What is militarization doing to our police and to our attitudes toward them? | Eastern North Carolina Now | When your Social Studies teacher taught you that "the Constitution was written to protect our rights…" did it ever occur to you to wonder from whom we would need to be protected?

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    What is militarization doing to our police and to our attitudes toward them?

    When your Social Studies teacher taught you that "the Constitution was written to protect our rights..." did it ever occur to you to wonder from whom we would need to be protected? And have you ever wondered who it is that is supposed to protect our rights?

    My father was a volunteer fireman for 42 years, 18 of which he served as the Chief. For many of those years I went with him whenever the alarm went in. I remember very distinctly, because of the number of times he said it and the passion which was so obvious in his action, his number one job was not putting out fires but protecting the safety of "his men." (In those days women were not volunteer firemen.) He saw to it that safety training superseded training in how to use the equipment. He did not operate democratically. He was a dictator. But he was re-elected chief year after year not because he was "gung ho" but because the men knew his priorities were straight.

    I remember him worrying often about what he called "cowboys." They were the volunteers, as he put it, who rushed hardest to get to the station when the alarm sounded in order to be able to drive one of the trucks. They liked to be the one to blow the siren. He considered many of them dangerous and dismissed more than a few. It always pained him to terminate a volunteer but his first concern was the attitude of those who served in what he deemed to be sacred positions. He often remarked "I watch those who want to do it too much." He never liked the idea of any of the members putting flashing lights and sirens on their private vehicles. He would drive carefully when answering a call rather than too quickly. Yes, he would speed answering a call, but never carelessly. He would run stop signs and red lights but never without knowing what was coming and he always yielded to traffic. In 42 years he never had an accident while answering a call. He did not want the solution to be worse than the problem.

    We have watched the events unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri with growing concern. Our instinct is to support the police. We always withhold judgment when something like this happens, unlike our President and Attorney General, to say nothing about the Race Pimps like Jessie Jackson. It usually turns out that the first reports are not accurate.

    But what is clear to us in this and most other similar instances in recent years is that the use of overwhelming force being exhibited by police is drawing us to conclude that "the cure may be worse than the disease, or the solution worse than the problem." While we strongly support the police using force to defend themselves and even to protect property we question if the complexion being presented serves to protect or incite.

    And we are growing more and more concerned about the police's willingness to suspend citizen's constitutional rights. It seems like we are all too often falling into the "we had to destroy them to save them..." trap.

    We have just as much concern about some in the right-wing militia movement. But the difference is that police operate "under color of law."

    We still hold to the notion that the job of the police is to protect the citizens they serve. Protect not only our safety, but our rights as well. We fear that all too often they see their job as controlling their subjects and that the "ends justify the means."

    But more than whether the use of these tactics and military equipment is effective or counterproductive we have been pondering what militarization of the police does to the police themselves. It is not difficult to speculate whether having military style equipment has a psychological impact on those who don this equipment. We have to wonder if training these people to use militaristic tactics and giving them armored vehicles and extraordinarily powerful weapons does not do tricks on their minds. Does having the stuff and the training predispose them to want to use it? We fear that in too many instances the "stuff" they are now using attracts the kind of people who want to blow the sirens and use the powerful weapons. And when put in a position to use these weapons we wonder if the necessary restraint is always present.

    And we use the word "always" advisedly. One mistake can be fatal. Ninety nine officers can act prudently. It only takes one to blow it. And when they roll out the "artillery" we fear it sends the wrong message to the wrong people—the innocent who have not violated any law.

    The problem with this militarization of the equipment and training of local police is, we think, a repeat of what usually happens in such matters. Good intentions don't usually pan out the way they were intended. Giving overpowering and excessive firepower almost always results in it eventually being abused to harm those who were originally no threat that could not have been handled by more traditional police work. Whether you want to characterize it as "the camel getting his nose under the tent" or an exhibition of the Law of Unintended Consequences, it almost always runs the same course: A crisis is followed by a "we've got to do something" reaction. The reaction itself is often not toxic. But when it is implemented over and over there is a tendency for the reaction to overshadow the original problem it was designed to address. Hence, the "cure is worse than the disease." We think that is exactly what we are seeing in the Federal militarization of local law enforcement. We suspect Sheriff Andy Taylor would be astounded. And probably Barney also.

    Power corrupts and the more power, the more corruption there is of that power. Unless a stronger power controls and manages it correctly..

    Against this backdrop we came across an article in our email from ProPublica that is something of an anthology of recent current media reports on this phenomenon of militarizing the police. The report:

    Protests have continued for more than a week since the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Police officers initially met protesters with full riot gear, armored vehicles and assault rifles, escalating tensions and leading Gov. Jay Nixon to replace the St. Louis County Police Department with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, saying the St. Louis suburb looked like "a war zone."

    The militarization of St. Louis and other local police departments can be traced to two major sources – the federal 1033 Program, a section of the National Defense Authorization Act passed in the 1990s, as well as federal homeland security grants to states. Here are a few facts that you might have missed about the Pentagon pipeline and the rise of military equipment and tactics in local police departments.

nbsp;   Federal Pipeline via Politico

    The Defense Department has provided tens of thousands of pieces of military equipment to local police departments for free. As a "long season of war" draws to a close for the U.S., surplus weapons meant for foreign battlefields are finding their way into police departments across the country, the New York Times reports. The free supplies provided to local law enforcement include machine guns, magazines, night vision equipment, aircraft and armored vehicles. Local news outlets have investigated the flow of military-grade weapons and equipment into police departments in Utah, Indiana, Georgia and Tennessee.

    The DOD program, known as 1033, has provided $4.3 billion in free military equipment to local police. The 1033 program allows the Pentagon to transfer weapons to local police departments on permanent loan for free. The program first started in the 1990s as part of an effort to arm police during the drug crisis.

    How it All Started    via Los Angeles Times

    The Justice Department, working with the Pentagon, began to pay for military technology in police departments during the Clinton years. In 1994, the Justice Department and the Pentagon funded a five-year program to adapt military security and surveillance technology for local police departments that they would otherwise not be able to afford. Even then, the technologies raised concerns with civil rights activists, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

    States received at least $34 billion in federal grants to purchase military grade supplies in the decade after 9/11.Thousands of local police departments across the country went on a "buying spree" fueled by billions in federal grants, CIR reported. Even in remote cities like Fargo, North Dakota, rated one of the safest cities in America, police officers have traveled with military style assault rifles in their patrol cars. We talked to one of the reporters behind the story, G.W. Schulz, about his findings on a MuckReads podcast in January 2012.

    Department of Homeland Security spending on domestic security hit $75 billion a year in 2011. But that spending "has been rife with dubious expenditures," the Los Angeles Times reported, including $557,400 in rescue and communications gear that went to 1,500 residents of North Pole, Alaska, and a $750,000 "anti-terrorism fence" that was built around a Veterans Affairs hospital in North Carolina.

    Local Consequences via Salt Lake Tribune

    St. Louis County has received at least 50 pieces of free tactical gear from the Defense Department in the last four years. Newsweek obtained a list of the "tactical" items that St. Louis County police procured through the 1033 program, including night vision gear, vehicles, an explosive ordnance robot, rifles and pistols. Popular Science breaks down the types of body armor, vehicles and weapons used by Ferguson police, as documented by journalists and witnesses on social media.

    Police conduct up to 80,000 SWAT raids a year in the U.S., up from 3,000 a year in the early '80s. That's according to criminologist and researcher Peter Kraska. But according to a recent study by the American Civil Liberties Union, almost 80 percent of SWAT team raids are linked to search warrants to investigate potential criminal suspects, not for high-stakes "hostage, barricade, or active shooter scenarios." The ACLU also noted that SWAT tactics are used disproportionately against people of color.

    The grenade launchers used by Ferguson police can cause serious injury. Flash grenades like those used in Ferguson have been shown to cause serious harm in the past. In one instance, a flash-bang grenade exploded near a toddler's face during a drug raid by a local SWAT team in Georgia. The boy spent several weeks in a burn unit and was placed in a medically induced coma. County officials later said that they did not plan to pay the toddler's medical expenses.

    Militarization isn't just changing the tools police officers use, but how they relate to communities they serve. Investigative reporter Radley Balko told Vice that police officers are often isolated from the communities they work in. "I think a much deeper problem is the effect all of this war talk and battle rhetoric has had on policing as a profession," Balko said in an interview. "In much of the country today, police officers are psychologically isolated from the communities they serve."

    Click here to go to the original source. There you will find active links to the citations in the article.

    And if all that is not enough to scare you, then https://info.publicintelligence.net/USArmy-CivilDisturbances-2014.pdf4
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