 2013):

America's streets are looking more and more like a war zone. Last week, in a small county in upstate New York with a population of roughly 120,000 people, county legislators approved the receipt of a 20-ton Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle, donated by the US Defense Department to the county sheriff.

Here's how it all happened. A little-known Pentagon program has been quietly militarizing American police forces for years. A total of $4.2bn worth of equipment has been distributed by the Defense Department to municipal law enforcement agencies, with a record $546m in 2012 alone.
In the fine print of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 1997, the "1033 program" was born. It allows the Defense Department to donate surplus military equipment to local police forces.
From the Huffington Post:

The main culprit was a 1994 law authorizing the Pentagon to donate surplus military equipment to local police departments. In the 17 years since, literally millions of pieces of equipment designed for use on a foreign battlefield have been handed over for use on U.S. streets, against U.S. citizens. Another law passed in 1997 further streamlined the process. As National Journal reported in 2000, in the first three years after the 1994 law alone, the Pentagon distributed 3,800 M-16s, 2,185 M-14s, 73 grenade launchers, and 112 armored personnel carriers to civilian police agencies across America. Domestic police agencies also got bayonets, tanks, helicopters and even airplanes.

Did you get that? Millions of pieces of equipment designed for use on a foreign battlefield have been handed over for use on US streets against US citizens.

We need to drastically cut military funding. If the military has so much "surplus" equipment that they can hand over hundreds of tanks, grenade launchers, planes and helicopters to every little town -- every tiny flyspeck on the map -- to be used against American citizens, then we're shoveling too many hundreds of billions to it.

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