Militarized local police sows tension, distrust

It has been 150 years since the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified by Congress and five decades since the march on Washington where Martin Luther King delivered his monumental “I Have A Dream” speech.

Nevertheless, even now, when common sense and equality for all reign as dominant ideologies in the Western world, we see cases like the shootings of Trayvon Martin – just two years ago – and Michael Brown on Aug. 9, which led to massive protests and accusations of racial profiling and discrimination by law enforcement.

Yet, beyond the questions of skin color and hierarchy during the past few weeks, a larger concern emerged. The people whose duty is to protect the public have transformed into an iron-fisted regime, arresting and persecuting those who show signs of being subversive or oppositional to government policies.

Militarization of the police department did not highly concern the general public until the problems in Ferguson, when Americans witnessed police forces using body armor, water cannons, tear gas and armored vehicles against innocent civilians. However, this is not something that simply started out of the blue.

Due to the worsening drug crisis of the 1990s, Section 1208 in the National Defense Authorization Act of 1990 had authorized for excess military hardware to be transferred to law enforcement agencies. Since then, it has also been extended to distribution to foreign military sales, humanitarian agency and emergency management in the U.S. According to the Defense Logistics Agency, $5.1 billion worth of equipment and property has been transferred since the regulation was adopted, with $4.5 billion of it transferred to the law enforcement agencies.

So, it shouldn’t be much of a shock to see Humvees in our suburban communities at night or for a police officer standing guard in a mall with an M16 in his hand. Of course, compared to mass shooters who escaped background checks in various gun stores, or the hardliners of the NRA who believe that the Second Amendment applies to every single American citizen to protect themselves from domestic “enemies” in the form of immigrants and asylum seekers, it would be better indeed to have the guns in the hands of those who have been assigned to protect our homes and loved ones.

Still, the question remains as to whether measures taken to ensure the people’s safety are really worth the guns, bullets, and armories in police possession. Wouldn’t it be better if police action were concentrated on building a “healthier” community that is economically living under a secure roof and has a decent source of income? Wouldn’t it be better to demonstrate the civility that the Western civilization claims to have over other ways of life?

Or should we simply continue to supply our police departments with heavy artillery and plant the seeds of distrust in our neighborhoods? Ongoing militarization of the law enforcement agency has shown that we would rather choose security in distrust than harmony in common sense.

Only time will tell if all of those bullets are worth the pennies spent and the blood spilt.

Samuel Pattinasarane ’18 pattin1@stolaf.edu is from Jakarta, Indonesia. He majors in political science.

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