by Dish Staff
Glenn Greenwald argues that the police militarization on display – until recently – in Ferguson is “part of a broader and truly dangerous trend: the importation of War on Terror tactics from foreign war zones onto American soil”:
American surveillance drones went from Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia into American cities, and it’s impossible to imagine that they won’t be followed by weaponized ones. The inhumane and oppressive conditions that prevailed at Guantanamo are matched, or exceeded, by the super-max hellholes and “Communications Management Units” now in the American prison system. And the “collect-it-all” mentality that drives NSA domestic surveillance was pioneered by Gen. Keith Alexander in Baghdad and by other generals in Afghanistan, aimed at enemy war populations. Indeed, much of the war-like weaponry now seen in Ferguson comes from American laws, such as the so-called “Program 1033,” specifically designed to re-direct excessive Pentagon property – no longer needed as foreign wars wind down – into American cities.
Phillip Carter offers a brief history of police militarization in the US:
Things began to change during the 1980s, when the nation’s leadership declared a “war on drugs,” and began to militarize its approach accordingly.
Congress allowed the Pentagon to give warfighting gear to police departments, and also created a number of exceptions to the historical rule precluding military involvement in law enforcement. Police departments raced to apply for federal funding to harden their communities and police forces against an entire spectrum of threats not previously contemplated. Sophisticated command and control systems migrated from the military to law enforcement, alongside powerful surveillance and investigative tools first developed for the military and intelligence community. Police departments touted their use of military counterinsurgency techniques, learned from Army field manuals and returning veterans.
And, most recently, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have wound down, the Defense Department has aggressively transferred combat gear to civilian law enforcement agencies at home – more than $400 million-worth in 2013 alone. According to a USA Today report, “police forces in the same county as Ferguson received advanced rifle sights and night vision equipment between 2012 and 2014
As Kriston Capps observes, “One issue with the militarization of the police is that military gear doesn’t come with military training”:
The U.S. Army’s handbook on civil disturbances states in no uncertain terms that the way that the approach that authorities take to crowd control can worsen a crisis – a factor that the St. Louis County Police Department apparently did not take into consideration. “During planning, leaders must consider that the crowd may become more combative with the arrival of a response force,” the guidelines explain. So the first step in moving forward after Ferguson may be to complete the militarization of the police – that is, for state and local authorities to implement badly needed training to go with their advanced gear. At the very least, armored vehicles and riot gear should come with cameras.
Mary Katharine Ham suggests that a militarized police force is anathema to a free society:
Here’s the thing. We ask more of law enforcement in a free society and we should. We don’t accept that everyone in a community must be under the gun because some of them committed crimes. Or, that journalists should be arrested while trying to cover that community. We have a system that allows for going after the accused while respecting everyone’s rights, scribe or no. Stipulated that we ask cops to handle challenging, dangerous, delicate situations like riot and looting in Ferguson or manhunts in Boston. Because this is America, we ask them to do it while preserving the rights of innocent bystanders and even those who may be engaging in crime. … [W]hen an official response, even to a tough situation, looks like martial law with federally issued no-fly zones, the state isn’t honoring its part of agreement in a free society. We should be willing to demand that they do, even in the face of immense danger.
Meanwhile, Ed Krayewski notes that just months ago, the congressman who represents Ferguson voted against a measure that would limit the transfer of military surplus goods to local police:
In June, the House of Representatives voted on a series of amendments to H.R. 4435, the National Defense Authorization Act. Among the amendments was one by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) which would’ve prohibited funds from being used to transfer certain kinds of military surplus to local police departments. The amendment failed by a wide margin, with only 62 votes for and 355 against. Among those voting against this bill, which would slow down the militarization of America’s police forces, was Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), whose district includes Ferguson, Missouri, where many Americans have gotten their first glimpse of America’s militarized police in action. House leadership on both sides also voted against it, including Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)
It would be interesting to see what would happen if that vote were held again today. Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) has already proposed a demilitarization bill in light of the Ferguson:
Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson proposed legislation on Thursday aimed at demilitarizing domestic police forces, amid national criticism of heavily armed cops going after protesters in Ferguson, Mo. “Our main streets should be a place for business, families, and relaxation, not tanks and M16s,” the Democratic congressman wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter to members of Congress. “Unfortunately … our local police are quickly beginning to resemble paramilitary forces.”
The Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act would prevent the transfer of certain military-grade equipment from the Department of Defense to local law enforcement agencies. That includes some automatic weapons, armored vehicles, armored drones, silencers and flash-bang or stun grenades. … Johnson will formally introduce the bill in September when Congress returns from summer recess, his office told TPM.
More Dish on the fallout in Ferguson here.
(Photo: A police officer watches over demonstrators protesting the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. By Scott Olson/Getty Images)