Why the militarization of local police needs to stop

Posted by David Gomez

The ongoing OccupyWallStreet protests may be one of the biggest stories of 2011.

Although the OWS demonstrations are certainly a big deal, understanding the disproportionate militarized crackdown by local law enforcement officials in 18 cities - coordinated by the DHS - is even more important.

Before I go into more detail, it is important to note that the problem with militarized local police forces did not begin in 2011 as a response to the OWS protests. Rather, it was  the result of a slow buildup of events that began after 9/11.

The controversial police brutality during the recent OWS crackdowns was just simply the most recent opportunity for America to observe how police forces have evolved. Based on information from a recent investigative report, there may be more militarized police brutality ahead in 2012.
    
Indeed, a report on The Daily Beast by two journalists from the Center for Investigative Reporting reveals a number ofinteresting trends in government spending. For example, since 9/11, the DHS has shelled out more than $34 billion in federal grants arming local police departments with military grade equipment. The reason? Obviously, people want to feel safe in their hometowns, so DHS figures that arming local police like a Marine infantry unit will prevent another terrorist attack on US soil.
    
Maybe it will, maybe it won’t; the most important question is: do people really give out tens of billions without asking anything in return? The answer is no.
    
At the beginning of this year I read an article from a law enforcement expert on PoliceOne.com where he explains how local police departments across the country have slowly been influenced and controlled by federal authorities. It has happened for two reasons: the desire in government for there to be a more uniform policing policy across the nation and the issuance of federal monies to police departments.
  
When you are the federal government and are issuing billions of dollars for equipment to local police, you more or less gain control over how they use such equipment. Through the use of training and funds the federal government has been changing local police forces into quasi-military units, in case we are to be attacked again. But since we haven’t had a real terror threat since 9/11, they’ve started turning their attention to American citizens. Because in the national security state everyone is treated as a bad guy until proven otherwise.
    
This has been going on since 9/11 and it shouldn’t surprise people when all of a sudden the police in the US seem to be escalating the way their deal with peaceful protesters. Oakland California’s Mayor Jean Quan admitted that she took part in an 18 city conference call that was intended to help leaders of the cities figure out how to deal with the protesters. It was also revealed that DHS assisted the cities in figuring out how to deal with the protesters. And surprise! After this little confab we got the brutal crackdowns on the OWS protesters and the mass pepper spraying event in California that turned into a shameful Internet meme.
    
Police brutality is no longer shocking, it is merely a part of pop culture that we uncomfortably try and laugh off when we see it.
    
The OWS protests were a worldwide story in 2011, but, as noted above, I personally think the response to the OWS protests from police is an even bigger story. The DHS is slowly turning local police forces into military units who view citizens as potential enemies. They helped coordinate police brutality against harmless protesters and they are hugely responsible for one of the worst trends in 2011.
    
Let’s hope that this emerging trend from 2011 doesn’t combine with the new National Defense Authorization Act to make 2012 the year of the police state.