In Bid for Tanks, NH Police Label Protest Groups 'Terrorists'
Disclosure comes amidst growing call against militarization of police forces
In a bid to bring armored vehicles to the small, capital city of Concord, New Hampshire, the local police department is trying to exploit peaceful activist groups such as Occupy New Hampshire and the libertarian Free State Project as "terror threats."
Through a right to know request, the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union (NHCLU)—as part of an ongoing project against the militarization of local law enforcement agencies—obtained a grant filed by the Concord Police Department requesting $258,000 from the Department of Homeland Security for an armored BearCat vehicle.
"The State of New Hampshire’s experience with terrorism slants primarily towards the domestic type," the grant states, adding that—with groups such as the "Free Staters" and Occupy NH active and presenting "daily challenges"—the "threat is real and here."
"It's far from clear to us why an armored vehicle would be necessary to address what are generally, by and large, non-violent movements that in fact provide little or no threat to the security of our state," said Devon Chaffee, executive director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.
Calling the police grant "absolutely false and absurd," Occupy NH points out that the group—better known for litter pick-ups and "too-polite political bird dogging"—has not been functioning since July of 2012 and has not had a "notable Occupy gathering since April of 2013."
"Occupy New Hampshire has a statement of non-violence," they continue, adding that the libertarian Free State project has a "non-aggression principle."
According to Concord police chief John Duval, last fall the city council "unanimously" approved the grant application.
Described by Duval as an "armor-plated box on wheels," the Lenco BearCat G3 has been requested for use in responding to acts of terrorism involving "chemical, biological, and radiological materials as well as explosive gases" and smaller-scale crises such as "suicidal and hostage situations."
Concord hopes to join other New Hampshire towns Keene and Manchester, who already own BearCat tanks.
The controversy comes amidst a growing call against the militarization of police forces where—with federal funding—neighborhood officers are being "armed with the weapons and tactics of war."
"Equipping state and local law enforcement with military weapons and vehicles, military tactical training, and actual military assistance to conduct traditional law enforcement erodes civil liberties and encourages increasingly aggressive policing, particularly in poor neighborhoods and communities of color," said Kara Dansky, senior counsel for the ACLU's Center for Justice.
Ahead of an August 12 public hearing about the proposed purchase of the BearCat, Occupy NH will be holding a meeting on Friday to discuss the arming of their "sleepy little state" and consider pursuant actions against the agents "who are so threatened by the peaceful citizens" of New Hampshire.