War On Drugs, The Rise Of Police Militarization

In my many recent blog posts on the police initiated war zone in Ferguson, Missouri, I’ve mentioned the increasing militarization of police forces around the country, especially in the aftermath of 9/11. I have also talked about MRAPs (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles on multiple occasions. What I did not do in any of these articles was trace back to where this all started. And it should come as no shock that America’s war on drugs plays a crucial role in police department militarization.

How Did America’s Police Get So Militarized?

Beginning in 1990, Congress authorized the Pentagon to transfer its surplus property free of charge to federal, state, and local police departments to wage the war on drugs. In 1997, Congress expanded the purpose of the program to include counterterrorism in section 1033 of the defense authorization bill. In one single page of a 450-page law, Congress helped sow the seeds of today’s warrior cops.

The amount of military hardware transferred through the program has grown astronomically over the years. In 1990, the Pentagon gave $1 million worth of equipment to US law enforcement. That number had jumped to nearly $450 million in 2013. Overall, the program has shipped off more than $4.3 billion worth of materiel to state and local cops.

When I learned about this, the only thought that entered my mind was “that motherfucking war on drugs, yet again.” But really, I should be screaming obscenities at America’s “tough on crime” mentality which preceded the  war on drugs. Somewhere along the way we got it into our minds that if we are brutal and relentless in our policing and our punishment for crimes, that people will get the message and no longer commit these crimes. But just like the fallacy of war, you don’t solve problems with force, you solve problems by understanding the cause. When we talk about crime and drugs, the major underlying cause is poverty. If people do not see an avenue forward, they will resort to means learned on the street. For those of us who grew up in cushy suburbs, we might have a difficult time wrapping our heads around this, but quite honestly, I believe it is our duty as citizens to do so.

The war on drugs is a colossal failure because it does not address the real problem. Drug crime is a symptom of a larger problem in society, a problem of equal opportunity, a problem of systemic discrimination, a problem of growing inequality, all of which allow a life of crime to appear more fruitful than a non-evident, or nonexistent alternative. If we continue to ignore real problems in favor of a failed “tough on crime” mentality, we will be witness to more of the same.


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