Fergusen Blues

Fergusen: If you were surprised, you haven’t been paying attention

The events in Fergusen, Missouri, this past month shocked the nation. But if you were entirely surprised, you haven’t been paying attention. Either that, or your sources of news and information need to be updated.

Police forces in even small towns and cities across the nation have been getting free surplus military equipment since even before the events of 9/11/2001, although it has escalated since then.

As an August 13th article in Newsweek said:

Faced with a bloated military and what it perceived as a worsening drug crisis, the 101st Congress in 1990 enacted the National Defense Authorization Act. Among other things, it allowed the Secretary of Defense to “transfer to Federal and State agencies personal property of the Department of Defense, including small arms and ammunition, that the Secretary determines is – (A) suitable for use by such agencies in counter-drug activities; and (B) excess to the needs of the Department of Defense.”

If the U.S. wanted its police to act like drug warriors, the reasoning went, it should equip them like warriors. And it has – with about $4.3 billion in equipment so far, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union. However, by providing law enforcement with military equipment, the NDAA encourages police to employ military weapons and military tactics – exactly what we are seeing across the country.

The results are chilling, to put it mildly. If you’re on social media, you probably see a related news item nearly every day: A two year old child killed when an invading SWAT team, at the wrong address, threw a stun grenade into the baby’s crib. A 68 year old grandfather killed in another botched raid. 84-year-old Annie Rae Dixon, a bedridden paraplegic, was shot and killed after police officers from the nearby town of Kilgore broke into her Tyler, Texas home. They had the wrong address. Hundreds of such incidents are documented here.

Often it happens that the victims had no idea it was the police barging in on them, and while trying to defend themselves, they are shot by nervous, hyped up officers. Such as when a SWAT team from Dinuba, California – a town with just 12 regular police officers and 15,000 people, which hadn’t a single reported homicide in its history – shot and killed sixty-four-year-old farm worker Ramon Gallardo. Police say Gallardo reached for a folding knife to defend himself, at which point they shot him twelve times.

“If a widespread pattern of [knock-and-announce] violations were shown … there would be reason for grave concern,” said Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, in Hudson v. Michigan, June 15, 2006. I’ve got news for you, Justice Kennedy, we’re there, and American citizens are gravely concerned.

All these tragedies, like Fergusen and likely, many more to come, are unfortunately the result of a militarized police force being trained to shoot first, ask questions later. Whatever happened to “protect and serve”? As American citizens, we deserve to be treated with respect, not with unwarranted suspicion. At the very least, we should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

James Israel
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