Did riots break out in Ferguson, Mo., because the police overdressed?
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon seemed to think so and he may be right. During four nights of rioting, the governor told a room full of reporters, the suburban St. Louis town "looked a little bit more like a war zone, and it's not acceptable."
The unrest followed the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed college-bound 18-year-old, high school graduate--whose body was left on the pavement for four hours.
The televised chaos that ensued looked like the nation's worst police riot since the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Making bad matters worse, witnesses say, was the blitzkrieg-like scale of militarized force that police displayed -- camouflage fatigues, body armor, armored vehicles, flash grenades, tear gas, short-barreled assault rifles–-all of which breathes new life into a long-summering and increasingly bipartisan issue the militarization of local police--with taxpayer-funded assistance from the federal government.
Even as national crime rates were going down, Congress sincd 1960 has been helping police departments to armor up with surplus military gear, all in the name of fighting drug lords and terrorists.
Police in Watertown, Connecticut, for example, recently acquired a $733,000 mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle for only $2,800, according to Stars and Stripes, although the town has yet to report its first land mine or IED.
Police in Bloomington, Georgia, acquired four grenade launchers through the program, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. No word on what the small town (population: 2,713) is going to do with four grenade launchers, but I'm sure they'll find something.
Back in Missouri, more than $449 million in equipment has been transferred to the county that includes Ferguson, a small St. Louis suburb of 21,000 prople.
Departments that have these weapons are more likely to use them, whether they need them or not. As the American Civil Liberties Union’s Kara Dansky, lead author of an ACLU report on these militarization programs, told the New Yorker--quoting psychologist Abraham Maslow--, “If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
Suspicion of the militarization crosses party lines. “If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off," he wrote in a Time essay. "But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.”
In a Time essay, headlined “We must demilitarize the police,” Paul observed, “It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime. It is quite another for them to subsidize it.”
Paul might get a chance to vote on it. At least one congressman, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), said Thursday he will propose a bill to roll back the militarization of U.S. police forces. Good idea. Police should serve and protect their communities, not occupy them.
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