The Militarization Of America’s Local Police Forces

“War zones” in America.  Local police departments with military grade equipment – how much is too much, and what it would take to de-militarize America’s police force.

Police wait to advance after tear gas was used to disperse a crowd Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer last Saturday in Ferguson, Mo. (AP)

Police wait to advance after tear gas was used to disperse a crowd Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer last Saturday in Ferguson, Mo. (AP)

The National Guard is in Ferguson, Missouri now.  That story just keep roiling.  Issue after issue being lit up in flares and protests.  Looming out of the clouds of teargas.  And one of the first was this:  in 2014 America, the police bring a stunningly military profile to the streets long before the National Guard shows up.  A torrent of armor and heavy equipment brought home from war, now ready for fast deployment in American towns.  It is shocking.  This hour On Point:  The latest from Ferguson, plus the militarization of American policing and how to turn it around.

— Tom Ashbrook


Antonio French, Democratic Alderman for St. Louis, Missouri’s 21st Ward. (@AntonioFrench)

Radley Balko, criminal justice and civil liberties blogger at the Washington Post’s The Watch. Author of “The Rise of the Warrior Cop” and “Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America.” (@radleybalko)

Kara Dansky, senior counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Center for Justice. (@kdansky)

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), U.S. Representative for Georgia’s Fourth District. (@RepHankJohnson)

From Tom’s Reading List

Washington Post: After Ferguson, how should police respond to protests? — “The police in Ferguson are almost a textbook example of how not to react to protest. ‘When you start by rolling out the the SWAT team, and you then position a sniper on top of an APC with his gun pointed at the protesters, what kind of message are you sending? Did they really expect the sniper would need to start shooting people? It was just a show of force.'”

Popular Mechanics: SWAT Overkill: The Danger of a Paramilitary Police Force — “The trend toward militarizing police began in the ’60s and ’70s when standoffs with the Black Panthers, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the University of Texas bell tower gunman Charles Whitman convinced many police departments that they needed more than .38 specials to deal with unusual, high-intensity threats. In 1965 Los Angeles inspector Daryl Gates, who later became police chief, signed off on the formation of a specially trained and equipped unit that he wanted to call the Special Weapons Attack Team. (The name was changed to the more palatable Special Weapons and Tactics). SWAT programs soon expanded beyond big cities with gang problems. “

USA Today: Small town America shouldn’t resemble war zone — “Something potentially sinister is happening across America, and we should stop and take notice before it changes the character of our country forever. County, city and small-town police departments across the country are now acquiring free military-grade weapons that could possibly be used against the very citizens and taxpayers that not only fund their departments but who the police are charged with protecting.”

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