With violence in decline, why do American police look like occupying forces?

With violence in decline, why do American police look like occupying forces? August 14, 2014

In light of recent events in Ferguson, Missouri this week after the killing of an unarmed African-American teenager, Michael Brown and the protests that followed, there is an alarming awareness of the new militarized police force the US has adopted.

Photo: Scott Olson
Photo: Scott Olson

What makes this so outstanding is as violence in the US drops, the police force becomes more militarized, as summed up in this quote from CJ Werleman in his book Crucifying America:

The rapid growth of battlefield-styled police forces is even more remarkable, given the steady decline of violent crime since the 1990s. Sociologists are not sure exactly why violent crime has fallen so precipitously, but the fact is, it has! Thus, it’s only reasonable to ask why is America becoming ever increasingly a para-militarized police and surveillance state. If you consider that politicians are now effectively in the business of protecting the interests of their corporate paymasters, then also consider what a U.S. Marine Colonel by the name of Peter Martino recently remarked: “The U.S. government is spying on Americans because they fear Americans.

Our police force looks more like a military than any other industrialized nation and we think this will deescalate a situation? When you have an angry and upset group of people, like the citizens of Ferguson are, and should be, and then you storm their streets point guns at protestors and gassing them in their own yards, you do nothing but make matters worse.

Walter Olson of the CATO Institute, someone I don’t think I have ever agreed with on any issue in the past said this of the recent events:

Why armored vehicles in a Midwestern inner suburb? Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors? Why are the authorities in Ferguson, Mo. so given to quasi-martial crowd control methods (such as bans on walking on the street) and, per the reporting of Riverfront Times, the firing of tear gas at people in their own yards? (“‘This my property!’ he shouted, prompting police to fire a tear gas canister directly at his face.”) 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”?

This quote was taken from an Op-Ed in TIME that was written by Republican Senator Rand Paul, and while Paul wanted to spin this into an anti-big government issue while too easily brushing aside the issue of racism, Paul was right to still condemn the military style actions of the Ferguson police force, but it is not simply Washington’s “big government” causing the countries racial disparity. The issue is much larger than that.

And while I do agree government policies have led us to this point, Paul ignores that it is often policies by his own party and by departments such as The Department of Homeland Security, a department formed under his party’s leadership that has brought us to this point in time.

I am happy to see Paul be the first on the right to stand up and say something other than blaming the citizens of Ferguson for the current situation, but we need more from our politicians than cleverly worded political propaganda and we need immediate action that removes the new militarized police from the area immediately.

Update:

According to Raw Story, the Ferguson Police Department received their military gear through a 1992 federal program that is part of the “war on drugs”.

According to a 2014 report by the ACLU known as “War Comes Home,” the military has supplied around $4.3 billion in refurbished equipment to U.S. police forces since the project began, with approximately $450 million in equipment and ammunition being distributed in 2013 alone. Newsweek noted that the entire annual budget for the St. Louis County Police Department is less than $200 million.

“By providing law enforcement agencies with surplus military equipment free of charge, the NDAA encourages police to employ military weapons and military tactics,” wrote Taylor Wofford in a recent Newsweek opinion piece.

This furthers the evidence that the war on drugs is destructive and is causing much more harm than good (as it seems to supply no good at all).

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