It is the general consensus that the military and the police force are two separate entities, one fights wars and one busted your cousin for having weed on school property. However, the line between the two is slowly blurring through the militarization of the police. This increasing lack of distinction does not protect the American people but instead puts them in more danger.
What is Militarization?
As defined in Militarization and Policing — It’s Relevance to the 21st Century militarism “is a set of beliefs, values, and assumptions that stress the use of force and threat of violence as the most appropriate and efficacious means to solve problems.” Violence or the threat of violence is almost always the answer according to militarism, and to go a step further the best tools for this violence is military grade technology, techniques, and weapons. This frame of mind is spreading past war zones and seeping into our local police forces where it is unnecessary and dangerous.
How Does it Affect our Police Forces?
The police are the first line of defense in the United States, yet the police are prepared for an active war zone. The increasingly vague boundary between the military and the police is becoming more and more apparent. Nowadays police forces are allowed to buy military grade weapons from private sellers, train with Army Rangers and Navy SEALs, and rely on SWAT teams for things that are routine as following through on warrants. While warrants can become dangerous, a SWAT team should not be the first response, but a last resort.
It can be difficult to visualize how dangerous this increasingly prevalent frame of mind is, but the best visual representation of militarization of the police force is police at protests. If you search up an image of the police at any recent protest, most notably, Black Lives Matter protests, or the Charlottesville tragedy last year, you can see policemen and women in riot gear. Masks and helmets, armored vehicles, protective shields, even assault rifles are how American people are greeted by our local sheriff’s office.
How is it Affecting Our Communities?
Some could argue that there is nothing wrong with the police having a little more firepower in their arsenal and that it actually makes us safer. More and more evidence , such as the increase of police brutality, suggests that that is simply not true, militarization leads to more civilian casualties. A frame of mind that promotes violence, leads to violence. Not only is it promoting violence, the violence primarily manifests towards communities of color. The police force has historically had a racial prejudice, and now with military grade weapons at their fingertips this prejudice has materialized into deaths of innocent people. From Philando Castile and Alan Sterling, to Tamir Rice and people of color, they are not safe in their communities, and are not safe around the people who are supposed to protect them.
What Can We Do?
Dismantling a frame of mind is not something that can be easily corrected with legislation but all hope is not lost. The most important first step is to hold our institutions accountable, from convicting police officers who wrongfully shoot innocent people, regulating the weapons that our police forces can use, to creating a culture of avoiding violence within police precincts. We also need to start holding our policemen and women to higher standards by increasing vetting and background checks and instituting more comprehensive training that includes addressing internalized prejudices and nonviolent de-escalation tactics. The police force itself needs to focus more on community building, valuing connections over violence. Community based policing allows the force to address problems within their town or city that they may not have been previously aware of. Violence is rarely the answer and this needs to be recognized. These steps will not fix the system but they are the first move in a long journey to create a police force truly for the people.
Image Attribue: Pixabay