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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Police militarization snuffing out citizen confidence and safety

    Before the shooting in Ferguson, Mo., and its resulting riots, a push towards militarizing police forces in the U.S. had been quietly occurring.

    In the early 1990s, the Department of Defense created programs allowing law enforcement officers to acquire excess government military equipment for reduced prices or free of charge.

    The department’s 1033 and 1706 Programs provide equipment such as body armor, assault rifles, armored vehicles and grenade launchers to police, firefighters and emergency agencies for free. The 1122 Program allows agencies to purchase non-excess resources for anti-drug and anti-terrorism use at reduced costs. Finally, the Night Vision Loan Program provides sight enhancement utilities for either a loan or at reduced prices to police forces.

    The New York Times says that the amount of equipment up for grabs is based on how much excess equipment the government has. If the excess utilities aren’t requested by police agencies, they are destroyed. States essentially get to decide on the fate of the weapons, but when it comes to the government handing out free stuff, no one is going to turn it down.

    According to The New York Times, as of August, every state has taken advantage of militarization programs set in place by the department.

    The government should protect its citizens through both the justice system and law enforcement. This ensures that people feel safe within their own homes. However, allowing law enforcement to use military-grade force to restrain people is unsettling.

    With all of these government programs and states choosing to take so many weapons — Arizona alone has acquired 4,436 utilities as of August — it’d be plausible to assume that crime and terror have gotten worse in the past decade, but the opposite has happened. According to The New York Times, the number of terrorist attacks has declined since the ‘60s and ‘70s. The gun homicide rate has dropped from seven in 100,000 people in 1993 to 3.6 per 100,000 in 2010, according to a Pew Research Center study.

    But even with terror potentially on the run, The New York Times says SWAT teams have grown and their recruiting films have changed. Now, SWAT forces are shown in their videos wearing camouflage, throwing grenades and breaking into homes.

    State governments say that they are acquiring these weapons from the department’s programs to protect their citizens against criminals and extreme situations.

    “You have a lot of people who are coming out of the military that have the ability and knowledge to build [improved explosive devices] and to defeat law enforcement techniques,” said Dan Downing, a sergeant of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department, to Fox59.

    However, on the streets and in the community is not where these weapons belong. Barring terrifying catastrophes, what criminal is driving a tank, using grenade launchers or carrying a 6 mm assault rifle to a robbery? While governments promise they’re going to save the weapons for the use of extreme situations, having them at all will be like keeping candy in the pantry. If it’s there, someone will eat it.

    When the government begins treating its citizens as criminals — time bombs who at any moment could explode into a rage of riots — what will be the difference between the U.S. and other nations with people who despise their government? A proper government is not feared by the people but is instead directed by them. What the U.S. has begun leaning toward is trying to contain its citizens with grenades and tear gas rather than listening to them.

    When soldiers go into battle, they are armed with weapons similar to their opponents for a reason; their goal is to neutralize those who are prepared for the fight. When police officers go into battle, they aren’t fighting soldiers; they’re fighting a robber with a handgun, a kidnapper with a knife, regular citizens.

    —Ashleigh Horowitz is a creative writing freshman. Follow her @elhixsagh

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