For four nights in a row, they streamed onto West Florissant Avenue wearing camouflage, black helmets and vests with “POLICE” stamped on the back. They carried objects that doubled as warnings: assault rifles and ammunition, slender black nightsticks and gas masks.
They were not just one police force but many, hailing from communities throughout north St. Louis County and loosely coordinated by the county police.
Their adversaries were a ragtag group of mostly unarmed neighborhood residents, hundreds of African-Americans whose pent-up fury at the police had sent them pouring onto streets and sidewalks in Ferguson, demanding justice for Michael Brown, the 18-year-old who was fatally shot by a police officer on Saturday.
When the protesters refused to retreat from the streets, threw firebombs or walked too close to a police officer, the response was swift and unrelenting: tear gas and rubber bullets.
To the rest of the world, the images of explosions, billowing tear gas and armored vehicles made this city look as if it belonged in a chaos-stricken corner of Eastern Europe, not the heart of the American Midwest. As a result, a broad call came from across the political spectrum for America’s police forces to be demilitarized, and Gov. Jay Nixon installed a new overall commander in Ferguson.
“At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said, “I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message.”
Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, and Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, voiced similar sentiments.
But such opposition amounts to a sharp change in tone in Washington, where the federal government has spent more than a decade paying for body armor, mine-resistant trucks and other military gear, all while putting few restrictions on its use. Grant programs that, in the name of fighting terrorism, paid for some of the equipment being used in Ferguson have been consistently popular since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. If there has been any debate at all, it was over which departments deserved the most money.
Department of Homeland Security grant money paid for the $360,000 Bearcat armored truck on patrol in Ferguson, said Nick Gragnani, executive director of St. Louis Area Regional Response System, which administers such grants for the St. Louis area.
Since 2003, the group has spent $9.4 million on equipment for the police in St. Louis County. That includes $3.6 million for two helicopters, plus the Bearcat, other vehicles and night vision equipment. Most of the body armor worn by officers responding to the Ferguson protests was paid for with federal money, Mr. Gragnani said.
“The focus is terrorism, but it’s allowed to do a crossover for other types of responses,” he said. “It’s for any type of civil unrest. We went by the grant guidance. There was no restriction put on that by the federal government.”"
— The New York Times, "In Wake Of Clashes, Calls to Demilitarize Police" (via inothernews)
Since, I’ve been following this story via social media for 3days now I’m reminded, why I have to dress-up “nicely” in American airports. And to not roll my eyes at the “random” suitcase searches.
Why my mom cautiously warned me that, “…not everyone thinks the same as you and will usually assume the worst based on you look to them. Traveling here is different here, and you have to be careful from now on…”
I boarded the plane to have fun in the Sunshine state, and ready to work at the happiest place on earth for the Summer. And wondered why I didn’t get it. Why I didn’t get why she was so worried, why I could see her tears from my window seat…well 20 was nieve age I guess.