The “war on terror” has come home–and it’s wreaking havoc on innocent American lives. The culprit is the militarization of the police.
The weapons used in the “war on terror” that destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq have made their way to local law enforcement. While police forces across the country began a process of militarization complete with SWAT teams and flash-bang grenades when President Reagan intensified the “war on drugs,” the post-9/11 “war on terror” has added fuel to the fire.
Through laws and regulations like a provision in defense budgets that authorize the Pentagon to transfer surplus military gear to police forces, local law enforcement are using weapons found on the battlefields of South Asia and the Middle East.
A recent New York Times article by Matt Apuzzo reported that in the Obama era, “police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.” The result is that police agencies around the nation possess military-grade equipment, turning officers who are supposed to fight crime and protect communities into what look like invading forces from an army. And military-style police raids have increased in recent years, with one count putting the number at 80,000 such raids last year.
In June, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought more attention to police militarization when it issued a comprehensive, nearly 100-page (appendix and endnotes included) report titled, “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing.” Based on public records requests to more than 260 law enforcement agencies in 26 states, the ACLU concluded that “American policing has become excessively militarized through the use of weapons and tactics designed for the battlefield” and that this militarization “unfairly impacts people of color and undermines individual liberties, and it has been allowed to happen in the absence of any meaningful public discussion.”
The information contained in the ACLU report, and in other investigations into the phenomenon, is sobering. From the killing of innocent people to the lack of debate on the issue, police militarization has turned into a key issue for Americans. It is harming civil liberties, ramping up the “war on drugs,” impacting the most marginalized members of society and transforming neighborhoods into war zones. Here are 11 important–and horrifying–things you should know about the militarization of police.
1. It harms, and sometimes kills, innocent people. When you have heavily armed police officers using flash-bang grenades and armored personnel carriers, innocent people are bound to be hurt. The likelihood of people being killed is raised by the practice of SWAT teams busting down doors with no warning, which leads some people to think it may be a burglary, who could in turn try to defend themselves. The ACLU documented seven cases of civilians dying, and 46 people being injured. That’s only in the cases the civil liberties group looked at, so the number is actually higher.
Take the case of Tarika Wilson, which the ACLU summarizes. The 26-year-old biracial mother lived in Lima, Ohio. Her boyfriend, Anthony Terry, was wanted by the police on suspicion of drug dealing. So on January 4, 2008, a SWAT team busted down Wilson’s door and opened fire. A SWAT officer killed Wilson and injured her one-year-old baby, Sincere Wilson. The killing sparked rage in Lima and accusations of a racist police department, but the officer who shot Wilson, Sgt. Joe Chavalia, was found not guilty on all charges.
2. Children are impacted. As the case of Wilson shows, the police busting down doors care little about whether there’s a child in the home. Another case profiled by the ACLU shows how children are caught up the crossfire–with devastating consequences.