Archive for August, 2014

The coverage of the Michael Brown killing and the riots and uproar resulting from it have dominated the channels of mainstream news and social media. Like the Watts riots and the Rodney King riots before it, the reactions of the community of Ferguson, Missouri have driven people to take to the streets and have opened up a mass debate over issues that continue to exist in our society, ranging from police brutality, representation, racism, and civil rights. One of the most alarming issues that has resulted from these reactions is the police response against members of the community. They have responded with more than just walls of cops in riot gear; the local police have brought armored vehicles, gas masks, semi-automatic carbines, ballistic vests, MARPAT uniforms, and night vision devices to “defend” against the protesters.

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Is it just me, or does this sound like a warzone rather than an American neighborhood? Being a veteran who has served in Afghanistan, I was equipped with all of these items as I rode in convoys from base to base and was fired upon with AK-47s and RPGs. For a threat like that, I would need that equipment to take the fight to the enemy. However, in the case of Ferguson we are referring to a community made up of American citizens. While the 2nd Amendment gives the people of Ferguson the right to bear arms, it is entirely possible that a few citizens could pose a threat with rifles or handguns against the police, but what realistically warrants the use of an armored vehicle and a camouflaged rifle platoon to restore the peace? By the way, the uniforms that many of these policemen are wearing are the exact same uniforms worn by Soldiers and Marines in combat zones.

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I have a some ethical issues with the actions of the police in this case. First of all, it has created a feeling of fear rather than safety. I grew up learning about police through hearing mottos such as “to care and protect” and “protect and serve.” A police officer was someone who was recognized as an authority figure for whom to call for help. When a policeman is dressed as a soldier, the environment changes from one of safety to hostility. The place you called home now becomes a battlefield, patrolled by infantrymen whose mission is to kill the enemy threat. In the case of the Ferguson Police Department, the police did not hesitate to fire their weapons at large crowds of civilians, many of whom were simply expressing their first amendment rights to freedom of speech.

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Secondly, this is not the first time that police departments in the United States have reacted using military gear within the community. The Boston Marathon bombing and the Colorado Foreclosure protests are only two recent examples of how police have arrived on scene in camo, ballistic vests and semi-automatic rifles to restore the peace. The equipping of law enforcement with military gear has been happening for the past three decades as a response to drug trafficking and increased threats of terrorism in the US… at least that’s what the official word is. And while the Armed Forces continues to face dwindling budgets and stunning of new equipment development, local police have weapons and uniforms that the active duty military doesn’t even get to touch.

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I truly believe that the militarized police presence during these recent events is a sign of a developing police state in America. It is more than just a deterrence for simple vandalism; it amplifies feelings of oppression and eradication. It is unclear whether this police state is being imposed at the state or federal level, or whether the goal of this police state would be to eliminate the “troublemakers” or attain full obedience of the American people, but the images presented through the media clearly display a militarized force taking action against civilians. If a volatile terrorist threat was that severe in America that responders would need camo and other military gear, then why not use the National Guard or the active duty military to deliver urgent action against it? It seems that more and more, entities like the National Guard are useless and simply unnecessary if the state is going to deploy heavily armed cops (who by the way lack the same kind of tactical training). As the Pentagon continues to give police more and more military gear for free, the police will become more like tax-funded killers than civilized upholders of the law, something that no police officer should ever become. It’s only a question now of who will be targeted next.