The images out of Ferguson, Missouri are terrifying: police officers looking more like Army infantry holding lines against protesters with assault rifles.
In response to the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, Malcolm X said that “the chickens have come home to roost,” meaning that the violence that Black Americans faced on a daily basis appeared at the highest levels of the white government.
We’re facing a similar situation today. We’ve been fighting a “war on terror” for more than a decade now, with massive military buildups all over the world, benefiting weapons manufacturers who sell their wares to the US government. Well, like any good capitalists, these companies are expanding their markets, selling weapons to police departments around the country. The global war on terror is coming home to roost in our city streets.
Including here in Utah. As Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder told the Deseret News, “I don’t deny that the look and feel [of today's police] can seem militarized. It’s a style that we have embraced.”
As if turning cops into occupying armies is a fashion statement.
But of course, this new fashion is justified by the increasing violence of the “bad guys”. As the Salt Lake Tribune reported earlier this year,
“Your bad guy, he’s always out there training, looking for the biggest baddest thing,” Wasatch County Sheriff Todd Bonner said.
His office has received M-14 and M-16 rifles that go in his deputies’ patrol vehicles. Up the street from the sheriff in the county seat, the Heber City Police Department received four M-14 rifles.
Except that violent crime rates are down across the US, and have been for years. While the Utah police speak of hyper-armed, organized, violent criminals terrorizing our streets, this isn’t reality. So why do Utah cops need over 1200 assault rifles, an MRAP, a BearCat, and 4 grenade launchers?
You might say, “What about people like Christopher Dorner, who shot and killed three police officers and injured three more?” The reply: Dorner was a cop and ex-military. He already had access to the “biggest, baddest weapons” because that was his job.
You also might say, “Riot gear cops during riots makes sense. We won’t see them here in Utah unless there’s a riot.” Wrong. We’re already seeing SWAT teams use military tactics to break into people’s homes, kill their pets, and violently arrest sleeping people.
What we’re seeing is a defacto subsidy for weapons manufacturers, transferring our tax dollars to them in order for them to sell our cops weapons that aren’t needed. And along with the unneeded weapons is an unneeded ideology that policing is a matter of overwhelming force, fighting “bad guys,” military-style operations, and shoot-em-up tactics, rather than “Protecting and Serving.”
The Wasatch Socialist Party joins with people across the political spectrum who have rightly pointed to what’s happening in Ferguson as evidence for the need to demilitarize the police. Stop paying weaponsmakers for guns. Start building infrastructure, offering real healthcare solutions, increase funding for education.