When I saw the footage of Federal officers who came to take Elián González back to Cuba in April, 2000, I got a sick feeling in my stomach. Some were wearing balaclavas to hide their faces and other were dressed like the fellow in photograph above – helmets, goggles, tacti-cool vests and submachine guns (I never understood the gloves without finger tips thing – never). For a six-year-old boy and the unarmed folks who were taking care of him. Many of my friends in the law enforcement community defended the military-like attire, saying that the law enforcement climate had changed, but I just didn’t see the need.
At the time, I lived in Washington, DC and many of the Metro police were prowling the city in military Battle Dress Uniform-style clothes and bloused combat boots – you know – even though they never got out of their patrol vehicles. I thought it was a bit much.
We’ve written several times in the last few years about police departments who seemed to be arming up for a war. They were scooping up MRAPs and scary black guns (that they now call “patrol rifles” except when you or I own them – then they’re “assault rifles”). Some police officers in the media defended buying the military gear by telling the public that veterans coming back from the war presented a greater threat to police departments, even though they couldn’t point at any specific incidents of veterans setting up IEDs or ambushes on the police departments any where in the country.
But, now that the Ferguson Police Department in Missouri are demonstrating their recent purchases, everyone is upset;
Comments I’ve read from veterans of the recent wars indicate that the Ferguson Police are carrying more gear than they ever carried when they went outside the wire in Iraq or Afghanistan. I get the feeling like they’re in some sort of military fashion show. But anyway, when the police defended their purchases with the threat of veterans, no one said anything. But now that the police are dressing up to confront non-veterans, it’s a big deal. The Hill reports that Congressman Hank Johnson (the “Guam is tipping over” guy) is involved in writing legislation to get the police under control;
“Our main streets should be a place for business, families, and relaxation, not tanks and M16s,” Johnson wrote in a Dear Colleague letter sent Thursday to other members of Congress.
“As the tragedy in Missouri unfolds, one thing is clear. Our local police are becoming militarized,” Johnson’s office said in a statement.
Johnson said he will introduce the bill in September, when Congress returns from a five-week recess. He has been worked on the legislation for months, but his office said the current situation highlights the need for the bill.
Yeah, when the specter of Timothy McVeigh justified the police departments’ shopping spree, it was fine, but now, it’s all on display for controlling regular citizens, somehow it needs to brought under legislation. It’s up to local voters to stop the proliferation of military-style police forces, not Congress, by the way. Local voters will hold their police forces to account, Congress writes a bill and forgets about it.
I support the idea that every policeman should go home to his/her family after every shift, but this type of stuff doesn’t inspire confidence in the general population. They don’t look like they’re trying to protect us – they look like the police I’ve seen in third world countries who brutalize the population into submission.