Tuesday, 25 November 2014 00:00

Militarization of Police in America – what does it mean for the nation?

Written by Dr. Gabriela Lemus

The events in Ferguson, Missouri this past week have been both shocking and traumatizing. We are a nation at war with ourselves and have been since the late 1980s when the terrible “war on drugs” began to take on a paramilitary tone – as defined by Webster’s dictionary “of or relating to a group that is not an official army but that operates and is organized like an army.” 

The problem is such that US House Judiciary Committee Members Steve Cohen of Tennessee, John Conyers of Michigan and Bobby Scott of Virginia are calling on Chairman Bob Goodlatte to hold a Hearing on the use of Deadly Force. Is it too little, too late?

The confluence of the drug wars and the war on terror and its impact on local law enforcement has been a disaster. The devolving wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have meant finding alternative uses for surplus weapons or – as I refer to it – new toys for the boys. The 1033 Program, as it’s referred to – is named for a section of the National Defense Authorization Act – a program first implemented in the early 1990s. It allows the Department of Defense to reissue billions of dollars of military equipment and sell it to domestic law enforcement forces particularly to elite units like SWAT Teams that have traditionally needed to fight the advanced weapons available to the narco-traffickers. Here’s the problem, if they have them, they will use them….

Even military veterans who went to Iraq and Afghanistan say that police in Ferguson were excessively armed. SUNY Plattsburgh professor Tom Nolan, a 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department wrote in an op.ed. in DefenseOne this past June that police forces are increasingly militarizing and communities of color are hearing the message – “You are the enemy.” As we have recently witnessed, this is a recipe for disaster.

Peaceful protesters are now angry protesters targeted with pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets. Journalists are now targets of the police and arrested for trying to do their jobs and cover the news. Michael Brown’s death and the evolving situation in Ferguson is a warning to us all. Our democracy is in peril lest we not pay heed.

We are witnessing a local law enforcement running amok and instead of protecting the safety and civil liberties of the residents, it has been employing tactics that violate the rights of citizens. Sadly, Ferguson is not alone – there have been other incidents in New York, Los Angeles, and many others that haven’t gotten the attention of the media.

Law enforcement will continue to receive military equipment unless Congress puts a stop to it. Yet, there is no agreement there either. In the wake of this chaos, Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., distributed a letter to his congressional colleagues saying he plans to introduce the “Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act,” which would further monitor, limit or eliminate sales of military equipment. On the same day, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin praised an announcement from the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Defense Logistics Agency to fully and permanently restore the DOD surplus equipment programs to benefit counties, school districts and rural fire departments.

How will it end? Not well if cooler heads do not prevail. The militarization of our domestic law enforcement can only lead to more violence and the potential violation of human and civil rights with impunity.

Link to original article from Blue Nation Review

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