Under the Obama administration, surplus weapons from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—from grenade launchers to machine guns to silencers—have militarized police departments across the United States at unprecedented levels, the New York Times revealed in an investigation published Sunday.
Pentagon data shows a massive transfer of military weapons to local law enforcement on Obama's watch, including "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," writes journalist Matt Apuzzo.
Since 2006, police departments across the United States have received 432 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) armored vehicles, 435 other armored vehicles, and 533 planes and helicopters, the report reveals.
The trend is attracting increasing attention from journalists. Mark Alesia writes for the Indianapolis Star, "[T]o some, the introduction of equipment designed for war in Fallujah, Iraq, to the streets of U.S. towns and cities raises questions about the militarization of civilian police departments." He adds, "Does it blur the line between civilian police and the military?"
The weapons have been handed over through the little-known military transfer program, which was established by Congress in the early 90s and allows the Department of Defense to give "surplus" weapons to local police and sheriffs. In addition to the free giveaway program, several police departments have applied for federal grant money to purchase military fighting vehicles and other equipment, Apuzzo notes.
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These weapons are sent to police departments that are already heavily weaponized, thanks in part to the surge in SWAT teams since the 1980s.
People across the United States are pushing back against the militarization of local police. From Oakland, California to Boston, Massachusetts, opposition is growing against the increased militarization of policing across the United States.
“It just seems like ramping up a police department for a problem we don’t have,” said Shay Korittnig, speaking at a public meeting against Neenah, Wisconsin's acquisition of an armored, according to the Times. “This is not what I was looking for when I moved here, that my children would view their local police officer as an M-16-toting, SWAT-apparel-wearing officer.”
"People who are under assault by police and other U.S. law enforcement agents want resources invested that will actually strengthen our communities, from affordable housing to better health care and schools, and support for other vital community institutions," wrote Laila Murad, Boston organizer with the Free Tarek Mehanna campaign, in a Waging Nonviolence article about community efforts to oppose militarized policing.