Carey Wedler | TheAntiMedia
Following the grossly militarized and widely televised scenes of police overreach in Ferguson, MO this summer, citizens across the country are demanding that their local police forces relinquish military equipment granted to them by the federal government
–namely, the Department of Defense. Image credit:wikimedia.org
However, as Mother Jones reported this week, this task is shockingly difficult, bureaucratic, and built to keep weapons of war on the streets of America.
Instead of simply returning equipment that is no longer desired or necessary, police departments must fill out paper work, and even receive certification to return certain equipment such as night goggles. Though a Defense Logistics Agency spokeswoman says the only reason these returns may be rejected is “incorrect paperwork” or “lack of certification,” the reality throughout the country is that police departments must face long waiting periods
–sometimes as long as ten years.
Undersheriff John Wisemore of Chelan County Sheriff’s Department in Washington expressed to Mother Jones:
“We really want to get rid of these…We’ve been trying to get the military to take them back since 2004.”
Such roadblocks tend to be present in any branch of government, where over-bloated bureaucracies make progress and efficiency next to impossible. The more disturbing part of the Pentagon-enabled militarized police epidemic is that in order for a police department to give up equipment, another department must have volunteered to take it. This policy merely shuffles the equipment around, never taking it off the streets.
“The federal government is just not interested in getting this stuff back,” said Davis Trimmer, a lieutenant with the Hillsborough, North Carolina police department.
“This stuff” has totaled 432 mine resistant vehicles, 435 other armored vehicles, over 180,000 magazines, nearly 94,000 machine guns, 533 aircraft, and almost 45,000 night goggles. The donations have totaled 4.3 billion dollars in combat equipment left over from Iraq and Afghanistan and funding also comes in the billions from the Department of Homeland Security.
Capitalizing on fear generated after 9/11, these agencies have happily contributed to a growing atmosphere of government control and power lust, bolstering the mentalities of local police forces. The Pentagon intends to have over 100 drone bases flying thousands of UAV’s in the United States by 2017, demonstrating its intention to bring the dynamic of military rule and surveillance to the United States.
While it is a good sign that police departments across the country want to remove their superfluous equipment
–and that some were doing so even before Ferguson –the problem persists when there is often another department eager to obtain it. It is also important to note that it was local police that requested this equipment in the first place.
Further, while police are aiming to satisfy communities rightfully disturbed by the trend toward militarization, it remains that had no one complained, it’s likely many departments would have happily kept their weapons of war. Nevertheless, it is a powerful statement that police are listening to the people and growing wary of exerting such flagrant displays of force.
While Congressmen Raul Labrador (D-ID) and Hank Johnson (D-GA) recently introduced House legislation to demilitarize the police, it simply places restrictions on the programs. It doesn’t end them. It also vital to remember that with or without military equipment, police are prone to violence. It is their sole means of “enforcement” and long before militarization began, officers were abusing power, especially against minorities (as they do today).
Being heavily armed adds an extra layer of oppression and fear-based power to police arsenals, but when the foundation for authority comes at the barrel of a gun, military weapons and “appropriate” domestic weaponry alike send the same message: rule by force.