My main reaction to the Ferguson situation (besides, of course, great sorrow at the death of an unarmed teenager) has been shock at the actions of the police there and the intimidating array of military-style weapons they had at their disposal. I wasn’t alone. Today, President Obama ordered a review of the policy and an audit of how the equipment in being used.
The militarization of America’s police departments is nothing new. Started as part of the “War on Drugs” and vastly expanded post 9/11, the policy allows local law enforcement to get “surplus” military weapons and equipment, including those terrifying armored vehicles and assault rifles. Gone are the images of the friendly neighborhood cop greeting residents while walking his beat. Now, the face of modern policing is covered with a visor and riot gear and is pointing an assault rifle straight at you.
But here’s my big question: why do we even HAVE surplus military equipment? If it’s surplus, why do we make it? I am all for a strong defense, but I abhor the waste that our blank-check military spending policy produces. And it bothers me that to question whether we need more aircraft carriers or tanks that rust in the desert because the military itself doesn’t want them somehow is considered unpatriotic. Loving America means wanting the best for it, including a populace that is well-fed, well-educated and healthy, roads that are safe and energy that is from renewable sources so we can stop relying on petroleum and decimating our climate.
The only way to love America is not to build guns and wage war. It’s certainly not to build so many guns that we have a surplus that spills into American streets. I never again want to see images of our supposed protectors aiming military-grade weapons and unarmed, peaceful protestors. So, yes, review the policy. But also just stop making a surplus of killing machines. And stop putting them on our streets.