MOSCOW, August 18 (RIA Novosti) – The increased militarization of local US police forces is an alarming trend in America that contributed to rising tensions in Ferguson, Missouri, according to Cheryl Chumley, author and news writer for The Washington Times.
“Police are supposed to be tasked with serving and protecting the American public – not treating the streets of America as if they're military war zones,” Chumley told RIA Novosti on Monday. Chumley, author of Police State USA: How Orwell's Nightmare is Becoming Our Reality, noted that “the trend in America is alarming.” Chumley said, “Police in Ferguson came out with a level 10 response, when a level four, maybe five would have sufficed. By that I mean police rolled out the full-body armor, militarized gear and armored vehicles – equipped with what appeared to be a 50 cal[iber gun] mounted on top –prematurely, and in so doing, ratcheted tensions and quite possibly turmoil in the streets of Ferguson.”
Protests have continued in Ferguson for a week following the shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager by police on August 9. When protests erupted, Ferguson police responded by deploying heavily into the neighborhoods where they were centered. A state of emergency was declared on Saturday by Governor Jay Nixon and included a curfew imposed on the city from midnight until 5 am. When protesters refused to disperse and obey the curfew over the weekend, police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and other crowd control measures. On Monday morning, Governor Nixon announced the deployment of the National Guard to Ferguson.
“This aggressive response is part of a greater question being raised in communities across the United States,” said Chumley, “should the civilian police be equipped with military-grade equipment in the first place?” Chumley has documented the Pentagon’s 1033 program, to put surplus equipment from the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into the hands of police officers nationwide. Since the beginning of the program in 1997, approximately $4.3 billion in hardware has been transferred to law enforcement. According to Chumley, the equipment includes armored vehicles, night vision goggles, assault rifles, Kevlar and body armor, and even silencers.
“Way too often, police are using this high-grade equipment and technology, that comes straight off the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, to conduct the most routine of missions, like serving warrants,” noted Chumley. “Innocent Americans are being injured and even killed due to this militarized police atmosphere, and it's high time we as a nation put a stop to these abuses of power.”