FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How the Pentagon Militarized the US Police Force

by

“Have no doubt, police in the United States are militarizing, and in many communities, particularly those of color, the message is being received loud and clear: ‘You are the enemy,’” writes Tom Nolan, who worked for 27 years in the Boston Police Department. “Many communities now look upon police as an occupying army, their streets more reminiscent of Baghdad or Kabul than a city in America.”

This is no coincidence; much of the equipment used by police forces on the streets of America today is in fact directly from the US military.

From a weaponization bonanza enabled by a little-known Pentagon program, to an escalation in SWAT team deployments, the militarization of the US police force poses an increasing threat to the American public, as recently exhibited in Ferguson, Missouri.

Behind this militarization is the Pentagon’s “1033 program,” created in the National Defense Authorization Act for 1997, which enables the Defense Department to provide surplus military equipment at a highly reduced cost to local police departments. The program was expanded after 9/11, and has led to the distribution of $4.2 billion in equipment. Police departments across the country now utilize some 500 military aircraft, 93,763 assault weapons and 432 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected military vehicles – which cost around $700,000 new, and are being sold to police departments for as low as $2,800.

An example of the program cited by The Guardian pointed to a Richland County sheriff in South Carolina obtaining a tank with 360-degree rotating machine gun turrets. The tank was named “The Peacemaker.”

Such unnecessary equipment is being utilized in cities and small towns across the country without sufficient oversight, proper training, or public input.donate now

Following the outcry over police violence in Ferguson, the Pentagon still maintains that the weapon-selling program is for the public good. As Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told Newsweek, “This is a useful program that allows for the reuse of military equipment that would otherwise be disposed of, that could be used by law enforcement agencies to serve their citizens.”

However, rather than serving citizens, this militarization of the police force has contributed to unnecessary violence, primarily against people of color and under the pretext of the so-called war on drugs.

In June of this year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a comprehensive report entitled “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing,” which concludes that the US police force has become “excessively militarized through the use of weapons and tactics designed for the battlefield” and that this alarming trend “unfairly impacts people of color and undermines individual liberties, and it has been allowed to happen in the absence of any meaningful public discussion.”

While this escalation is ostensibly aimed at protecting the population from violent threats, the ACLU found that 62% of the SWAT raids examined were used to search for drugs, while only 7% were used for “for hostages, barricade, or active shooter scenarios.”

The use of SWAT teams has been skyrocketing over the past 45 years, according to Professor Peter Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies. In the 1970s, they were used only a few hundred times a year; now they’re deployed about 50,000 times annually, Kraska estimates. In some cases, they’ve even been used to break up illegal poker games, unlicensed barber shops and under-age drinking. In the case of Jesus Llovera, a suspected organizer of cockfights in Maricopa County Arizona, in 2011 a SWAT team took over the man’s living room, and drove a tank into his yard, killing his dog and over 100 of his chickens.

Highlighting the fact that this militarization is part of a wider assault of people of color in America, Alex Kane points out in Alternet that this violence is tied to the “war on undocumented immigrants.” Kane cites the ACLU’s report on Arizona’s infamously anti-immigrant sheriff Joe Arpaio, who, in addition to acquiring five armored vehicles and ten helicopters, has “a machine gun so powerful it could tear through buildings on multiple city blocks.”

One step in the right direction following police violence in Ferguson would be to demilitarize the US police force. As an unnamed Ferguson resident recently told the BBC about his city’s police officers: ”It’s power. They have the power, they feel we don’t. That’s why they do the things that they do. What they did to young Michael Brown, that’s unnecessary. That’s overkill.”

Benjamin Dangl’s latest book Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America (AK Press) is on contemporary Latin American social movements and their relationships with the region’s new leftist governments. He is editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America. Email BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com.

Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America, covering social movements and politics in the region for over a decade. He is the author of the books Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. Dangl is currently a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at McGill University, and edits UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Twitter: https://twitter.com/bendangl Email: BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS’s Losses in Syria and Iraq Will Make It Difficult to Recruit
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean
Gregory Barrett
Can Democracy Save Us?
Dave Lindorff
Budget Goes Military
John Heid
Disappeared on the Border: “Chase and Scatter” — to Death
Mark Weisbrot
The Troubling Financial Activities of an Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate
Robert Fisk
As ISIS’s Caliphate Shrinks, Syrian Anger Grows
Michael J. Sainato
Democratic Party Continues Shunning Popular Sanders Surrogates
Paul Bentley
Nazi Heritage: the Strange Saga of Chrystia Freeland’s Ukrainian Grandfather
Christopher Ketcham
Buddhism in the Storm
Thomas Barker
Platitudes in the Wake of London’s Terror Attack
Mike Hastie
Insane Truths: a Vietnam Vet on “Apocalypse Now, Redux”
Binoy Kampmark
Cyclone Watch in Australia
Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail