Hardware designed for war exerts subtle pressure on police culture, experts say.
Americans have seen it time and again in recent months on the nightly news: Protesters in the streets confronted by local police officers carrying assault rifles, some atop armored vehicles, looking more like soldiers than public servants.
Much of that equipment has trickled down to police departments from a controversial Defense Department initiative known as the 1033 program, a 30-year-old federal initiative that provides a way for the military to dispose of surplus equipment by sending it to local police.
The impact on policing has been huge. In Georgia alone, police departments and sheriff’s offices have received more than 2,700 military rifles, night vision goggles and laser gun sights, and literally hundreds of armored vehicles, including more than two dozen mine-resistant vehicles built to fight the war on terror abroad.
To get the military equipment, police departments pay only for the shipping costs. But that does not mean the program comes without other costs.
TWENTY-FOUR-YEAR-OLD LAUREN MESTAS was already having a bad day when she noticed a cop car tailing her northbound on Interstate 35, headed into downtown Austin. She wasn’t overly concerned at first, as she wasn’t breaking any laws, but the patrol vehicle remained on her tail as she exited onto Riverside Drive, headed west. She started to suspect that it might have something to do with the slogans soaped all over the windows of her 2001 Toyota 4Runner. In addition to “BROWN PRIDE” and “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” written across the rear window were the words “FUCK THESE RACIST POLICE.”
The system is rigged, the government is corrupt, and “we the people” continue to waste our strength by fighting each other rather than standing against the tyrant in our midst.
Because the system is rigged, because the government is corrupt, and because “we the people” remain polarized and divided, the police state will keep winning and “we the people” will keep losing.
Because the system is rigged and the U.S. Supreme Court—the so-called “people’s court”—has exchanged its appointed role as a gatekeeper of justice for its new role as maintainer of the status quo, there will be little if no consequences for the cops who brutalize and no justice for the victims of police brutality.
Because the system is rigged, there will be no consequences for police who destroyed a private home by bombarding it with tear gas grenades during a SWAT team raid gone awry, or for the cop who mistakenly shot a 10-year-old boy after aiming for and missing the non-threatening family dog, or for the arresting officer who sicced a police dog on a suspect who had already surrendered.
This is how unarmed Americans keep dying at the hands of militarized police.
A sheriff’s department in a remote rural California county with only 18,000 people, no incorporated cities, few sworn officers and almost no crime, was able to obtain a second military-grade MRAP armored vehicle in 2017 by giving brief answers to a simple questionnaire, according to documents obtained under freedom of information requests.
MRAP stands for mine-resistant ambush protected, though the prospect of encountering mines or being ambushed would seem to be unlikely in even the toughest US police precincts.
The documents, provided to the Guardian by the transparency non-profit Property of the People, show how quickly Donald Trump’s 2017 reversal of the Barack Obama administration’s curtailment of the transfer of battlefield equipment to law enforcement agencies led to their renewed proliferation, and how little agencies had to do to demonstrate any real need for them.
The documents include Mariposa county sheriff’s office (MCSO) application for the second MRAP from the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). The application in September 2017, about a month after Trump reversed a 2015 Obama executive order which prohibited the transfer of equipment like armored vehicles, grenade launchers and high-caliber weapons to civilian agencies.
With one-line or one-paragraph answers to 15 questions, the rural county sheriff was able to add the vehicle to its already extant Mamba MRAP, acquired in 2014.
The same industries fueling the climate crisis and disproportionately polluting Black and brown communities across the U.S are bankrolling police foundations, groups which can help militarize local police departments.
That’s according to a new investigation from transparency group Public Accountability Initiative and its LittleSis project.
Authored by Gin Armstrong and Derek Seidman and published Monday, the report singles out actions from fossil fuel giants like Shell and Chevron as well as major utility companies and leading financial institutions.