WASHINGTON, August 19 (RIA Novosti) - The impact of the economic crisis on city and state budgets in the US made many law enforcement agencies dependent on the Department of Defense, creating militarized and less community-focused police forces, says Hilary Shelton, director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
“A lot of these issues have been driven by available resources,” Shelton said in an interview with RIA Novosti. “As local communities were finding themselves in major economic challenges and problems, resources were coming in from places like the military, rather than coming in from other sources that would maintain civilian approaches to law enforcement.”
The focus on the militarization of US police forces has been brought to greater public focus after the Ferguson, Missouri handling of local citizens protesting the killing of an unarmed African-American youth by a police officer. The Police, carrying heavy weapons, driving armored vehicles, and equipped with full body armor, were deployed to control street protestors in the city over the past week.
On Monday morning, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon called in the National Guard to control the largely peaceful demonstrations. Earlier in the day, Nixon also said he had lifted nighttime curfew, hours after deploying the Guards across the embattled city.
“We’re going to have to change the entire paradigm around community police,” said Shelton, asserting that old military hardware does not meet the community needs, but creates the appearance of an "occupying force."
“[L]ocal communities went through one of the biggest economic downturns or recessions we’ve seen in recent history,” noted Shelton.
“The tax base was eroding and the resources being used by local communities to pay for police, among other things, were drying up. Now you have resources coming in from the Federal government, through the Department of Defense.”
This resulted in forces that were not focused on the strategy of "maintaining peace and calm in local communities."
In 2013 alone, the Pentagon transferred approximately $429 million worth of military equipment to local and state law enforcement. “What you had was police officers being trained by military officers, being armed like military officers,” commented Shelton.
Shelton is currently in Geneva, Switzerland where he answered questions on US racial discrimination, posed by an international review board, the Committee on the Eradication of Racial Discrimination.