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?

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