Images coming from a tense Ferguson, Missouri this week show local police armed to the teeth and appearing as an occupying force in attempts to suppress citizen outrage over the fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager by a police officer.
Through its 1033 program, the Pentagon offers hundreds of millions of dollars of surplus military equipment to police forces throughout the US. St. Louis County, which encompasses Ferguson, is part of the program, according to Michelle McCaskill, media relations chief at the Defense Logistics Agency.
“St. Louis County law enforcement agencies received twelve 5.56 millimeter rifles and six .45 caliber pistols from the Department of Defense between Aug. 2, 2010, and Feb. 13, 2013,” a Missouri public safety official confirmed to USA Today.
As RT has previously reported time and time again, local police forces across the United States havebenefited from the militarized mindset of the post-9/11, “war on terror” era, as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and funding from the likes of the US Department of Homeland Security have resulted in a mass proliferation of military-grade weaponry.
And, as seen in Ferguson or during the Occupy protests, police forces have used these arms and M-RAPs against domestic uprisings, not to fight some terrorist menace. “The United States of America has become a war zone,” as one Indiana sheriff said to justify his department’s use of military vehicles in his county of 13,000 people.
Video captured in Ferguson have shown citizens fired at by St. Louis County police with tear gas cannisters while standing on their own private property.
Millions of dollars’ worth of military gear is distributed to local police forces on an annual basis, the New York Times reported in June. These regular exchanges are occurring from coast to coast in towns and cities that are hardly considered epicenters of violent crime, let alone on par with the foreign war zones where these hand-me-downs – machine guns, armored cars and other made-for-battle items – were originally intended to be used.
With the mass amount of equipment available to police forces, an aggressive tactical attitude has followed, as shown by the growth of SWAT team units across the US.
Created in the late 1960s as “quasi-militaristic” units designed to handle emergency situations such as riots, hostage scenarios, and active shooter situations, the number of SWAT squads have since surged, and are “used with greater frequency and, increasingly, for purposes for which they were not originally intended–overwhelmingly to serve search warrants in drug investigations,” according to a recent ACLU report, entitled ‘War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing.’
The 98-page report details the militarization of state and local law enforcement agencies, courtesy of expensive federal programs, which are dispensing “weapons and tactics of war, with almost no public discussion or oversight.” Although explicitly aimed at fighting drugs, the strategy is backfiring, sowing fear and discord among citizens, many of whom are starting to fear police as much as criminals.
Citizens are taking notice – and action – in areas where tensions are not as immediately high as they are in Ferguson this week.
In one small Michigan town, citizens have sought an investigation into the local police department’s plans to expand its number of non-certified officers, as well as its acquisition of two armored personnel carriers and two Humvees, courtesy of US Department of Defense.
In Salinas, California, residents expressed outrage late last year over a $650,000 heavily-armored vehicle gifted to the police department through the US government’s 1033 redistribution program. The truck was used in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to local reports.
“That vehicle is made for war,” wrote one commenter on the department’s Facebook page. “Do not use my safety to justify that vehicle,” another one wrote. “The Salinas Police Department is just a bunch of cowards that want to use that vehicle as intimidation and to terrorize the citizens of this city.”
And in Ferguson, videos like the one above show unprovoked attacks on citizens – with tear gas and rubber bullets – fueling a defiant population that has faced brutality and dehumanization long before the slaying of unarmed Michael Brown on Saturday.