Why Do Police In Suburban St. Louis Have More Powerful Weapons Than Marines In Afghanistan?

from the just-wondering... dept

We’ve been covering some of the more troubling details of police militarization across the US, and specifically what’s going on in Ferguson, Missouri over the past couple of weeks. However, we knew fairly little about the actual military equipment being used there. And we know that sometimes scary looking military equipment isn’t necessarily so scary when put to use. So it’s interesting to read a former Marine’s analysis of the military equipment being used in Ferguson, which more or less confirms that it not only looks scary but absolutely is scary. Much of the discussion is about how all those “non-lethal” “riot control” weaponry is actually quite dangerous and potentially lethal. Here are a few examples:

There are scattered reports of stun grenade use in Ferguson. Also known as flashbangs or flash grenades, this weapon of choice for American SWAT teams (and Israeli soldiers) originated in the British special forces community more than four decades ago. Ostensibly less than lethal, stun grenades have been known to kill or severely injure numerous victims, and the device was recently in the news for burning a 19-month-old baby in Georgia, resulting in a coma, during one of the thousands of domestic police raids this year. They are designed to temporarily blind and deafen, thanks to a shrapnel-free casing that is only supposed to emit light and sound upon explosion. Nonetheless, the list of casualties is long, and the number of flammable mishaps is disconcerting. In Rise of the Warrior Cop, Balko recounts a story of an FBI agent accidentally lighting himself and his vehicle on fire.

[….]

These “pepper balls” are lethal; the Boston Police Department banned them after a young woman was killed by one. It passed right through the eye and skull to the brain. She was guilty of being present in a rowdy crowd after a Red Sox v. Yankees game in which the former won. The ACLU condemned the use of such projectiles for the purposes of crowd management back in 1997, following an unfortunate incident in Eugene, Oregon. They even convinced Eugene officials to do the same. It’s about time St. Louis County and the rest of the country followed suit.

[….]

Like the stun grenade, employing wooden pellets as a form of riot control was spearheaded by the British decades ago, mainly in Hong Kong. As the ACLU makes clear, considerable litigation has proceeded in the aftermath of such tactics, including suits brought by protesters in Oakland who bore the brunt of these measures around the beginning of the Iraq War. Longshoremen on their way to work also suffered and sued accordingly. As a result, the Oakland police department caved and beating residents with wooden projectiles as a means of crowd management was rendered illegal.

There’s a lot more in the article as well. But here’s the bit that really stood out for me. After posting a picture of militarized police moving down the street looking pretty scary, the former marine, Lyle Jeremy Rubin, explains how they’re more well armed than the actual military in Afghanistan:

What we’re seeing here is a gaggle of cops wearing more elite killing gear than your average squad leader leading a foot patrol through the most hostile sands or hills of Afghanistan. They are equipped with Kevlar helmets, assault-friendly gas masks, combat gloves and knee pads (all four of them), woodland Marine Pattern utility trousers, tactical body armor vests, about 120 to 180 rounds for each shooter, semiautomatic pistols attached to their thighs, disposable handcuff restraints hanging from their vests, close-quarter-battle receivers for their M4 carbine rifles and Advanced Combat Optical Gunsights. In other words, they’re itching for a fight. A big one. It’s a well-known horror that the US military greets foreign peoples in this fashion as our politicians preach freedom, democracy and peace. It’s an abomination that the police greet black communities in the States with the same trigger-happy posture. Especially on the occasion of an unarmed teen’s death by cop.

He also discusses the general rule that people repeat in our comments all the time: “never point a weapon at anything you do not intend to shoot.” And yet, of course, in pretty much every picture of the police here, we see them pointing weapons. And sometimes worse. Here’s some video of a police officer in Ferguson not just pointing a weapon at some people livestreaming the protests, but telling the livestreamers that “I will fucking kill you.” When the streamers ask him for his name, he says “Go fuck yourself.”

And, again, remember that this is not in response to any terrorist threat, but to some protests after a fellow police officer killed an unarmed teenager. While that particular officer has since been suspended, it seems worth questioning this particular approach to policing.

Actually, isn’t it about time we rethought the entire way that this country handles policing?

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Why Do Police In Suburban St. Louis Have More Powerful Weapons Than Marines In Afghanistan?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
103 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

What could go wrong?

So you’ve got cops with more gear than your standard military person carries, less training in how to use that gear, and less training in how to keep your cool and self-control in stressful situations.

Oh yeah, that sounds like a great situation, and one that I’m sure will never lead to things going horribly wrong. /s

Eldakka (profile) says:

Re: What could go wrong?

FIFY..

So you’ve got cops with more gear than your standard military person carries, less training in how to use that gear, and less training in how to keep your cool and self-control in stressful situations and who aren’t restrained by the Geneva convention and other treaties that limit the rules of war and treatment of civilians.

Squirrels Without Borders says:

You guys have short memories. That is why you don’t realize why this level of force is necessary.

What about the time when the citizens of Ferguson, MO beheaded an American journalist?
What about the time when the citizens of Ferguson, MO crashed several planes into skyscrapers?
What about the time when the citizens of Ferguson, MO hid weapons of mass destruction?
What about the time when the citizens of Ferguson, MO tried to capture territory below the 42nd parallel?
What about the time when the citizens of Ferguson, MO bombed the pacific fleet?
What about the time when the citizens of Ferguson, MO invaded France and Poland?

Anonymous Coward says:

Annnnd they shot another black man yesterday

This one was allegedly armed with a knife and was a confronted by two cops — who were called by a shop owner. 15 seconds later he was dead on ground.

Two cops. Too weak and cowardly to take on one guy with a knife. These wimps had a police vehicle with them and could have easily stood on the other side of it — at which point a guy with a knife isn’t much of a threat. They could have put a slug into his leg to take him down, then strolled over and taken away the knife.

But no. They opened fire, blazed away, and gunned him down in the street, because that’s what they do to black people. No attempt to take them alive: just summary execution, because “I will fucking kill you” is the mantra of the police there.

Go watch the video — HuffPost has it up. And watch these whining little pussies with badges commit murder in broad daylight because they can.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Annnnd they shot another black man yesterday

In the civilised world, even shooting him in the leg would be seen as barbaric thuggery.

You deal with a crazy guy with a knife by clearing bystanders away to a safe distance, keeping your own distance and talking him down / waiting him out. Shooting is an absolute last resort, used only when there is no other way to avoid imminent harm.

That wasn’t policing, it was murder.

Chris Maresca (profile) says:

Re: Total BS

What they are not carrying is typical riot gear. Shields, helmets that cover the back of the neck, truncheons or other non-lethal ‘weapons’, fire-proof padded hard-plastic protective leg/arm/shoulder protection, etc. See this image http://img1.photographersdirect.com/img/19309/wm/pd2248364.jpg and this image http://o.aolcdn.com/photo-hub/news_gallery/7/1/712649/1303761329100.JPEG for what real riot police should look like (note the absence of guns).

It seems to me the are woefully unprepared for crowd control and are resorting to ‘force project’ and the threat of violence instead.

Basically, they look, are equipped and are acting as a military combat unit, which, of course, is making things worse.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Total BS

I seem to recall stating something very similar back at the start of this incident.

Riot police need:
1) Training
2) Fire hoses
3) shields and football uniforms
4) Training
5) Loudspeakers
6) Truncheons
7) Training

Anything else is just as likely to CAUSE a riot as prevent one. You don’t respond to protests against police violence with the threat of more violence and hope to fix the situation.

New Mexico Mark says:

Re: Re: Re: Total BS

This happens when those sworn to enforce law are lawless themselves or the justice system is corrupt at higher levels. At that point, law enforcement officers cannot project the calm confidence in this system that they need to defuse situations like this.

They merely become petty tyrants acting under the largess of greater tyrants. (TSA personnel are a good example of this system.) Hypocrisy weakens society, but it also weakens hypocritical law enforcement officers because their tough exterior is merely a facade hiding either inner moral weakness, or a fundamental disbelief in, and scorn for, the system they are supposed to be representing. It is my belief that events like these are merely a symptom of a sick society, not the root cause.

KissMyWookiee (profile) says:

Re: Total BS

Marines don’t wear knee or elbow pads – you’really thinking of USSOCOM operators like the Navy Seals or Delta Force (which is exactly what these mall-ninja cops believe they are).

Neither do they have drop-leg holsters or carry stun-grenades (flash-bangs) … those are also special forces things.

They certainly don’t fill their magazines with expanding hollow-point ammunition like police.

AC says:

A good reason not to visit the USA

This is why I will never visit the USA again. I am not scared of your citizens or your gang bangers, and I would feel safe in what you call some of the most unsafe neighbourhoods, what does scare the shit out of me is you police forces. They have no restraint and can seem to get away with anything they want to do. Whats the worst that happens to a cop? He gets put on leave with pay? or he get fired and goes to the next town over and gets a job there? If crime is down its time to start firing all these extra cops you have doing nothing but sucking up public funds and beating down the citizens.

And your population wonders why the rest of the world hates you? Say one thing and do another.

Chris Maresca (profile) says:

Re: A good reason not to visit the USA

I don’t know what country you live in, but I’ve lived in 7 different countries and it isn’t any better anywhere else. In fact, it’s significantly worse in many places, including some European countries where national police forces are actually part of military, e.g. the Gendarmerie in France and the MA in the Netherlands.

Chris Maresca (profile) says:

Re: Re: A good reason not to visit the USA

One other note – the police in both France & the Netherlands is significantly better trained to deal with both non-violent & violent protests, probably because these sorts of protests are far, far more common.

That said, they are also much, much more likely to use a lot of non-lethal violence on protestors (truncheons, whips, rubber bullets, horses, tear gas, water canons, etc) but are equally likely to just hid behind large plexi shields (Roman phalanx-style) while being pelted with stuff.

Who Cares (profile) says:

Re: Re: A good reason not to visit the USA

The police in the Netherlands is NOT part of the military.
However there is the Marechaussee which the Dutch version of the MP which has some civil tasks as well.

Unless you have visited some of the islands in the Caribbean where they are specifically ordered to work with the police their cooperation is invite only.
Another role you might have seen them in (seeing you traveled) is Border Patrol.
And in exceptional cases you might run into their version, the bijstandseenheid, of the mobiele eenheid (riot/crowd control trained police) but that generally means there is either house to house fighting needed to gain control of the situation or that the rioters have advanced from improvised projectiles to firearms (remember the Netherlands does not have a 2nd amendment and strict controls on who can use/own firearms). Even so the main difference is the training, seeing that the basic equipment is the same for both the bijstandseenheid and the mobiele eenheid with the bijstandsheenheid having access to military equipment (APCs, SMGs, etc) if the situation warrants it.

JEDIDIAH says:

Re: Re: Europeans are just kidding themselves.

Yes. I found the soldiers with rifles and machine guns quite a startling sight at European airports. It didn’t just stop there either. They also showed up at tourist traps and in commercial districts.

What’s even more startling is when the denial and the excuses start.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Europeans are just kidding themselves.

I’ve spent most of my life living in the roughest suburbs of the largest city in my country. The only time I have seen a gun fired was at my uncle’s veteran’s day picnic; he and a few of his army buddies had a few shots at a firing range with an M-16 for old times sake.

I have never seen a policeman draw their weapon or threaten to draw their weapon. Never seen a drawn taser or baton, either (despite having been to plenty of protests that had riot cops in attendance).

The US style of policing is not normal.

Nunya says:

Re: Re: Re: Europeans are just kidding themselves.

The UK regularly has police armed with carbine weapons at major airports and other sensitive locations. However, given the police are largely unarmed in the UK these members are from the highly trained firearms units and not just some local plod with military equipment. They are highly trained an I’ve never heard of them greeting the public with “I’ll kill you”. Also the UK uses unarmed (firearm-wise) offices for crowd control. If you take a firearm into a close-quarters environment you are just as likely to have it used against you as be able to use it yourself.

Really? says:

Re: Re: Cops certainly should be more humble.

It’s also quite amazing what the threat or capability of immediate and lethal retaliation will do to calm the trigger-happy law enforcement. This was mutual fear/respect in action, nothing to do with colour or anything else. Some cop gets heavy-handed in that situation he knows he can get shot as can his buddies. It’s kind of like the threat of mutually assured destruction in miniature.

Anonymous Coward says:

tbh, if i were a cop there i would be annoyed too.
People think this is about a hatecrime or whatever, but the truth is, a small number of locals started this with the sole intent of looting.
Yes a few honest people have joined them, but most of them only wants free stuff from the stores.
But then the cops are at fault too for not responding properly. They should have stopped the looters before this escalated into this whole “they hate the blacks” bullshit again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

tbh, if i were a cop there i would be annoyed too.
People think this is about a hatecrime or whatever, but the truth is, a small number of locals started this with the sole intent of looting.
Yes a few honest people have joined them, but most of them only wants free stuff from the stores.
But then the cops are at fault too for not responding properly. They should have stopped the looters before this escalated into this whole “they hate the blacks” bullshit again.
If I were an LEO, I’d be annoyed too — but also embarrassed and apologetic.

Some people think this is hatecrime, but most people (including most people in this discussion thread you’ve hijacked) think this is more about misappropriation of military equipment, lack of proper training of LEOs, and improper use of force.

As for the looting; there’s some looting, mostly by out-of-towners. Ferguson’s been going on long enough now that the anarchist riot club has had time to move in. Note: this is not against anarchists; just against a subgroup that feels that the best way to achieve their goals is to incite rioting and looting. They do very little of it themselves, but move into “flash point” situations like this and encourage those who have already shown bad judgement.

Then we’re back to your conclusion: indeed. Not only are the LEOs at fault for not heading this off earlier, the entire mess is due to police incompetence, from the first shot fired through to today. It’s as if they receive no proper weapons training or anger management training, and on top of that, I have yet to see one properly trained riot squad on the scene — instead it’s police hiding behind military equipment for which they have not received appropriate training (if they had, they’d know that they shouldn’t be using most of that stuff in the first place).

jackn says:

Re: Re: Re:

From what i’ve heard, Most of the recent arrests have been NOT be Ferguson citizens. Outside aggitators, hate groups, and the like.

I also heard that a local KKK faction was attempting to enter and was denounced by the official KKK (now that’s just weird). I heard this either on John Oliver or tyt

Roger (profile) says:

Battlestar Galactica - but still terribly relevant

“There’s a reason we separate military and the police: one fights the enemy of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.”

This can apply equally well to the police becoming militarized…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Battlestar Galactica - but still terribly relevant

Oh, and here I thought you were going to say:

“There’s a reason we separate military and the police: one fights the enemy of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the police becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to be served and protected.”

zip says:

a good thing ... really ...

I happen to think that the militarization of police is a good thing.

Now we can disband the entire United States military — and save taxpayers a trillion dollars every year — yet still maintain a strong deterrent to the worst possible scenario … the prospect of an invasion by Canada or Mexico.

And besides, with police having all the country’s military power instead of the regular armed forces, it’s (presumably) less likely that the police will be off on a worldwide crusade conquering countries and forging empires.

Many countries in the world (such as in Latin America) have indeed been set up this way for a long time — having paramilitary police but no ‘proper’ military. And to no one’s surprise, such countries tend not to invade each other and get into wars.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 a good thing ... really ...

What makes you think that comment was intended to defend the US rather than the other way around?

I am glad that the US military counterweight helped contain the USSR during the Cold War.

I am also glad that the Soviet military counterweight helped to contain the US. Not interested in becoming a subject of either empire.

Raging Alcoholic (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 a good thing ... really ...

I am seeing a shift from our government leading us to our government wanting to rule us.
I prefer to be a citizen to being a subject.

The police are not the problem. They just want to do their job as safely as possible. The problem is with politicians who tell cops it is OK to have this stuff. The police are supposed to be there to serve and protect, they should not be there to dominate and control.

Anonymous coward says:

Would you let them?

Would you let a 295 pound strong man savagely beat you while trying to arm himself with your weapon and not try to use it first? That would be an “unarmed” white man dead in the street instead had a white man done the same thing. What, you don’t think the cop would have ordered a white man to get out of the middle of a busy street?

Would you demand the Police have a strong presence, or would you ask them to not get involved if vandals and looters were running amok through your neighborhood, destroying and stealing everything you worked for? Don’t be ridiculous; heads would roll if they didn’t desperately try to stop it. (Perhaps even literally).

And why don’t they just shoot to wound? Did you know, that topic is a point of law? Every cop and gun permit holder is taught by lawyers as part of their training, by law if you shoot you have to shoot to kill; shooting to wound is legal proof you did not feel threatened.

Who Cares (profile) says:

Re: Re: Would you let them?

As an European I want to point out that the situation in Europe and the US are quite different. In Europe ghetto criminals can’t just walk into a shop and get a handgun, let alone bigger weapons, nor can they get a friend to do it for them. They can still get firearms but it isn’t that easy whereas in the US you can get a gun by walking into that store, firearms show and a dozen other places.

Then there is the fact that the British have special weapon units around to deal with the criminals they expect to have weapons. They send those and not Bobbies when they have to arrest them.

zip says:

Re: Re: Re: Would you let them?

Let’s not forget 3-D printers, and steel pipes, etc. As both knowledge and technology improve and become more accessible to everyone, it probably won’t be long before almost anyone can make a gun of some sort in minutes in their living room.

But somehow, I doubt that Europe will turn into the Wild West — with the possible exception of immigrant communities.

Who Cares (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Would you let them?

Well until they figure out how to get barrels & chambers that don’t have the defects the current layer deposition techniques generate printed guns are a bigger threat to the user then the target.

That said if you are talking about home made stuff I could probably make a decent grenade with stuff I can buy in the local DYI stores and supermarkets.
Or I could get a (cross)bow.

I could probably fill in page after page of this but I think the point is fairly clear. Once you get into self made/improvised or unconventional weaponry the biggest limitations are imagination and how much danger you want to put yourself in.

JEDIDIAH says:

Re: Would you let them?

Would you let a 295 pound strong man savagely beat you

If my profession as the imposition of order and the use of force, I would be mortally embarrassed to fear anyone regardless of their size. There are any number of martial arts that will teach you how to deal with a 300lb brute if you are a 130lb housewife.

It’s like tech patents. It’s not what seems obvious to YOU but what seems obvious to a PROFESSIONAL in the field.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Would you let them?

“Would you let a 295 pound strong man savagely beat you while trying to arm himself with your weapon and not try to use it first?”

Probably not, but what does that have to do with anything?

“Would you demand the Police have a strong presence, or would you ask them to not get involved if vandals and looters were running amok through your neighborhood”

If the police response was what the cops in Ferguson were doing, then I’d rather they sit out, please. We don’t need cops going in there and making a bad situation worse.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re: Would you let them?

We had rioting and looting in the UK a few years ago over someone getting shot by police. Somehow, it totally failed to turn into a one-sided military showdown, and we’ve at least had real ongoing domestic terrorism to deal with for the last 40 years.

In fact, even the UK Army in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles didn’t have one half as much gear and ordnance as the Ferguson Police have. Plus, they weren’t suicidal enough to deploy it in such a ham-fisted way.

Tony (profile) says:

Re: Would you let them?

“And why don’t they just shoot to wound? Did you know, that topic is a point of law? Every cop and gun permit holder is taught by lawyers as part of their training, by law if you shoot you have to shoot to kill; shooting to wound is legal proof you did not feel threatened.”

That has nothing to do with it, and you prove your ignorance of the subject by stating it.

The fact is that “shooting to wound” is a myth. It’s hard enough to shoot a small target calmly and slowly when at a shooting range. It’s practically impossible to do so in a stress situation. You are taught to shoot for “center of mass”. This (a) increases the chance of hitting the target, and (b) DECREASES the chance of a stray bullet that can hit a bystander.

You want cops aiming for shoulders and knees? Then be prepared for a lot more incidents like that woman in Florida…

AnonyBabs says:

Re: Would you let them?

Would you demand the Police have a strong presence, or would you ask them to not get involved if vandals and looters were running amok through your neighborhood, destroying and stealing everything you worked for?

It’s not an either/or situation. There is a whole gamut of options available between the two extremes. Sure, no, I wouldn’t want my store looted and burned to the ground, but I wouldn’t want the perps summarily executed either.

Whatever (profile) says:

Actually, isn’t it about time we rethought the entire way that this country handles policing?

Yes, clearly we must make it so that the criminals are much better armed than the police. In that manner, the police won’t have the balls to do anything about crime!

I am sure if the police just put away their weapons and only use “please” and “thank you” the world will suddenly become a much more polite place.

Antsan (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Hmm, combining this with pro-second-amendment argumentation I get the following idea of how this should work:

At the top there are well-armed, law-abiding citizens that control the police and overthrow the government if it should turn into a police state.
Below that is the police, armed with less modern equipment, ready to deal with criminals. They can’t be too well equipped though, because then they would be able to defend the government if it should turn into a police state.
Now, the criminals… Uhm… Well, if some weapon is used for some kind of crima, all the weapons of non-criminals get upgraded above that level! It’s easy! Why didn’t I think of that before?

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Moron. They are not dealing with criminals but with the public. And a peaceful protest at that. Even if there’s real danger you don’t need military grade equipment. Just some more sturdy body armor and slightly heavier weaponry. But this should be only used by very specialized teams on very specific situations.

All you can think is interactions of police with criminals. Take your head out of your ass for some air and you’ll see such heavy military equipment IS NOT NEEDED by regular cops.

Anonymous Coward says:

Of course US police officers are the most well equipped soldiers in the entire world. They’re the private army of the rich, protecting the rich.

But the rich don’t pay these officer’s salaries. US taxpayers pay the salaries of the military police force. Which is why it’s ironic that these officers are suppressing the very people who fund their paychecks.

It’s a hell of a deal for the rich elites who run this country. They get their own personal army, and don’t have to pay a dime in financing. Passing along the costs to the American taxpayers, and then turning that army loose on the very people who fund them.

KissMyWookiee (profile) says:

I’m confused as to what “close-quarter-battle receivers for their M4 carbine rifles” means.

An M4 receiver is like the chassis of a generic car. You can build something completely different looking on top of it, but the receiver stays the same.

There is no such thing as a CQB receiver – maybe he meant that the St.Louis mall-ninja have short-barreled-rifles ?? (aka: an “SBR”).

SBR’s are defined as a rifle equipped with a barrel under 16inches or an overall rifle length of under 26inches… under the NFA they are illegal to own without ATF approval – which costs $200 and months to process (currently around 9 months) background checks. Cops of course get special treatment with the ATF and don’t have to pay $200 (just $1) or wait 9 months.

Fully-automatic (machine guns – or true “assault rifles”) are being sent to some PD’s via the 1033 program. From what I gather these models are post-1986 models and completely illegal for the average Joe to own… If it was made before 1986 you can apply to own one – that’s if you can afford it, since they cost upwards of $15k. I don’t know how post-1986 machine-guns are being transferred, since they are not supposed to be owned by anyone except for the military, licensed gun dealers or licensed gunsmiths. Apparently some Democrat Senator also managed to get a post-1986 machine-gun transferred to him by the ATF, which is completely illegal.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...