Indian Country Opinion Politics

Demilitarize Law Enforcement!

By Marcus Ruff

Photo Credit: Ryan Vizzions

As the world stood in awe at the movement unfolding on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation- the images of armored vehicles, sonic weapons, automatic rifles, and attack dogs- some began to wonder: when did law enforcement begin to resemble the U.S. military? From Ferguson to Baltimore, the nation has seen numerous instances of our streets being turned into war zones and the divide between law enforcement and the public increasing. Indigenous peoples continue to face the brutality of militarized policing for resisting the violation of treaty law and protecting the lives of future generations. It turns out, the militarization of law enforcement can be traced back to a government program created in the 90s to counter drug crimes.

The 1033 Program was created by the Department of Defense in 1991 and allows for the transfer of surplus military equipment to local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies. As reported by NPR, the 1033 program has sanctioned the transfer of $6 billion in military surplus gear including a reported 79, 288 assault rifles, 205 grenade launchers, 11,959 bayonets, 3,972 combat knives, and 479 bomb detonator robots. According to an article from CNN published in July of 2017, investigators from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) posed as a fake law enforcement agency and were able to obtain $1.2 million worth of military surplus gear, demonstrating the lack of oversight on the 1033 program. A report from the ACLU observes that since the program’s birth, SWAT team are becoming frighteningly common among police departments; a phenomenon that has disproportionately impacted communities of color. In 2011 and 2012 alone, 54% of people impacted by SWAT deployments were African American or Latinx. A new study published in the National Academy of Sciences found that police militarization disproportionately affects communities of color while failing to reduce crime and harming police reputation.

I ask the Haskell community to join together and demand Senator Pat Roberts, Senator Jerry Moran, and Representative Lynn Jenkins co-sponsor the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act (H.R. 1556; S. 1856). The bill would end the transferring of unnecessary weapons of war to law enforcement agencies. My name is Marcus Ruff and I am a community activist working for the Friends Committee On National Legislation to organize the Lawrence community to lobby congress to end the militarization of law enforcement. I will be scheduling lobby visits, hosting regular lobby trainings, town halls, and a movie screening to the public. Anyone from the Haskell community wanting to join my efforts or wants to learn more you can contact me at marcus.ruff@haskell.edu.

Sources:

The Intercept Article:  https://action.aclu.org/petition/Standing-Rock

NPR Article: https://www.npr.org/2014/09/02/342494225/mraps-and-bayonets-what-we-know-about-the-pentagons-1033-program

CNN Article: https://www.cnn.com/2017/07/19/politics/defense-program-military-equipment/index.html

ACLU Report: https://www.aclu.org/report/warcomes-home-excessive-militarization-american-police

National Academy of Sciences: https://phys.org/news/2018-08-militarization-police-safety-reputation.html

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