The Problem With the Ferguson Police
As I write this article, Bloomberg Businessweek is reporting that Missouri Governor Jay Nixon will relieve all St. Louis County law enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri.
Representative William Lacy Clay said, “The governor just called me, and he’s on his way to St. Louis to announce he’s taking away the St. Louis County Police out of the situation.”
Given the events of the past five days – especially the dubious circumstances surrounding Michael Brown’s death and the police’s actions on the night of August 13 – relieving law enforcement was a foregone conclusion.
But the governor’s actions merely address the symptoms, not the disease itself.
Indeed, they do nothing to assuage the fears raised by the events in Ferguson, Missouri… fears of a militant police state that protects its own at all costs, covers up potential crimes, and suppresses Constitutional rights with outsized force.
As our own Floyd Brown put it, “America is a police state, and the police are a class above us all.”
A Universal Outcry
The public reaction to the events in Ferguson has been swift and decisive. Veterans, in particular, have been outspoken critics of the way police have handled the mostly peaceful protests.
For example, Phillip Carter tweeted, “FWIW, I led foot patrols in downtown Baquba, #Iraq in 2005-06 w/ less firepower than #Ferguson PD.”
Jason Fritz tweeted, “As someone who studies policing in conflict, what’s going on in Ferguson isn’t just immoral and probably unconstitutional, it’s ineffective.”
And Dan Bramos tweeted, “I don’t know how it was in IRQ and AFG, but in Bosnia, we had less firepower while on patrol than the cops in #Ferguson.”
Cops have brazenly pointed guns at citizens and reporters alike, fired rubber bullets, and shot tear gas canisters into crowds, and even arrested reporters who were simply trying to cover the events on the ground.
Wesley Lowery, of The Washington Post, and Ryan J. Reilly, of The Huffington Post, were arrested – along with local elected official Antonio French – on August 13 for doing nothing more than reporting.
For those of you not counting at home, that means Ferguson has been witness to potentially criminal police action (that was covered up for a week by the police department), violent dispersal of peaceful protests, and the suppression of First Amendment rights in the form of arrested journalists.
To me, that sounds more like Nazi Germany than the United States.
It’s a disturbing comparison. We like to think that we live in a free country where most police officers abide by their duty to serve and protect – and where our constitutional rights are truly upheld.
But the reality is that the Pentagon has been arming local police forces to the tune of half a billion dollars per year, according to The Washington Post… and as we saw in Ferguson, these local battalions aren’t afraid to flex their newfound muscle.
Specifically, the Defense Department’s excess property program “permits the Secretary of Defense to transfer, without charge, excess U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) personal property (supplies and equipment) to state and local law enforcement agencies.”
In total, the program has transferred $4.3 billion in equipment since its inception.
It’s disturbing that this arms transfer has gone (relatively) unnoticed until the Ferguson police decided to roll out like a full-blown infantry unit. But now that the nation sees what our friendly neighborhood police force really looks like, we need to ask ourselves: What’s the purpose?
There’s no reason for local law enforcement to have the same kind of firepower as the U.S. Army or Marines.
In the end, this trend won’t save lives or keep the peace. On the contrary, it’ll ensure that the police are capable of suppressing our most important rights, particularly in moments when we need them to protect and serve the most.
In Pursuit of the Truth,