The real reason Ferguson has military weapons

Editor’s Note: Kara Dansky is the senior counsel for the ACLU’s Center for Justice and author of “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

Story highlights

Kara Dansky: The militarization of policing has become commonplace across America

Dansky: That police departments receive surplus military weapons is not whole story

She says the federal government has been trying to fight the failed War on Drugs

Dansky: This deliberate strategy negatively impact communities of color the most

CNN  — 

It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it’s armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades. The weaponry has changed, but the target is still the same.

If some of the photos from Ferguson last week were in black and white, you might confuse them with scenes from the 1950s south. White police officers beating black protestors. Young black men lying face down in the street with police officers standing over them with assault rifles.

We have a long history of aggressively policing communities of color in America. Police have treated black and brown people like the enemy for decades. In that context, the recent events in Ferguson in the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting come as no surprise. But they go way beyond Ferguson.

Complete coverage of Ferguson shooting and protests

Kara Dansky

What we’re witnessing is the militarization of policing, and it has become commonplace in towns across America.

Every year, the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Justice funnel billions’ worth of dollars and military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies to help them amass arsenals of combat-ready weaponry, according to our report “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing.” Two of the armored vehicles patrolling St. Louis right now were purchased with these federal funds. An estimated 600 police departments have received Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, which are tanks built to withstand armor-piercing roadside bombs. In the years since the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, this sort of federal funding has only become more available for state and local police departments.

We’re told that part of the impetus for the federal agencies is to get rid of surplus military equipment. But that’s certainly not the whole reason.