Many of the images that have been coming out of Ferguson, Missouri this past week convey a worrying truth — America’s police are becoming increasingly militarized.
Local cops are now heavily armed with rifles, armored vehicles, and other military-grade weapons they probably don’t really need and may not be properly trained to handle.
John Oliver gave some pretty sobering examples of this on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight” (start watching at about 6:49):
Oliver made this observation about one iconic image to come out of the Ferguson protests: “The police are troublingly dressed like they’re about to launch an assault on Fallujah.”
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
As Business Insider’s Paul Szoldra pointed out last week, these police officers could be mistaken for soldiers, with their uniforms that are modeled after the U.S. Marine Corps.
Military members wear camouflage to blend in with their surroundings, but as Oliver notes, Ferguson police are “northwest of St. Louis, not northwest of the Amazon.”
“If they want to blend in with their surroundings, they should be dressed as a Dollar Store.”
Local police departments argue they have a use for this equipment, but their reasoning can sound a bit ridiculous.
Keene, New Hampshire, for example, cited an annual pumpkin festival as a possible terrorism target.
In Saginaw, Michigan, the county sheriff drives around a giant armored tank:
The guys who shot the YouTube video asked: “Why? Has our city gotten that f***ing bad?”
Oliver answers: “Here’s the thing — no. It hasn’t got that bad. Because unless you live in downtown Kabul, there is no practical need for anything like that in your town.”
Doraville, Georgia — with a population of about 8,500 — has a similar tank, and the police department’s website advertised its power in a bizarre video set to the song “Die Motherf***er, Die”:
Aside from being excessive, this equipment could end up being counterproductive.
While military members are trained not to point a weapon directly at someone unless they’re ready to shoot, the police in Ferguson have been walking around pointing their guns at people who may not be direct threats.
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
SWAT raids in the U.S. have also gone up by 1,400% since the 1980s, according to an Al Jazeera report.
The ACLU notes in a recent report that 79% of those deployments are for executing search warrants, mostly in drug raids.
“If you are getting high in your dorm room right now, you’re not paranoid, there is a SWAT team outside, and they are coming to get you,” Oliver cracked.
The militarization of local police is largely due to the Defense Department repurposing military equipment for cops to fight the drug war and terrorism on the home front. In 2013, the military transferred about $450 million worth of equipment to local police in the U.S.
Ferguson police have been using this equipment in a so-far failed effort to control riots that have gripped the St. Louis suburb since the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown last week. Brown, who was black, was shot by a white police officer who stopped him for jaywalking.