Peaceful protesters dispersed with tear gas and rubber bullets. Reporters jailed without having committed a crime. Mine resistant armored personnel carriers rolling through the streets as snipers take aim at civilians.
It wasn’t so scary when scenes like this were confined to Kiev or Baghdad… But St. Louis?
Suddenly, everyone’s alarmed by the overwhelming use of force — by the weapons, equipment, and tactics, used to suppress a small, impoverished sect of the American population as if it were trying to oust some dictator in Cairo.
In fact, I hate to say I called it, but…
“…it’s easy to forget that the United States has seen its share of political clashes. But tear gas, water cannons, sniper fire… we’ve seen it all. And each fiery clash was sparked by the same flint rocks: economic inequality, racial/class tension, police brutality, political oppression, and, most of all, frustration. Aren’t all of those very much present in today’s society?”
I even talked specifically about the racial tensions that prevail in this country to this day…
“Racial and class divides? You better believe it… As we saw with the Trayvon Martin case, and again with Michael Dunn, race relations in this country could stand to be improved.”
Well, when another name, Michael Brown, was added to that list, it became too much for the the country to bear.
Another unarmed black teenager shot to death with “conflicting reports” about what actually happened. Police say there was a struggle over the officer’s weapon. Witnesses say otherwise. Either way, the victim was shot multiple times and killed.
After a week of protests — some peaceful, some destructive — tensions boiled over yesterday, when Ferguson turned into a war zone.
Only then did the country truly take notice. And the prevailing emotion seemed to be shock. The president even took time from his vacation at Martha’s Vineyard to comment.
“I know that emotions are raw right now in Ferguson, and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened,” he said. “But let’s remember that we’re all part of one American family. We are united in common values, and that includes belief in equality under the law; a basic respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protest.”
I found that to be an ironic statement, considering the policies of the Obama administration are largely responsible for the militarization of local law enforcement.
To Protect and Serve the Police State
Since Obama took office, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns, nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines, thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment, and hundreds of silencers, armored cars, and aircraft.
Virtually all of it has come from the Department of Homeland Security. Under the auspices of counter-terrorism, the Pentagon says it’s given about $40 billion to police departments to buy military-grade equipment since 9/11.
Furthermore, the Pentagon — which also has seen its budget rise to exorbitant levels with coinciding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — has been transferring its surplus property to law enforcement free of charge through something called the 1033 program.
The Pentagon transferred about $1 million worth of equipment to U.S. law enforcement when the program was first created back in 1990. In 2013, the total value of equipment transferred was nearly $450 million.
In all, the program has shipped off more than $4.3 billion worth of material to state and local cops, according to the DLA.
In a recent report, the ACLU found that military gear included automatic and semi-automatic rifles, robots that can be armed, military helmets, Mamba and MRAP vehicles, and grenade launchers.
All of this distributed to small and mid-level American cities like Little Rock, Arkansas and Columbia, South Carolina.
Obviously, it’s no fun to have a bunch of high-tech toys sitting around if you’re not going to use them. So increasingly, local law enforcement agencies have been making use of this excess firepower in routine tasks.
In Louisiana, masked, heavily armed police officers raided a nightclub as part of a liquor inspection. And in Florida, officers in SWAT gear and with guns drawn carried out raids on barbershops that mostly led to charges of “barbering without a license.”
And here’s what’s really scary…
In addition to transferring sophisticated military equipment — including drones and cellphone-tracking devices — to police forces, the Obama administration has gone to great lengths to hide and disguise the use of the armaments.
Citing security reasons, federal officials have intervened in routine state public records cases, as well as criminal trials, to cover up how the technology it’s given to cops is being used.
Under government orders, police departments are withholding materials or heavily censoring documents that would otherwise be publicly available.
For example, according to The Associated Press, there’s a surveillance technology being used to sweep basic cellphone data from entire neighborhoods. But the government doesn’t want you to know about it.
It’s called a Stingray, and tricks cellphones into identifying their owners’ account information and transmitting data to police as if it were a phone company’s tower.
That allows police to obtain cellphone information without having to ask service providers (such as Verizon or AT&T) and locate a phone without the user even making a call or sending a text message.
When asked about the technology and its use, local police agencies have stayed mum — despite the fact that state law requires them to disclose that information.
Agencies in San Diego, Chicago, and Oakland County, Michigan, for instance, declined to tell the AP what devices they purchased, how much they cost, and with whom they shared information. San Diego police released a heavily censored purchasing document. Oakland officials said police-secrecy exemptions and attorney-client privilege were prohibitive.
In Sarasota, Florida, the U.S. Marshals Service confiscated local records on the use of the surveillance equipment after the ACLU asked to see them.
“It’s troubling to think the FBI can just trump the state’s open records law,” Ginger McCall, director of the open government project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center told The AP.
If you’re wondering if any of this is constitutional, it’s not. Nor is it ethical or American.
Playing the Odds
Clearly, something about America has fundamentally changed over the past 15-20 years — and not for the better.
The DHS and Pentagon have been funneling huge amounts of money and equipment to law enforcement agencies that are all too eager to use them.
These resources are supposed to protect us from terrorism, but they’re really being used to protect the government from us.
Here’s a fun fact: Your chance of being killed by a terrorist anywhere in the world is roughly 1 in 20 million.
To put that in perspective, here are your odds of dying:
- In a car accident: 1 in 19,000.
- In a bathtub: 1 in 800,000.
- In a shark attack: 1 in 3.7 million.
Yes, you are five-times more likely to get eaten by a shark than killed by a terrorist. And, in fact, you are eight-times more likely to be killed by a cop.
More than 13,000 people are killed by terrorists acts each year, and fewer than 20 of those deaths are American civilians.
Yet, since 9/11 more than 5,000 innocent American civilians have been killed by the police. That’s more than the number of U.S. soldiers killed since the inception of the Iraq war: 4,489.
Is that the America you want to live in?
By Jason Simpkins, The Outsider Club; | Cover image: Militarized Police in Ferguson;
About author: Jason Simpkins is a seven-year veteran of the financial publishing industry, where he’s served as a reporter, analyst, investment strategist and prognosticator. He’s written more than 1,000 articles pertaining to personal finance and macroeconomics. Simpkins also served as the chief investment analyst for a trading service that focused exclusively on high-flying energy stocks.