The ACLU today announced that they would be launching a broad investigation into the militarization of America’s domestic police forces. As of this evening, ACLU affiliates in 23 states have signed on to assist in the investigation, and it’s thought that more will join shortly, assigning investigators and filing Freedom of Information Act requests with the various law enforcement agencies in their respective states, in an attempt to determine how they are funded, and what types of technologies their officers are deploying against the citizens they’ve vowed to protect and serve, from drones and GPS tracking devices, to armored assault vehicles and military-grade armaments.
The following quote from Kara Dansky, the senior counsel at the ACLU’s Center for Justice, comes by way of the Huffington Post.
“We’ve known for a while now that American neighborhoods are increasingly being policed by cops armed with the weapons and tactics of war… The aim of this investigation is to find out just how pervasive this is, and to what extent federal funding is incentivizing this trend.”
Of course, this isn’t anything new. Over half a dozen years ago, the libertarian CATO Institute issued a white paper entitled OVERKILL: The Rise of Paramilitary Raids in America. I don’t typically refer to reports by the Koch brothers-funded think tank, but, at least in this instance, I feel as though we may have common cause. Here’s how the folks at CATO framed the issue at the time… as an outgrowth of the so-called War on Drugs.
…The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 brought new funding, equipment, and a more active drug-policing role for paramilitary police units across the country. Reagan’s new offensive in the War on Drugs involved a more confrontational, militaristic approach to combating the drug supply, a policy enthusiastically embraced by Congress. During the next 10 years, with prodding from the White House, Congress paved the way to widespread military-style policing by carving yawning drug war exceptions to the Posse Comitatus Act, the Civil War–era law prohibiting the use of the military for civilian policing. These new exceptions allowed nearly unlimited sharing of drug interdiction intelligence, training, tactics, technology, and weaponry between the Pentagon and federal, state, and local police departments.
The first of these exemptions was the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act, passed in 1981. This wide-reaching legislation encouraged the military to give local, state, and federal police access to military bases, research, and equipment for drug interdiction. It also authorized the military to train civilian police officers to use the newly available equipment, and not only encouraged the military to share drug-war–related information with civilian police but authorized the military to take an active role in preventing drugs from entering the country…
And, as we all know, things have only escalated with the War on Terror, and the seemingly endless amounts of government/military spending that have come along with it. Motivated by fear, we pour money into developing new terrorist-fighting technologies, that invariably make their way back to our shores, where they can be deployed against us. This can be seen today in cities like Miami and Houston, where domestic military exercises have become commonplace. Here, for those of you who respond better to visuals, is a photo taken last year in Anaheim, where approximately 300 citizens had gathered to protest police violence. These are police officers.
Commander William Adama: “There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.”
So, with that in mind, I’m going to make up for the fact that I’ve allowed my ACLU membership to lapse, and make a contribution to the ACLU Foundation… Someone needs to lead this fight, and I’m glad that we have the ACLU to take it on.
One last thing, regarding possible solutions… Here’s a note from the end of the 2006 CATO report that I found of interest.
End the Pentagon Giveaways. The primary reason so many police departments across the country can afford SWAT teams is the Pentagon’s policy of making surplus military equipment available to those departments for free, or at steep discounts. The Pentagon used its defense budget to buy that equipment, a budget given to it by Congress on behalf of American taxpayers for the purpose of defending Americans from threats from abroad. It’s perverse to then use that equipment against American citizens as part of the government’s war on domestic drug offenders.
Oh, and in related news, Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee today that Obama “has (the) authority to use drone strikes to kill Americans on US soil.”
[Today’s post is dedicated to the memory of Detroit’s Aiyana Jones.]