Why are there armored vehicles in a Midwestern suburb?
Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors?
Why are the authorities in Ferguson, Missouri using quasi-martial crowd control methods (such as bans on walking on the street) and firing tear gas at people in their own yards?
Why would someone identifying himself as an 82nd Airborne Army veteran, observing the Ferguson police scene, comment that “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone”?
–Walter Olson, from the Cato Institute, observation of the rising role militarization of local law enforcement played in Ferguson, Missouri.
Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York, Tamir Rice in Cleveland and Freddie Gray in Baltimore. As a nation, we have witnessed the images coming out of these cities. Riot cops sporting full body armor, lobbing tear gas canisters, toting assault rifles and riding in armored vehicles in respond to the unrest and demonstrations. These images raised the discussion of extreme militarization of local police, an issue that has been bubbling below the surface for years.
Except for the rioting or looting, the outrage in these cities is understandable. However, the response from local police represent a nationwide trend of police militarization and their attitude of being ‘at war’ with the community.
Since 1990, Congress has authorized the free transfer of military equipment, including tanks, missiles, machine guns and weaponized drones to local police from the Pentagon. However, there is a clear line between police and military forces. Military forces work outside the U.S. borders while police forces operate within them. There is no reason for local police to meet demonstrators with gear and equipment that is heavier than that of our military troops.
Militarization of local police is unwarranted. It is one thing for the federal government to work with local law enforcement to reduce crime. It is another thing to subsidize it.
The recent back-to-back events have shown local police going far beyond their job of protecting the community by exerting force that is intended to frighten citizens and make them think twice before demonstrating. This has resulted in a subtle uneasiness between police forces and the public. Each time police forces occupy a neighborhood, they are not only attacking those who are mischievous but also those who are innocent.
Recently, the president announced that the federal government will no longer provide militarized weapons and equipment to local police. This comes at a time of extremely high tension between local police and residents. Let’s hope this announcement is the beginning of a rigorous regulation of our police force.