When peaceful protesters took to the streets in Ferguson, the local police answered with military tactics, vehicles, and weapons. The mood changed in Ferguson, however, when St. Louis city took over to actually police and tend to the community, rather than to further displace it. Ferguson just proved that police militarization is a useless waste.
Massive media coverage in Ferguson showed Ferguson police and St. Louis County sheriffs dispersing and intimidating crowds with an array of military hardware: assault rifles, 60 CAL. stinger rubber rounds, wooden bullets, heavily-armored urban assault vehicles, all the way down to military-style, camouflage fatigues.
Protesters, the media, internet activists, the St. Louis city police chief, and President Obama abhorred the overkill behavior of the over-militarized band of redneck good ol’ boys that make up the Ferguson police and St. Louis County Sheriff’s office.
How do small, local law enforcement agencies obtain this equipment anyway? The Ferguson P.D. is a part of federal program 1033 in which the Department of Defense either sells quite cheaply or donates military surplus to police agencies in the country. This includes everything from rifles and ammunition to armored vehicles and helicopters. Salon reported that since the start of program 1033 in 1997, law enforcement agencies have received $4.3 billion in military gear. Last year saw the highest annual amount at nearly $450 million.
According to Kara Dansky of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), police militarization could do nothing but increase violence. Dansky also noted that police-use of military equipment only worsens things. And as with Ferguson, the scaling back of military-style equipment and tactics has proven beneficial to the community.
After St. Louis city police relieved the redneck brigade that is the St. Louis County police, the aggressive air tapered and the protests have become more organized and even more peaceful. Officers have been talking to and interacting with protesters; actually making themselves part of the community, rather than asserting themselves as some dangerous paramilitary force to be reckoned with.
“[I plan to] bring peace and tranquility to this community. Intervention works,” St. Louis Police Major Ronnie Robinson said. “You just can’t have a heavy hand all the time. You have to be professional enough to be able to identify when you need to meet with force… You’ve got to be able to communicate.”
St. Louis city police allowed crowds to peacefully protest unbothered, and some officers peaceably marched with the crowds to ensure safety.
Police militarization just doesn’t work. People want to be respected, but when law enforcement responds to a socially alienating situation with rifles, tear gas, and trucks, the people feel like targets instead of citizens. And that only increases tensions, rather than alleviates them.