The tragic death of Michael Brown at the hands of the Ferguson police is a reminder that the upsurge in violence is not restricted to the Middle East or any one place. It’s right here in our own communities.
Like the Trayvon Martin killing two years ago, the problems of racism, easy access to firearms, and the assault on our civil rights are all, once again, in the spotlight. I suspect I don’t have to explain why peace activists are taking action, mostly in support of activists of color who are leading the organized response to this latest perversion of justice. Anti-violence is at the very heart of our struggle.
In this case however there is another element that directly connects to our ongoing work to build a more peaceful and just future – that is – militarism. It’s time to demilitarize our police.
As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq ‘wind down’ (though clearly not all the way down) the Pentagon has been offering surplus weapons to local police forces for free. Tens of thousands of M-16’s, as well as mine-resistant trucks and other battlefield hardware have already been transferred to jurisdictions around the country – but the Pentagon still has lots and lots of free stuff to give away.
A bipartisan chorus has already begun to speak out in Congress against this practice. Even Tea Party and right wing extremist Ted Cruz is raising alarm.
How much military hardware has been transferred to local jurisdictions? It’s not easy to know as the Pentagon makes the trail difficult to track. Most of the data available comes from local and state officials – like the State of Missouri which CNN reports has received some $17 million worth in transfers from the Pentagon.
I find, and I’m confident you do as well, the images of police in full military gear aiming assault rifles at unarmed protesters upsetting. We can expect to see more and more of this in the future too, if we don’t do something about the economic terrorism visited upon the poor in our society at the hands of the 1 percent.
We know, for example, the Pentagon has in place plans for dealing with civil disorder brought about by economic or environmental disaster threatening the stablity of the government. Arming local jurisdictions is a step in the wrong direction.
Since the 1980’s the US government has enabled the militarization of the police force as part of its so-called War on Drugs. Post 9/11 politics opened the flood gates with grants from the federal government to prepare for the imminent terrorist threat. Now, as combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have ended, the Pentagon is literally giving battlefield hardware away.
The militarism of policing – both in terms of weaponry and tactics – is a threat to our freedom as great as any coming from outside our borders. It’s time to put it to a stop.
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