War at home

The recent protests in Ferguson, Mo., have spawned a nationwide discussion about police brutality and police militarization. The conversation spread to Mount Pleasant last week when students organized outside of Park Library to peacefully protest police brutality.

Although our community may be physically far removed from the action in Ferguson, our voices are vital in a debate that will have far-reaching implications for the future of law and order.

Militarizing police for the sole purpose of being prepared for a threat is a major tenet of law enforcement. Yet arming police with military grade weapons for threats they might never face only encourages a more aggressive police force. A military-minded police force, in turn, only leads to the breakdown of our hallowed civil liberties.

Police departments in the United States have acquired 435 armored vehicles, 533 planes, 93,763 machine guns and 432 mine-resistant armored trucks since 2006, according to a recent analysis by the New York Times.

Since 1990, the budget for military grade equipment in police departments has increased by over $400 million, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union. Meanwhile, overall crime in the U.S. has dropped steadily during that same period of time, as revealed by the most recent FBI statistics.

Law enforcement must be adequately equipped to deal with a range of threats. However, an overly equipped police force that overreacts to small-scale situations can also have dire consequences.

The events that unfolded during the slaying of Michael Brown on Aug. 9 are still in question, and the truth might not be revealed for some time. But the protests in Ferguson are not just about one incident. Rather, they are a culmination of growing concerns regarding the interaction between citizens and those who are chosen to serve and protect them.

When citizens see a patrolling officer, their first instinct should be a feeling of safety, not danger. What would it do to the mentality of a community if its police were clad in military-issued armor suits and wielding military-grade weapons? How would that image bode for a country prided on freedom?

Police departments from Ferguson to Clare, Mich., have recently began using body cameras mounted on officers’ chests to record everything that happens during a shift. The Morning Sun reported that Clare police officers have recently adopted the new equipment and have already used it to resolve civilian complaints.

Resources and money should be used for equipment, such as body cameras, that betters both law enforcement officials and the citizens they protect.

Only extreme cases should prompt a militarized police force, and officers must be trained properly to handle such scenarios and be held accountable for the actions they take.

Our safety and civil liberties depend on it.  


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