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How We Can End Militarized Policing

This is a teachable moment for the nation that presents an opportunity to transform policing so it serves the people.
 
 
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Demonstrators protest the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri
Photo Credit: AFP

 

The killing of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, MO police officer, who was identified Friday as Darren Wilson, and the aftermath in which nonviolent protesters and reporters were met with a violent and militarized police force have exposed something that has been building for years. Many have written about the militarization of the police and the disproportionate impact they have on people of color, but now more Americans are seeing this reality and cannot escape it.

Michael Brown is one of four unarmed black men killed in the last month by police. On July 17, Eric Garner was killed by an illegal chokehold in New York. On August 5, John Crawford was shot in a store in Beavercreek, OH. Just after Brown’s death, on August 9 Ezell Ford, a young man with known mental illness, was shot in Los Angeles. These are four examples of many, according to a recent study, a black man is killed every 28 hours by police, security guards or vigilantes. The whole nation is experiencing these tragedies; reality is being forced upon us.

The public reaction to the event has been immense. On Thursday evening protests were held from coast-to-coast expressing solidarity with the people of Ferguson and grief for the death of Michael Brown and the deaths of others across the nation killed by police. There are now increasing calls for the demilitarization of the police by the Attorney General and elected officials. And, the DOJ has announced a broad review of police practices that lead to deadly force. People are taking action pressuring the DOJ to act, see: Tell The Department of Justice to end racist and militaristic policing.

This is a teachable moment and an opportunity to advance the cause of transforming the police. Hundreds of thousands of Americans watched events unfold in Ferguson. They saw the police tear gassing a community in mourning, firing at them with rubber bullets and using sound canons to disperse them. They saw military-style police chase them into neighborhoods where they continued to fire tear gas and rubber bullets. They saw reporters abused and arrested as a SWAT team took over a McDonald’s where they were reporting from and other reporters attacked with tear gas and then the police dismantling the journalist’s equipment.

These events led to news outlets reporting on the actions of the police with even greater intensity. In response to the arrest of one of their reporters, Ryan Grim wrote an official Huffington Post statement about the journalist’s arrest which made a key point: “Police militarization has been among the most consequential and unnoticed developments of our time.” The police in Ferguson did an excellent job of drawing the nation’s attention to the reality of 21 st Century policing and the need to dramatically change its direction.

The rhetoric of a “war” on drugs and “war” on crime is no longer mere rhetoric. Over the last few decades police forces in the United States, down to small town forces, have been militarized by the federal government.  Militarization has been part of the escalating clampdown on dissent; and the targets of these extreme policing practices are disproportionately communities of color.  Practices like ‘stop and frisk’ and ‘driving while black,’ as well as policies focused on Arabs and Muslims, have shown that racially-based policing is the intentional policy of police across the country.

Much of this has been growing in police departments in secret without transparency or public debate. Would the public want a militarized police force if they had a voice in the decision? Without a democratic process, the US has essentially created a standing army that violates the fundamentals of the US Constitution. The military police force applies the law unequally, violating equal protection of the laws and undermining the justice system as police take on the role of judge and executioner.

 
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