The tragedies unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri, are doubly infuriating.
First, there is the obvious outrage of yet another unarmed black teenager being stopped by one of the town’s white police officers as he was walking to his grandmother’s home.
A scuffle ensued, and officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Michael Brown (six times, including twice in the head, according to an autopsy report). The young man’s corpse was then left lying in the street for hours, during which time the police didn’t even bother to notify his family. Understandably, furious citizens have erupted in protest.
Outrage No. 2 is that Ferguson’s police, practically all of whom are white in a town that’s two-thirds black, responded to the public outcry like an occupying army.
Instead of the calm, professional, and empathetic approach required, the police confronted Ferguson with full military force, rolling out in armored “Bearcat” vehicles, hovering helicopters, riot gear, camouflage outfits, and body armor.a
They approached the unarmed citizens with assault riffles, grenades, tear gas, night sticks, and a macho attitude. It was a tactical, commando assault on civilians, the vast majority of whom where doing what they should be doing: calling autocrats to account.
But wait: Where did this tiny town’s police force — supposedly made up of peace officers — get such weaponry and a military attitude? From the Pentagon.
The Defense Department has quietly been militarizing America’s police departments for the last two decades, sending billions of dollars worth of Bearcats, helicopters, machine guns, etc. to any Mayberry police chief with Rambo fantasies.
Your town and mine are being militarized too. We must halt this perversion of policing, or we’ll be the next Ferguson. For starters, tell your governor: “Don’t militarize my block.” You can do it at change.org/petitions.
OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown. OtherWords.org