War always comes home...
Benjamin Franklin is often quoted as saying that, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Well, you can actually add one more certainty to that list: Wars always come home. That’s right. While the people who start wars never think about it or plan for it, wars always come home.
After World War II and the Korean War, thousands of American soldiers came home with PTSD, and other mental wounds of war. Unfortunately, they never received the treatment and help they needed. After Vietnam, American soldiers came home with PTSD and they also came home carrying diseases thanks to exposure to Agent Orange. Today, that exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam is still being felt. After the first Gulf War, American soldiers came home with high levels of depleted uranium in their blood, and had children who were born with debilitating birth defects. And that brings us to today, in the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tens of thousands of soldiers have come home with missing limbs, traumatic brain injuries, and hundreds of thousands have PTSD. But the soldiers aren’t the only ones who have come home. The defense contractors have come home too, and in the name of making a buck, they’re selling their Iraq and Afghanistan weapons of war to police departments all across our nation. And even worse, the militarization of our local police forces is being promoted by Congress.
Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the federal government, with approval from Congress, has given billions and billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment to state and local police forces. In fact, an analysis done earlier this summer by the New York Times found that since 2006, police departments across America have received 435 armored vehicles, 533 planes, 93,763 machine guns, and last, but not least, 432 mine-resistant armored trucks, because you never know when you’re going to run into ISIS-laid mines on Main Street USA.
Congress first authorized the transfer of military equipment to local police forces back in the early 1990’s, with the launching of the 1033 Program. According to the ACLU, the 1033 Program, launched as part of the 1989 National Defense Authorization Act and to promote the mind-numbingly stupid War on Drugs, “initially authorized the transfer of equipment that was ‘suitable for use by such agencies in counterdrug activities.’” And in 1996, Congress made the 1033 Program permanent and even expanded it so that more military weapons could end up in local police precincts.
Since the birth of the 1033 Program, local and state law enforcement agencies have received around $4.3 billion worth of equipment. And in 2013, police agencies across the country were using $450 million worth of military weapons and equipment. And as you can see with the events down in Ferguson, Missouri, local police departments often overuse all of this battlefield weaponry. In a report released over the summer, the ACLU found that 79% of SWAT team deployments across America between 2011 and 2012 were for simple search warrants, often for non-violent crimes like drug offenses.
So, police are entering communities with tear-gas and rubber-bullet guns blazing and all dressed up in militarized riot gear, just to lock someone up for a minor offense. Just look at the scenes coming out of Ferguson this past week. Police officers clad in military gear. Armored trucks that should be on the battlefield in Syria. Tear gas grenades flying through the air. These should be scenes from the frontlines of a war. Not scenes from suburban America.
Even Rand Paul, editorializing in today's Time Magazine, agrees this is insane. The scenes coming out of Ferguson illustrate the stupidity of war and the stupidity of our corrupt political system putting weapons of war on our streets, just to pad the wallets of the multi-billion dollar defense contractors who own our politicians.
There’s a huge body of research - starting with the Milgram Experiments - that shows that when you take a normal, everyday person and give them authority and anonymity, they will more often than not behave in anti-social and even violent ways. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing with the police in Ferguson, who are acting more like an occupying army than men and women who are supposed to protect and serve the community.
This insanity has to stop. Now. It’s time to demilitarize our police and shut down government-sponsored programs that send weapons of war to small towns across America. There’s already enough bloodshed on the frontlines of war. We don’t need more bloodshed on Main Street USA.