Police state

Aggressive cops given military weapons, tanks

Police state

Rodney Woodson / The Advocate

By Rodney Woodson, Associate Editor

Demilitarizing the police is a topic that raises a lot of discussion, especially in the wake of the murder of Ferguson, Mo. teen Michael Brown on Aug. 9.

Video footage of local law enforcement agencies (LEA) riding through civilian neighborhoods across the country in tanks, riot gear, and with assault rifles and other military equipment is being plastered across social media and the Internet.

Over recent years the police have been gearing up, seemingly, for war. But, with the FBI reporting that violent crime has seen a steady decrease since the early 90s, putting more firepower in the hands of the local LEAs seems to be a bit much.

In 1993, 1,926,017 violent crimes were reported in the U.S., while in 2012, the last year the data was posted, violent crimes reported dropped to 1,214,462. Violent crime, as defined by the FBI, is an offense that involves or threatens to involve force, such as murder, forcible rape and aggravated assault.

One might wonder if a recent spike in crime may have sparked the upgrade in local LEA arsenals. This may not be the case since studies show that in 2008 violent crimes reported stood at 1,394,461, that is 179,999 violent crimes more than the 2012 mark.

The U.S. has not seen a full revolution since gaining independence from the British and there are a grand total of zero wars that have been fought on American soil since Americans from the north battled it out with those of the south during the Civil War.

Although there seems to be no need for local agencies to arm themselves for the apocalypse, it is not something that people have never seen in the country before. During the civil rights movement, the police used very similar tactics for crowd control as they use now. No, they may not have had tanks, armored cars and various assault rifles, yet they still greatly overwhelmed ordinary unarmed citizens and physically abused them just for peacefully protesting, which is a U.S. citizen’s First Amendment right.

In Ferguson, the police are employing the same tactics, however, they brought out their new toys to play with.

When situations draw emotional responses and people gather in protest, such as a controversial murder, a riot may spark from citizens.

In that sense, preparation for a violent and wildly destructive situation to form from protests is necessary. Yet, just as when patrolling a regular street on a regular day, officers involved in these situations are supposed to use their own “good” judgment on whether or not to use excessive force.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 4,813 civilian deaths occurred before, during or after police involvement, between 2003 and December 2009 (the last year the data was available). Of those deaths 2,931 or 61 percent were because of homicides committed by police personnel.

The BJS defines homicide as the willful killing of a human being by another, excluding death by negligence, accident or justifiable homicide. If there have been 2,931 intentional killings of civilians by police officers, should beefing up their artillery be something that the government condones?

Between 2001 and 2010 the FBI reports that 1,259 officers have been killed — 541 are felony murders with the rest, 718, being accidental.

So, here’s the math of it all — over a 10-year span, 2001-10, there was an average of 125 officers killed in the line of duty per year, whether it be accidental or felonious. From 2003-09, the average of murders alone committed by an officer on a civilian stood at about 418 per year. That means for every one officer killed on duty three citizens were murdered by police officers from 2003-09.
So again, why the military equipment? Section 1033 of the National Defense Act of 1997 allows the Department of Defense to transfer excess military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies.

Of the guidelines and qualifications for participation in the Section 1033 program a couple stand out.
Taking priority for reasons of request and approval of issuance for this equipment, according to the Department of Defense, are counterdrug and counterterrorism actions, and in order for these agencies to keep what they are sold, this equipment must be used within a year and remain in use for a full year.

The House of Representatives introduced HR 4934 on June 23. Sponsored by Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, its purpose is to prohibit certain federal agencies from using or purchasing firearms. While the bill is designed to take weapons out of the hands of federal agencies, it does nothing to demilitarize local and state police agencies.

The bill also amends Section 6 of the Inspector General Act of 1978, which basically means that federal agencies can no longer investigate local law enforcement agencies nor are they granted access to files, records or other materials in order to gather information and relay that information to congress.

As the subject of demilitarizing the police swirls and the demand rises for stricter control of the police, the federal government seems to be easing up. When tragedy strikes and state and local law enforcement are involved in the shooting and killing of someone, as President Barack Obama said in his address on Aug. 12 referring to the incident in Ferguson, federal agencies work with local police to investigate.

In Ferguson, the department that officer Wilson works out of is helping to investigate a murder he committed while on duty? What about a conflict of interest? Does that not exist in our justice system?
The very aura of a police officer in America is threatening; patrolling with multiple guns and other weapons in residential areas, schools, shopping malls and at all major sporting events where families are present in great number. For the most part, the officers in these aforementioned places are the most armed and dangerous people in the area, so why such need for advanced weaponry?

Is the government encouraging this behavior by allowing the people who patrol our streets access to military grade machinery? Other than griping about being in the “one percent” or protesting yet another murder, isn’t it the duty of the U.S. people to stand up and legally take a stand against such blatant injustice, or are the U.S. populous cowards?

The Second Amendment gives citizens the right to bear arms, and in some cases there are those who use aggressive and sometimes deadly force against officers — but is loading up with weaponry in an attempt to war it out with police the answer? Only time will tell.