The means of defense against foreign danger have become the instruments of tyranny at home. ~James Madison
Imagine one day, you’re running a little late for work. You run out the front door of your home, briefcase in hand, in the pre-dawn hours and take note that the street is still dark. You’ve always been a conscientious driver, but upon seeing no other vehicles at a four-way stop on the edge of your neighborhood, you take a chance on a rolling stop. Moments later, you hear a booming voice – loud enough to wake all of your neighbors – demanding you pull over. You look in your rearview mirror and see a military armored vehicle following closely behind you.
Sound far-fetched? Unfortunately, through the federal “1033” Program, which allows local police departments to procure surplus military weapons, vehicles, and supplies, the scenario above is becoming reality in sleepy bedroom communities across the country. The equipment is largely offered at no cost to local and state police agencies, but they’re expected to absorb the high maintenance costs.
Items available for use on American streets through the program include automatic assault rifles, body armor, mine resistant armored vehicles (MRAPS), tanks, military helicopters, drones, and the list goes on.
It is now routine to witness these vehicles being used at events, such as football games, proms, graduations, parades, fireworks displays, and impromptu police “check points.” Many citizens watched in horror when they witnessed the use of these weapons of war being used in Fergusson, MO, in 2014. Their use needlessly escalated the tension, with reporters and those that were peacefully protesting being treated like enemies in a war zone.
The “War on Terror” is fueling this militarization of police, with an alarming number of agencies taking advantage of the 1033 Program. But that’s not the worst of it. The 1033 Program specifies that any participating law enforcement agency must use the equipment within one year of receiving it. If they don’t use it, they have to give it back.
This “Use it or Lose it” provision has led to an escalation in SWAT-style raids – which all too often end in tragedy – and military vehicles being used in truly absurd situations.
In one incident in the spring of 2015 in Florida, Lucas Jewell was driving down the street when he saw an armored military vehicle driving toward him. The vehicle was acquired under the 1033 Program for use by a local SWAT team. Jewell, frustrated with the police state, made an obscene gesture at the vehicle as it passed by, and he was summarily pulled over by the SWAT team in the military vehicle.
In 2013, when the Concord, NH police lobbied the city to acquire a “BearCat,” Police Chief John Duval admitted his intent was to TARGET citizens, not to assist them in case of emergency, as is often claimed. Chief Duval was forced to apologize for his words, which blatantly accused certain citizens with no record of threatening or criminal behavior of being terrorists.
The Posse Comitatus Act was passed to prevent the use of the military in domestic law enforcement. But what good is this protection if we turn our local law enforcement into a military force? The role of the military is quite different from domestic law enforcement. Local police are charged with serving their communities, while the primary focus of the military is combat. The police should not be fighting the citizens they are sworn to protect.
State legislatures and local municipalities can enact laws to ban their state and local police from acquiring military surplus equipment under the 1033 Program, and Campaign for Liberty groups across the country are working toward that goal.
Check out your state Campaign for Liberty page here to see if they are currently working on this issue. (Be sure to check back often for new battles.)
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