I sent the following letter to my U.S. Representative (Herrera Buetler) and my U.S. Senators (Cantwell and Murray), asking them to end the transfer of military surplus weapons and equipment to our state and local police forces. I’m planning to write similar letters to my state representatives, and to our county sheriff and city police department to ask them to end the practice here in Washington, Clark County, and/or Vancouver.
If you are concerned by how military-style force has been used by police in Ferguson, MO and elsewhere, I would encourage you to write something similar to your congresscritters.
This Newsweek article is a good overview of one of the sources of military surplus, the Depatment of Defense’s 1033 Program.
(I made slight edits to the text below, including salutation, for each person I sent it to. You are welcome to use the non-personal portions of my text.)
I am writing to request your support of the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, soon to be introduced by Rep. Hank Johnson, which amends the NDAA to end the so-called “1033 Program” that supplies surplus military equipment to police across the country. I also encourage you to support any similar bills which end the practice of providing (either directly, or funding for) military-grade weapons and equipment to our police departments. Their mission is to “protect and serve”; they are not here to conduct a war against our fellow citizens.
While my letter is directly inspired by the images coming out of Ferguson, MO this week, I have been thinking about this issue since the recent ACLU report on the massive surge in the use of SWAT-style tactics and gear in policing over the last decade. I do not believe we need a militarized police to conduct the War on Drugs, or the War on Terror. More and more people are being injured or killed by police officers conducting their duties as if they are at war, and this needs to stop.
Until we recently moved to Vancouver, my wife and I lived in Cambridge and Watertown, MA. Last April, during the final manhunt for the Marathon Bombers, we lived through the lockdown and saw a massive militarized police presence descend on our neighborhoods. Our local Target’s parking lot became part of the command center for this operation. This show of force felt to me fundamentally un-American, visually like something from a military dictatorship. While it may have seemed necessary, in the end Dzokhar Tsarnaev was captured because an observant citizen noticed that the tarp on his boat was loose. If anything we were blessed that no innocents were accidentally injured or killed during the sweep. Even in this terrorism case, the police could have remained police, and not soldiers.
I do not believe our police departments need leftover MRAPs from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to do their jobs. They do not need to be wearing fatigues or tactical gear, or to be carrying fully automatic weaponry, which only serves to intimidate the very people they are paid to protect. In Ferguson we see such equipment being used to intimidate citizens and journalists, violating First Amendment rights to free assembly and a free press. This is a terrible abuse of state power.
It is not “soft on crime” or “soft on terror” to stop arming our police like they are soldiers; it is a necessary step to end a dangerous encroachment on our fundamental freedoms as citizens. Please help end the militarization of our police.