Hands Up, Don't Shoot: We Can End Police Militarization, Corruption And Brutality

by John Haltiwanger

The recent events in Ferguson, Missouri have forced the United States to ask some deep questions surrounding the direction of the nation. The shooting of Michael Brown has brought racism and police brutality to the forefront of American politics yet again.

Moreover, the events that resulted from the shooting have forced the public to confront another somewhat more novel issue: the militarization of the police.

Perhaps the only positive aspect of the tumultuous state of affairs in Ferguson is that it might finally cause just enough self-reflection in the United States for things to actually change.

We can no longer deny that what has happened in Ferguson is a product of a culture of discrimination that we often ignore. Simply put, racism in the United States is a systematic problem.

Furthermore, we can also no longer deny the fact that police in this country operate under relatively no accountability. They have gotten away with heinous crimes quite frequently over the course of this country's short but storied history, and continue to in the present-day. It's time to change this system once and for all.

Police are meant to serve and protect, but when they are trained like a military force, they are taught to see civilians as threats rather than citizens. Needless to say, we need to reconsider the methods employed by law enforcement agencies within our borders.

Tell The Government To End Supply Of Surplus Military Equipment To Police

Some of the most shocking images to come out of Ferguson have featured police dressed in SWAT gear facing unarmed protestors. In many ways, Ferguson has seemed more like a scene out of Afghanistan or Iraq than an American town.

This isn't "police". This is MILITARY. #Ferguson — Erwan Le Corre (@Erwan_Le_Corre) August 19, 2014
#Ferguson shows how a militarized police force can compromise our rights and our safety #JusticeForMikeBrown — ACLU National (@ACLU) August 15, 2014

Indeed, the militarization of American police has been occurring for quite some time. In 1997, Congress passed the Department of Defense's 1033 program. The program essentially grants American police surplus military equipment for free from the Pentagon. Basically, police have been handed weapons that are meant to be used in war zones.

The equipment was initially intended to be used in counter-terrorism and counter-narcotic operations, however, and not against peaceful protestors. Hence, Ferguson has made it readily apparent that the 1033 program has gone too far.

What's worse, in June, the majority of House lawmakers voted to block legislation, which would have stopped the program. At this point, it seems more politicians are aware that the program has backfired, and they are now forced to review the legislation. Yet, it's sad that it's taken the tragedy of Michael Brown's death and the ensuing events in Ferguson to lead them to this conclusion.

According to an investigation completed by the New York Times in June, since 2006, state and local law enforcement have obtained at least 93,763 machine guns, 435 armored vehicles and 533 aircraft on top of other military equipment.

Relevant NYT article from June on military equipment finding its way to local PD. #Ferguson — Hey guys it's August (@BestGuyAround) August 14, 2014

It's unclear who the American police believe they are going to be fighting because the American people certainly don't pose a threat great enough to warrant that amount of military equipment.

It's quite hypocritical that the US government constantly criticizes other governments for harsh responses to peaceful protests, when this country is guilty of the exact same thing.

There is currently a petition on WhiteHouse.Gov to end the 1033 program. If it gets 100,000 signatures by September 13, the White House will have to issue a response.

Tear Gas Is Illegal In War, It Should Be Illegal In America Too

Tear gas is considered a chemical weapon and is banned in war, yet police in the United States still use it on American citizens. We have witnessed this quite recently in Ferguson, Missouri.

The Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993 set forth a number of agreements, which were signed by a majority of nations across the world, including the United States. One of these agreements involves the prohibition of tear gas in warfare, yet countries are still permitted to use it domestically. That seems quite contradictory... A nation will not use tear gas on its enemies, but it will use it on its citizens?

As Elite Daily's Weston Green will tell you, there is nothing pleasant about getting teargassed, and it is undoubtedly an inhumane and unnecessary practice. Tear gas is not completely harmless either, there have been instances in which tear gas canisters have hit protestors and killed them, or asphyxiated people to death as a result of being fired into a vehicle.

Therefore, the United States needs to reassess the use of teargas as a tactic for quelling rioters, as it's inhumane, dangerous and unnecessary.

Require Police To Wear Body Cameras

Perhaps it's finally time to police the police. If they know that they are on camera, they will be less likely to abuse their authority... It's a very logical argument.

After all, the public is increasingly under the watchful eye of the government and law enforcement, perhaps it should go both ways. This is particularly evident when one views NSA surveillance programs.

Not to mention the increased use of cameras by law enforcement in public areas across the United States. If the public is constantly under scrutiny, why shouldn't the police be as well? In essence, body cameras would ensure accountability surrounding the conduct of police officers.

Thus, perhaps police should be required to wear body cameras. What do they have to hide?

Moreover, these cameras could serve to protect police against civilian lawsuits.

Outside Agencies Should Investigate Police-Related Deaths

When police kill someone in the line of duty, such as the recent Michael Brown shooting, it would seem obvious that it would be a conflict of interest for the same police department to investigate the circumstances.

In essence, when police are given the authority to investigate police-related deaths then it leaves a great deal of room for corruption. Therefore, police-related deaths should be investigated by outside agencies in order to ensure objectivity.

Other cops actually support this idea, and it's now been enacted via legislation in Wisconsin. Other states should take note and follow suit. After all, police investigating police doesn't sound very unbiased, and we need laws that inspire balance in the criminal justice system.

Consider Disarming Police?

A lot of Americans would probably laugh if anyone publicly suggested that the police should not carry guns. While some might support the notion, it's already been difficult enough to regulate the use of firearms by the public.

Accordingly, the United States is a long way from having a conversation about disarming law enforcement. Yet, it's still worth thinking about.

In the United Kingdom, police officers are not armed. Yes, there is actually a country in the world where police do not carry firearms... We can't all be cowboys.

If police in Britain do carry firearms, they do so under strict regulations. As a consequence, there were no deaths due to police shootings in the United Kingdom from 2012 to 2014. In essence, less-armed police leads to fewer police-related deaths... And no, the UK does not have higher violent crime rates than the US.

The United States has the highest gun ownership rate in the world; there is an average of 88 guns per 100 people. Overall, the United States also ranks 28th in the world in terms of firearm murder rate.

That's something to think about...

Note To The Public: Not All Police Are Bad

A healthy relationship requires consensus and respect from all partners involved. This is also true for relations between the public and law enforcement. Accordingly, it must be remembered that not all police are bad.

Many of these individuals put their lives on the line every single day in order to protect members of the public. One of the greatest tragedies in American history, September 11th, stands as a testament to that fact.

Hence, the public must not deliberately antagonize police officers, for what good does that do?

Yes, there is immense room for improvement in terms of the systematic framework of law enforcement in the United States.

Moreover, law enforcement is certainly worthy of criticism, particularly when we look at the situation in Ferguson. Yet, when it comes down to it, reforming law enforcement is more of a role for government, rather than individual police officers.

In essence, rethinking law enforcement practices in the United States is a task that all members of American society must actively engage in.

Photo Credit: Weston Green/ Nathan Weber