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In Ferguson and Beyond

Militarism Is a Public Safety Crisis

by DAVID SWANSON

Peace and justice organizations in St. Louis, Mo. and across the country are calling for collective action this Saturday, August 16, 2014 at 1 p.m. They are proposing “nationwide solidarity actions in support of justice for Mike Brown and the end of police and extrajudicial killings everywhere.” We have been asked to gather at locations where our community members lost their lives at the hands of police and demand justice. And we should all join in.

But “nationwide” and “everywhere” are odd terms to equate when discussing U.S. police militarization. Are we against extrajudicial killings (otherwise known as murder) by U.S. government employees in Pakistan? Yemen? Iraq? The militarization of local police in the U.S. is linked to the militarization of U.S. foreign policy: Bomb (or do nothing.) Just like the U.S. military, and using many of the same weapons, gear and equipment, local police have a similar policy: Shoot. Never mind questions. This is a public safety crisis.

Local police are being militarized as a result of many factors, including:

– A federal government that directs roughly $1 trillion every year into the U.S. military, depriving virtually everything else of needed resources.

– A federal government that still manages to find resources to offer free military-grade weapons to local police in the U.S. and elsewhere.

– Weapons manufacturers that eat up local subsidies and federal contracts while pushing for the U.S. military to unload its weapons on local police as one means of creating the demand for more.

– The use of national security fears to justify the removal of citizens’ rights, gradually informing local police to view the people in their communities as potential terrorists, threats and enemies of law and order.

– The further conflation of military and police through the militarization of borders, military “exercises” in the U.S. and the growth of the drone industry into U.S. skies.

But policing is not the only thing militarized by what President Eisenhower called the “total influence — economic, political, even spiritual” of the military industrial complex. For example, our news is militarized with constant analyses by military and pro-war talking heads. Our entertainment is militarized with shows like The Unit and Band of Brothers. Our education is increasingly militarized as even our grade-school children are sent by underfunded schools to Army bases to learn science, math engineering and technology through the STARBASE Program.

“Unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex” is not easily opposed while simultaneously maintaining the military industrial complex. When Congress Members lend their support to a new war in Iraq while proposing that the U.S. Post Office and a dozen other decent things not be defunded, they are speaking out of both sides of their mouths. The United States cannot live like other wealthy nations while dumping $1 trillion a year into a killing machine.

The way out of this cycle of militarized madness is to confront, unified and coherent, what Martin Luther King, Jr. called the three “evils”: Racism, extreme materialism and militarism. The issue is not racism, extreme materialism, and what the military does to the local police. Not racism, extreme materialism, and what the military does to weapons testing sites. Not racism, extreme materialism, and what the military does to the people of Honduras, Iraq or Syria. Not any of these partial steps alone, but the whole package of interlocking evils of attitude and mindset must be confronted. Militarism is a tremendous public safety issue.

There is a no-fly-zone over Ferguson, Mo., because people in the U.S. government, from which local police forces take their cues, view the people of the United States increasingly as they view the people of other countries: as best controlled from the air. The War Resisters Leaguenoted this view is perpetuated by police militarization programs, such as DoD 1033 and 1122 and the Urban Areas Security Initiative, in which the St. Louis Police participate, that train, equip and arm police departments from Pentagon supplies and directives. In an August 13, 2014 statement of condemnation of the militarized lockdown of Ferguson, Mo., the WRL stated, “…the violence of policing and militarism are inextricably bound. To realize justice and freedom as a condition for peace, we must work together to end police militarization and violence.”

Peace and justice organizations in St. Louis, Mo. are asking communities nationwide to memorialize lives lost to extrajudicial police killings this Saturday at 1 p.m. The WRL is organizing against Urban Shield, an expo of military weapons for police and training event planned for Oakland, Calif., this September 4-8. Find your local organizations or events and join us in demanding, and building, comprehensive public safety policies to end militarism and nurture justice.

David Swanson’s new book is War No More: The Case for Abolition.