Target: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
Goal: Stop providing free combat gear and weaponry to local police departments
As Ferguson, Missouri continues to be a scene of chaos, hostility, and violence, Americans from all corners of the country are struggling to understand how a peaceful protest on the streets of a small Midwestern town came to resemble a war zone. Although calm had returned to the streets on the Thursday immediately following the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a police officer, by Friday night protesters were again being forcefully dispersed by armored trucks and tear gas. The difference between Thursday night and Friday night was simple: on Thursday, when a new police commander was put in charge of crowd control, he left the military gear at home.
The militarization of American law enforcement is a result of a program called 1033, which was born in 1990 but expanded massively around the turn of the century to address the surplus of military gear built up after the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11. The tanks, body armor, and weapons that have been given to small town police departments were intended to be used by highly trained and regimented military personnel in direct combat situations. Local police officers have no formal training with this gear, nor have restrictions been placed on how and when it is to be used, resulting in episodes like Ferguson where simple crowd control turns into a war game for cops who see the citizens that they have sworn to serve as enemy combatants.
According to Peter Kraska, a professor of Justice Studies, militarization leads to “the police los[ing] all legitimacy in the eyes of the people they are serving—which only reinforces a we vs. they mentality among the police. This has been the danger inherent in this well-documented trend toward police militarization; this is the ugly reality that is playing out in Ferguson.” Equipment and weapons designed for a battlefield against similarly armed enemies have no place on the streets of our towns and cities. Demand that the Department of Defense cease pushing military surplus on American law enforcement immediately.
Dear Secretary Hagel,
When local police officers in a small Missouri town are aiming combat weapons at the citizens they have sworn to protect and serve, something has gone terribly wrong. That something is the militarization of America’s police force, which has resulted in aggressive, violent cops that increasingly view any confrontation as an enemy combat situation.
American streets should never resemble streets in Syria or Palestine, especially when the aggressors behind the tanks and sniper rifles are our own law enforcement. We are supposed to be a democracy, and this level of hostility and violence from our police forces is entirely antithetical to a free society. I demand that the Department of Defense cease providing combat equipment to police departments immediately.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Tallennettu via Wikimedia Commons