Tennessee Police are receiving hundreds of millions of dollars of military equipment, for the purpose of “fighting terrorism.” Since 2006, the state’s police departments have accumulated more than 47,000 pieces of used military gear and weaponry valued at $126 million under a Pentagon program that transfers surplus equipment to local police.
According to the Tennessean:
“The Memphis Police Department, for example, got a mine-resistant vehicle valued at $658,000 and five 7.62-millimeter rifles valued at $138 each. The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department received an armored truck valued at $65,000, four observation helicopters valued at $92,290 apiece, three dozen 7.62-millimeter rifles valued at $138 each and a dozen .45-caliber automatic pistols valued at $58 each. The Jackson Police Department stockpiled $2.5 million worth of gear: a mine-resistant vehicle (value: $733,000), an observation helicopter ($92,290), two military training helicopters ($833,400 each), more than six dozen 5.56-millimeter riles ($499 each) and more than a dozen 7.62-millimeter rifles ($138 apiece).”
This program, deemed the 1033 Program (signed into law by President Bill Clinton), was first enacted to transfer weapons from the Department of Defense to local law enforcement agencies in order to fight the war on drugs. The program has since been expanded to counter terrorism, active shooter situations, and “officer safety.”6
Even worse, the transactions are not public due to “security reasons,” and can only be traced back as far as the requesting agency.
It is hard to justify the increased militarization of police, as police deaths are already at all-time lows and, with popular sentiment shifting in favor of ending drug prohibition, the war on drugs is winding down.
According to the Americans for Civil Liberties Union, “Our neighborhoods are not warzones, and police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies. Any yet, every year, billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment flows from the federal government to state and local police departments. Departments use these wartime weapons in everyday policing, especially to fight the wasteful and failed drug war, which has unfairly targeted people of color.”
George Mason, a founding father spoke these prophetic words at the Constitutional Convention:
“No man has a greater regard for the military gentlemen than I have. I admire their intrepidity, perseverance, and valor. But when once a standing army is established in any country, the people lose their liberty. When, against a regular and disciplined army, yeomanry are the only defense,–yeomanry, unskilful and unarmed,–what chance is there for preserving freedom?”
How can having a fully militarized police be reconciled with the values of a free society? The founding fathers warned future generations about the dangers of creating a standing army on American soil, predicting their abuse of power and degradations of freedoms. The job of law enforcement is not to “protect and serve,” but to enforce laws, not matter how unjust, inhumane, or unconstitutional they are. Giving local governments the tools they need to oppress their citizens is not what America is about.
America is not a warzone, and our fellow should not be treated like an enemy.
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