By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
8/15/2014 (10 months ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
After a night of peaceful protests in Ferguson, MO, police have released the name of the officer who they say shot an unarmed teenage robbery suspect. The recent clashes between the public and police have highlighted aggressive police tactics and militarization which has developed after years of decline in violent crime.
ST. LOUIS, MO (Catholic Online) - The militarization of American police forces has came to public attention following protests over the shooting and killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenage robbery suspect. Some Americans have developed a perception that police are trigger-happy and over-armed.
The police officer has been identified as Darren Wilson, an officer with an unblemished record according to local authorities. Initially police refused to release his name because of concerns for the safety of the officer and his family.
Pray for peace in our world!
On the streets of Ferguson, the ease with which tear gas and rubber bullets were fired into crowds by heavily armored police, deployed from armored personnel carriers, has only reinforced American concern that our police are becoming paramilitary organizations in their own right.
Police say they need the heavy equipment to protect them from heavily-armed gangsters and drug cartel footmen who are themselves often heavily armed. The threat of terrorism also plays a role. A major surplus of military equipment following wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have fed into the problem.
However, it is worth pondering that police feel they need the equipment because while the U.S. government is facilitating the arming of police with machine guns and other heavy equipment, it is also allegedly permitting a substantial quantity of illegal narcotics to be shipped into the country along with hundreds, if not thousands of potentially violent criminals along hardly-kept border with Mexico.
In other words, the U.S. government is both creating an artificial problem and selling a placebo cure.
It makes sense. There's a lot of political traction to be gained from tough-on-crime policies which can include shoot-first tactics. However, those tactics backfire against local police forces when it is found the victim is an unarmed person, even a child, who could have been taken into custody without incident.
Statistics gathered by the Department of Justice reveal that violent crime in the U.S. is down by at least 50 percent from 1990, yet in the same timeframe, police scaled up their heavy firepower.
Part of that scaling comes from a law passed by Congress in 1990 which permits the Department of Defense to give surplus military equipment, including armored vehicles, to police forces. A department only has to fill out a single-page form, according to CNN, to obtain surplus hardware from the Pentagon, which can include heavy machineguns and armored cars that function as virtual tanks.
Last year, the Pentagon says it distributed about $450,000,000 worth of hardware.
Of course, the problem is not that police have this equipment for the one occasion they may need to use it; the problem is that they use it quickly and often, many times against peaceful protesters. In Ferguson, peaceful protestors reported being gassed and shot with rubber bullets despite the fact they posed no threat to officers.
Experts say the equipment has an effect on the officers, creating an artificial sense that the public is the enemy. Police use strong-arm tactics, even to serve search warrants and to perform other routine duties. To have something in your hand or to move suddenly, even reflexively, can result in a beating, a shooting, or an extended period of detention.
In a viral video recorded last year, a young man was able to record his detention at a DUI checkpoint where officers bullied him and had a drug-sniffing dog scratch his car because he challenged the constitutionality of their decision to stop and search him and his vehicle without probable cause. The young man was later released as soon as police realized they were being recorded.
The American people are not supposed to be policed by a paramilitary organization. Police officers are supposed to be members of the community, fellow citizens, not a class apart. However, with each layer of armor they wear, they police become just that and it's unsurprising they act accordingly.
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