This August, Americans watched in horror as the police descended on peaceful protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, as though they were going into battle. In May, a toddler named Bou Bou Phonesavanh had his chest ripped open and his face torn off by a flashbang grenade that police officers in Georgia threw into his crib during a paramilitary raid. Though these incidents shocked many Americans, police militarization isn't new. The American siege on communities of color has been going on for a very long time.

In a report released earlier this year, the ACLU showed that the militarization of American policing has been fueled in part by federal programs that funnel military equipment and money to local police departments. One such program, known as the "1033 program," allows the Pentagon to send local police departments, free of charge, military weapons such as M-16s and armored personnel carriers like MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles). The Pentagon has sent over $5.1 billion dollars' worth of military equipment to American police departments since this program was created in the 1990s.

Finally, it looks like the federal government might do something about this problem. Yesterday, the Obama administration released a report summarizing its review of the federal programs that fuel police militarization. The report contains several recommendations that might limit the ability of local police to treat American communities like warzones, such as requiring local review of police requests for Pentagon equipment, ensuring better training, and mandating after-action reports for incidents involving local police use of military equipment.

The most important recommendation would limit the kinds of military-grade weaponry that the Pentagon can give away free to police departments nationwide. The report, however, doesn't specify what military equipment should be prohibited. MRAPs and flashbang grenades, at a minimum, would be a good start.

These would all be positive developments, but the administration must also make sure that it takes a deep and hard look at the dangers associated with militarized policing.

The report notes that 96 percent of the equipment the Pentagon gives away to local police is "non-controlled" (like commercial vehicles, office furniture, blankets, and forklifts), and only four percent of 1033 equipment is "controlled" (like assault rifles, armored personnel carriers, and aircraft). These statistics are misleading for two reasons. First, four percent of 1033 equipment turns out to be a pretty big number: There are 460,000 pieces of controlled military equipment currently in the possession of police departments across the country.

Second, to arrive at that calculation, the Obama administration counted each piece of equipment transferred under the program as a single item and gave each item equal weight, instead of taking into account how lethal (or costly) the different kinds of equipment are. For example, it gave one blanket the same weight it gave one MRAP. But these items are not equal—an MRAP is not a blanket.

We should also be realistic about the ability of training to solve the problem of militarized policing. The report correctly notes that many police departments that receive military equipment from the Pentagon are not properly trained to use it. This fact was made glaringly apparent in Ferguson, such as when police snipers trained their rifles on peaceful protesters, and it must be addressed.

But we have to ask ourselves whether training is really the root of the problem here. Police departments across the country continue to aggressively and dangerously police communities of color, sometimes without carrying military equipment. Proper training in the use of military gear won't help as long as the warrior mindset pervades policing and as long as black and brown bodies are seen as "threatening."

Finally, as the report emphasizes, oversight is important—but oversight of what?

Today, most federal oversight of these programs comes in the form of inventory monitoring. History shows that monitoring of 1033 equipment should be improved—a Pentagon spokesperson testified last month that 421 military weapons have gone missing from the program, including M16s and M14s, and that that he "wouldn't be surprised" if local police were selling military Humvees for their own profit. But we need oversight of the use of this equipment as well. If local police are going to receive military weapons at all, the federal government has an obligation to put some reasonable constraints on how they are able to use them.

President Obama has given his administration 120 days to develop an executive order containing concrete reforms. In the meantime, the administration should do what tens of thousands of Americans have already demanded, and place a moratorium on the 1033 program. We cannot risk any more incursions like Ferguson or the maiming of Bou Bou Phonesavanh.

Militarized policing is dangerous, and American communities deserve better.

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RRR

Has it ever occurred to the ACLU that you might be totally wrong on this topic? If I were in a situation where I was armed and was confronting another person who was armed, or might be armed, I know that I would be LESS LIKELY to shoot that other person if I was wearing a protective vest, or a bullet proof helmet, or any of this gear. I would feel that gear gave me more time to react as it gave me a better chance of survival. I would think the ACLU should applaud any situation where the police, by feeling better protected, can be more cautionary in their reactions to a potential violent situation.
And, by the way, NO AMERICAN I know was "aghast" by the police "assault" on "peaceful" demonstrators. We were aghast by the looting, shooting, and bombing that took place by those "peaceful" demonstrator whom I have yet to see the ACLU SAY A SINGLE NEGATIVE THING ABOUT!!!!!

Pat Easterling

It's bad enough with out saying " Bou Bou Phonesavanh had his chest ripped open and his face torn off by a flashbang grenade." It's bad enough, you don't need to bullshit. I've seen the pictures, his chest isn't ripped open and his face is intact. Yes he is injured. Why the ACLU wants to imitate Fox News or Rush in their accuracy is beyond me. Wise up.

Patrick Easterling, Hilo Hawaii

Anonymous

Bou Bou Phonesavanh had his chest ripped open and his face torn off by a flashbang grenade. Bullshit. Injured, yes, terrible yes, but this is bullshit and why ACLU writes such crap is beyond me

Anonymous

It's important to keep in mind the Pentagon's real motivation for giving this stuff away: to create the need for newer stuff so their buddies in military supply industries can make money (and often reward them with lucrative jobs upon their exit from the military). War doesn't include profiteering, war IS profiteering -- and militarization of police forces around the country is just one symptom of the whole disease.

Anonymous

It looks like the "disinformation junkies" beat me to the punch. This is a no brainer and everybody knows it. Just watched JFK again by Oliver Stone.........I recommend you watch it again, and then look back and see what the "military industrial complex" has been up to for the last 50 years. Sadly, it fits like a glove. Einsenhower warned us.......................

Anonymous

I think that people who talk about OTHER people's injuries, while having no medical knowledge of what it would have felt like to be flashbanged, need to just shut up. And I expect they actually will be quiet when the sun falls out of the sky and the world is eternally destroyed.
If you don't know what severe burn injuries feel like from experience or even hearing what it feels like, what business do you have talking about it?
I've treated people with burn injuries (and that's what type of injury a flashbang is, it's a burn by high-impact trauma) and I personally know a person who was burned alive over 60 percent of his body. He was in Tower 1 of the World Trade Center and was set aflame by a piece of a fireball (which ACLU also doesn't care about when concerning themselves with the prisoners who were tortured at Guantanamo but oh well.) The point here is that he told me what it felt like to feel flames on his body burning his flesh, which I'd already heard about through firefighter/paramedic training, seen in my work as a paramedic and now was hearing first-hand from a person I actually know outside of my working life.
There's no way to recreate, by using mere words, what he said but I know it's painful, and anything someone describes as "pain that forced everything else out of my mind even the memory of stop, drop and roll to smother the flames" is pain being experienced beyond my ability to understand it. Unfortunately, some things really DO have to be experienced to be believed, and I wouldn't wish that on anybody but the main person who orchestrated it.
And Fox News tells straight lies with no chaser. You'd never be able to look up photos on the Internet of what the baby looked like and find pictures of a critically injured pediatric patient if Fox News had been the one to say it. They would have said he got what he deserved for being born not white enough. They don't tell news; they give 24/7 Op-eds.
We don't take intubation of children under 7 lightly; one of a paramedic's worst nightmares is intubating a child, especially if the parent is standing over the child but even when they're not, which is hardly ever on account of protocol. The parent or guardian almost always has to know or we can't begin the treatment.

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