Ferguson Protests: Why Do The Police Look Like The Military?

  • ferguson
    Police officers watch as demonstrators protest the death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri August 12, 2014. Police said Brown, 18, was shot in a struggle with a gun in a police car but have not said why Brown was in the car. At least one shot was fired during the struggle and then the officer fired more shots before leaving the car, police said. But a witness to the shooting interviewed on local media has said that Brown had been putting his hands up to surrender when he was killed. The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into the racially charged case and St. Louis County also is investigating. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
  • Ferguson police
    Police officers keep watch while demonstrators (not pictured) protest the death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. Reuters
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There have been zero murders this year in Ferguson, Missouri, according to crime statistics from the Missouri Department of Public Safety. There have also been no manslaughters or rapes reported in the St. Louis suburb. So why do the police responding to the protests of the Mike Brown shooting look like they are in a war zone like Baghdad?

The pictures of police in riot gear facing down protesters peacefully venting their anger over Brown's killing have gained traction in recent days on social media, including a striking shot of a black man with his hands up surrounded by police wearing camouflage and bulletproof vests. A few of  the officers have guns trained on the protesters in the photos.

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said authorities need to use rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse protesters because “gunfire” and “fire bombs” are being used against law enforcement, according to Talking Points Memo.

"We have to respond to deadly force," he said. "We certainly don't want to have any violence on our part."

But Jackson also said authorities are “meeting to evaluate tactics” used to disperse protesters and keep the peace in Ferguson.

"It's a powder keg, and we all recognize that. What's happening now is not what anyone of us want. ... We need to get everyone to calm down,” the chief said. "I understand that what it looks like is not good. The whole situation is not good."

How did the police acquire such weapons in a city where violent crime represents just 7 percent of all offenses?

Part of the reason is the War on Drugs. In 1990, Congress passed a bill authorizing the Department of Defense to transfer DOD property, “including small arms and ammunitions,” to federal and state law enforcement agencies, Newsday reported. Missouri alone has seven mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored vehicles, or MRAPs, that were given by the Pentagon, according to the New York Times. It’s unclear whether one is deployed in Ferguson, although the county has received nine “utility trucks” from the DOD.

This military equipment is provided at no cost to St. Louis County, which includes Ferguson. Since 2012, St. Louis County has received dozens of pieces of military equipment through the program created by Congress known as Section 1033. Law enforcement agencies in the county have 12 5.56mm rifles and six .45-caliber pistols from the DOD, Missouri Department of Public Safety spokesman Mike O’Connell told Newsday in an email.

The St. Louis County Police Department is no longer the lead agency overseeing the protests. Gov. Jay Nixon said Thursday the Missouri State Highway Patrol will now be heading security in the city, but whether the tactics used in dispersing protesters and controlling the crowds will change is yet to be seen as another night approaches in Ferguson.

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