Images of camouflaged US police wielding military-grade equipment and armored vehicles cracking down on public protests on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, have become an enduring image in the minds of many Americans, and have finally brought attention to years of militarization of US civilian police forces.
Growing concern has finally caught the notice of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Carl Levin (D – MI), the chairman, says that the Pentagon’s policy of arming police will be reviewed before the next military spending bill is passed.
“Congress established this program out of real concern that local law enforcement agencies were literally outgunned by drug criminals,” Levin insisted, referring to the 1033 program.
Drug war hysteria was the nominal pretext for 1033, the Department of Defense Excess Property Program, which in 1993 to provide “surplus” Pentagon equipment to law enforcement across the country.
Under the law, the weapons are only supposed to be used for “counterdrug investigations and activities,” though for years the Pentagon has been giving tanks, armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and everything else to small-town American police, which have turned themselves into miniaturized militaries.
Ferguson police, naturally, were not engaged in “counterdrug activities” in roughing up protesters and journalists, but neither are half of the police departments in America that are using the exact same gear. The question is whether the Senate will do anything about it, or if the momentum behind the program is enough to keep pro-police Senate from digging too deeply into how their 1993 program turned America’s streets into a literal battlefield.