With the cost of tuition skyrocketing, you may be wondering why universities are getting mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles – or MRAPs – which are designed for the battlefield and cost $700,000.
The answer is simple: They don't pay for them. We do.
Through a federal program, Ohio State University received a 19-ton armored truck called a "MaxxPro" last year. It's built to withstand ballistic arms fire and mine fields. And, unfortunately, it isn't the only campus Uncle Sam is helping to militarize. The University of Central Florida got a modified grenade launcher. And the University of Michigan's campus police are attempting to use federal funds to buy military-grade body armor.
Like other police departments, campus security can purchase military equipment through grants from the Department of Homeland Security or Department of Justice, or they simply get the equipment for free straight from the Department of Defense. These federal agencies provide the wartime weaponry and equipment with no training and little oversight, while federal taxpayers pick up the tab worth billions of dollars.
Not surprisingly, the results of this excessive militarization are both tragic and absurd: militarized police aiming rifles at peaceful protestors on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri; a paramilitary SWAT team raiding a house in the middle of the night just to search for drugs; campus police armed with M-14 rifles and full riot gear. Incidents such as these demonstrate that arming police like soldiers makes us less safe by encouraging a policing culture in which law enforcement treats people like the enemy – rather than like those they are supposed to serve and protect.
A militarized campus police at your local college, however, is not inevitable. Under public pressure, some police departments have begun to review the practice of seeking out these federal grants, and some have even opted to return equipment.
But we need to remember that most of the battles militarized police are waging aren't in the dorms or fraternity row. They're happening in communities of color.
The ACLU has already documented the vast disparities by race in the use of militarized police more generally, as police departments across the country have used SWAT teams and no-knock raids to invade homes, often in the middle of the night, just to search for small amounts of drugs. We need reform that goes beyond campus police — we need to reform these programs so that the police aren’t using assault rifles and grenade launchers in our streets and schools.
Students across the country should contact their administrations and tell them they don't need a militarized police force. Getting MRAPs off our campuses would be a great start. But building a movement that gets them off our streets entirely would be better still.