Originally published on August 23, 2014, at NationofChange.org
With the aggressive militarization of America’s police forces, innocent bystanders and family members often enter the crosshairs. For decades, federal programs have devised incentives for state and local police to utilize unnecessarily hostile weapons and battlefield tactics against civilians. Operating with a glaring lack of transparency and almost no public oversight, militarized police forces rarely find themselves accountable for their actions.
In a recent ACLU report titled War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing, the Senior Counsel with the ACLU’s Center for Justice, Kara Dansky wrote, “The ACLU found through the course of this investigation that the excessive militarism in policing, particularly through the use of paramilitary policing teams, escalates the risk of violence, threatens individual liberties, and unfairly impacts people of color.”
After filing public records requests with more than 255 law enforcement agencies, 114 of the agencies denied the ACLU’s request. While investigating excessive weapon stockpiles and police militarization, the ACLU found a disturbing trend in Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams being used beyond their original mandate. Previously, SWAT teams had only been deployed to handle hostage, sniper, or terrorist threats. Now, SWAT teams conduct drug busts, disperse protesters, and execute “no knock” search warrants in residential neighborhoods.