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U.S. police militarization heightens tensions, problems

By Charlene Muhammad -National Correspondent- | Last updated: Aug 21, 2014 - 10:21:36 AM

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Houston Police Vehicle
Cropped Photo Credit: kxln 45 univision/MGN Online

Citizens of Ferguson, Missouri awakened to a scenario similar to residents in some major U.S. cities: a local police force armed with heavily militarized weapons and equipment. The question being asked is, are police here to protect and serve or maim and kill?

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Demonstrators outraged over what they charge as Officer Darren Wilson’s execution-style shooting of unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown in a St. Louis suburb took to the streets in protest.

But they were met by a police force that responded by pummeling them with rubber bullets and tear gas over several days since the teen’s Aug. 9 killing. Activists see this response as an ongoing assault on the Black community, particularly Black men and boys.

“We are literally witnessing a war against Black males, but we’ve always had that,” said Dr. Umar Abdullah Johnson, a nationally certified school psychologist.  “What you’re seeing now is the intensification of that war,” he told The Final Call.

Dr. Johnson argued America has probably had more acts of police brutality in the past three years than in the previous decade combined.   “Not just acts of police brutality, but obvious uses of excess force that did not come with any type of consequences for the perpetrator,” he said.

The U.S. Patriot Act paved the way for the militarization of all police departments in America, said Dr. Johnson.  Signed into law by former President George W. Bush in 2001, it gave among other things law enforcement authority to conduct electronic surveillance and wiretaps.

When law enforcement across the country fell under Homeland Security’s umbrella, all security forces became official parts of the U.S. military, said Dr. Johnson.

“For a lot of people, that might not necessarily mean much, but that is extremely significant particularly from a military science perspective because what it says is that when the police declare war on Black men, they are declaring war on behalf of the United States military and the United States Government,” Dr. Johnson continued.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in an August 14 statement on his website he’s “concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message.”

Since the shooting and subsequent uprisings in Ferguson, U.S. Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) announced he will introduce legislation to end provisions that allows for military equipment use in local police forces under the Patriot Act.

Cynthia McKinney, former Green Party presidential candidate, made similar attempts when she was a U.S. Congresswoman.

According to a June 24, 2014 report by the ACLU, weapons and tactics of war are used against people of color at disparaging rates.

“Our police are trampling on our civil rights and turning communities of color into war zones,” Kara Dansky, Senior Counsel with the ACLU’s Center for Justice, said in a press release announcing its report the same day.

In “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing,” the ACLU focused on more than 800 SWAT raids conducted by law enforcement agencies in 20 states and on the agencies’ acquisition of military weaponry, vehicles, and equipment.

Some of the paramilitary raids were conducted by 10 or more officers armed with assault rifles, flash bang grenades, and battering rams, disproportionately impacted people of color, sending the clear message that the families being raided are the enemy.

The ACLU indicates the militarization of policing in America has occurred with almost no oversight,  partly because of limitations on data collection, it noted. 

There is almost no recordkeeping about SWAT or the use of military weapons and vehicles by local law enforcement, yet, “We all pay for it with our tax dollars. The Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice give police military weaponry and vehicles as well as grants for military equipment. The War on Drugs has failed, yet the federal government hasn’t stopped the flow of guns and money,” stated Ms. Dansky.

Jerika Tyler, 22, was waving her “Justice 4 Mike Brown” sign in front of a burned out Quick Trip convenience store August 11 in Ferguson when things turned violent and she came face to face with the “military,” she told The Final Call.  By her account, at least 2,000 people had descended on the area.

“The police were standing on and on, fully armed. They had their night sticks out, their tear gas, their AR-15’s, assault rifles, all different types of things out there and that’s when they bombarded us with Army tanks,” said Ms. Tyler.

She rode to the demonstration with Missouri State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal.  Both became trapped on the lot of an apartment complex.   

“I’m shocked that I represent a war zone,” Senator Chappelle-Nadal told The Final Call. 

“Four years ago I was in Iraq, in Bagdad and we were fired upon.  I was in a bunker and what we were trying to dodge is nothing like what we’re facing in my own district,” she said.

The show of military force by law enforcement has been happening there in isolated events but Mike Brown’s very public murder exacerbated tensions, she said.

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