Ever since 9-11, the federal government has dehumanized its citizens by compromising individual and collective liberties.
The federal government has fostered indiscriminate surveillance, encouraged citizens to inform on their neighbors, relied on questionable snitches, profiled racial and religious types, increased security screenings at public buildings and events, conducted harassing investigations, but the worst of it may be — how the federal government has re-shaped our local law enforcement offices.
Our Congress and federal government have channeled supplies of battle-tested military weapons from Afghanistan and Iraq and Southeast Asia to local police forces across the nation, provided flash-bang grenades, machine guns, ammunition magazines, camouflage, night vision equipment, silencers, armored cars, mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles (MRAPs), even aircraft, bullet proof vests, and this has changed the rules of engagement for our local police from the traditional domestic police function that used to serve civilian neighborhoods to a military force you’d expect to find on a battlefield.
This militarization of our local police forces is most shamefully on display in Ferguson, Missouri.
In Ferguson, an unarmed black male, Michael Brown, 18 years old, walking in the street, instead of on the side walk, was repeatedly shot and killed by a local police officer, Darren Wilson. Dorian Johnson, since debriefed by the FBI, says Officer Wilson grabbed Brown’s throat through the window of his police cruiser, pulled out his pistol and shot Michael. The autopsy found Michael was shot at least six times, including twice in the head.
When the community learned of Brown’s killing, they protested.
The local police confronted the protesters in an armed phalanx, repulsed the crowd with tear gas and physical force, and imposed martial law, forbidding the citizens from protesting or walking their own streets except when told they may.
Ferguson is reliving the waking nightmare of police violence and martial law that was Birmingham and the bloody use of force when the National Guard shot at students at Kent State.
The ACLU recently issued a 100-page report, warning, that “there does not appear to be much, if any, local oversight of law enforcement agency receipt of [military] equipment transfers.”
What’s happening in Ferguson is similar to what’s happening in every community in the nation.
Where I live, in Loudoun County, every Deputy, no matter the function they serve, has been directed by our local Sheriff to wear bullet proof vests, as if every one of us presents a terrorist or life-threatening danger.
The 9-11 mindset that contemplated that our localities would be overrun with local terrorist plots has not materialized. But we have yet to adjust our law enforcement model to reflect that truth.
A fair question, given the policing paradigm shift from civilian to military, is whether it’s promoted itchy trigger fingers.
In Loudoun County, two individuals with psychological challenges were shot and killed rather than treated.
In recent days, a deputy sheriff from our county shot his own daughter through the door as she was coming home.
You have to wonder if our police have acquired a battlefield focus, to shoot first, analyze later.
In order to restore the civilian police force we once had, every community must scrutinize the inventory of military equipment that local police have accepted from the feds, return what is inappropriate and unnecessary, refuse more military weapons, and demand that the rules of engagement for the use of deadly force be the very last resort an officer may ever use – after all other civilian policing options have first been exhausted.