The increased militarization of our police stands at the forefront of the crisis in Ferguson. The New York Times reports that, since 2006, local police departments have received more than 90,000 machine guns from the military, along with some armored vehicles and grenade launchers.
While there are certainly crimes that require police to arm themselves heavily, for the most part, this equipment is unnecessary and employed in completely inappropriate ways.
Police may be particularly eager to use this equipment knowing they have limited time to do so. The program that funnels military equipment to local police departments, the 1033 Program, states that the equipment must be used within a year or else it is returned.
In this short period, police cannot develop the necessary experience to handle these weapons and use them carelessly. Many policemen feel that pointing machine guns at people is the best way to discourage violence. This act of perceived aggression erodes the already collapsing trust built between police and the people they are supposed to be protecting.
Police have also used tear gas inappropriately to disperse Ferguson protestors. Tear gas is forbidden in war because of its status as a chemical weapon, yet legal to use in domestic control in America. If it is so dangerous that it is prohibited in warfare, how can it be legal for police departments to use it in a domestic setting? The use of tear gas illustrates how the police of Ferguson view the people they are assigned to protect and serve.
Instead of focusing on individuals trying to incite riots, or the looters who strike local Ferguson shops at night, the police seemed to treat all of Ferguson as one entity that should be dealt with by using military, and paramilitary, action.
It is time to not only evaluate the military weapons police receive, as President Obama has said he will do, but also time to evaluate why police officers carry weapons at all and when they should use them.
Kevin Chalek is a junior majoring in chemistry.