The rapid militarization of American police forces is turning our communities into "war zones" with tactics of war used disproportionately against people of color, charged a new report by the ACLU on Tuesday.
The report, War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing (pdf) reveals how heavily armed Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams are being increasingly deployed for basic police work, such as serving warrants or searching for a small amount of drugs.
"Our police are trampling on our civil rights and turning communities of color into war zones," said Kara Dansky, senior counsel with the ACLU’s Center for Justice.
"Carried out by ten or more officers armed with assault rifles, flashbang grenades, and battering rams," Dansky continued, "these paramilitary raids disproportionately impacted people of color, sending the clear message that the families being raided are the enemy."
In preparing the report, the ACLU focused on more than 800 SWAT raids conducted by law enforcement agencies in 20 states. The report found that nearly 80% of the raids studied were conducted to serve search warrants, usually in drug cases. "With public support for the War on Drugs at an all-time low, police are using hyper-aggressive, wartime tools and tactics to fight a war that has lost its public mandate," notes the ACLU.
The report highlights how such militarization has been aided by federal programs, which grant local law enforcement with surplus military equipment, including armored vehicles, grenade launchers, machine guns and silencers. Recent reporting by the New York Times revealed that under President Obama local police forces have become militarized at unprecedented levels.
"It’s time for American police to remember that they are supposed to protect and serve our communities," writes the ACLU, "not wage war on the people who live in them."