Police departments across the country have unquestionably become excessively militarized. Our year-long investigation found that not only has policing become excessively militarized, but this militarization has occurred with almost no oversight. Further, of the more than 800 paramilitary raids that we studied, almost 80 percent were for ordinary law enforcement purposes like serving search warrants on people’s homes. Only 7 percent were for genuine emergencies, such as a barricade or hostage situation.
We also found — perhaps not surprisingly, given the appalling way in which the war on drugs has targeted communities of color — that people of color were more likely than whites to be impacted by paramilitary raids. More often than not, these violent raids are conducted to serve warrants in search of drugs, disproportionately affecting people of color, despite the fact that whites and people of color use drugs at roughly the same rates. And the militarization of policing is dangerous. Paramilitary weapons and equipment escalates the risk of violence and threatens public safety.
The federal government fuels this trend. The police have virtually unlimited access to the U.S. military’s arsenal through what’s called the 1033 program. They also have access to billions of dollars’ worth of funding from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, which they can use to buy military equipment from weapons manufacturers, who line their pockets with the spoils. Through these federal programs, hundreds of billions of dollars have flowed to local police departments, which have been stockpiling their arsenals with weapons designed for combat.
The situation in Ferguson is disastrous. Let it be a wake-up call to America: The police are here to protect and serve us, not to wage war in our neighborhoods.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.