America’s streets are looking more and more like a war zone. Last week, in a small county in upstate New York with a population of roughly 120,000 people, county legislators approved the receipt of a 20-ton Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle, donated by the US Defense Department to the county sheriff.
Between the Armored Personnel Carriers locking down main streets in major American cities – mimicking our MRAPs in Afghanistan – or Special Weapons and Tactics (Swat) and Special Forces units canvassing our country, if we’re not careful, this militarization of our domestic policing will make-over America, and fast.
Here’s how it all happened. A little-known Pentagon program has been quietly militarizing American police forces for years. A total of $4.2bn worth of equipment has been distributed by the Defense Department to municipal law enforcement agencies, with a record $546m in 2012 alone.
In the fine print of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 1997, the “1033 program” was born. It allows the Defense Department to donate surplus military equipment to local police forces.
Though the program’s existed since the 1990s, it has expanded greatly in recent years, due, in part, to post-9/11 fears and sequestration budget cuts. The expanse, however, seems unnecessary given that the Department of Homeland Security has already handed out $34bn in “terrorism grants” to local polices forces – without oversight mind you – to fund counter-terrorism efforts.
Additional militarization, then, deserves congressional attention as the program is harmful and must be scaled back for a number of reasons.
First, the program is transforming our police into a military. The results of such over-militarized law enforcement are apparent from the dispersion of Occupy protesters in Oakland to the city-wide lockdown in Boston…
I have a great idea, let’s use all these swat teams to round up the white collar criminals who have destroyed the economy and the white collar terrorists who planned and executed 9/11 in order to destroy the constitution. Armored vehicles could actually be useful when combating the guards and mercenaries they’ve hired to isolate themselves from the economic maelstrom that they’ve created.